Archive for category Childhood Revisited
Pirates of Dark Water made one last attempt at a fantasy-themed cartoon as the appeal of the genre died out – and went out in in spectacular fashion.
Part of the reason I’ve been watching shows like Men in Black: The Series, Project GeeKeR, and Road Rovers is because I’m curious about the rise and fall of the (serious) action cartoon. The Legend Of Korra’s move to online pretty much signaled the end of it, and only Disney seems to have any type of commitment to the genre – safely channeled through their acquired Star Wars and Marvel properties, of course. Between the early 90s to the middle of the 00s, though, creative and original action ‘toons dotted the landscape, and it’s been a treat (of varying degree) to watch them and ponder their influences and status on animated programming. The DCAU has been written about extensively, which is also why I’ve been searching for the one-offs, the shows that came and went with little fanfare.
Pirates of Dark Water was one such show. Released in 1991 on both Fox and ABC (it looks as if there was some inter-network tweaking), creator and showrunner David Kirschner presented show about three disparaging personalities on a global quest to stop the mysterious “dark water” from engulfing the planet. This world, called Mer, was meticulously designed and detailed, heavy on its self-created mythology and world-building, evoking an almost-Tolkien level of fascination. The 80s were filled with fantasy-based content, which was incredibly popular with young audiences – movies like Labyrinth, The Secret of NIMH, and The Never-Ending Story, and shows like The Adventure of Gummi Bears – and Kirschner sought to bring that genre’s best and most creative elements to the show.
Unfortunately, the budding new genre of the 90s were superheros and futuristic cyberpunk, which the DCAU thrived at. Fantasy died out, which left Pirates of Dark Water fending for itself. Even so, Kirschner, with his team of writers and animators, created an amazing program, with the kind of tight, inter-connected plotting that would make Joss Whedon jealous. Mer and the characters within it are well-developed and wildly appealing, with the appropriate amount of backstory to give them all a strong sense of motivation.
Pirates of Dark Water tells the story of Ren, a young boy who discovers he’s a prince after his father crashes on his home island of Octopon. A pretty crazy set of events leads Ren to discover questionable allies in Ioz, Tula, and Niddler on a massive quest across the planet to find the Thirteen Treasures of Rule, while being chased by a massive pirate ship called the Maelstrom, headed by the one-eyed scourge named Bloth. It would be easy for the show to simply throw the cast into conflict with Bloth in various episodes, but Pirates of Dark Water sets up, little by little, a fully fleshed out world of creatures, species, civilizations, characters, and locations that gives the show a flavor not often seen in even live-action shows.
All of this is cleverly laid out in the first five episodes. Essentially a full-on TV movie, “The Quest” through “Victory” is a remarkable bit of storytelling. Unlike the four/five-parters of the Disney Afternoon series, which were more or less stand alone episodes with an overall plot connecting them, the Pirates of Dark Water TV movie pilot builds with important bits of information which informs characters actions and behaviors in previous and subsequent episodes. We learn about the Maelstrom and its own internal, chaotic “world” of prisoners and monsters (known as the Bilge). We also learn about various characters like Teron the ecomancer, Zoolie the playful but tough gamehouse manager, and Joat, the former owner of the Wraith (which is stolen by Ioz). The pilot is filled with great reveals and secrets that keep the action movie and the plot lively. Events like Ioz’s constant greed and Tula’s betrayal ensure that internal conflicts among the crew is as constant as the external ones.
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First and foremost, the plotting of the show is fantastic. It’s not deep, like Gargoyles, or even Project GeeKeR, so there’s little thematic relevance. Pirates of Dark Water’s primary concern is bringing its world and its characters to life, so we learn about things like Tula’s home and its destruction. We learn Ioz’s relationship with Teron. We learn about Niddler and his race of monkey-birds, a species treated as low-class citizens at best, and slaves at worse. One of my favorite details is how the show handle the titular “dark water.” It’s not even mentioned until the third episode, in a casual throw-away line from Ioz, and it’s in the middle of the first season where we learn about true nature of the dark water – which is controlled by a powerful creature called the Dark Dweller. Yes, even villains are given history. Bloth’s henchman, Konk, lost his leg to the dangerous creature of the Maelstrom, and apparently was the only pirate to survive an encounter with it. Later in the series we learn about Morpho, an alchemist who tried to study dark water but became a monstrous slave to it. There’s also Cray, a woman wracked with jealousy over a failed relationship with Ren’s father. This implies that Primus, the heroic king of Octopon, was not exactly on the up and up, as some relationships between him and others are shown to be toxic, which introduces a grey area to an already multifaceted show.
