Chicago Party Aunt‘s Second Season Proves Poignant, but Needs More LaughsPhoto courtesy of Netflix Comedy Reviews Chicago Party Aunt
The array of adult animated comedy series on Netflix varies in quality. On rare occasions you get masterpieces (Bojack Horseman), most of the time you get crude but endearing works (Inside Job), and ever so often you end up with a heaping pile of garbage that makes you lose a few brain cells while watching it (Hoops). Chicago Party Aunt is a weird anomaly to me. Its visual style has that generic “type-A adult animated series” look, and frequently the vulgar humor falls flat on its face. But somehow I end up adoring the rambunctious Diane Dunbrowski (Lauren Ash), her teenage nephew/BFF Daniel (Rory O’Malley), and the people surrounding their crazy Chicago-shaped orbit.
The first season of the Chris Witaske, Jon Barinholtz, and Katie Rich-created series was rough around the edges in its comedy but had plenty of heartfelt moments, wearing its love for its setting on its sleeve. Chicago Party Aunt Part 2—or Season 2 or whatever you wanna call it—takes a sizable step up from the previous season but falls into some traps that are plaguing a lot of Netflix adult animated comedies these days.
Chicago Party Aunt Part 2 continues the misadventures of Diane, traversing the Windy City as her unapologetic, Chicago-loving, carefree self and living under her sister Bonnie’s (Jill Talley) condo with her nephew Daniel. Now content with her single status and working at a hair salon, this second part focuses on Diane entering middle-age and the tribulations that come with it, like dating, maintaining sobriety, and getting a mammogram. Of course, oddball shenanigans ensue.
Outside of Diane, Daniel continues his pursuit of an art career but is beginning to long for the quintessential college experience. He also soon finds himself beginning a romance with a Chicago Cubs shortstop (Joel Kim Booster).
Straight out the gate, Chicago Part Aunt’s second season sets its ambitions higher on topics regarding relevant social issues and the challenges of adulthood, and executes them better than I anticipated. The plot of the season opener “Doppel Änger” features Diane battling gentrifiers attempting to buy the rooftop that gives her a good view of Wrigley Field so they can trick it out to be classy and upscale. It’s a swing and a hit, and a number of the episodes operate on those strengths, especially when discussing subjects such as classism, affordable healthcare, and women’s health. Diane’s raunchy behavior is retained but the episodic plots organically test her ability to mature and embrace change in her life. I don’t think I’ve seen an adult animated series follow a woman’s attempt to find affordable healthcare so she can get a breast implant removal surgery procedure done to better her health, and I give this show kudos for approaching that humorously and thoughtfully.
Another major strength of the series is how a good number of supporting characters within Diane’s sphere have unique personalities and are given time to grow. In the previous season, the focus was on Diane’s ex-husband Kurt (Chris Witaske) and son Mikey (Jon Barinholtz). Here, their keys are handed to Daniel’s straight-laced parents Bonnie and Mark (Ike Barinholtz) and their attempts to make a baby while adjusting to a new transitional phase of life. The exclusion of Kurt and Mark is disappointing, especially considering how prominent they were in the first season. However, the B-plot arc between Bonnie and Mark gets a damn fine amount of development that adds authenticity to the show’s well-rounded, mature atmosphere.
There’s no working around with the visually generic adult animated type-A character designs, but where the show lacks in that aspect, it makes up for in beautiful background art. The animation team at Titmouse give Chicago a unique and colorful look while maintaining the dignified shabbiness of the city. I can’t get enough of the expensive camera zooms from Diane’s condo building to Wrigley Field in the opening title sequence and the level of detail the background artists poured on screen.
Part 2 is still carried by Lauren Ash’s brash and endearing vocal performance, lending a lovable charm to Aunt Diane that hardly gets annoying even when she is. The supporting cast consisting of Jill Talley, Rory O’Malley, Ike Barinholtz, RuPaul Charles as Diane’s boss Gideon, Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Diane’s coworker Tina, and Bob Odenkirk as Daniel’s boss Feather proves just as talented. Mostly it’s Ash and O’Malley’s sweet-natured chemistry where you feel the strength of their familial relationship and friendship.
All of these factors contribute to a pretty good show….if only it was funny. I don’t know how, but somehow Chicago Party Aunt’s constant stabs at comedy hardly ever work. From the punchlines to the vulgarity to the raunchy visual gags, barely any of its attempts to make you laugh land. Compared to the last season, my laugh count went up from two to seven, and most of them come from the latter half of the episodes. I’m so perplexed by this show because I admire its overall vibe and characters; they resemble real people and are not just a vessel for shock value comedy. That said, none of these jokes are ever funny and if they are, I only get a chuckle out of them.
Many of the criticisms I had towards the most recent second parter to Inside Job apply to Chicago Party Aunt. It’s given too short of a season order for the relationships between the characters and their newfound changes to marinate. Diane and Daniel respectively find new love interests that challenge them, and sadly those said romances are fleeting, lasting only an episode or two. It’s not until the final few episodes that the focus changes trajectory leading up to a rather poignant finale, but it doesn’t feel necessarily earned due to how fast-paced the other episodes are. It makes for an easy binge for sure, but at this rate, with an array of likable characters like these, the episode count could’ve been cranked up to the double digits so the relationships and romances could’ve been as organically explored as the topics of adulthood are.
Chicago Party Aunt Part 2 is a marginal improvement over its first bout. Its episodic subjects are insightful and poignant, sometimes more so than other adult animated series these days, even though the comedy leaves a lot to be desired. Its low eight episode count prevents it from hitting the heights of its peers like Big Mouth and Bojack, but like Aunt Diane herself, it goes the Chicago way of making the most of what it’s got.
Rendy Jones is a film and television journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. They are the owner of self-published outlet Rendy Reviews, a member of the Critics Choice Association, and a film graduate of Brooklyn College. They have been featured in Vulture, The Daily Beast, AV Club and CBC News.