17 June 2009

Bryan Loves Televison Part IV: The Flat and the Furriest 3: TV-MA Drift

Hopefully someone's noticed the more and more random people tagged in these things. Enjoy it. This is about 50% made-up my myself, 50% made up by someone else, so enjoy. From where we left off with children's cartoon programming last time, following in the path of the Simpsons, I give you; adult cartoons.

As I said before, there were many many adult cartoons prior to our current decade, but nothing really mainstream. Early Warner Bros, Disney, and MGM cartoons were genuinely meant for all ages, but not until very recently were there cartoons whose explicit target audience were the same as those who previously were meant only to watch live action comedies and dramas.

AdultSwim has done the same thing for these kinds of programs that cable channels in general could do for programming in general. They have formed a creative outlet for some shows that would certainly not have a chance elsewhere in a much more specific way. What happens then is good and bad, some shows really knock it out of the ballpark, others are really random wastes of time. I still need a good-quality animated show to really enjoy it, things like Squidbillies and Xavier: Renegade Angel really don't cut it for me. I am a fan of traditional over digital, but sometimes digital can be pulled off in creative and constructive ways. Total Drama Island is a good example of a brainless show that looks incredible, pulled off completely using Flash Computer animation, which I tend to watch and appreciate for its visual appeal.

Besides AdultSwim, the next biggest source of Mature Animation is FOX Broadcasting. Futurama and the first few seasons of Family Guy I will admit to being some high-quality and groundbreaking stuff, however, their current line-up consisting of now-irrelevant Family Guy and American Dad is really complete trash. King of the Hill requires patience to sit through, but once you get into it and establish, very easily, by the way, strong emotional ties to the characters, it's easy to realise how brilliant that show is. Besides FOX other stations have tried some adult animation, none of which has ever taken off, none of which is currently on television anyway. I do love the six episodes of Clerks as a great show that toyed with the conventions of a sitcom much better than Family Guy ever tried to do, and for worse or better, was canceled before the formula became stale. Repeats on AdultSwim now, I'll keep that as a reason to turn on the box these days.

So, before these notes become stale (has that already happened?! I hope so!) Here's five excellent contemporary Mature Cartoon shows, most of which on AdultSwim:

Every praise I gave to this show is
still true, I swear.

1) Moral Orel. Moral Orel is one of the best damn shows I have ever seen in my life. It's so excellent because you need to watch the entire series, all three seasons, to full appreciate the inter-connectivity, call-backs, and whole metanarrative of the story. In an incredibly strong way, it established its schtick the first season then slowly turned away from these conventions in the second, then completely blew them away in the third, completing a full story and character arc with its feature character. The continuity between episodes, some of which flashbacks or flashforwards, or even simultaneous stories with different characters in town, is the most solid and brilliant I've ever seen on TV. Its claymation is more of a gateway to the surface spoofing it does, but greatly belays the subtext of a send up of middle-American Puritanical and small-town culture, but more importantly, doesn't look shitty. There are flaws in the first season, for sure, most episodes are very very prototypical. The trick is once you notice the contrast by the way the third season changes, it makes you look back at the first one with an entirely new lens, which is something only a handful of series in the history of television are able to do. Technically this is a canceled program as of Decemeber 2008, but repeats may still be found sparingly.

Puke! That's a funny word!

2) The Drinky Crow Show. At first glance this is a very hate-able show. AdultSwim, seems pretty random for the sake of random, heavy drinking appearing to yearn for that frat boy crowd. I stayed away for a while until I accidentally watched it one time and it kind of grew on me. You know. Like a boil. The animation gets its foot in the door, first off, a very distinctive cel-shaded look that isn't meant to be flashy or look like something it's not. When the animation propels the kind of story the creators want to tell and isn't a distraction, that's a big plus. Drinky Crow nails it. Digging deeper though (stricklaaand), it's really a great show in that it treats its characters as real deplorable characters who take advantage of their cartoon world. For example, Drinky Crow will often exchange his brain for something or have sex with and impregnate the planet, or something else that really takes advantage of its medium. It's able to bounce back and forth, treading a line between realistic consequences of actions but maintaining a cartoonish disposition. It's as if when Elmer blows Daffy's face with a shotgun, Daffy suffered real consequences, brains everywhere, etc, but maintained his tooniness and was able to put himself together. Or would have to go find his brain somewhere. Drinky Crow pulls this schtick off, which just delights me.