The characters give all that plotting the weight to carry it. Primus’ history isn’t the only thing that gives the show moral ambiguity. Ioz, for example, has a sense of loyalty but lacks commitment. He’s the literal embodiment of “honor among thieves,” as he’s willing to go after Tula after her betrayal (later clarified), and avenge her presumed death later in the series. Still, he still will risk his life and reputation chasing after errant gold, like in “The Ghost Pirates,” when he’s held captive by some female pirate spirits after boarding a ghost ship for its booty. (An aside: I love that the leader of the ghost pirates keeps Ioz only on basically fuck him for all eternity.) Tula, too, is no saint, despite being essentiallythe love interest. Her betrayal is a real shock, but well-established, as she’s revealed to be a warrior sent to save Teron from Bloth’s clutches. There’s Niddler, who is probably the most loyal to Ren, and has a real tragic backstory, what with his treatment as Bloth’s former henchman and his race being treated so poorly. The show, unfortunately, really struggles with balancing the tragic elements of the monkey-birds with Niddler’s comic behavior. It reeks of network interference, emphasizing Niddler as a goofball and a glutton to appeal to kids. (I think Kirschner didn’t mind a little bit of comic antics from Niddler, but the overbearing-ness of it seems to be pressured during the Fox/ABC switch. Niddler is perfect in the TV movie, but becomes an annoyance for the most part during the actual series).
The animation is a bit stilted, with stiff movements and clunky action, particularly during action sequences. But the art direction and strong music cues create a strong impression of intensity during those scenes. The backgrounds are the show’s real selling point. Places like Octopon and Andorus are extremely well detailed, given a sense of history just by how they look. (These two places also make great contrasting visuals, as they transform from ruinous to vivacious due to the actions of the main crew). Even the inside of the Maelstrom feels alive, beyond the crazy monsters and desperate prisoners that thrive beneath it. If anything, just the look of the show is fantastic, and worth watching just to witness the vibrant art and unique blend of classic pirate fantasy with a slight science-fiction jolt (the Constrictus is such a H.P. Lovecraft-based design that it’s impossible to deny).
The show does have some flaws, beyond the animation and Niddler. Some of female characters fall flat, particularly in the first season. Once Tula is revealed to be an ecomancer (more on this later), she becomes very passive, despite the reveal that she was a warrior from Andorus. The extremely interesting Avagon, who knows more about Ren then she lets on, is unfortunately killed off. And despite being a fairly decent episode, the depiction of Cray could’ve used some work. Luckily, these flaws seemed to have been noticed by the Pirates of Dark Water team, and most of them are fixed within the second season. Tula’s warrior backstory returns, making her both an effective fighter (again) and a decent mage, of sorts. More female characters are introduced – mostly villains, but effective ones. Niddler’s comic antics are also toned down somewhat, making him a lot more tolerable. This might be the first animated show to really “fix” the show with a second season, instead of doubling down on the more kiddie aspects.
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In some ways, Pirates of Dark Water is really a show about environmentalism, about the idea of caring for the planet, handled in a more creative and entertaining fashion, more so than something like Captain Planet. While a lot of shows wore the message of planetary protection on its sleeve, Pirates of Dark Water tied it directly to a legitimate adventure. The connections are clear: dark water is pollution, tied into the corruption of the “world,” and it’s up to the people, despite their differences and diversities, to come together in some way to fix it. The show strongly suggest that people like Ren – individuals – indeed have the power to save the world. There are those forces who seem uninterested (“The Game Players of Undaar” is a good example), and there are those actively encouraging it (Bloth, the Dark Disciples), but keeping the planet pure is an effort worth pursuing. Committing to that effort can restore the world’s natural beauty, like with Octopon and Andorus, and end the corruption of the planet and its people.
Unfortunately, neither FOX or ABC was committed to the show. After two solid seasons, the show was cancelled, with only seven treasures discovered and some major mysteries still left explored (the biggest disappointment? Definitely Bloth’s threat to Ren way back in “Victory,” suggesting that he isn’t human, but something else entirely). While it’s sad that the animation world moved on, paving the way for the excellent Batman: The Animated Series and the DC cartoons spawned from it, Pirates of Dark Water made a rousing, final effort to show that fantasy was still a viable genre. It took until the first Lord of the Rings movie to bring fantasy back into the public conscious, and with The Hobbit films currently going strong, perhaps one day more people will give this series a second chance.
Mad Jack the Pirate shows that even the funniest cartoons need to have more going for it to be something memorable.
I decided to check out Mad Jack the Pirate after finishing up Eek! The Cat. Bill Kopp, who co-created Eek, conceived of Mad Jack after working for Disney with The Schnookums and Meat Funny Cartoon Show and part of Toonsylvania. His work on Eek was strong enough to warrant following, and while I’ve heard mixed things on Schnookums and Meat and Toonsylvania, I’ve heard nothing about this one-season show about a pirate’s constant failure to find treasure. I’m also fascinated by under-the-radar cartoons, so getting a whiff of one from Kopp’s mind made me crazy curious about it.
There are a lot of brilliance to Eek! The Cat, with appealingly goofy characters and an absurd world that mixes nutso humans with even mosre nutso talking animals, all couched in various permutations of satire, farce, and parodies. As insane as the world is, it is at least grounded in elements that the writers and animators could build off of, utilizing witty dialogue and well-timed visuals. “Paws” for example had a lot of fun with its characters within a Jaws parody, but also played stupid-fun with the kiddie-pool locale re-imagined as a deadly, endless ocean. Everything came together with confidence; even its weaker episodes were committed to its narrative and characters.
Mad Jack the Pirate is… less so. There’s either a budget issue or a general creative malaise to this show. With networks slowly moving away from Saturday morning animated content, it may quite possibly be both. There are a lot of potential ideas here, and there a quite a number of genuinely funny moments, but there’s a sense that the show doesn’t want to explore anything past its most basic of premises. It’s a show that can be extremely funny, but it’s also extremely unsustainable.
There are three reasons for this. The main problem is the lack of commitment to the world that’s been created. I don’t necessarily mean the internal, in-show world per se; there’s just this really odd, half-assed approach to everything that occurs on the screen. It’s often funny at times but it’s not “correct.” Eek! The Cat’s Metropolis was an absurd but vibrant world where characters could be anything and encounter anything. I can’t even remember the name of the “world” that Mad Jack explores, which is a just a bunch of islands, and the occasional random location, like Megamouth Studios. It’s not that anything here is bad, since these locations are built mainly to put Mad Jack and his partner Snuk through the ringer, but they’re perfunctory, and only a few of them feel worthwhile.
Maybe it’s less the locations and more the lack of dynamic characters. The second main problem? The cast is boring and non-existent. Mad Jack desperately needs a diverse, comedic crew – a cast of semi-regulars to bounce off, characters that can produce multiple viewpoints to this world around them. It seems like the pilot episode, “The Terrifying Sea Witch Incident,” is leading to that – a talking, arrogant chicken ranting about his “mascot” role in the show; three random crew members with potential to be unique and interesting; the arrogant “hero” prince Flash Dashing, who talks like William Shatner taking the role of the “hero-antagonist” to Mad Jack’s “villain-protagonist.” Even the crow in the crow’s nest, while an obvious dumb joke, has potential as a character:
But looks what happens – the chicken is presumably eaten and the crew just runs off (the show ends with an elaborate tag where the chicken rants about not being killed, which tries to come off as a smart-ass putdown on executive meddling, but really comes off as the writers forgetting about him in the first place). Flash Dashing is only used in one other episode and the crow is recycled in a later episode again without any other lines. When all is said and done, the show is solely a Mad Jack and Snuk affair, and it’s a dynamic that really goes nowhere. It’s cute, sure, but with Mad Jack constantly shitting on, abusing, and otherwise exploiting Snuk, it’s a one-sided affair that doesn’t lead to anything palpable.
