US animated tv series (2016; 2019-current). Cartoon Network. Created by Owen Dennis. Executive Producers Owen Dennis, Brian A Miller, Jennifer Pelphrey, Rob Scorcher and Tram Wigzell. Supervising Director Madeline Queripel. Writers include Owen Dennis, Alex Horab, Lindsay Kataiand and Justin Michael. Voice cast includes Jeremy Crutchley, Owen Dennis, Lena Headey, Ernie Hudson, Ashley Johnson, Kate Mulgrew and Matthew Rhys. Ten eleven-minute episodes, plus the pilot. Colour.
When Tulip Olsen's (Johnson) divorced parents can't take her to Game Design Camp (see Videogames) in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, she angrily sneaks off to make her own way. At the station she boards a train, but immediately loses consciousness, waking up in a field containing four snowmen. The third's head is a Robot, One-One, comprising two conjoined hemispheres, one optimistic (Crutchley), one depressive (Dennis); they are looking for their mother. Another snowman has an embedded door: Tulip opens it and steps through.
The field was an immense room, though not as large as the space it encloses (see TARDIS): it is one of innumerable giant carriages on a train that crosses a blasted landscape inhabited by soul-sucking cockroach-dogs (see Monsters). There is also a number on Tulip's hand which changes during her journey. She goes from carriage to carriage, into different Pocket Universes of varying levels of absurdity: in one, a land of talking dogs, Tulip befriends the corgi Atticus (Hudson), "King of the Corginians, and Uniter of the Cardigans and the Pembrokes", who joins her and One-One in their search to find the Conductor. They come across the Steward (Johnson), a masked spidery nightmare of cables, repairing the carriage's Technology: grabbing Tulip, it tells her "return to your seat", but on seeing One-One it reels in shock and flees. Later, The Cat (Kate Mulgrew), previously met selling pyramid schemes, traps Tulip in a VCR recording of her childhood; she only escapes through accurately remembering her life during the collapse of her parents' marriage. Another carriage has Gravity working in different directions: One-One declares it broken and is compelled to repair it.
The Conductor is revealed as a Mecha (Rhys), containing Amelia Hughes (Headey), an engineer and widow who had usurped the true Conductor, One-One (who has been trying to return to its motherboard): Amelia seeks to create a carriage universe which contains her late husband. Once defeated she acknowledges she must accept her loss and move on. Similarly, Tulip's experiences have taught her not to fixate on what is beyond our control – we must adapt to the changes in our lives. This is what the train does for its passengers (at one point Tulip bemoans its emotional manipulation): the number on her hand now reads zero, signifying she can return home.
The series was much anticipated, the 2015 pilot (reworked as episode 3) having garnered 4.8m views on YouTube. Though tonally the silliness occasionally grates against the show's character work, the first season was very strong: intriguing, amusing and rich in ideas. A second series has been confirmed. [SP]