Category: Animation

So Long Homer and Thanks for All the Laughs

Filed Under Animation

I’m done with the Simpsons.

A few years ago when I acquired TiVo, I went on my frenzy of picking shows to record. TiVo users end up watching more TV simply because all of those shows they missed before because they didn’t make them appointment viewing now become anytime shows. The Simpsons, for me, was one of those. I still had a residual attachment but I didn’t remember to tune in. In short order, I caught all the episodes again, just like I did in the show’s incredible first years.

Of course, the show isn’t the same as it was then. Many times it was brilliant. But the misses would grate on me. I was disappointed after South Park’s own fantastic homage to the Simpsons, that the Simpsons would attempt to return the favor and completely miss the mark, lazily dismissing South Park as just fart jokes and bizarre celebrity cameos. Pinpoint satire is still a Simpsons trademark, which made the times that jokes failed to land stand out even more. Even with jokes falling flat on occasion, the show is still good. It’s not the same show as it was before, but it still beats almost all other TV for intelligence and laughs.

Matt Groening points out the key the Simpsons’ longevity is surprise. He’s right. I’m sure there are surprises to be had still, even with 16 years on the air. But with the characters and world so defined, all the surprises will take place inside permutations of Homer’s stupidity, Bart’s brattiness and Lisa’s self-consciousness. How many times can you watch Homer’s marriage be threatened and have it raise the stakes enough to create comedic tension?

One of my theories of why you can’t have a national humor magazine with a hey-day (or lifespan, for that matter) longer than ten years is that eventually, even if quality is maintained, the surprise goes away. It’s a rule that applies to all comedy I think. An audience gets used to the rhythms of the humor, the style. The comedy get co-opted into everything else. The only exception to this rule is Mad Magazine, which has, if they’re not all playing video games or surfing for web porn, a renewable audience… tweens and young teens… getting their first whiff of sarcasm and skepticism about the consumer culture that surrounds them. The Simpson might aspire to a similar life, with young audiences continuing to embrace it as something that gives them the first sense that Thing Aren’t Quite Right.

But I’m done with it. Even with the shows still being enjoyable, watching them accumulate on my DVR has made viewing the Simpsons more of a chore. It’s a little strange to delete a season pass to something that I treasure and use to measure against almost anything funny. But 350 is enough of anything. I’ll be back to check out the episode scripted by Ricky Gervais or a Simpsons movie. I hope the Simpsons keeps on, but this is where I get off.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 11:37 PM | Comments (5)

Wonder Showzen - TV Horrorhouse

Filed Under Animation, Satire, Sketch Comedy

Why TV Funhouse didn’t last confused me. Though its connecting puppet sketches didn’t really work, everything else, the short films and animated parodies, was pretty spot-on. After witnessing MTV2’s Wonder Showzen, I got what TV Funhouse lacked - a firm commitment to its target, children’s television.

The original FOX pilot for TV Funhouse was a full-on Bozo parody with kids in the studio for most of the insanity - including a segment where the camera sweeps through an audience to find a winning child only for it to stop on one tyke and announce “it’s not you!” From that, it’s safe to say, creator Robert Smigel was pretty committed to using the conventions of kid’s show. It was Comedy Central that got nervous (including switching one segment from “Porn to Kids” to “Porn for Everyone”).

Wonder Showzen is a kid’s show in all but title and, of course, content. Kids sing the main theme song and litter nearly all of the dark segments including an investigative report entitled “Beat Kids,” each word labeled across a fist. The show is brilliant - committed to be as horrific as possible with blood poring from dying trees and pictures of dead animals set to chants of children yelling “funny” or “not funny.” The ominous warning that begins every act includes eerie music and, if you listen, screams.

Some bits are ridiculous - bugging everyday people on the street with a puppet just makes the puppeteers look like assholes. But even then, they know it, and target people who deserve to be bothered like impolite cell phone users. The most recent, a visit to find out why people are angry in Harlem was even a good demonstration of how bad race relations still are.

The show even knows when it goes over the edge and calls itself on it. One cartoon featuring a song about celebrating differences includes “ooga-booga” African tribesmen and “Ching Chong” Chinamen is followed by a six-year-old saying, with perfect inflection, “Oh, I get it. Your racism is ironic.” The show is childlike clarity in form, but it has adult ambivalence and pain underlay every part.