As the examples suggest, the show also engages in a darker, more vicious tone; there are a lot more explicit descriptions of murder, violence, and sex than one might expect from a cartoon. Mad Jack, in fact, is not a pirate with a heart of gold (not at first), but a criminal through-and-through, who cheats, lies, and steals with little to no shame. This creates a lot of comic moments – there’s a lot of hilarity in putting criminals in lead roles, only to watch them fail miserably and constantly – but without some kind of redeeming factor, it’s particularly hard to stand behind him. In fact, in “The Strange Case of Angus Dagnabbit,” Mad Jack straight-up kills the guy he’s trying to rob. It’s a startling event, and the show kind of glosses over it when the murdered Dagnabbit comes back to haunt Mad Jack, but there’s a difference between redemption and revenge; both can be funny, but the latter leads to dwindling audience support, while the former shows the character’s willingness to change, which is more dramatically interesting. “Darkness” in and of itself is neither a hit for or strike against the show, but Mad Jack’s lack of progress as a character is another example of the show’s lack of dynamics.
The third and final issue against the show is the lackluster staging and art direction. It’s something more people wouldn’t recognize in a cartoon until you watch it and find yourself… bored by something, but struggling to say what exactly. Mad Jack the Pirate has the appearance of a visually interesting cartoon, with its vibrant colors and potentially interesting locales, but the actual direction is bland, with most scenes animated straight on full shots, with characters walking left-to-right or right-to-left. There’s very few dynamic zooms or close-ups, creative montages or audacious dream sequences, or even simple visual cues like running toward or away from the cameras. Eek! the Cat had a lot of unique views, so it’s disappointing to see Mad Jack, rich with potential, fall so short in the animation department.
Combining all three issues – lack of world exploration, character dynamics, and directorial diversity – leads to a show brimming with potential but constantly falling short. The “pirate world” premise with wacky/absurdist trappings feels undercooked and random, and while there are funny moments, it never feels committed. I laughed quite a bit at “Lights, Camera – Snuk,” where Mad Jack, in a desperate attempt to show a film producer how real pirates live, constantly gets hurt after every showcase, and ends with him eaten by a dinosaur. Every set piece ends with him eaten by a dinosaur, which is part of the “hard-to-pull-off” gags of repetition, but it works up to a point; beyond that gag, there’s no “uniqueness” to the approach, narratively or visually. It’s less “how many funny ways to be eaten by a dinosaur” and more “we don’t know how else to do this bit”. There’s no real satire to the movie-studio parody either, so there’s nothing else going on here except the one gag, which dies as soon as the episode is over.
That “funny but bland” aesthetic continues throughout the show. “Happy Birthday to Who” is just Mad Jack getting abused at a carnival (after a bit about Mad Jack wanting to go to a brothel, which is part of the show’s dark edge without doing anything with it). “The Horror of Draclia” is a flat tale that pits Jack and Snuk up against a lazy Dracula parody (which also forgets about about a separate monster in the woods that essentially kills a guy). The show does kind of picks up around episode thirteen (which, as I’ve mentioned before, is usually when cartoons are retooled for the better) in “The Case of the Crabs,” which pits Jack and Snuk up against a civilization of hostile underwater sea creatures. Part of the uptick is they introduce a new character, Chuck the Imitation Crab, who’s easy-going characterization brings a fun dynamic to Snuk’s push-over vibe and Mad Jack’s cruelty. It helps, too, that Jack’s cruelty has been toned down a bit here, with the pirate opting to actually help Chuck escape as well. It also helps that this underworld of Crustacia has vibrancy and energy that the show’s other locales lacked.