Naked men threatening dudes in butterfly
costumes. Take that, According to Jim!

3) Venture Bros. As virtually the only half-hour traditionally animated show on AdultSwim, Venture Bros is a well-animated and written show that stands out admist the sea of shit that the channel regularly spits out. Again, at the surface this is a mere spoof show of a lot of nerd culture, lifting off from a Johnny Quest-style premise and taking it around Star Wars, comic book, even Scooby Doo spoofs. It's a lot deeper than that though, so I'll dig deeper. At its core it is a complete send-up of this world examining the repercussions something like having costumed super-villains in the real world, but lacking the sardonic tone of something like Robot Chicken. Deeeeeper than that, though, the show is ultimately about the repercussions on the psychology of someone's life being one of these characters, or more specifically growing up as the son or daughter of one of these characters. It essentially spirals out of control into failure and lost dreams, but mostly with a wit, hope, and layers that lacks in a lot of other shows.

Oooh Shelly put you hand out like you're
holding the Guineasaurus Rex!

4) South Park. I personally think South Park peaked around Season 10 or 11, but they still crank out some legendary episodes. The current season so far I believe has left something to be desired. Obviously we're still in the middle of it, but the only real stand-out episode so far has been "The Coon," with maybe "Margaritaville" as a close second. Neither of which has impressed me as much as "Ungroundable," "Super Fun Time," or "Over Logging" from last season, which is admittedly on a more epic scale. I still believe, though, that South Park is the best show on television right now when it hits its stride. It has finally gotten to the point where it can play around with its conventions and character interactions with a show like "Pandemic," and an ep like "Breast Cancer Show Ever" is completely fueled by its incredibly strong character development. In fact, that may be my favourite episode ever due it being completely driven by its complex motivations of its characters acting very consistently, yet still acting and reacting outrageously to situations they find themselves in, not arbitrarily to force a progression of plot, but by the very characters interacting in their world. It's textbook brilliant teleplay writing, and regardless of the content, is an incredibly well-crafted show in every sense of the word.

Simpsons Christmas Boogie!

5) The Simpsons. Yeah this one pretty much had to be in here. See, the thing is, even an absolutely awful Simpsons episode is light-years beyond much of anything else TV has to offer. I've also been catching it about every week for the past, oh, 17 years or so, so why stop now. Even with a perceived declination of quality, if the thing runs another 80 years it will still remain the single greatest show on television due to its first 10 seasons. Some stats here actually not made up by me, no show is more grammatically correct according to June Casagrande, author of "Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite" (I actually read this in a book, http://www.amazon.com/Grammar-Snobs-Are-Great-Meanies/dp/0143036831), besides maybe 30 Rock. The greatest key to the Simpsons though, is their refusal to compromise for an easy joke or plot element, their preservation of artistic and thematic integrity, and the biggest key to all great comedy, drama or whatever, having realistic and deep characters who actually motivate and care about each other. This is the big difference between Simpsons and Family Guy that is hard to see sometime. At the end of the day, Homer may act like a buffoon but he will always make the right decision for his family, Bart and Lisa do love each other despite the cruel things they may do, Marge can be greedy, Burns can be loveable, all within the boundaries of their basic character models. At the end of the day in Quahog, everyone still hates Meg, Stewie's entire existence is a joke, and there is little to no impact on Brian's secret love of Lois or whatever the hell plot they're developing there on his and Peter's relationship or Peter's and Lois'. All Family Guy is is a string of jokes. The Simpsons start with a strong story and then add jokes. The greater emotional investment there is in a show the better the jokes. Simpsons has this in spades. Anyway, that's a much needed rant on why I can despise one show and absolutely love another that on the surface seem very much the same.

That's about it for Cartoons. Next up we have the ever exciting and thrilling adventure known as Drama! Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

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