“Final Space,” a cartoon sci-fi serial premiering Monday on TBS, comes from Olan Rogers, a popular internet personality who also runs a t-shirt-and-things company (images of “Star Wars” characters with cat heads a specialty) and a successful Nashville confectionery called the Soda Parlor.
The series has its origins in a barely animated cartoon, “Gary Space,” posted in 2010 on Rogers’ YouTube channel, in which an astronaut named Gary encounters a round little alien, which he feeds a Pez. These characters, such as they were, were later the basis of a professionalized “pilot” — a sort of trailer, really, featuring fragments of scenes — that Rogers and David Sacks (a veteran of “The Simpsons” and “3rd Rock from the Sun”) have refined and given context and back story. (Both these versions are available on the YouTube channel.) Conan O’Brien is an executive producer of the series.
We are in an interstellar far future in which dudes still say, “Dude.” Gary (Rogers) is nearing the end of a five-year prison term on a space ship — in the course of trying to impress a girl, he destroyed “92 star cruisers and a small family-owned Mexican restaurant.” His only companions are robots, who have either no personality (Tom Kenny as the HAL-like HUE, pronounced “Hugh,” who runs the ship and denies Gary cookies) or an excess of it (Fred Armisen as the hyperactive KVN, or “Kevin,” his “deep space insanity avoidance companion”).
As a child, Gary wanted to have “bunches and bunches of adventures,” but now that he’s in space, he’s just locked up in it, let out only to do repair work on satellites and such. (I suppose this justifies the expense of keeping him in his own robot-staffed rocket ship.) And one day, while he is out sort of working — in fact, he is watching “The Princess Bride” projected onto the void — a round little alien hurtles into his lap. He names it Mooncake, after an old pet caterpillar, and takes it home.
It turns out that Mooncake (also voiced by Rogers) is a valuable property on the run. This brings in Avocato (Coty Galloway), a sardonic cat-headed bounty hunter Gary calls Mr. Whiskers before being told never to do that again, and the Lord Commander (played in an American accent by an unrecognizable David Tennant), the pint-sized villain Mooncake is attempting to escape.
Quinn (Tika Sumpter) is the space patrol captain he accosts in a bar as she sketches “an internal inconsistency in Planck’s constant.” It’s she that Gary is trying to impress when he accidentally blows up stuff. “I like a girl with a lot of phones,” he tells her, mistaking the equation she is writing for her number(s).
As a satire on science-fiction and the world we ordinarily live in, it is not as clever as “Futurama” or “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or “Galaxy Quest,” works with which it shares certain features. The comedy leans toward things adolescent boys find funny: There is a scatological flavor to the japes and epithets — “crap” is a much-used word. “Jerk nuts” and “douche canoe” are also phrases you will hear. That thing where a powerful being speaks in banalities, long a feature of “Adult Swim” cartoons, that happens here. (Lord Commander to underling: “I like the much littler kind of biscuits, I have told you, Eric.”) Living things are hacked or torn apart for a laugh.
But it clips along and looks good — the space backgrounds and a bioluminescent planet in black-light colors are especially lovely — and there are not so many animated space serials around that, even with its faults, “Final Space” doesn’t have a niche to fill. On top of that, Rogers brings his own following; it must not have hurt his pitch that his YouTube channel has nearly a million subscribers.
Like many of the sketches and shorts its creator has put online, “Final Space” both mocks and celebrates genre films. And like them, and the apparently true stories Rogers addresses directly to the YouTube viewer, it has a quality of being at once loud and a little melancholy; that air of sadness may be its most original feature.
Wherever else “Final Space” falls flat, it succeeds completely with Gary and Mooncake, a relationship of care and trust that echoes the way we feel about the animals in our life, if we are lucky enough to have animals and feelings. In addition to proving to be a kind of weapon, the little alien — who benefits from having to speak only of a couple of unintelligible phrases (“Chookity pok” is one) — is also weapons-grade adorable, ready-made to be reproduced in vinyl or plush. Indeed that plush Mooncake is already available for purchase, along with a pin, a patch and a poster.
When: 10:30 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd