5 Recent-ish Shows You Need to Watch (or at Least Give Them a Chance)


Robot and Monster

1) Robot & Monster (available on iTunes)

Premise: Two best friends live together in a bizarrely askew world of Mechanicals (robots) and Organics (monsters).

Why it’s Off-Putting: Robot & Monster seemed like it was cooked up as a precursor to a pay-to-play kids MMO game. Choose your race! Design your character! Buy a bunch of shit! Be like the characters from this TV show! Also, with its blimps, quirkiness, and obsession with bacon, it gave off a way too strong “HEY INTERNET!” vibe.

Why it’s Brilliant: Underneath the quirk is a surprisingly smart and well thought-out show that deepens the characters and seeks to explain its quirks one episode at a time. Robot’s childhood is as sad as it is funny, tortured by his big brother Gart and aggressively ignored by his mother, both of whom make no attempt to hide their contempt for him (and his grandmother speaks in BINARY!). Monster is childlike in his innocence, but manages to maintain a certain amount of adorableness, mainly when his blind devotion and friendliness spreads to others. Weird moments and visuals are given context, doled out across several episodes, breathing life into events that seem like arbitrary design decisions. Robot and Monster’s TV is black and white, but they compete in a contest to get a color one, re-contextualizing black and white TV as the quirky norm. The show is filled with these small reveals.

But the best part is that Robot and Monster has perhaps one of the best secondary casts of animated cartoons in the past few years. Ogo is an inexplicable stalker of the titular characters, knowing more about them they know themselves, tracking their every move, and planting cameras all over their apartment, to a creepily hilarious degree. Mr. Wheelie, their landlord, hates them for no good reason. Punch Morley is a former polo-player turned security guard who’s as strong as he’s moronic (his mental degeneration is definitely implied to be a result of his sport-playing days). And JD and Spitfire are two crazy, rambunctious gals who go around and fight crime… and fight anyone else, really. Oh, and there’s Perry, a pipe with a stuck-on smile who is abused in some of the funniest ways possible.

Must Watch Episodes: “Between Brothers,” “Hornica,” Ogo’s Birthday,” “The Party,” “Baconmas.”

Mongrels

2) Mongrels (available on Hulu and region 2 DVD)

Premise: Five crude animals live in a back alley and get into all sorts of surreal, crazy situations.

Why it’s Off-Putting: Puppetry (well, it’s really “Muppet-ry”) tends to put audiences off, unless it’s the Muppets themselves. It wasn’t particularly marketed well, and BBC 3 seemed very uncomfortable with what was essentially Family Guy meets The Muppets. British audiences don’t really like their TV “pushing the envelope” in terms of edginess.

Why it’s Brilliant: Hidden behind the excessive crudeness is a hilarious show that contextualizes the crudeness and pop culture references so even audiences across the pond could understand. It also helps that the characters are strong enough at their core so that non-fans of the poor-tasting jokes could at least love the characters instead. Nelson, the metrosexual star, is an earnest go-getter who often gets pushed around by Destiny (an aggressive, diva dog) and Vince (a foul-mouth sociopath fox), but has a decent friend in Marion (a moronic but loveable cat) and, to a much lesser extent, Callie (a sharp-tongued bird). The show bounces liberally through cutaways, montages, and throwbacks, all among gags harping on 9/11, abuse, racism, and even neutering. But the very nature of the puppets blunt the impact, especially when you realize how terrible (in an entertaining way) these characters are.

Beyond that, though, on a technical level, the show is top-notch. The puppet work is as good as, and even better than at some times, the Muppets. In HD, the show looks beautiful, with the cinematography and lighting highlighting the puppets eyes to really make them come alive. Excellent casting allows the voices to hit every note. Montages, again, are so smartly done and technically well-produced, ESPECIALLY when they parody famous music videos. And I’ve yet to honestly see a show that generally uses music so perfectly, whether in parodies, background scores, karaoke, scene transitions, or key moments. In some ways it’s remarkable that a show like this existed, and was done so well.

Must Watch Episodes: “Nelson the Online Predator,” “Nelson the Stroke Virgin,” “Nelson the Naughty Arsonist,” “Marion and the Force-Field,” “Nelson and the C***’s Speech”

Dan Vs.

3) Dan Vs. (available on iTunes and currently airing on the The Hub. Check local listings!)

Premise: A psychopath rages war on various mundane things along with his push-over friend, leading to bizarre and surreal situations.

Why it’s Off-Putting: It’s completely and utterly an anomaly on The Hub’s lineup of shows. It’s a bit more adult-oriented, and while the content isn’t explicit at all, Dan Vs. is a bit strange to see and experience. It’s also an odd premise to hang one’s hat on; on the surface, it doesn’t sound appealing.

Why’s it’s Brilliant: Dan, voiced by Curtis Armstrong, is perfectly cast. Armstrong brings the unrestrained menace to his VO work, while maintaining the whiny undertone to keep Dan Vs. from going too dark. Dan’s plans to destroy whatever he hates – exercise, stupidity, skiing, reality TV, dancing, etc. – are wonderfully outlandish, in a Pinky and the Brain kind of way. The show is funny as all hell, and it’s always a treat to see how far things get with Dan on the warpath.

There was always a chance that secondary characters Chris (voiced by Dave Foley) and Elise (voice by Paget Brewster) would ruin the surreal fun. Luckily, the writers were aware of this early on and worked to make them both interesting as well. Elise has her own dark secret – being a high-level, top secret agent who works for a semi-inept government agency, and Chris is a charming if sad soul who overeats and follows Dan around due to his own lack of agency in his life (he’s the Dr. Watson to Dan’s hostile Sherlock Holmes). Things grow even more complicated with Elise’s parents, who hate both Dan AND Chris. Elise’s mom, also, is a secret agent who works for a corporation, and just happens to be Elise’s arch-enemy. All this in the midst of the insanity of Dan’s revenge schemes. If that sounds like too much, at least watch it so Dave Foley can continue to get paid and get himself out of his exorbitant debt.

