Steven Conrad has proven he can do dark comedy and neo-noir thriller with his past two television shows, Patriot and Perpetual Grace, LTD. For his latest project, Ultra City Smiths, he teams up with Stoopid Buddy Stoodios to develop a series that combines both those genres with the unique aesthetic of using baby dolls.
Ultra City is a place where many people have given up because of the crime and corruption. The only person preventing the city from falling deeper into despair is Carpenter K. Smith, a magnate and influential resident running for mayor. When he mysteriously disappears, two detectives take up the case and uncover more than they were expecting.
If you can look past the gimmick of the baby dolls, Ultra City Smiths effectively captures the gritty crime feel and through striking sets and character work, shows how unforgiving the metropolis can be. It really builds this elaborate underworld with a wide range of interesting characters from the unsavory to those who hold out hope. The show doesn’t squander any time and it’s impressive how they introduce and flesh out the main players in half an hour episodes.
The overall narrative with Carpenter’s disappearance doesn’t really get going until the second episode but becoming familiar with the different Ultra City Smiths is pretty compelling (though much of the reveal is shown in the trailer). They all have their own baggage and the series does a good job juggling the different storylines and characters. There are parallels between some of them and they crossover into each other’s stories indicating early on how interconnected everyone is whether they are aware of it or not.
As expected with any Stoopid Buddy Stoodios series, there is a bit of silliness. To play with the baby doll theme there are more wholesome concepts rather than their darker real-life equivalents. For example, a street hustler is in the business of scratching backs instead of turning tricks.
Other times, the scenes turn into full musical numbers, which is unexpected. Though the choreography can be remarkable (and adorable), sometimes the timing doesn’t work. It can be jarring with the sudden shift in tones and it really takes away from the momentum that builds up prior to the numbers. Sometimes, I wish Ultra City Smiths would play it straight without the antics because it does the crime drama side so well.
Though the show is unique in its presentation, it develops a gripping mystery and successfully hits all the crime noir notes for an entertaining first two episodes.
New episodes of Ultra City Smiths drop Thursdays on AMC+
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