Rating: ★★

A bargain-basement offering from Netflix, an obscure novel serialisation that comes out as a blend of The IT Crowd and what I imagine Weeds is like. The result is such a bizarre mashup that it's really hard to be sure what you're watching. Having Not Read The Book, I can come at it without bias when I say that whatever it was trying to be, it didn't work.

One obvious target: the series is about a group of video game developers, and ostensibly involves plot centred around game development, but the series producers seem not to really understand how video games are made at all. Of the tiny five-man team developing a whole game, one (Our Protagonist) does 'gore'. That's right, 20% of development focuses on a few special effects, which the series delights in showing us repeatedly (and which are, to put it mildly, complete crap -- it's not like we're getting Gears of War eye-candy here, or even inventive slapstick, typically it's just some antique 3D character colliding with something and spraying red paint). There's no sense of any kind of project management, people are constantly offhandedly spit-balling new 'scenes', and nobody ever at all talks about gameplay -- no mechanics at all are ever mentioned or displayed, as if video games were just a series of cutscenes. The writers obviously consulted with someone, because lots of appropriate things get name-dropped, including rather specific trivia, but whoever it was obviously didn't have a lot of creative control.

Alright, so it's not true to life, but is it even meant to be? Protagonist's mum runs a cannabis grow op, his dad is a failed actor, and his family is closely connected to a Chinese crime lord who loves cougars and ballroom dancing. One of his bosses blows himself up in the parking lot, and another becomes addicted to heroin after Protagonist's father has him shipped overseas and enslaved. The final-act reveal involves a jealous accidental AI squeezing Love Interest into a coma using a special-purpose hugging machine. There's certainly a case to be made that the show is only doing the minimal background for a bizarre comedy set-piece, and shouldn't be judged on departures from reality.

But it's not as simple as that, either. For all its weirdness, JPod mixes in some taut psychological realism, and seems at times to expect you to really feel something for its characters. Love Interest gets back together with her abusive feeder ex-boyfriend, and Protagonist throws himself into work. Mother and Father go through trials and tribulations together, but then split over the casual affair that was announced so carelessly in the first episode. A heroin addiction played for laughs is then turned into a moral lesson and leads to the character's death.

I don't necessarily dislike any one element of this in the abstract -- I can happily mix the maudlin and the merry in other shows, and JPod certainly was weird enough to make me take notice -- but the delivery was so consistently off here that all these strange elements just jarred. I couldn't tell whether JPod expected me to take a scene seriously or not, and I ended up watching it more because I was fascinated with how much of a train-wreck it was than for any interest in its plot. Occasionally funny, but in a 'laugh at it, not with it' way.