After an almost two-year hiatus, television’s best animated series about a caveman and his T-rex friend who kill thousands of enemies together is back. In its recently premiered second season, Primal continues to showcase some of the most thrilling contemporary cartoon action out there, expressing virtuoso animator Genndy Tartakovsky’s sensibilities in a straightforward manner that fits its fantastical prehistoric world. Yet already in this season, Tartakovsky and his crew are deepening their approach, not merely content to continue brainstorming badassery but also finding new ways to work within their seemingly limited format of dialogue-free storytelling.

At the end of the first season, human hunter Spear and dinosaur Fang were left in distress as their new friend Mira was recaptured by her enslavers and taken away by boat. The premiere episode of this season finds the unlikely duo constructing their own vessel and embarking on a perilous voyage of pursuit. The episode effortlessly alternates between moments of calm and wonder, like when the leads are awestruck by a pod of whales, and thrilling violence, like when they hunt a giant sea turtle for food. It’s a noted change of pace from much of the first season, which could sometimes veer too far into endless action scenes that would feel numbing after a while. Things truly get interesting with the second episode, though, in which Spear and Fang are separated and the former is taken in by a village of fellow humans while the latter befriends another carnivorous dino. When the two collide again, both must simultaneously protect their new friends from their old friends and their old friends from their new friends, their unusual bond tested by the conventions of the predator/prey world in which they live. It makes for visceral and emotionally fraught moments, and again, this is all told without dialogue (besides some untranslated words of what I believe is Celtic from the villagers).

From Primal
From Primal

Primal follows in the tradition of 20th-century dime store pulp novels, with each episode following its simple setup to cram in as many cool ideas as the creators can dream up. This is mixed with a visual style taking many cues from heavy metal and comic book art of the 1970s and ’80s, with many tableaus that could have easily been imagined by the likes of Frank Frazetta. In works like Samurai Jack, Star Wars: Clone Wars, and the Hotel Transylvania films, Tartakovsky demonstrates a consistent love for physicality, expertly mixing stillness and deliberate movement with rapid and fluid action. Too much US animation, particularly that aimed at adults, favors dialogue and situational comedy over this kind of visual inventiveness — which is a shame since that is one of the form’s particular strengths. Within this landscape, Primal is a continual delight, with every installment conjuring at least a few striking moments and images.

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New episodes of Primal are airing Thursdays on Adult Swim and are available to stream via HBO Max.

Dan Schindel is a freelance writer and copy editor living in Brooklyn, and a former associate editor at Hyperallergic. His portfolio and links are here.