Archive for category Animation
In the episode “Help Wanted,” Harry Boyle has to let his truck driver go after yet causing another accident due to his poor eyesight. Yet for some reason, everyone around Harry gives him gruff about this. He was such loyal worker, they claim, but no one seems to acknowledge the fact that he was terrible at this job and a threat to people’s lives, let alone Harry’s self-made business in selling cookware. Things grow to absurd levels as characters push Harry’s search for a new truck driver into what we might categorize as “social justice warrior” territory; his new worker has to be representative of African-Americans, or gay people, or women, implying that this egregious pursuit for political correctness goes against the “oh-so-simple” fact that Harry is just looking for the right man to do the job. At no point does this episode suggest that one of these minorities could be a fit; he’s hiring a truck driver, so anyone with a license and a modicum of experience could do it. Laughably, Harry is coerced to go to the government to assist in finding a minority hire; the government rep he meets with is portrayed so incompetently that Harry – white, male, middle-class, Protestant American Harry, who is the only person in this world that has any sense, hahaha – has to basically coach him through using his own census machine.
To underline this episode’s abhorrent point, an African-American gentleman stops by to sell magazines. Harry politely declines, which for some reason compels Harry’s family – the hippie and comically overweight daughter Alice, the hippie and lazy son Chet, and even the loyal but frustratingly misguided Irma – to call him a bigot. Just so we’re clear, this show’s approach to affirmative action policies consists of the belief that white men has to accept all offers from minorities, practically or not; otherwise, those damned young liberals will call you racist. In desperation, Harry re-hires the dangerous worker to drive his truck again, accidents, mortality rates, and liabilities be damned, since Harry is just so sick and tired of fending off those interfering activists.
Wait Till Your Father Gets Home 05 Help Wanted
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Dear readers of Total Media Bridge: it is with great restraint when I say that Wait Till Your Father Gets Home is vile, lazy shit.
But let’s back up for a bit.
In 1971, All in the Family changed television. Produced by Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin, the CBS hit show nailed the provocative changing landscape of the 70s, engaging in the heady and serious topics of feminism, sexual assault, racism, and sexuality, through engaging characters, tightly-woven stories, and top-notch comedy. It topped the Nielsen ratings for five years in a row and cemented itself as one of the most important and influential comedies of all time. Practically every show today takes its cues in some way or another from All in the Family, including The Simpsons and Family Guy.
Hanna-Barbera is a difficult company to categorize. The two animators brilliantly streamlined animation for the low-budget realm of television through simple techniques like recycling backgrounds and covering up characters’ necks. Their hit shows bring a lot of charm to its characters too; there’s an aesthetic verve to shows like Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear, and even Space Ghost that stand the test of time. They’re also incredibly, undeniably lazy. All three shows have been incessantly recycled into other awful, broken shows (Jabberjaw, Magilla Gorilla, Shazzan for example). And the company has been co-opting live-action (and itself) hits for ages. The Flintstones is a stone-aged knock-off of The Honeymooners. The Laverne and Shirley in the Army show gave the the two female stars a talking pig for some reason. Wacky Races just cobbled together past characters in what might be charitably called the first “shared universe.” Hanna-Barbera quite frequently just grabbed whatever that was out there and repackaged it in sub-par, if striking, animation.
So it comes as no surprise to see Hanna-Barbera co-opting All in the Family with Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, which ran in syndication on NBC in 1972. Starring Tom Bosley as head-of-household Harry Boyle, Wait Till Your Father Gets Home sought to snatch, in animated form, the kind of edgy provocation surging through America that All in the Family was thriving in. The set up was similar, too: Irma was the Edith, Alice was the Gloria, Chet was the Meathead (Mike). They were also given a younger son, Jamie, and a dog. That might have been the largest amount of creativity and thought put into the show; beyond that, Wait Till Your Father Gets Home is utter, utter crap.
