REVIEWED: SEASON 1 (EPISODES 1-5) | WHERE TO WATCH: ALL 4
In Genndy Tartakovsky's Primal, the perils of prehistory play second banana to emotional fallout. Star Wars fans may recognise the acclaimed writer/artist's distinct animated style from the sharply drawn Clone Wars micro-series from the mid-2000s. Others will recall how they felt watching Dexter's Laboratory and Samurai Jack, both of which stand among the creator's best works. Primal is destined to join them.
Proud hominid Spear and loyal T-Rex Fang are the axis around which Tartakovsky's richly-realised world spins, and the story benefits greatly from that focus. That's not to say the story forgets its backdrop. Tartakovsky brings bright colours and likeable characters to a startlingly dark, unapologetically visceral narrative. But as much as Primal delights in its antediluvian setting, it never neglects the profound sadness uniting its two protagonists.
From the get-go, an overwhelming feeling of loss hangs heavily over the characters. Their worlds are understandably small, as are their understandings of the cruelty and misfortune plaguing them wherever they go. But their capacities for empathy, love, and compassion are beyond what we can express in writing. Here's what matters: Primal peoples itself with characters who feel deeply and love fearlessly. Tartakovsky's creative sandbox is bottomless, and he's only just begun to dig away at its top layer. Given time and ample room to play, he crafts something so special, so uniquely Tartakovsky that it's impossible to dismiss what he puts together. He rightly uses emotion as a propulsive force, a necessary move considering the growling, grunting, comprehension-defying code its characters adopt. We're only at the mid-season point and this is already easily his most heartbreaking work to date. Will time be as good to it as it is to his other masterpieces? More than likely.
Primal makes good on every promise a Tartakovsky project immediately makes: that you'll feel and experience storytelling so earnest, so honest that detachment isn't an option. Emotional investment and an acutely-felt connection to his characters are the names of the game here, and it's a game he plays well.