Later episodes have a bit more going for it, but they never feel complete. Flash Dashing, Dagnabbit, and Chuck all return in other episodes, who are all fun characters, but because they’re never really part of the main cast, they feel perfunctory and underused. I also think the vague, overarching plot of Mad Jack needing to pay off a vicious debtor Sharkface Willie to his ship the Sea Chicken is a sound idea; some kind of constant threat would give the show a more grounded edge. Yet we don’t see Willie until “Mad Jack and the Beanstalk,” a bit that’s tossed aside as a Godfather parody and nothing else. Broad “parodies with nothing else” become the show’s bane; “Uncle Mortimer” could’ve been an exciting pot-shot at Hanna-Barbara cartoons (the plot is about delivering a dog named Scabby Doo to the Isle of Hanna Barbarians after all), but it’s stuck with a predictable Scooby-Doo, “guy-in-monster-costume” story. The fact that they don’t even have fun with HB’s limited animation bit goes to the show’s uninteresting visual style. I wonder if that’s the issue though; the lack of a B-story, or a B-anything, to give the show some kind of narrative or visual heft. The few times it does have them, like in “The Case of the Crabs” and in “Jack the Dragon Slayer,” where a dragon and a princess humorously connect at a platonic-then-romantic level while Jack figures out how to slay the dragon the the behest of the princess’s father, the show improves immensely and starts to utilize the full extent of the show’s premise.
Unfortunately the show rarely feels like it wants to. I’ve learned via Wikipedia that Mad Jack the Pirate is more-or-less a parody of Blackadder, stealing lines and dialogue wholesale from the British show. This is nothing new, really; TaleSpin cribbed from Tales of the Gold Monkey, and Bonkers is a clear rip-off of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Yet Mad Jack the Pirate feels like that’s the only thing it’s really interested in, because only rarely does it seem as engaged in its cartoon world as it does in copying Rowan Atkinson’s infamous program. Had Mad Jack the Pirate put more effort in building a dynamic cast, a developed world, a creative direction, or some kind of narrative rhythm, it could’ve been special, a one-season wonder with a more adult bent. As it is, though, it’s a show with a lot of mature comic standing, but lacking anything else to stand on.
Project GeeKeR was one of the coolest comic books ever that made the mistake of being a cartoon.
Can we truly separate the art from the artist? Or, more accurately, can we separate the art from the artist and live with ourselves?
Social critics, I think, have pushed that excuse heavily into the public to justify watching, critiquing, and enjoying certain works by controversial creators like Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and (if the court of public opinion wins out) Bryan Singer. We might as well add Skyler Page to the list, as the show Clarence, while not particularly great, works on enough charm and innocence to skirt by as an easy-going show, despite the abhorrent behavior of its creator. I suppose this puts me into that category of social critics, particularly as I struggle through the output of Doug TenNapel.
TenNapel is by far one of the most entertaining content creators out there. He created Earthworm Jim, a smartly hilarious and surprisingly tough video game, and, along with animation writing vet Doug Langdale, turned it into one of the most funniest cartoons very created (I should write about it, but needless to say, it’s great, particularly with its fantastic cast of voice actors). He also created the well-known game The Neverhood and penned an episode of AdventureTime. He has a quirky approach to his output that easy to get into, and despite the weird and eccentric nature of his content, it’s clear that there’s a fun sensibility to it all. He’s also an outspoken conservative and homophobe.
It’s honestly a very tough idea to balance, a tough idea to accept – that one of the most creative minds out there can have such narrow, bigoted views (for a look into his mindset, check out the comments of this post, where he mixes it up with the commentary). It’s hard to rally for his creative endeavors while knowing he’s actively working to oppress a group of people. (Sad to say, Butch Hartman seems to be in the same boat). As mentioned above, we try to believe that there is a line between art and artist: that we, in our own way, are taking the art away from the artist and all that he or she represents, for when the art is released, it is no longer the creator’s content, but the public’s. But it is tainted, because those most influenced by the art were to seek out the creator and find that vitriol present, particularly if they were targets of that vitriol… I’m sorry, I’m not sure how to end that statement.