This may come off a bit biased, as the show is clearly espousing a more conservative viewpoint, a direction that runs counter to my own politics. It also may seem like I’m speaking from a contemporary point of view, beyond the show’s temporal setting. I assure you, I’ve taken all of that into consideration. I can watch All in the Family and relate with Archie Bunker, despite his abject bigotry. The writing is sharp, the direction is fantastic, the acting is nothing short of incredible, and, most importantly, the show understood all the angles of a debate. Wait Till Your Father Gets Home doesn’t give a fuck about the issues. Harry Boyle, according to this show, is the oh-so-poor victim of a growing scourge of progressivism, forcing him and his self-made image/business/family through inconvenient assaults on his personhood and American righteousness, via the most laziest arguments ever.
The rundown of “Help Wanted” is a perfect example of the show’s misguided narrative; “Permissive Papa” is even worse. Alice wants to date a boy who exhibits nerdy and hippie-esque attitudes, which has Harry thinking of the boy as a potential pervert. So he sets Alice up with a typical conservative middle-class boy instead. When she returns on her date, disheveled, Harry becomes angry, thinking the first boy sexually assaulted his daughter. As he should be. But when Alice revels it was the second boy who attacked her, Harry only reacts with a big “Ooops” for interfering in his daughter’s love-life. To be clear, Harry was going outright kill the hippie kid for non-consensually touching his daughter, but the supposed “normal” kid gets a pass. And never mind the actual attack on, and the well-being of, his daughter – the whole thing is just gleaned over.
Wait Till Your Father Gets Home 27 Permissive Papa
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The show possesses a direct, single-minded approach to Harry and the “persecuted” role of the white middle-class male, truly believing that it’s everyone else encroaching on his normal lifestyle. Everyone else – women, activists, gays, the government, hospitals, and ESPECIALLY kids these days – are just in the way and just don’t get it, man. Certainly not to say that there weren’t problems with the more aggressive set of “liberals” in the 70s, but to completely ignore their good points and/or their genuine struggles is uncanny. Sure, there’s Chet, who refuses to get a job and lazes around the house, only to go to the soup kitchen to feed the poor a few times a week. Yes, there is a problem there, but could the show at least pretend that there’s some value in the boy’s charity? Not so. Harry can only shoot out snarky comments, which are supposed to be ironically funny (coupled with the worst laugh track in history), but come off more dickish and insensitive.
Wait Till Your Father Gets Home fares the worst with feminism and women rights. (It’s right there in the title of the show – only the father will solve THIS problem once he gets home, I’ll tell you what!) It’s as if the writers had no conception of why exactly women were all “up in arms” back then – because, well, they didn’t. Alice gets a lot of shit, but it’s Irma who gets the worst of it. First of all, she’s wildly inconsistent. One episode, she’s acting like an idiot, the next, she’s smart as a whip. Irma constantly gets caught up in random issues – charities, or the idea of working, or keeping up with random, snooty neighbors – and always fucks things up, leaving Harry to put her in her place and solve everything. My favorite bout of laziness, though, has to be the show’s attempt to make Harry’s “ding-a-ling” a thing – Archie’s “dingbat” to All in the Family’s Edith. Hilariously they only use it one episode.
Lest some of you think Harry is too conservative and, perhaps, missing the point, the show introduces Ralph, a conspiracy-minded ultra-conservative who’s insane ideas are meant to be the extreme versions of Harry’s ideals. “See?” the show asks. “Harry is middle-of-the-road compared to Ralph’s militant extremism!” The show’s writers are terrible, though, so while it might seem Ralph’s extremism is heavily exaggerated for comic effect (kinda like a proto-American Dad), but save for a few comic moments he just comes off racist and idiotic. Which raises the question: why does Harry even hang out with him? Harry clearly hates the guy. Because this show is insufferable.
The entire (liberal) world is out to get Harry, who is just trying to be a normal middle-aged white guy with his own business! Why is every single person, with their “issues” and “concerns” and “opinions” always on his case? Why can’t people just leave him alone? These liberals are always interfering in his life, forcing Harry to spend a lot of money, money that Harry constantly complains he never has. He’s buying pools to impress neighbors and dresses to constantly make Alice happy, despite his complaints about prices and costs and extravagance. Yet he never actually puts his foot down on buying these things. The show tries to present Harry’s financial middle-class issues as a real thing but never follows through. If Harry lacks the money to buy something, then he should be unable to buy it. The show wants to present Harry as a run-of-the-mill, check-to-check member of the underclass, yet he’s somehow able to “scrape together” enough funds for the most lavish of expenses. It’s as if Fox News went back in time and animated a show.
