Monday, August 24, 2015

An Animated Discussion

Recently I watched the old "Dilbert" cartoon on Crackle and "Bojack Horseman" on Netflix and it got me thinking of all the grown-up animated shows I've watched in the last 20 years.  Here are as many as I can think of, excluding any for kids like when I was subjected to My Little Pony when visiting my nieces.  The less said about that, the better.

The Simpsons:  Any discussion of animated TV shows has to begin with The Simpsons.  It is the one that brought grown-up cartoons back after "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons" and so forth were cancelled.  It's always funny to think of how violently people reacted to the show when it premiered, conservatives basically losing their shit the way conservatives do and railing that it was the beginning of the end, but maybe they were on to something.  The first couple of seasons are hard to watch with the crappy animation and characters not having the right voices or skin color in the case of Smithers.  By the 4th season it really hit its stride though by probably the 12th season it had turned on the cruise control and hasn't looked back.  While it was a pasttime of mine from the 90s on, I finally stopped around the 22nd season.  I just remember the guide on my TV said Selma was marrying Fat Tony and I thought, "Jesus Christ, another fucking Selma wedding?!  If you're not going to bother trying then neither am I."  So I stopped watching, though I caught one or two episodes since then.  Despite me not watching it has continued to coast for another 4 years.  I actually hoped Harry Shearer would leave the show because it might force their hand, but unfortunately they worked it out.  I guess Matt Groening and company are content to just play out the string until the cast starts dropping off by old age.  Which two regular guest stars (Marcia Wallace and Phil Hartman) have already died while numerous guest stars have also died like Rodney Dangerfield, George Harrison, Michael Jackson, George Plimpton, etc.  It's interesting that I think one episode features Tom Clancy, Maya Angelou, and John Updike, all now deceased.  But let's not forget all the really unforgettable episodes!  I've sometimes thought I should try to write a whole short story just using Simpsons quotes.  My favorite episode was the end of Season 7, "Summer of 4-Foot-2."  Lisa doesn't get anyone to sign her yearbook and so decides to change her image during a summer vacation.  The whole yearbook signing thing was something I greatly sympathized with; I always hated that to the point by 10th grade I pretty much stopped worrying about it.

Beavis & Butt-Head:  I was a late comer to this series.  I think like The Simpsons the first season probably isn't that good with crappy animation and such.  Anyway, it's another that hit its stride later into the run.  The bits featuring "the great Cornholio" were funny, though probably my favorite is the XMas episode that does a Bizarro version of "It's a Wonderful Life" where the angel tries to convince everyone that the world is better off without Butt-Head.  Curiously while I thought the movie did good box office there was never a sequel and the show pretty much folded up after that.  Sadly this show hasn't really lived into the streaming age because thanks to licensing issues you can't really recreate the actual episodes with the music videos between the episodes.

The Critic:  This was the Simpsons team's first attempt at branching out.  It didn't go well.  It had one season on ABC, one on Fox (with an attempted boost by crossing it over with The Simpsons) and then was kaput except for some "webisodes" back in 2000 that were on the DVD set I bought a while back.  Anyway, I liked the show, though in watching it again this year maybe they too often made jokes about old celebs like Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brando, and Al Pacino.  Kind of dated stuff.  Probably the most memorable episode was the "Sleepless in Seattle" parody featuring Siskel and Ebert, now both deceased.  The quote I use most often is Jay has a cardboard cutout that keeps saying, "Buy My Book!  Buy My Book!"  I need one of those, though like Jay's it'd probably get beaten up a lot.

South Park:  While a lot of animated shows start off not all that good and get better, South Park is actually better in the first couple of seasons.  There are so many memorable episodes in the first three or four seasons, like the kaiju one where "MechaStreisand" threatens the world or where Cartman becomes a deputy and tells everyone to "respect his authoritaw!" or the boys get sucked into a Pokemon cult before their parents stop it by pretending they like Pokemon, thus making the boys think it's lame.  Later on they seemed to forget what made the show work, which was the boys (Cartman, Kyle, Stan, and Kenny) getting sucked into some outrageous adventure.  By the 8th and 9th seasons when I started tuning out they were focusing episodes on just one or two kids or worse yet on the parents.  And they're still doing that.  When I finally tuned out was I think the end of the 15th season (or the middle-end of the season) where Stan's parents were getting a divorce and there was this touching moment where they played "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac and it just seemed a perfect time to say goodbye.  And so I have.  The kaiju episode I mentioned above is probably my favorite but the Scooby-Doo themed one with Korn is a close second.  Like the Simpsons it doesn't seem this show will ever end, though it should have years ago.  And the less said about the movie, the better.