So it’s with this black mark that I tackle Project GeeKeR, one of the more stranger and unique cartoons to ever exist. I like to think of these projects primarily as Doug Langdale’s, as he was the story editor and main writer of the team (and likewise with the Earthworm Jim TV show). And even with its Blade Runner-inspired setting, its Poochie-fied character of a backward-cap-sporting T-Rex with a laser blaster, and its comic relief star as a goofy, random cartoon character come to life, Langdale infuses it all with a strict narrative focus and a knowing, self-aware sensibility. Project GeeKeR has its tropes and cliched characters, but carefully undercuts them all with pinpoint precision; it’s the most original comic book story ever brought to television. And being on television is exactly what hurt it the most.
Project GeeKeR asks, “What does it mean to be human?” It’s a question that has thematically dotted the landscape of both film and television, yet Project GeeKeR is poised to be the first kids show to bring that question to the forefront. It’s interesting to note that neither Lady Macbeth (a female punk with a cybernetic arm), Noah (a surprisingly calm T-Rex with a baseball cap), and Geeker himself are what you could fully call human – Lady Macbeth is the closest, of course, but her quick anger and difficult personality tends to keep her at arms length (pun, and symbolism, intended). The most human character in the show, Mr. Moloch (the villain), is purposely cold, calculating, and robotic – the most stereotypical of stereotypical villains. I will get into more about these characters, and how the show quite brilliantly handles them, but we need to keep in mind the question of what defines humanity. Is it looking human? Acting human? Being human? Understanding the full range of human emotions?
Project GeeKerR seeks to explore this question via Geeker himself. Geeker is both a fascinating piece of work, both as a character and as a construct. A genetic construction financed by Mr. Moloch himself, GKR (which stands for Geno-Kinetic Research) is a completely amorphous, pure being of limitless mass and energy. He literally can do anything and become anything – GKR is, quiet frankly, a god. Yet Lady Macbeth stole him by accident, prior to his final programming, and upon realizing Moloch’s true intentions, is forced to keep GKR out of his hands. But GKR (referred to as Geeker) is less concerned about being caught and more concerned about understanding what it takes to be a human.
What’s fascinating is how the show examines the various angles Geeker takes to be a real human. His initial thought is that he just needs to grow a fifth finger, which he just can’t do, which in its own way acts as a physical/mental representation to Geeker’s ultimate pursuit. Over the course of the show, he tries to connect with others at an emotional level, and even at a romantic level. He keeps a diary. He tries to establish a sense of independence. He desperately tries to win the attention and affection of others. But he’s always off – and not just because he’s a being of pure chaos. Geeker lacks a brain, but he can learn, and he has a heart; the strongest episodes showcase how, even in the midst of the insanity that is his existence, he can indirectly be a figure of hope – if not to the dystopian world around him, particularly to the two charges dedicated to protecting him.
The pilot establishes all of this, albeit in a generalized way. It grabs your attention with the plot itself, where Geeker is set to explode unless he returns to his creator to disarm him. There’s a lot of great stuff here, particularly with the action sequences, but also the little character moments that subtly but concretely reinforce the theme. Lady Macbeth exudes a tough-girl attitude, but it’s fairly clear that she’s a softy inside, yearning for some kind of genuine connection. Demanding people call her Lady Macbeth instead of Becky is her way to keep herself stoic and powerful, and she snaps and lashes out to maintain this facade (“If I wanted your opinion, I’d beat it out of you!” she yells to Noah at one point.) It’s telling, though, that she can’t quite find herself to drop Geeker, the experiment she stole to ostensibly sell. Geeker is an object that becomes a person to her, a “friend,” in that his inherent goodness and innocence touches her, seeing a beauty in humanity in Geeker that perhaps the world around her has never revealed to her.
The pilot delves lightly into other characters too, which are expanded on in unique ways through the show. The most “human” character, the character who tends to be the most level-headed and empathetic, is the dinosaur. Noah is a cool, strong character, completely opposite his vicious nature, prone to relaxing on his hammock and reading, which is as human as it gets. Episodes later on will push against this sense of humanity, when we see humans aggressively oppressing dinosaurs (“Geekasaurus”), and when a microscopic device causes Noah to revert back to his dinosaur roots (“Noble Savage”). Yet Noah continues to stand by her side, even as their trust weakens. Lady Macbeth sees Geeker as a figure of hope to be protected; she sees Noah as a partner and a brother-in-arms, two figures of sadness in a world they can never hope to belong in.