If you can call it “animated.” Wait Till Your Father Gets Home might’ve been tolerable if the art was decent, but let’s be frank: this show looks like shit. Inconsistent character models and terrible walk cycles are placed upon legitimately unfinished backgrounds and washed-out colors. With a bit of effort, the unfinished look could’ve come off as a unique artistic aesthetic (and, to be fair, some of the nighttime visuals have a bit of a style to them), but even basic artistic concepts are failed here. Doorways and thresholds are unfinished, with linework not even reaching the top of the screen. Very little thought or effort was put into this program, and it shows.
The worst part of Wait Till Your Father Gets Home is the absolute casualness of its politics it exudes. Provocative-if-lazy shows at least attempt to shock or be edgy, but Wait espouses its crap with an unearned and misguided confidence in its worldview, presenting “shocking” elements only for the great Harry Boyle to crack wise, then tell you how it really should be. It’s The Newsroom before The Newsroom was a thing, but without the hint of a creative/technical mastery of the form. Wait Till Your Father Gets Home has no redeeming value; there’s a reason that only about six episodes have been re-aired within the last twenty years.
Actually, I’m only somewhat wrong; there is one thing that’s kind of well-done (aside from Dan Adams guest-star appearance, who was funny despite the awfulness of the episode he was in): Jamie. In a surprising bit of prescience, the show seemed to predict the 80s generation’s focal concerns for money and greed, portraying the young kid as sort of a savant who treats allowances with the business acumen of an up-and-coming Wall Street executive. But make no mistake: Wait Till Your Father Gets Home puts in the most pedestrian of efforts in order to ride the coattails of All in the Family, making a show that’s lazy, offensive, indigenous, ugly, and flat-out stupid.
At least Hanna-Barbera’s other animated efforts had a talking animal.
I wasn’t planning on doing a best/worst end of year list, which is partly why the episodes here are all relatively recent. I still feel strongly for them though, and I’ll definitely have a more “year summary” type of list for next year. For now though, you should seek out these episodes post-haste.
5. Phineas and Ferb – “Night of the Living Pharmacists”
No one really talks about Phineas and Ferb, which is strange, but at the same time, it allows the show to really have fun and mess around with genres without having the marketing pressure that Nick pushes with Spongebob or Cartoon Network pushes with Adventure Time. Phineas and Ferb is somehow both immensely popular and under the radar, which seems impossible, but that’s how Disney works its TV properties (Fish Hooks has been on the air for years now with nary a peep).
Honestly, it was a tough call between this episode and the Star Wars special. Both are wildly entertaining and immensely funny, but I’d give “Night of the Living Pharmacists” the edge. Despite the goofy set up, where Doofenschmirtz’s Repulse-inator actually transforms its victims to look just like him, the episode leans hard into the horror premise, becoming a genuinely tense experience (as opposed to the Star Wars episode, which was more of a parody/homage to the franchise). The pacing and atmosphere of the hour-long special is air-tight, balancing the show’s usual comic sensibilities with a fairly scary zombie-like scenario. Coupled with the sweet, endearing admission of Isabella’s affections for Phineas, the whole episode really clicks. Unfortunately, the episode ends with a superficial “reset button” development, but even that’s undercut with the show’s rare but pointed moments of surrealism.
4. Gravity Falls – “Into the Bunker”
The already excellent Gravity Falls continues into its second season strongly, pushing forward with its overall mythology while working on its tightly-woven characterizations. While there are some minor issues (mainly that it seems adverse to addressing Mabel’s crush-driven motivations), Alex Hirsch’s show continues to be a high-mark for the Disney Channel.
