That last entry was a bit of a downer, wasn’t it? At least, that’s what Helen said. And she’s right. It was a little “Wah, wah, poor me,” but it’s also what I was thinking about at the time, so I say it’s legit. But, enough of that: time for something fun.
Cartoons — or, to be more accurate, animated programs — I love them. When I was a kid, cartoons were something you watched for several glorious hours on Saturday morning and, if you were lucky, maybe for an hour or so on weekday afternoons. Back then, one of the pivotal events of a kid’s life (well, my life, anyway) was the Fall Preview issue of TV Guide listing, among other things, the new cartoon series that would be previewing on the next Saturday morning. Most of them were, by any measure you care to make, terrible: derivative, badly-animated, and usually an excuse to sell toys or breakfast cereal or both, but I loved them. I won’t attempt to list them all, but I can easily remember very specific moments of my kidhood that revolved around shows like Huckleberry Hound, Scooby Doo, Wacky Races, Star Trek: The Animated Series, and Spider-Man (the original, kids, not the “Amazing Friends” era or the 1990s version. I’m old, dammit).
To my taste, even better than the Saturday morning slate were the odd Japanese imports (we didn’t know what “anime” meant) like Speed Racer, Marine Boy, Kimba the White Lion and Astro Boy. Though badly dubbed and often incomprehensible due to editing, I was more drawn to these characters, probably because they were more action-filled, darker and denser: much more like the Marvel Comics I loved. But there weren’t many of them and their availability was limited, so I had to make due with lesser fare (I’m looking at you, most of Hanna Barbara’s output).
This would not be a problem for Jeff if he were a boy today (not counting boy-at-heart, but you already knew that) for there is a plethora of fine, animated shows on the airwaves (or cable waves, if you will). Indeed, there are entire networks devoted to animated shows: Cartoon Network, several flavors of Disney, Nickelodeon, and probably one or two others that I don’t know.
As the parent of a kid who grew up in the late 1990s and 2000s, I have been exposed to a lot of animation over the past two decades. Some of it I liked. Honestly, I probably would have watched a bunch of them even without the excuse of having a kid. But now that the boy is grown up (sort of) and I can watch what I like when I want, I wanted to present a small sampling of animated shows I’m currently really enjoying.
A couple preliminary observations:
– Most of these are peculiarly personal works, despite some of them being shown on humungous corporate networks. I find the fact that this is even possible very encouraging.
– Most of them are shown in 15 minute installments. Not sure if that’s a commercial consideration or an artistic one. In any case (having been raised on Looney Toons), I find that the shorter runtime (11 minutes when you remove commercials) suits the subject matter very well. The single 30 minute exception has a much different rhythm — more like a sitcom than an adventure story, which is what the others are all. Something worth discussing there, methinks.
– These are not in any particular order, though I note with interest that most of them begin with the letter “B”. Thoughts?
I doubt if there’s anything I can add to the reams of material that have been already written about Adventure Time other than my profound gratitude that I am alive while this is being produced. Week in and week out, the tale of Jake the Dog and Finn the Human may be the most deeply moving, funny, and just plain weird thing on television. Add to the mix the amazing comics produced by Boom Studios and you have yourself a pretty heady cultural powerhouse. And if you didn’t weep a manly tear upon watching “Simon & Marcy,” then you, sir, have no soul.
Besides having the most compulsively singable theme song, Steven Universe is the story of Steven and his three… uh… Mother surrogates? Sisters? Fellow superheroes? I’ll tell you the truth, kids: I had an idea for a story sort of like Steven’s about a decade ago and I went down a very dark, dreary path. This, in a much better universe, in the hands of much better writers than I am, is the story I would have liked to tell. Steven is a kid. He has superpowers (sort of). He has adventures (sort of). But, mostly, he just hangs out in his little beach town (named, appropriately, Beach City) and his life unfolds. Created by Rebecca Sugar, formerly an “Adventure Time” writer and artist, this is currently my favorite new thing. It doesn’t always score a bull’s eye, but, man, when it does, it’s amazing. Check out “Giant Woman” and “Lion 2: The Movie.”
Unlike the previous entries, Bravest Warriors isn’t shown on TV. I don’t think Bravest Warriors could be shown on TV. It’s too cool for “Cartoon Network” and too innocent for “Adult Swim.” It’s a web-only series on a channel called “Cartoon Hangover,” which has some connection with Pendleton Ward, the creator of the aforementioned Adventure Time. BW is the story of four teenagers who are the sons and daughters of a team of adventurers who all mysteriously disappeared when they were kids. Now, they have adventures together, mostly saving small squishy things from being eaten. Where Adventure Time mines fantasy-adventure troupes, Bravest Warriors goes for the sci-fi/monster end of the scale. It’s wonderfully off-kilter, sweet, and not afraid to occasionally go for the obtuse joke. Also, Catbug:
Teen Titans Go!
I loved the Teen Titans comics of the 1980s and 1990s. I loved the Teen Titans animated show of the 2000s. I also loved the two seasons (or was it three?) of Young Justice that ended last year. Does that mean I can’t also love Teen Titans Go!? Considering some of the online commentary I’ve seen, it would seem that some people think the answer is yes. But, whatever… They’re just not getting it. The characters in Teen Titans Go! are the same characters in the comics and the animated show. This is just what those guys are doing between the adventures, which, apparently, is eating pizza, watching TV, playing video games and getting on each other’s nerves. This is life, kids, for the spandex set. It’s also funny as hell. I can’t believe they get some of this on what is ostensibly a children’s network. The episode where they plug Cyborg into the Tower and he takes over… Brrrr… Chilling. Hilarious, but chilling.
Once again, I know I’m not blazing any trails when I say that Bob’s Burgers is probably the best sitcom on TV, animated or otherwise. For those, like me, who recall (and still hold a place in their heart for) the glory days of “The Simpsons,” you may recognize a bit of what you are watching unfold before you in Bob’s. The subtly of the writing, the well-rounded characters, and, especially, the willingness to balance the raggedly human with the bizarre — these are all things we recognize as what once made Springfield so special. Most of BB is available on Netflix and, if there’s any justice in the world, it will be heavily rotated in syndication soon, but, please, watch this on a week-by-week basis. You’ll be watching an American masterpiece unfold. Also, fart jokes. Louise is one of the most — if not the most — inspired creations on TV today. And she has pink bunny ears.
Honorable mention: Bee and Puppycat
I bring up Bee and Puppycat for two reasons:
1.) I think the first two episodes are amazing.
2.) I helped to fund the Kickstarter and I really, really want to be able to say when this thing hits, “I knew about this back in the day.” And now you do, too.
That’s all for now. Does this make up for gloom of the last post?
If not, next time: My favorite fluffy kittens! OR “Ponies I have loved.” (Actually, there’s only been one pony I’ve even really liked… and he got sold recently).