Primal premieres with two episodes on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim on July 21, 2022.
Genndy Tartakovsky's Primal is back and it is as violent and engrossing as ever. The show continues to be in a unique position in American animation: an adult-oriented animated show that is not a comedy, is devoid of dialogue, and has a penchant for bloody carnage, with exquisite animation and sound design, all while bringing us drama that pulls at the heartstrings as hard as anything This Is Us does. New this season is an overarching story that has Tartakovsky playing with serialized storytelling and the result is unlike anything else currently on TV.
Like Tartakovsky's Samurai Jack, Primal is set in an anachronistic prehistoric Earth where cavemen not only coexist with dinosaurs and monsters, but also early civilizations, witches, and the Picts. The show focuses on the relationship between Spear and Fang, a caveman and a female T-Rex that bonded over their tragic losses and set out to explore a world of cruelty and savagery.
Best Reviewed TV Shows of 2022
Where the first season focused on telling standalone stories exploring different facets and monsters that inhabit this world, Season 2 has bigger ambitions. If you haven't rewatched the Season 1 finale since it aired two years ago, you should rectify that. This season's opener, Sea of Despair, picks up right where we left off, with Spear and Fang shouting out in anger and, well, despair over their friend Mira being kidnapped and taken away by slavers on a ship. That being said, even if there is an overarching story connecting the first two episodes, so far this is not like a Netflix show meant to be binged at once. Tartakovsky understands that serialization doesn't have to come at the loss of good standalone episodes, and the first two episodes of the season can be enjoyed separately.
This is in no small part due to the focus remaining solely on Fang and Spear, and their relationship is as bonkers and entertaining to watch as ever. They have an “old married couple” dynamic that leads to hilarious moments of bickering and roaring. Even if Primal toes with “a boy and his dog” tropes with its two leads, it never turns Fang into Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon. Yes, Fang acts like a dog at times, playful and loyal to Spear, but she is very much still a dinosaur that can eat him alive, and she behaves like it. Spear, meanwhile, remains careful not to cross a line that would cause his companion to tear him apart.
There are few things on TV right now as satisfying as the sight of a caveman riding a T-Rex into battle, and watching the two fight together to shred their enemies to pieces continues to be a delight in Season 2. Tartakovsky and his team at studio La Cachette continue to push the boundaries of what 2D animation can do in exciting ways. Tartakovsky storyboards the two-episode premiere himself, and you can tell that he has a clear and concise vision for action choreography and timing that channels not only the bizarre pulpy imagery of Ralph Bakshi cartoons but also the aptitude for rhythm and timing of golden age Chuck Jones and Tex Avery.
These aren’t just your run-of-the-mill action sequences, but bone-crunching, flesh-tearing, eye-gorging, teeth-breaking carnage, where bodies of everyone from small fish to men to giant sharks are ripped apart, smashed to bits, and otherwise beat to unrecognizable pulps in poetic bursts of bright red blood.
Primal grants heft to every punch, and earns a visceral reaction from every broken bone and torn muscle.
More impressively, however, is the fact that the action always has weight to it. A problem in many animated action shows, but especially computer-generated ones, is that the action can feel weightless and devoid of impact. That is definitely not the case with Primal, which grants heft to every punch, and earns a visceral reaction from every broken bone and torn muscle. The storyboards give extra attention to making sure every muscle in the characters' bodies moves in a way that supports their weight, and the creatures on the receiving end of the punches and bites move with the impact of a bite from a 15,000-pound T-Rex. This is aided by exquisite, crunching sound design that makes the pained grunts, the bone breaks, the ripped flesh, and ground-shaking roars engross you in a way no movie featuring dinosaurs has managed to do since the T-Rex tore through the original Jurassic Park.
Plus, the action is not there for action's sake, but to further explore the savagery of the world and the toll it takes on Spear and Fang. They would rather do literally anything other than fight, but this is what the world pushes them to, and the show makes it a point to showcase the sadness in their eyes at having lost any semblance of a normal life. Primal manages to accomplish this without any lines of dialogue. That isn’t new for this series, but what is new this season is a sense of being out of time, with Spear and Fang encountering more advanced civilizations than they could have dreamt of, which expands the Conan the Barbarian-inspired pulpy world in fascinating ways. Most importantly, it uses these encounters with more advanced creatures to illustrate Fang and Spear’s realization that there is no place for them in a world that is slowly outgrowing savagery. They can't find peaceful happiness or achieve a sedentary life, and that dawning truth is devastating.
Tartakovsky has tested the limitations of what 2D TV animation can do for over 20 years, but Primal shows that he is not done yet, pushing boundaries of genre, of animation, and of storytelling. The director and animator still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve, and our TVs are much better for it.
Primal Season 2 is watching maestro Genndy Tartakovsky play with every technique and trick animation has to offer, pushing boundaries of what 2D animation can do on TV. The two-episode premiere continues to be a showcase for exquisite animation and sound design, with brutal action scenes. This season adds an overarching story that expands on the world of the show in fascinating anachronistic ways that still deepen the arc of its characters, all without dialogue.