“Into the Bunker” is the series best episode. Similar to “Night of the Living Pharmacists,” “Into the Bunker” is a genuinely creepy, tense episode while also dealing with Dipper’s crush with Wendy in a mature, direct way. Dipper’s heavy-handed attempts to woo Wendy was always a weak element to the show; the fact that the writers finally dealt with it means we can truly move on. It also helps that Wendy gets a lot of solid characterization and some great ass-kicking moments, and the shape-shifters’ animation is fantastically unsettling. I’m less concerned about the show’s overall plotting than most, but even I’m fascinated in learning what comes next.
3. Steven Universe – “Space Race”
Steven Universe is one of the most charming and endearing shows on TV right now. The unique relationship Steven possesses with his Gem guardians is both wonderful and questionable, allowing the show to play around with the ambiguity of literal out-of-this-world beings and their attempts to connect with the most delightful members of humanity. The contrast between these alien beings and mortal citizens of Beach City keeps things weird but engaging, the show careful to dole out bits of information along with bits of warmth and growth.
Nothing epitomizes that goal quite like “Space Race.” Following the revealing two-part episodes “Mirror Gem” and “Ocean Gem,” and the thematic fallout of “House Guest,” “Space Race” pits the natural paternal instincts of Pearl and Greg (Steven’s biological father) against each other. Or, more accurately, those instincts are set up in contrast to each other — Greg’s uses Steven’s interest in space to fake-build a spaceship mostly to bond, while Pearl does the same thing, but gets caught up in the moment to build a real one. Both “parents” truly want to connect with Steven, but Pearl’s passion to bond Steven to his Gem side goes overboard as she almost rockets herself and Steven into space within a ship that’s not even close to being ready. There’s love, and then there’s understanding, and both Greg and Pearl struggle with that concept when it comes to how best to approach Steven’s upbringing, but it’s that struggle that makes it the show’s most ridiculous events truly heartfelt.
2. The Amazing World of Gumball – “The Man”
There was no way to predict the amount of growth and substance that has been added to The Amazing World of Gumball. What began as a visually-interesting but character-lacking show with mostly lazy gags has transformed into a fantastic blend of animation/graphic-rich aesthetics, crack comic timing, and powerful, distinct insights into surprisingly real characters with real stakes. It’s by far the most impressive cartoon on the air right now, due to how dedicated the writers’ and animators’ commitment to the show’s world are.
Showrunner Ben Bocquelet expressed his passion for “The Shell,” which is indeed a game-changing episode, in reference to the relationship between Gumball and Penny, but “The Man” is truly where the show is firing on all cylinders. Thematically following up on the events on “The Authority” (which revealed that Richard’s mother, Granny Jojo, overprotected him all his childhood, thus explaining his current “mental deficiencies”), “The Man” has Jojo finding a new boyfriend, which gets Richard really upset, since, mentally, he’s still waiting for his father to return from the store — 42 years later. Gumball treads some fairly heavy material with a deftness rarely seen on TV. Unlike, say, Bojack Horseman, Gumball doesn’t lapse into CTRL-ALT-DELETE seriousness by keeping the comedy coming and the characterizations strong; watching the Wattersons work with Richard to come to terms with that truth is a treat, utilizing strong, if wacky, family values.
1. Wander Over Yonder – “The Gift 2: The Giftening”
Wander Over Yonder is a creative smorgasbord, filled with massively unique planetary locales and a host of strange, versatile alien lifeforms. Wander and his partner, Sylvia, travel the cosmos and encounter a variety of beings — but all of that is really an excuse to come fast and furious with great jokes and even greater animated bits. While some of the various characterizations can be a big off-putting — the relationship Sylvia and Wander is strong but can sometimes be a bit unpleasant — at its best, the show is a fascinating visceral treat with some surprisingly pointed, clever commentary.