Much Watch Episodes: “New Mexico,” “The Barber,” “Elise’s Parents,” “The Wedding,” “The Family Cruise”

 

Amazing World of Gumball

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4) The Amazing World of Gumball (available on iTunes and currently airing on Cartoon Network)

Premise: A blue cat and his brother live in an insane, multi-animated world where almost anything can happen.

Why it’s Off-Putting: Gumball’s core character design isn’t appealing at first glance, and the various characters, all of which are animated in various different styles (hand drawn, stop-motion, CGI) just do not look like they will work. It has the appearance of a foreign, experimental film, and the first few episodes are simply passable.

Why it’s Brilliant: I wrote about this before, but it bears repeating. Somewhere along the line, late in season 1 but definitely in season 2, Gumball took off. I’m not sure if it was because of a bigger budget, but the cacophony of variable animation styles blend together so incredibly well that it defies every and all expectations. It makes Paperman look amateurish. Watching an anime-ish designed character interact with a 3D designed character on top of a filmed set is beautifully rendered, and even when the action speeds up or the scene requires tricky editing, everything flows beautifully.

I think the key to what makes the show shine is how the writing is A PART OF the animation. They don’t seem like separate entities. There’s usually two schools of thought here: storyboarders are the writers, or the writers write and storyboarders storyboard. Gumball FEELS like it’s all one heavily connected unity, from the original pitch in the writing room to the final audio mix. This results in a such a glorious assault on the senses, leaving your eyes as satisfied as your funny bone. The characters are so fun – Nicole, Gumball’s mother, is a fantastic standout – and they get into deliciously crazy situations that have set pieces that, quite honestly, will leave you breathless, both in laughter and in utter awe. (As I write this, this may be my favorite show on the air right now.)

Must Watch Episodes: “The DVD,” “The Fight,” “The Words,” (DEFINITELY “THE WORDS”), “The Treasure,” “The Job”

Pound Puppies

5) Pound Puppies (available on Netflix and iTunes)

Premise: A group of specialized canines work to find and match pups and dogs to their proper owners.

Why it’s Off-Putting: The original designs for this updated show were, in short, horrendous. And the first seven episodes are embarrassingly based on them. The cutesy premise seems geared towards a much younger audience, which is more akin to Blue’s Clues or Rollie Pollie Ollie.

Why it’s Brilliant: Pound Puppies saves itself by taking the cutesy premise and exploring it in its entirety, emphasizing the sad, depressing elements that go along with being alone and unloved. The show (in kiddie fashion, of course) deals with ideas of being an orphan, of abandonment and loneliness, of companionship and friendship. Each of the members of the Pound Puppies come off as stereotypes at first, but slowly grow into their individual selves. While not a funny show, there’s a soft warmth to it that resembles the warm tones prevalent in Hey Arnold and Recess – mainly because they share similar writing staffs. Also helping was DHX taking over animation duties from episode 8 onward, so the show looks less butt-ugly than before.

The second season, admittedly, was a far cry from the first, falling into the same trap that seems to hurt MLP’s second and third season, becoming goofier and sillier, moving away from the intriguing dramatic tinge of the first. Still, it has a lot of heart and Erik McCormick as Lucky is in some ways my favorite VO work on the air right now. And hearing Michael Rappaport’s distinct New York’s accent come out of a dog’s mouth is always funny.

Must Watch Episodes: “The General,” “Taboo,” “I Never Barked for My Father,” “Mutteral Instincts,” “Pound Preemies”

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  1. #1 by ILDC on July 17, 2013 - 11:17 pm

    Nice list. Though Mongrels is really the only one I haven’t seen any episodes of, I now feel more inclined to check out the rest of the other shows you listed.

    If you plan to give more shows their recognition soon, have you seen or even heard of Motorcity? I’ve only watched a handful of episodes, but already I’m sadden this got lost in the Disney shuffle. It’s like Metalocalypse meets Megas XLR, and you can’t go wrong with Mark Hamill in full-on hammy bad guy mode.

  2. #2 by M. Wright on July 19, 2013 - 3:34 pm

    Robot and Monster can also be found on the Nicktoons channel late night. I DVR’ed a couple of episodes that I found in the listings recently to check out thanks to your recommendation :)

  3. #3 by Canais Young on January 10, 2017 - 12:55 am

    [QUOTE]Gumball’s core character design isn’t appealing at first glance, and the various characters, all of which are animated in various different styles (hand drawn, stop-motion, CGI) just do not look like they will work. It has the appearance of a foreign, experimental film, and the first few episodes are simply passable.[/QUOTE]

    I can explain why that’s so: 1) The show creator, Ben Bocquelet, loves graphic disunity and mixing media; 2) His original idea for the show was to have failed cartoon characters go to a remedial school to learn the art of being a cartoon character. The execs thought it was too depressing (I, however, don’t. I mean, yeah, it might go over the heads of anyone who’s never been to animation school or knows nothing of animation history, but I don’t see it as depressing), so it was remade into a kids-in-school/family sitcom; 3) Season one didn’t have any scriptwriters. It went from outline to storyboard. This changed (along with the show getting a better animation studio) from season two onward; and 4) It looks like a foreign, experimental film because it kinda is. Ben Bocquelet is French/British and his show is from Cartoon Network’s European Division in the United Kingdom. The show may look American (and it does make fun of American life like “The Simpsons” used to and “South Park” has and Seth MacFarlane’s shows wished they could do more consistently), but it isn’t.

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