When Netflix’s animated series Neo Yokio first dropped in 2017, it was a bit of an oddball show. A near-deadpan satire set in a fictional future-version of New York, that follows rich demon hunter Kaz Kaan and his friends and family, sounds like typical anime fare. But starring Jaden Smith? Written by Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig? Featuring the Bodega Boys –The Kid Mero and Desus Nice, Jude Law and Susan Sarandon? TV critics and the internet were split. It was only after a bit of time that Koenig’s vision — with some help from giant Toblerone memes — fully settled into our collective consciousness.
Almost knowingly trying to follow up on this mixed bag, the just-released Christmas special Neo Yokio: Pink Christmas is less indirect with its satire. Also, because we are already familiar with the characters and some rules of the world, the special doesn’t waste any time in the 66 minutes it has to delight us.
Thus, Smith is back as rosy-haired “Magistocrat” (an upper echelon magician) Kaz Kaan just in time for the holidays. Much like nearly every other Christmas special Netflix has managed to write, produce and pre-schedule for ‘nog and nuzzling season, Pink Christmas is perfectly packaged for your winter-time binge. Pulling on the pre-established characters and themes from the show’s previous season, Pink Christmas revisits the world of Neo Yokio with one goal in mind: To tell Kaz an interesting story on the night before Christmas. In the process, we get a satirical tale chock full of colonialism, various psuedo-edgy sentiments, and podcast references.
What viewers may find most meaty here are two things: Pink Christmas’s continuing critique of faux-woke, materialistic millennials, and the introduction of some lore that complicates the lofty status of the Magistocrats and Kaz’s belief in the family business of demon slaying. Without spoiling everything, the latter is an interesting narrative choice that – pending a second season — could provide more depth beyond Neo Yokio’s already patented brand of late-stage capitalist society criticisms.
Despite this, the initial plot is worth talking about in depth. In it, we follow Kaz’s quest to find arch-nemesis Arcangelo, voiced by Jason Schwartzman, the perfect gift. His search is part of the Secret Santa tradition among the most eligible bachelors of Neo Yokio. Of course, being the enfant terrible that he is, Arcangelo specifically bribes the city council, to ensure that he could torment Kaz with this vexing mission. However, in the televised reveal of Secret Santa exchanges, Arcangelo rejects Kaz’s rare gift.
In a dramatic and public fashion, Arcangelo then goes on to reject the entire idea of gift giving, claiming that actual human engagement is the real gift during the holiday season. After a musical number dedicated to Kaz, he then promotes his podcast and holiday special at Radio City Music Hall — which you can buy express tickets to, of course.
To see Arcangelo be just a few steps off of reality in that moment is both fitting and strikingly relevant to the current cultural narrative. In an era where savvy, young people are told personal branding and self-insertion into any and every narrative is the key to securing the bag, Arcangelo’s ridiculousness doesn’t seem all that preposterous. From social media influencers to huge brands themselves, the commodification of wokeness and its antecedents are now as common as can be in these final hours of 2018. In fact, novelty frat boy-turned-hashtag activist Sam Whiteout’s most recent faux pas involving unneeded opinions on Black culture fits the bill for this perfectly.
All in all, Pink Christmas ostensibly provides what the entirety of Neo Yokio’s first season couldn’t: A contained world with fleshed-out characters that doesn’t stick around too long to let us see its deepest flaws. The paradoxical nature of this fact isn’t lost on me, but it feels right all the same. Considering the critically uneven reception the show initially received, perhaps Neo Yokio was always a coffee table napkin idea best left served as a one-shot special like Pink Christmas — its most perfect of forms.
Malik Adán is a film and media critic. His words have landed at FilmThreat and REELYDOPE. A lover of food and most genre entries, his tastes are as broad as his afro. His work can be found on Rotten Tomatoes, malikadan.com or in the moment on Twitter @dapisdope.