So how did “The Gift 2: The Giftening” win best episode of the year? By being structurally perfect. The art of the wacky cartoon is all but dead, with arguably, only Spongebob and Breadwinners really thriving in that field; the former is way past its prime, while the latter is merely an ugly, meme-centric knock-off of the former. This episode, by contrast, is a wonderful homage to the fast, loony shorts by Tex Avery, filled with wildly exaggerated expressions and break-neck insanity as Lord Hater zooms around the universe to escape Wander’s terrifying “gift.” It’s just hilarious, and chances are you won’t see anything like it unless you pull up a Droopy Dog short. As a bonus, the episode emphasizes the power of positive reinforcement, just at the expense of the show’s best character. There’s a real lesson behind the comedy, but the comedy itself is just that strong. (With a little tweaking, the episode, posited as a Halloween special, is inverted as a Christmas special in the following “The Gift,” which is the show being immensely clever and well thought-out.)
I wasn’t planning on doing a best/worst end of year list, which is partly why the episodes here are all relatively recent. I still feel strongly for them though, and I’ll definitely have a more “year summary” type of list for next year. For now though, you should completely avoid these episodes.
5. Turbo FAST – “Curse of the Cicadas”
Turbo FAST is one of the most underrated cartoons currently airing today. Breaking from its bland, dour, generic film source, Netflix’s animated series is fast, funny, and frenetic. It actually gives the various characters personalities and histories, and it’s a lot more loonier, goofy, and self-aware than you might expect. Even then, the slick animation and on-point sound design make it one of the most entertaining animated shows around, and the final six episodes are some of the funniest, energetic, and liveliest bits of pure “cartooning” I’ve seen in a while.
So it’s tough to admit that “Curse of the Cicadas” is a wild misstep for the show. The Turbo FAST crew discover a time capsule filled with wonders from the 90s – which is basically an excuse to make fun of the 90s. I’m fine with that. Things get uncomfortable when the sleeping cicadas within the capsule wake up and threaten to take over Turbo FAST’s makeshift snail city. Of all the various 90s-pop culture elements to ridicule, they chose mainly Steve Urkle from Family Matters, cliched “urban” hip-hop slang, and a Macarana knock-off (they tackled grunge but only in short, brief visuals). It’s not racist, but it’s lazy, and by being lazy, it kind of comes off as racist. The final sequence is actually a great animated montage, where by the snails use the Macarana knock-off dance to lure the cicadas back into the capsule, but the episode ends leaving a bad taste in the mouth. The show isn’t afraid to go overboard, so why they stuck with three basic gags is beyond me.
4. Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures – “A Hard Dazed Knight”
Not to praise this show too much, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventure has a premise that’s a hell of a lot more interesting than its execution. Granted, it’s really a knock-off of Harry Potter, but just the mere fact that a show built for seven year-olds possesses so many layers is fairly impressive. Pac-Man’s parents go missing; the yellow orbs are the only ones who can eat ghosts; the secrets behind the Tree of Life and the Repository; the intricate backstory and relationships between various characters; the introduction of “Pointy Heads” that threw in a new wrinkle to Pac’s missing parents — all of that plus other elements give the show a level of prestige that only a few writers can manage.
That’s the thing though: some writers can manage the surprising complexity while maintaining the mandated simplistic comedy, mostly around fart jokes and stupidity. “A Hard Dazed Knight” fails to even utilize the basic elements of the premise, with a contest between Sir Cumfurence and Dr. Buttocks (why would they have contest? They’re mortal enemies!), and it takes way too long to get to the real plot (ghost armor that Pac-Man can’t chew through). The worst though, is the forced King Arthur homage, where Lord Betrayus leads his armor-laden ghosts into battle and talk in terrible old-English dialects. Unnecessary, forced, and lame, “A Hard Dazed Knight” meanders in its randomness until it ends, with not even a modicum of the kind of fun needed for such a childish show.
3. Breadwinners – “A Thug Loaf”
Stop me if you heard this before: two silly, semi-irresponsible characters known to cause chaos; a female character known for her insane inventions; an owner of a diner monstrously known for his extreme love for money; a hoity-toity neighbor who bears the brunt of the main characters antics and abuse; a female authority figure who hates the main characters while trying to “teach” them; a large, scary being who commands a ship and often threatens the world. Yes: shift some details around, and Breadwinners is just a lazy knock-off of Spongebob Squarepants (and yes, I know I’ve been using knock-off a lot), compounded with that ugly, notebook-doodle design combined with mediocre 8/16-bit video game design, with none of the art direction to make it function.
