The Netflix animated series adds a new twist
Comics creator Brian Lee O’Malley first published the Scott Pilgrim series from 2004 to 2010. This was the era of “Garden State” and “(500) Days of Summer” — stories about lost, lonely youth who yearn for the exciting. Elusive women whose charm brought them out of their shell. Toronto comic book’s titular guitarist Scott Pilgrim fits that description, pursuing pink-haired delivery girl Ramona Flowers by doing battle with the League of Evil Exes. (Influenced by Japanese manga, “Scott Pilgrim” presented archetypal relationship concerns in the language of heightened video games.) In Edgar Wright’s beloved film adaptation, Michael Cera played Scott, the doe-eyed poster child for experimental masculinity.
My intention here is not to criticize Scott Pilgrim, but simply to point out that it is a story very much of its time. However, O’Malley, in partnership with writer BenDavid Grabinski, has brought the series into 2023 with a new animated series for Netflix, revisiting his most famous work more than a decade later. At first, “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” appears to be a straight-forward adaptation, presented in the visual style of O’Malley’s original artwork rather than Wright’s kinetic live action. (Wright remains involved as an executive producer.) The film’s entire cast, from Cera to Chris Evans to Aubrey Plaza, reprise their roles as voice actors. But at the end of the pilot episode, “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” veers in an unexpected direction — one that both sets the show apart from and comments on previous iterations of the “Scott Pilgrim” concept from our current cultural vantage point.
O’Malley, Grabinski and their collaborators have kept details of “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” under wraps, including the basic premise of its story. Anyone who wants his wish to be respected should stop reading after this paragraph. But before they go, I’ll sum up my feelings in the broadest terms possible: “Takes Off” successfully combines the innovative style and comedic charm of its predecessors with a fresh twist that corrects tropes that we can see now in hindsight.
For everyone else: Apparently “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” isn’t about Scott Pilgrim. Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has gone from being a somewhat passive object of Scott’s ambition – with partners past and present literally fighting over her! – For a woman on her own quest. When Scott’s first showdown against Ramona’s ex Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha) suddenly goes awry, the audience realizes they are no longer watching the “Scott Pilgrim” they thought they knew. From there, Ramona goes on her own mission, taking into account past relationships and focusing more clearly as a character.
She’s not the only supporting player in the video game-influenced world of “Scott Pilgrim” who benefits from a mini-Scott role. Scott’s love interest to Ramona, teenage Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), has taken on a personality beyond her puppy dog crush — “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” goes to great lengths to note the unstable power dynamics, while explicitly stating that Knives and Scott never have so much as a kiss. The Evil Exes also get more depth and nuance. Final boss Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman) gets an origin story; Ramona’s former college student Roxy (Mae Whitman) gets closure and an emotional breakthrough. Television offers a broader canvas than film, so O’Malley and Grabinski can be more generous with the spotlight than Wright.
Through animation, “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” could also achieve a more comprehensive and playful tribute to its influences. Japan-based studio Science Saru is helping to bring O’Malley’s previously static artwork to life, which combines gaming and gaming lore. shounen, Or boys’ comics. In one scene, former Ramona movie star Lucas Lee (Evans) encounters a fleet of ninja-like paparazzi that mushroom around him. The scene is fun and clever, much like how each episode’s title card includes a “Start Here” button to mimic the video game’s home screen or how defeating a character turns their body into a pile of coins, as points are to be collected. The Japanese rock band contributes the title track, while American group Anamanaguchi provides the rest of the soundtrack (yes, there’s a metric cover).
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” is simple and fun, but not exactly for kids; Ramona and Scott openly discuss whether or not they should have sex on their first date. Instead, the show is for former kids revisiting their old favorites through more mature eyes. To serve this audience, it must provide the comfort of nostalgia and modernity mixed with self-awareness. It’s not an easy task, but like a victorious player, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off completes its mission.
All eight episodes of “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” are now streaming on Netflix.