The Sublimely Weird ‘Ultra City Smiths’

It seems I’ve spent a lot of my time as a TV critic talking up the series of Steven Conrad, because his “Patriot” and “Perpetual Grace LTD” were so quirky and different and fun, but also because they needed the boost. Most people may have still not heard of them.

Things are not likely to be better for the new “Ultra City Smiths” (AMC+, streaming), because it’s on a service not people seem to have. But it has a lot of the same talent Conrad has used in the past, including Jimmi Simpson, Terry O’Quinn, Kurtwood Smith and Luis Guzmán. To these he’s added Bebe Neuwirth, Tim Heidecker, Tim Meadows, John C. Reilly, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Debra Winger, Kristen Bell, Dax Shepard and Melissa Villaseñor. And the narrator is Tom Waits. 

There’s also a prominent original song in every episode (and a dance off). But the thing most noticeable is that the series is entirely populated by stop-motion baby dolls on elaborate sets. Because the pandemic prevented normal filming? Who knows? At any rate, it works better than you might imagine to drive a dark noir about a kidnapped mayor and the detectives on the case. 

There’s lots of deadpan humor, puns, and the kind of brash, engaging dialog Conrad served up in his earlier series. Like his other shows, I revel in it even as I fear it may have been created only for me. (But maybe it’s for you, too).

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