YOLO: Crystal Fantasy Review (2020)


YOLO: Crystal Fantasy (2020) Creator. Michael Cusack

A review of an Adult Swim show that came out two years ago because it's great and nobody watched it.

(Literally the day after I started writing this a second season was announced titled "YOLO: Silver Destiny", so I guess it was more successful than I thought.)

categories: TV - Adult Swim - Animation - Michael Cusack

Once upon a time in Australia

Just two gals being pals

YOLO: Crystal Fantasy is the 2020 series debut of internet animator Michael Cusack. Cusack had previously worked with Adult Swim to create their infamous 2018 April Fools Day prank episode of Rick and Morty titled: Bushworld Adventures. YOLO was Cusack’s first network television series, releasing 8 episodes. At the time of the show’s release Cusack had also worked with fellow internet creator Zach Hadel (psychicpebbles) to produce a pilot episode for their new concept: Smiling Friends, which would be picked up by Adult Swim in 2021. Although both Bushworld Adventures and Smiling friends have gone on to become incredibly popular, YOLO: Crystal Fantasy has remained relatively obscure. YOLO started out as an animated short on Cusack’s YouTube channel back in 2012, (back when the word YOLO was relevant) which was followed up by a sequel, YOLO 2 in 2014. The shorts are very different to the tone of the show, and the YOLO title comes from their being a parody of Aussie party culture. I wonder if the title is what put some people off the show, perhaps if it had a more recent slang title it might have been more successful. Maybe Girlboss: Crystal Fantasy? Poggers: Crystal Fantasy? Something-else-that-will-be-equally-dated-in-8-years: Crystal Fantasy? Cusack has altered and improved what he started in those shorts, the characters have their own personalities now, and they’re no longer a one-note joke.

The show itself centres around the adventures of two best friends: Rachel and Sarah as they encounter everyday occurrences in Australia such as being ship-wrecked by a giant crocodile and being sacrificed to the mud God to achieve eternal life. Many people have likened Cusack’s work to being a documentary-level accurate depiction of Australia, and as I’ve never been there, I can only assume this is true. The show is funny enough as is, but I imagine a lot of the in-jokes are even funnier if you’re an Aussie. Cusack has a really great blend of down-to-earth realism and absolute insane weirdness in his writing. You’ll have incredibly realistic dialogue about the nuances of a failing marriage told to an anthropomorphic termite mound who wants you to listen to his stand-up routine before he kills you. It’s great. The show is very fast, which is fitting with it being only 10 minutes an episode, and whilst the concepts do get really bizarre, it manages to never fall into “lol XD so random” territory. It’s a huge improvement on the shorts, blending internet humour and comedy writing to create a unique show, that stands out from even his other work.

Story & World

Party forever!

The show features episodic storylines, with the exception of the finale which is a two-parter. The episodes usually revolve around the girls attending some sort of party or other chaotic event, in which supernatural forces, funny creatures or other typical Australian normalities are at work to disrupt their enjoyment. The world of YOLO: Crystal Fantasy blends fantasy and reality, you’ll see wizards and demons kicking back at parties and ordinary people possess magical abilities and advanced technology as if its nothing. The world is very easy to adjust to and it all comes to a point where nothing is surprising anymore. The finale takes the bizarre up to the next level, but by this point you’ll be so used to it, it wont matter. Despite this, the world never gets stale. It’s the sheer variety of nonsense and impossibility to predict that keeps the show fresh.

The show doesn’t have an overarching plot, but there are recurring characters and plot threads. Sarah’s end goal always seems to be to find love, something she is unsuccessful with, whereas Rachel only seems to care about having a good time and causing as much trouble as possible, often at the expense of Sarah’s goals. Sarah always seems to do the right thing when it comes down to helping her friend, whereas Rachel’s actions are a lot more selfish, even if she does apologise afterwards. Some of Rachel’s actions include abandoning Sarah in Plus-One Hell, stealing her inheritance and driving her car off a cliff, nearly killing them both, to try and get to a bush doof. Despite all this, Rachel and indeed most of the other characters are very likable. The nature of the show turns these terrible people into endearing little creatures.

One thing I really wasn’t expecting from this show was a surprisingly accurate representation of what its like to have a crush on your best friend. I felt that second hand embarrassment hard at the end of Horoscope Planet. I thought it was cute how Rachel wasn’t willing to admit it to herself, or as Queen Ultraviolet said, “It’s just gonna be too cringe to explain it to you.” Sometimes you just need to an encounter with a feminine space goddess to realise your true feelings. Let’s hope Rachel learns to be less of a toxic bitch so they can live happily ever after.