King of the Hill:  This show pretty much always seemed underrated.  Except for a brief Tuesday stint it was nicely sandwiched between The Simpsons at 8 and Family Guy at 9.  It made for a good bloc of TV so I didn't have to flip the channel.  Anyway, this was from Mike Judge, the creator of Beavis and Butt-Head but was far more mature.  Basically Hank Hill's character (and voice) was a younger version of Mr. Anderson from B&B.  I always liked Hank because he was a Texas redneck and yet not the type who would fly a Confederate flag or sit on the border with Mexico with a shotgun.  He was a Texas redneck even a liberal in Michigan could root for.  Most of the series revolved around Hank's old-fashioned values conflicting with those of the modern world.  My favorite episode was the first season one where Hank gets constipated and tries everything to get moving again.  When he finally does go it's to the tune of "Ode to Joy" and if you've ever been constipated (really, really constipated) that's about how you feel when you do finally go.

Daria:  This was technically a spin-off of Beavis & Butt-Head though completely different in tone, subject matter, and animation.  Basically it focused on a nerdy teenage girl who cynically stood apart from all her vapid classmates.  Like King of the Hill, it was mostly a conflict of values, though in this case cynicism/realism vs. idealism/political correctness.  My favorite episode is one where Daria is stuck on writing a story and so her mom suggests she write more than "what she knows;" that she should write how she wants things to work out, which makes for a poignant story.  I watched the whole series again last winter and it does still hold up pretty well even if it's from before all the kids had cell phones.

Futurama:  This was the Simpsons team's second attempt to branch out and it was a little more successful.  For a little while you had this on at 7:30 then the Simpsons at 8 and then King of the Hill at 8:30, so that was another good bloc of watching.  It was a fun show if you liked sci-fi stuff mixed with a lot of pop culture references thanks to the heads in jars that allowed them to work in current celebrities.  Most memorable was the episode where they had almost the whole cast of the original Star Trek.  I think only James Doohan held out, except for DeForrest Kelley, who was dead by that point I'm pretty sure.  That episode also features Shatner doing a spoken word version of Eminem.  "How do you do a spoken word version of a rap song?"  "He found a way."  I didn't really like any of the straight-to-DVD movies, but they were enough to get the show back on Comedy Central for a few more years that were OK but probably not as good.

Dilbert:  I remember watching this on UPN (when I think it was still UPN) and not really thinking all that much of it.  Recently it was on Crackle and I found out there were actually two seasons, though I think I only watched the first one.  I think my problem back in the day was the stories didn't necessarily make a lot of sense, like they got too surreal.  For instance when Dilbert accidentally destroys a satellite and it leads to the fall of all civilization. Watching it again I still didn't like it all that much, though whenever Dogbert was involved it was a lot more watchable.  Dogbert was like an amalgamation of Brian (being a dog) and Stewie (the Machiavellian schemes) from Family Guy.  Really they should have made a spinoff all about Dogbert and I would have liked it much better.  Anyway, co-creator Larry Charles worked on Seinfeld so Seinfeld stars Jason Alexander, Wayne Knight, and the big Sein himself all appear on the show.  Just an interesting factoid to throw out there.  Really I think the show should have grounded itself in more office humor, like the funniest bits from "Office Space;" that's what people could relate to.

Family Guy:  You didn't think I'd leave this out, right?  Like most of America I pretty much ignored the initial runs of the show in the late 90s, early 2000s.  But like most of America I started tuning in when it came back in 2005.  There were some good episodes, though by 2013 I was pretty much done with it.  The comedy started to get a lot more mean-spirited, like the feud between Brian the dog and Quagmire, whom to that point had never seemed to have a problem but all the sudden they hated each other.  Then there was the extremely unfunny 150th episode where Stewie and Brian are locked in a bank vault.  And then they overused the time travel stuff; it was funny the first couple of times but really got to be too much.  By the time they "killed" Brian I was done with the show.  My favorite is from 2005 when Peter and Stewie go to Disney World.  There are so many memorable bits in that, like when Brian does the "Peanut Butter & Jelly" song.  Though my favorite quote is from an early episode where Peter says, "This will take some of my cunning...no, all my cunning."  Like the Simpsons and South Park this show just seems destined to limp on forever.  Probably a good idea since Seth MacFarlane's last two movies didn't do so hot and American Dad is on life support and The Cleveland Show is gone.

