“Primal” Review: The Highs and Lows of Prehistory


Courtesy of Adult Swim

“Primal” tells a gripping and violent visual story of two beings bonded by tragedy.

Grant Soedler, Arts & Culture Editor

“A caveman at the dawn of evolution and a dinosaur on the brink of extinction are bonded by tragedy. This unlikely friendship becomes the only hope of survival in a violent, primordial world.”

So reads the logline for Genndy Tartakovsky’s “Primal” on HBO Max, an adult animated action-adventure horror series whose second season finished airing on Friday, September 16th.  “Primal” debuted on Cartoon Network’s late-night programming block, Adult Swim, back in October 2019 with the rest of its initial season being released a year later in October of 2020. Created and directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, the man behind the creation of shows like “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “Samurai Jack,” “Primal” follows the brutal and violent misadventures of a caveman named Spear and a Tyrannosaurus Rex named Fang who become unlikely companions after their families are killed by the same pack of carnivorous dinosaurs. Though it never reached huge levels of popularity, “Primal” quickly gained significant praise and a dedicated cult following due to one simple fact: it’s a recent adult cartoon that’s actually unique.

Season 1 of “Primal” is very similar in vein to Tartakovksy’s previous work “Samurai Jack;” after a first episode that establishes the premise, the rest of the show is fairly episodic, with few recurring elements beyond its central characters. Every episode after the first establishes a new obstacle to overcome, before we see our protagonists overcome that obstacle by wits, strength, or just complete brute force. Season 2, however, tells much more of a continuous story. Following on from the 1st season’s closing stinger, where Spear and Fang had discovered that their new companion, Mira, had been recaptured by the slavers that she had escaped from, the two quickly follow after her on a rescue mission. Each episode furthers them along their journey to save her, whether it be crossing an ocean, contending with unfamiliar monsters and people, or being forced to fight for a megalomaniacal queen.

Where “Primal” differs significantly from its predecessor, however, is in several key elements of its presentation. For one, the show is incredibly violent and gory. Our central duo and their opponents/victims get stabbed, crushed, scratched, clawed, torn apart, and more in many horrific and yet awesomely gruesome ways. Though this might seem like a hard sell for some, the show’s violence is key to its appeal in a world where nearly every mainstream show is fairly light in tone. One important difference that makes “Primal” stand out, however, is that the show contains basically zero dialogue. Beyond Spear’s grunts and growls, provided by voice actor Aaron LaPlante, and some isolated parts of season 2, every element of the show is told through pure visual storytelling, be it moments of intense action, somber melancholy, or even simple interactions between characters. This focus leads to some frankly gorgeous shots and scene compositions, proving that Genndy Tartakovsky has still got that magic that makes his shows so special.

“Primal” really has only one significant flaw: like some of Tartakovsky’s other work, it has a very messy ending. It feels a lot like the second season needed just one or two more episodes to flesh its ideas out, as the very last one has to quickly introduce new important character and story details just before a rushed finale that left me as a viewer feeling very confused and dissatisfied. Despite that flawed ending, though, the rest of “Primal” is incredibly strong, and is easy to recommend to anyone: there is really nothing else quite like it on TV. 

Those interested in watching “Primal” can currently stream it on HBO Max.