Onwards to the next epic and wacky adventure!

The characters are one of YOLO’s strongest aspects. Rachel and Sarah, the show’s leads are a perfect contrast. I remember people were sceptical at first over Sarah’s character not being voiced by Cusack, one of the signatures of who’s work was that every single character sounded like him. This proved to be a clever stylistic decision as Sarah became the only “normal” character on the show. Sarah is the closest thing the show has to a straight man character, and is hilariously often treated as if she is the crazy one. Rachel on the other hand is completely deranged. I love how unapologetically disgusting Rachel is, she’s a horrible gremlin woman and I love her so much. She also has to be the world’s worst friend, and whilst Sarah spends the show choosing her friend over her own happiness, Rachel is constantly choosing her own selfish wants over Sarah’s wellbeing. Why on earth Sarah still hangs around with Rachel is a mystery and the number of times the two have had to reconcile after Rachel has subjected Sarah to unnecessary torture is shockingly high. This all comes together in the two-part finale, in which Rachel and Sarah are separated for the remainder of Sarah’s lifespan when Rachel falls into the bush dimension. Sarah learns that she might be better off without Rachel in her life, and Rachel learns just how much she had taken advantage of Sarah’s good nature. It’s great because this comes just before Rachel’s sheer awfulness would have begun to get annoying, and instead takes the time to develop the two’s relationship. This is a lot more than I would have expected from this show when I first started watching. I was expecting to laugh, sure, but I really wasn’t expecting to get so invested in the two leads.

The recurring characters are great too. You may recognise Lucas the Magnificent, Michael Cusack’s alter ego who also made an appearance on Smiling Friends on Glep’s iPad, now immortalised in animated form.I was delighted when he kept reappearing, maybe it’s because I thought he was supposed to be Linkara when he first appeared, or maybe it’s because I’ve had the misfortune to meet so many Lucas’ in real life, but this greasy neckbeard provided me with many laughs. Sarah’s parents are also some of the most hilariously accurate depictions of parents I’ve seen on TV, especially her Dad. I’m sure I’ve shared almost every interaction Sarah has with her dad with my own father, I loved how offended he would get over Sarah’s polite rejection of his outdated technology and suggestions of news articles she had no interest in. I loved how they were inexplicably 5 times the size of Sarah and perpetually sat in their armchairs especially when they were still sat in them at Rachel’s funeral.

As to be expected, the show is full of funny one-off characters, such as the Bush Shaman, Peleeken Mischief Maker, and Flying Lotus for some reason. All of these funny creatures follows the same formula of completely off the walls crazy, but simultaneously grounded and realistic. One of my favourite interactions in the show comes from the first episode, Madison’s Birthday Party in which Rachel reunites with her old classmate Madison. The conversation is incredibly mundane, talking about what’s going on in their lives since school, whilst the camera slowly zooms in on them both, as ominous music builds emphasising the massive underlying hatred between the two as they engage in small talk. The thing that makes it so funny is how you’re certain you’ve heard this exact conversion before, talking politely to somebody you can’t stand as they passively insult everything that you’ve made of your life so far. The show is full of great moments like this, it’s amazing how many of these incredibly bizarre characters feel like people you’ve met in real life. I see my own parents in Sarah’s, I’ve met several Lucas’s in my life, and as much as we all like to believe we’re Sarah, we are all Rachel in reality.