American Dad:  I was a late comer to this series.  Interestingly this was supposed to be Seth MacFarlane's comeback on Fox but then Family Guy rose from the ashes and this got shunted to the back-burner.  Perhaps like much of America I just assumed it was more Family Guy but that couldn't be further from the truth.  Really it's more like King of the Hill in how rabid conservative Stan Smith's values conflict with the world around him, including most of his family.  Unlike Family Guy, where the humor is largely driven by "cutaway gags", the humor in American Dad spins out of the conflict between Stan and the world and the often completely ridiculous problems this creates, plus the alien Roger who puts on various "disguises" to create mayhem.  The XMas episodes are really where they let it all hang out.  One has Stan going back in time and accidentally getting Martin Scorcese off coke in the 70s, which leads to the USSR taking over the world.  In another Stan and his wife are fucking in the church basement when the Rapture strikes and so they're "left below" to face a Mad Max-type dystopia.  Another the Smith family faces off against Santa Claus in a LOTR-style epic battle.  My favorite episode though is where Stan decides to toughen up his son Steve by bullying him, until Steve hires Stan's old bully to kick Stan's ass.  The show got cut by Fox last year but was picked up off waivers by TBS for a season that I mostly had to watch on Amazon because I didn't have TBS a lot of the time it was on.  It was an OK season but probably not the greatest.  I think it's still on for next year, though again I'll probably have to watch on Amazon.

Archer:  While ostensibly this was a secret agent spoof the first season of this was mostly "The Office" if the office were that of a spy agency.  The best episodes are when dumb but extraordinarily lucky secret agent Sterling Archer and the gang get out of the office to attempt to foil sabotage on a blimp or obtain some blackmail information from the Grand Prix in Monaco.  The episodes where they go into space, under the sea, and into a body are probably a little too much.  The 5th season "Archer Vice" was mostly lame as the gang goes on the run and attempt to be first drug dealers and then arms merchants, neither of which went well.  I was glad when the show got them back to doing more spy stuff this year, though now it seems we might be in for another "Vice"-type season.  I hope not.  My favorite is probably the end of the second season when Archer is going to marry a hot ex-KGB agent only for her to be killed by Cyborg Barry.  I like when they occasionally let Archer have real feelings.  I did like the beginning of the 4th season where Sterling Archer gets amnesia and thinks he's Bob of "Bob's Burgers" as of course H Jon Benjamin does both characters--in the same voice, which is pretty lame.

Chozen:  This was an attempt by the creators of Archer to branch out and for for one season it followed "Archer Vice" and I often watched it because I was too lazy to change the channel.  The setup is the titular character is a white guy who gets out of jail and attempts to resume his quest to become a famous rapper.  Since he was in jail he found the company of men, so part of the wackiness of the setup is this gay white guy is trying to be a rapper.  I'm not into rap so it really didn't sound interesting, but I gradually warmed to the show.  The best episode I remember seeing was when he gets a job on a kid's show and then does this awesome rap telling kids to basically do the complete opposite of all that Sesame Street/Barney/Mr. Rogers Neighborhood stuff.  I think my nieces embraced that philosophy.  If they had brought this back for a second season after Archer I wouldn't have minded.  But they didn't.

Robot Chicken:  This is stop-motion animation not traditional animation, but so what?  It's another show I was a later convert to after someone else mentioned it.  The episodes are only about 11 minutes long and like any sketch comedy show there are hits and misses.  A lot of the sketches revolve around old toys like He-Man, GI Joe, and Transformers, stuff I played with as well as toys my sisters played with like She-Ra, Strawberry Shortcake, and Jem.  There have also been whole special episodes revolving around Star Wars and DC Comics heroes--a third one of those is airing sometime soon.  There are original bits too, some that work better than others.  It's fun when they do a sketch on really obscure toys that I remember like last year there was one about Visionaries.  Remember those?  They were kind of like GI Joe figures that had these hologram animals on their chests that were supposed to give them the power of that animal.  In the sketch one guy gets stuck with some weird little fish that swims up people's urethra.  My least favorite bit was one about some guy going around shooting monkeys for no reason; this was just after the Sandy Hook shootings so it felt pretty awkward.  My most favorite sketch was the start of the 4th season.  The creators of the show are trying to get work and first seek out Joss Whedon, who tries to kill Seth Green for leaving "the Whedonverse."  Then they go to Ron Moore of "Battlestar Galactica" who tries to kill them, thinking they're Cylons in disguise.  Finally they go to Seth MacFarlane, who uses the power of the cutaway gag to get Robot Chicken renewed.  (These never sound as funny when you try to describe them.)  The second best was the epic 100th episode, most of which is a video game-style fight between the titular robot chicken and like every other recurring character who has been on the show until the final Boss Battle with the mad scientist who created him.  It was really how milestone episodes should be celebrated--by kicking a lot of ass!  You can actually watch this on Hulu Plus now, though the first season isn't as good because like other shows the animation is crude by comparison to later on.

