‘Exploding Kittens’: Netflix Adaption of Silly Card Game Somehow Works


Is Hollywood running out of ideas? Even stranger than rebooting seemingly every old hit for a new generation is the longstanding tradition of adapting intellectual property that really has no business being a show or film in the first place. Board games like Clue, Candyland, Dungeons and Dragons, and even freaking Battleship have been made into films. Looking to up the ante in head-scratching, inexplicable IP adaptations, Netflix has a new series: Exploding Kittens, based on the bestselling card game.

For those like me who’ve enjoyed many a round of Exploding Kittens, it’s apparent that there’s virtually nothing adaptable about it. It’s a straightforward game that revolves around the simple premise of drawing cards until you lose by picking up an “exploding kitten” card. There are modifiers, of course, but it's ultimately a game of chance with adorable character designs. This is an adaptation in name only; Exploding Kittens is about as similar to the card game as any movie about capitalism is an adaptation of Monopoly.

The cast of the animated Exploding Kittens show on Netflix.

Mark Proksch as Marv, Tom Ellis as Godcat, Ally Maki as Greta, Suzy Nakamura as Abbie and Kenny Yates as Travis


The game was created by Matthew Inman, a cartoonist best known for The Oatmeal, a website chock-full of colorful, hilarious, tongue-in-cheek comics. Inman has also written several comic books under the Oatmeal brand, including How To Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting To Kill You and Why My Cat Is More Impressive Than Your Baby. The series Exploding Kittens is closer in spirit to the Oatmeal comics than its namesake card game—and that’s very much a good thing.

Dissatisfied with the state of Earth, the board of Heaven is deeply displeased with God’s (Tom Ellis) attitude, especially after his recent bender that involved blowing up all of Heaven’s unicorns. To rehabilitate him, they send God back down to Earth to reconnect with humans and answer a family’s prayer to help get their lives back on track. To make him palatable to humans, God is transformed into a talking cat with limited powers. Thus, Godcat is born.

The Higgins family is the lucky crew that receives Godcat’s aid. To say their family unit is in disarray would be putting things nicely—son Travis (Kenny Yates) is trying to get internet famous so he can move past a childhood incident that went viral; daughter Greta (Ally Maki) is brilliant but emotionally vacant; and parents Abbie (Suzy Nakamura) and Marv (Mark Proksch) have grown tired of each other and their very different lives. (Abby is a former Navy SEAL while Marv is a board-game fanatic who works at a store specializing in bulk supplies.)

But Godcat has a lot more to deal with than one family’s well-being—Heaven’s fate hangs in the balance. His next-door neighbor is none other than the Antichrist, a cat fittingly known as Devilcat (Sasheer Zamata). So, yes, Exploding Kittens is juggling a lot. There are essentially two different shows here: One has Godcat bringing a dysfunctional family together, and another has Godcat’s dueling with Devilcat in a battle of good versus evil. It’s at times the series’ greatest strength and its biggest weakness. The chaotic balance of the two stories often leads to memorable gags and amusing visuals, but they don’t merge satisfyingly until near the end of the show’s nine episodes.

Tom Ellis as Godcat and Sasheer Zamata as Devilcat

Tom Ellis as Godcat and Sasheer Zamata as Devilcat


There are issues with the characters too, as Exploding Kittens has a tough time deciding if the felines or the Higgins family is more interesting. It feels as if you’re watching a show made by a cat distracted by a laser pointer (a detail about cats the show mines for some very funny moments), darting back and forth between plotlines on a whim. That can feel exciting, but it also prevents some of the story beats from landing.

Though the story fumbles, this is still an exceptionally funny show that maintains the irreverent, silly, and often shocking humor of comics. The Oatmeal’s distinct style is beautifully translated to Exploding Kittens. Human characters are all outrageously designed, with big round torsos anchored on implausibly skinny legs resulting in the largest thigh gaps you’ve ever seen. It doesn’t look like any other animated show out there, and even when you’re wondering what the heck is going on, there’s plenty of fun to be had in absorbing the character designs and the colorful and tremendously violent world.

Even though Exploding Kittens struggles to establish a consistent identity in its first season, it shakes off its growing pains, becoming the wickedly funny and frequently shocking comedy it’s meant to be. It’s all over the place, which I guess works for a show based on a card game defined by randomness.

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