“A Thug Loaf” not only is a lazy episode of a lame show, but it has the uncomfortable addition of portraying “the bad side of town” as an area of little-to-no value. Believe me, I don’t expect any type of social commentary whatsoever from such an inane program, but kids are watching this, and with all the current news stories that are misinterpreting “bad” neighborhoods as blights on society, it’s doubly important to at least have our animation writers explore such areas with at least SOME kind of nuance, even within a pure, comedic context. When Spongebob fell into the “bad neighborhood” in “Rock Bottom,” he may have found it creepy, but it was just due to his unfamiliarity with it, and in the end, it was an unfamiliar creature who helped him go home. “A Thug Loaf” makes no distinction, making a dumb show even more socially problematic.
2. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic – “Simple Ways”
My Little Pony has its fans and its detractors, of which I am both. For all of the good will it exudes with its six main characters — Applejack, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and Twilight Sparkle are all fully fleshed out female ponies with distinct personalities and goals — the show overall seems to struggle with using those characters to explore and flesh out the other ponies within the world around them in a particular meaningful way. This recent season, at the very least, started out as an apology to last season’s rushed and character-broken storylines, and while it had a few flaws, they were minor, and the core characterizations were in tact.
Then “Simple Ways” arrived. Exuding My Little Pony’s worse qualities, the episode shoves Rarity — who was always comfortable pursuing her fashion trends on her own — with an out-of-character secret crush on some hillbilly pony. This leads to some extremely lazy and almost-offensive characterizations of rural folk AND urbanites, pitting Rarity and Applejack against each other as they spout off one stereotype after another. Reducing Rarity to a nonsensical stalker who’s secretly turned on by “Southern” chic is completely out of left field, but to then reduce all the characters involved to their simplest tropes without even commenting on how wrong it is to focus on their class and status make this episode an even crappier version of the already crappy “Over a Barrel.” My Little Pony seems troubled when it does anything beyond its main six (see also: “Leap of Faith,” where everyone in town just listens to Applejack), and “Simple Ways” is the epitome of that.
1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – “Pizza Face”
Nickelodeon’s CGI revamp of this classic comic series wasn’t amazing — particularly if you compared it to the 2002 2D animated version that ended only a few years earlier — but it was a solid first season, with a strong familial connection between the four reptilian brothers and their master rat. One of the coolest things to watch was the teenage ninjas gradually improve their fighting skills and their teamwork on an episode-by-episode basis, while also recognizing when they were out of their league. The show also purposely avoided the laziest of characterizations that often plagued these characters: Raph’s angry outbursts, Leo’s wishy-washy leadership concerns, Donny’s abject geekiness, Mikey’s unabashed stupidity — they were at least given some sibling-related context to make those one-note emotions work.
The second season destroyed all that almost immediately. The fighting is random and erratic, the plotting and logic is all over the place (I wrote about one particularly awful episode here), and the character decisions are both lazy AND irrational. Not one but TWO episodes were dedicated to Raph’s annoying anger issues, Casey Jones is completely unlikeable, Donny’s crush on April is wildly uncomfortable, and April possesses psychic powers and completely unreliable fighting abilities (although to be fair, the 2002 version of the show did the same thing with her). Yet even all those flaws don’t even come close to the absolute terribleness of “Pizza Face,” a complete failure and rejection of even the basic rules of writing. Stories where no one believes the protagonists claims are bad enough, but coupled with the bad comedy, the strained wackiness, the jarring tonal comedy/horror shifts, and by far the stupidest origin of the mutant pizzas conceivable (a chef finds a broken vial of mutagen and deliberately puts it on the pizza because he wanted to find a new topping [yes this is the explanation]), “Pizza Face” is abysmal on all counts. It’s also emblematic of everything wrong with the current season, which is now nothing but 80 horror movie references. To think this show once held promise.