It’s a shame it’s buried someplace like MTV2, but that might be the only reason why we’re seeing it at all. If you don’t get the channel, check out some segments here (wmv) or a bootleg of the original pilot here. And for the brave, check out the creators’ fantastically trippy site.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 06:47 AM | Comments (5)

Extreme Makeover - South Park Style

Filed Under Animation

Last night’s opener to South Park‘s ninth season was strange. Usually they work up to a big point they want to make and this episode had all the makings of hitting one hard. And then, it kinda didn’t. But maybe I was still shocked from the actual footage from a sex change operation. That bit seems more of a closer. How can you top showing footage from an actual surgery? Where do you go then? Even if you were repulsed by the images, it’s impressive that they even tried to mine humor from it (and that they got away with it).

In honor, I’ve altered myself into a South Park Character (right). You can do that to yourself here.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 03:19 PM | Comments (0)

Please Reanimate Phil Hendrie

Filed Under Animation

A while back I boggled at the possibilities of an Animated show featuring radio genius Phil Hendrie and Sarah Silverman. I recently downloaded the pilot (at least the part that was animated) via BitTorrent through MySpleen.

First off, it looks amazing. The animation style is incredibly charming. Sadly, only the first act was fully produced, obviously as a test to see if Fox would go further. The rest of the episode is available as audio only. As for the plot, though it covers pretty average sitcom territory for Phil’s home life (a stepdad dealing with kids not his own), it does a great job integrating Phil’s radio characters into the story and the outrageous conversations that they have with live callers. If you get a chance, download it. Or better yet, subscribe to Phil Hendire’s site, where you get it, his NBC pilot and access to a massive archive of his radio shows. Really worth the $6.95 a month.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 03:27 PM | Comments (0)

Experiment on Robot Chicken

Filed Under Animation

Caught two episodes of Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken. It’s pretty uneven and for a show that’s less than 15 minutes, it still has sketches that can’t sustain their length (a sketch where a cybernetic Walt Disney wants to consume Elian Gonzalez seemed particularly directionless).

However, the abbreviated runtime allows you to see how unnecessary some set-ups are. One sketch from the first episode is X-Span, crossing TRL with C-Span with all the wonkiness of policy discussions and all the screaming and “woo!”-ing of celeb-obsessed teens. If it was a sketch on SNL and MAD-TV, you might have the announcement of “You’re watching X-Span” right up front to announce to a viewer right away “We’re crossing there two things - jokes to follow.” It’s done to make sure everybody is following along.

Instead, because Robot Chicken is cramming in material here, they just get right into it. A senator action figure talks for a little bit and a little window pops up of a teen praising the senator a la MTV. You’re in the joke right away, rather than being set up for it. Very nice. Right now, I read that they’re packing 20 sketches into what runs about 11 minutes plus change. However, I’d love to see them double the sketches. Ramp it up and cut out every extraneous detail possible. Make it a show you have to pause your TiVo to get every joke. The show already courts a geek audience with Cylons, Voltron and other artifacts of childhoods spent too much indoors. You don’t need to lead these people by the nose to get references. And if they don’t get one, they’re gonna look it up. Even if the sketches stayed uneven, the short ones will go by so fast, all viewers would remember is the hits. I really believe the Adult Swim audience would reward such a gambit.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 04:33 AM | Comments (0)

Cross Out “Homer,” Write “Peter”

Filed Under Animation

The Onion’s AV Club features an interview with “Family Guy” and “American Dad” creator Seth McFarlane, which he asserts among other things, that the “Simpsons’ staff hates Family Guy.” Just to make sure he wasn’t exaggerating, I typed the phrase into Google, and voila. He’s right. Cited as a reason is “Family Guy” dad Peter looking like Hank Hill ate Homer, implying there’s more than a few coincidental similarities.

I don’t think “Family Guy” took anything from “Simpsons” but lessons on how to do an animated show (and it still took them a little while to figure that out). But anyone who suspects Seth and the other “Family Guy” writers are ripping “The Simpsons” off, should check their blog chronicling the show’s return for any telltale signs like “Pitched story about how Peter originally acquired Brian at the dog track after losing family Xmas money. Went over big!”

Posted by Todd Jackson at 01:04 AM | Comments (2)

South Park Community Standards

Filed Under Animation

Always heartening to see the culture war has more factions than red & blue. After a family watchdog group denounced South Park for an episode featuring one particularly extreme denouement, conservative blogger Tom Meyer gave the context for the scene.

Sure, Mr. Slave inserts Paris Hilton into his anus, but why he does it is to show that worshiping “stupid spoiled whores” is a bad thing. Mr. Slave condemns his own actions immediately after. Meyer points out that South Park is really a standard barer for strong families and communities. It good to see people get that comedy isn’t anti-family, even if the funny stuff isn’t family friendly. Besides, if we treat everyone in our culture like children, how are we going to have any good adults? Satire is a tonic for extreme parts of our culture, even when it’s extreme itself.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 01:16 AM | Comments (0)