That’s because Mr. Moloch and Doctor Maston make it nigh impossible. Moloch is introduced in cliched fashion, speaking a cold, distant voice, seated in a massive chair, and ranting about global takeovers. Interesting, though, that’s no one is really scared of him; in fact, most people see his ultra-stoic attitude as confusing at best and ridiculous as worse. The show smartly calls out the cliche without diminishing his his threatening nature, mostly through Dr. Maston. A brilliant scientist and the creator of GKR, Maston sees his self-worth in his intelligence and the recognition of it, even going so far as be willing to die for it when Geeker is about to explode. It’s a surprising character moment, but the show smartly undercuts that as well, with a lot of Maston’s sly, self-aware comments, particularly towards Moloch’s more stereotypical behavior.
All of these characters exist in a huge world brimming with potential, with interesting creatures and surging with ideas. But… it’s a kids cartoon. It’s limited, not only because of ratings, but because of its 22 minutes, and its tendency to focus on stupidity for stupidity’s sake (mostly due to the lazier writers). The pilot had a shot of a man shivering and clutching himself while on the streets of this dystopia; clearly, he was on some kind of “medication”. Project GeeKeR can’t explicitly explore that though, for obvious reasons. Nor is it immune to cartoon writers’ most lazier habits. “Smell of the Wild” is hurt because the “broken Geeker” idea just isn’t strong enough for a full episode, where the titular character emits a terrible scent that he can’t control; the broad idea is copied in “Geekasaurus” when Geeker is stuck as a dinosaur. That episode is also hurt when it implies dinosaurs are being treated like second-class citizens by humans, but it can’t get into the utter tragedy of it all, and given that we rarely see normal dinosaurs beyond that episode, the true dinosaur situation is unclear at best, another issue that would’ve been explored deeper in comic form.
Yet even with its flaws and limitations, Project GeeKeR still manages to keep the question of the nature of humanity at the forefront. Whether it’s the abhorrent treatment of dinosaur citizens, or the trapped Larry in “In Space, No One Can Hear You Sneeze” – an antagonist forced by Moloch to find Geeker, but discovers a sense of freedom and friendship through the friendly creation – the show is interested in exploring the full nature of such a question. Is humanity defined by freedom, which Larry seeks? Is it acceptance – like in “GeeKMan,” where Geeker tries to win the admiration of the city by being a superhero (and subsequently failing)? Or is it love – like in “Thing Called Love,” where Geeker falls for a strange Siren-like creature, completely counter to the notion that Becky believes, that something like Geeker can’t possibly understand love? Maybe it’s raw intelligence, like what Maston believes, or perhaps its independence, as addressed in “Independence Daze”?
Maybe it’s all of these things, or none of them. Maybe the nature of “humanity” is as nebulous as the full extent of Geeker’s powers. Humanity is what we make it. The last episode, “Future Shock,” suggests that nature of humanity is in hope. Future-Moloch (who, need I remind you, is the most “human”) has captured Geeker and become a god; upon seeing that, and his future, senile-self, Noah becomes depressed and gives up on his team. He sees the future as unchangeable, but Geeker absorbs some of the ranting elder dino’s words, using them to save the day, inspiring Noah to escape his depression. Perhaps its about fate, about knowing that humanity has free will and is in charge of its own destiny. Project GeeKeR wanted to explore all that, in a fun, subversive way, but was hindered by its medium and its network. It was cancelled despite being a hit.
Project GeeKeR was a smart, entertaining show held back by forces being its control. Maybe that’s what humanity is all about: pushing back against the limits and restraints of society, striving to be something better. It’s something that the show really could do on the comic pages; as it stands, Project GeeKeR is promising as hell, but just lacking in the things it needed to be truly human.