Art & Animation


You can’t talk about a Michael Cusack project without talking about the art style and animation. The art is, for want of better word, bad. No one is going to argue that Cusack is a master of anatomy or realism, but the quality of the art doesn’t detract from the enjoyment. The surreal nature of the drawings is part of the joke, I especially find the way Cusack draws eyes hilarious. The character designs change not only from scene to scene but from frame to frame, which is as funny as it sounds. Sometimes the characters look vastly more detailed than other times, which is always played for comedic effect. I particularly liked how this worked out with Lucas and Rachel with them appearing in varied degrees of disarray and grossness depending on the context of the scene. I read a comment on Bushworld adventures that said it looked like there was a new animator every 30s seconds, it’s clear that Cusack isn’t bothered about having off days with his art and animation, and its created a really unique and incredibly funny effect on his work. I remember when I used to make animations before I gave up, it would drive me mad when I’d been able to work pretty well on a scene, only to come back the next day and find that I was having an off day with my art, and no matter how I tried, I just couldn’t get it to look consistent with my previous work. I think this is a carry over from Cusack’s time as an internet animator, working to his own standards, and I’m glad that it carried over into the show. I don’t think YOLO would have half the charm it does if it looked polished. In a time where most adult animation looks sterile and static with clean thin lines and a generic art style, YOLO: Crystal Fantasy is incredibly refreshing. You can say a lot of things about the art and animation of YOLO, but you cannot say its generic. I hate to keep making the comparison, but again, as much as I love Smiling Friends, its clear that there was a real effort to keep the art clean and animation consistent, I remember an interview with Cusack where he talked about how he mostly worked on the storyboards, because he didn’t feel he was good enough to draw for the show itself. I’m not saying that all animation should look like YOLO, in fact I think it’s a very good thing that it doesn’t , but it does make the show stand out in a sea of identical animated shows, the same way shows like Morel Orel or Xavier Renegade Angel stood out at the time of their release.

Another thing that’s great about Cusack’s animation is that he knows how to break convention. The randomly rotoscoped segments come out of nowhere and are sometimes for the most seemingly unnecessary of actions. That’s right kids, the rotoscoped guy at the party in smiling friends is a Cusack staple. I love how he uses rotoscoping for both complicated movements, and scenes that could easily be animated by having the character not move at all. Both are equally funny, seeing an unnecessarily frame-heavy animation of a very subtle movement can catch you just as off guard as seeing a highly detailed man going ape with a recorder. Its also worth mentioning the scenes where Cusack doesn’t bother to animate at all, such as moving static images of the characters across the screen. Because he uses these techniques infrequently, its all the more amusing when they crop up. I think a less clever show would rely on one such technique and make it the show’s gimmick, but Cusack is aware enough to use them sparingly, making each occurrence more noticeable and earn more of a laugh. Again, this feels like a carry-over from internet animation, a kind of humour that isn’t normally utilised in network television. There’s also a really great moment in episode 4, The Terry Cup where Sarah drinks poison given to her by a toilet goblin and transcends into live action, I believe portrayed by Michael Cusack himself.

The Bushworld Cinematic Universe

We're in the Bloody Bush Dimension Morty!

YOLO: Crystal Fantasy is the biggest expansion of the Bushworld Cinematic Universe (BCU). You can clearly see in the opening of Bushworld Adventures both Terry and the Smiling Friends’ office, confirming with absolute certainty that all of these shows take place in the same universe. Iconic Bushworld staples including bush wizards and the Bush Dimension return in YOLO: Crystal Fantasy, expanding the deep lore of the BCU as we learn that time actually moves differently in the Bush Dimension. Bushworld Adventures fans will also be delighted to see a cameo from Ute Uncle Barry in the finale. Apparently he now works as a rental for Ute parties. It is my greatest desire for Rachel and/or Sarah to make a cameo in Smiling Friends, that would make my year.

I wish that more people had watched YOLO: Crystal Fantasy, as I’ve seen so little talk about it, I think there’s not much hope for a follow up season anymore. It’s been two years now with no news, so I think it probably safe to assume that Cusack has moved onto the greener pastures of Smiling Friends. (Since I began writing this, a second season of YOLO has in fact been announced! That’s what I get for having no faith I guess!) Almost all of my friends have seen Bushworld Adventures and can quote it verbatim, and Smiling Friends is quickly on its way to becoming one of Adult Swim’s most popular shows, and yet it still seems like hardly anyone has watched YOLO: Crystal Fantasy. Even after the release of Smiling Friends, if you read the comments section of Bushworld Adventures there are still new comments being added from people who have no idea who Michael Cusack is. It’s amazing to me that this man can have so much success and still remain relatively unknown. And whilst It’s great to see Smiling Friends doing so well, It’s a real shame that so many people have missed out on YOLO because it’s funnier than Smiling Friends. If you haven’t given this hidden crystal gem a watch yet, check it out, especially if you’ve enjoyed Cusack’s other projects. I think it’s his best and it deserves so much more love and attention than its getting. You can watch YOLO: Crystal Fantasy on Adult Swim or All4 if you live in the UK like me.

YOLO: Crystal Fantasy by Adult Swim


Oh my God Sarah you are so dumb! I can't believe how dumb you are!