Titan Maximum:  This was an attempt by the creators of Robot Chicken to branch out.  It didn't really work out.  It's a funny send-up of "Voltron" and "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers" about an extremely dysfunctional giant robot team.  When a former member of the team unveils a diabolical plan to take over the solar system the team has to acquire new members (the leader's nerdy little brother and a chimpanzee janitor who doesn't speak or make any facial movements really) and bring Titan Maximum out of retirement.  I always wished the run-time were longer than 11 minutes because while that's fine for a sketch show like "Robot Chicken" it doesn't work as well for scripted shows, which is probably the problem I have watching most anything else on Adult Swim.  I think you'd probably have to buy the DVD for this on Amazon or maybe you can find it online somewhere.  There was not a season two and Season 1 ended about like how you should have expected it to.  BTW, Lando Calrissian himself, Billy Dee Williams, voices the admiral who (reluctantly) manages the team.  Another interesting factoid.

Mike Tyson Mysteries:  This was one of the rare other Adult Swim shows I watched.  It was really bizarre for the most part.  The animation and general setup are supposed to be like Scooby-Doo but the plots really never seem to make a lot of sense.  The premiere episode involved going to Cormac McCarthy's ranch to help him finish the end of his latest book, but then they're terrorized by a "ghost" and find out Cormac McCarthy is a centaur.  Um, yeah.  I really don't have any favorite episodes but I guess if you ever wanted to see Mike Tyson running around in a Mystery Machine van, this is for you!

Bojack Horseman:  I talked about this on the 7th, so go read that!  But I thought I should include it again.  Overall I thought it was good, though I've only seen it once through so I'm not sure what a favorite or least favorite episode would be.  As I said Friday it's a weirdly serious show about a horse-looking person who used to be a famous actor.  Will Arnett is the titular Bojack while Aaron Paul is the slacker human Todd, who lives on Bojack's couch.  There are cameos by Alan Arkin, JK Simmons, and Lisa Kudrow among others, though I don't think there's any real connections there.  Just some more interesting factoids to pass along.

Other than The Cleveland Show, Bob's Burgers, and most everything not Robot Chicken-related on Adult Swim, I'm not sure how many others I missed.  Well, I wouldn't say I missed them.  Obviously.  I suppose there were shows like "Capitol Critters" from when Simpsonsmania struck the nation and other networks thought they should try their hand at animated shows.  But let's face it, no one saw those.

6 comments:

  1. I haven't heard of a lot of these, but of course I've seen the Simpsons, and I remember Dilbert too, but I didn't watch it for very long.

    My favorite adult cartoon back in the 90s was Space Ghost: Coast to Coast. My favorite character was Zorak, and my husband had a Brak shirt.

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  2. I never really got into adult cartoons because these started to come out when my kids were little and since they had some adult humor I didn't want my kids (who are naturally attracted to cartoons) to start watching them. However, now that my kids are older we have all watched some Family Guy and that's about it.

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  3. It's amazing that the Simpsons are still on the air after all these years. I remember seeing the very crude version on the Tracy Ullman show back when I was in middle school.

    A couple other ones I watched: The Critic, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Spacelab 2021, Aqua Team Hunger Force (my younger brother always had it on), Ren and Stimpy, and Samurai Jack

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  4. I really liked the first three or four seasons of Venture brothers, but I was a big Johnny Quest fan so it was natural I'd like something that made fun of Johnny Quest.

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  5. Awesome list Pat. I've seen most of these and, while Simpson's lost my interest years ago Robot Chicken is still my favorite.

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  6. I absolutely love the first 10-11 seasons of The Simpsons, then it just got boring. I remember watching The Critic so many years ago, it was fun. From your list I've also been a fan of South Park, Beavis & Butt-Head and Futurama.

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