Posts Tagged Comedy

CHILDHOOD REVISITED – Gargoyles “Deadly Force/Enter Macbeth”

Gargoyles screenshot

Full disclosure: I do not like the “Countries of the World” song, sung by Yakko Warner, AKA Rob Paulson, from Animaniacs. It’s not that the song itself is bad; in fact, it’s a brilliant piece of rhyming and melodic composition. But let’s not fool ourselves: it’s animated educational pabulum, and let’s not also forget that in the 90s, there were no shortage of inane educational pabulum. It was everywhere – Saturday mornings, after school, during school, in our books, in our films – and I hated it. Any musical qualities “Countries of the World” had was ruined by the fact that it was not-so-subtly teaching kids the names of the countries of the world in “cool” fashion. Even as I hear it today, as much as I grown to appreciate it, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. (Also, why doesn’t anyone talk about Wakko’s “50 State Capitols” song?)

So I came into “Deadly Force” apprehensively, since this was the episode where Broadway plays with Elisa’s gun and accidentally shoots her, which seemed like yet another piece of educational pabulum (word of the day?), subconsciously teaching kids the dangers of playing with guns. This episode, in fact, was the one that turned me off to the series when I was a wee lad. Watching it now, it’s not so bad, and somewhat effective at times, but Gargoyles secondary flaw is starting to rear its head – it’s not so great at introducing new characters, especially when it comes to “Enter Macbeth,” arguably the worst episode so far.

“Deadly Force” focuses on Broadway, who thus far has been portrayed as a capable if doofy character – happy-go-lucky, naive, and easy-going. He hasn’t really been given much development beyond his love for food, which essentially makes him the comic relief. So in comic relief fashion, Broadway heads out to see a western film, something he’s been doing every night. “Movies, television, video games,” Hudson says. “It’s hard to tell what’s real anymore.” Which goes doubly-true for the gargoyles themselves, still fascinated by this brand new world. (Oh, and Hudson, if you thought things were confusing then…)

Meanwhile, some mobster named Dracon orchestrated a robbery of Xanatos’ laser weaponry, and the police can’t pin it on him due to lack of evidence. Dracon arrives in this episode out of nowhere, and remains wholly uninteresting, pretty much being a more douchebag version of Xanatos. If we had some kind of sense of Xanatos’ enemies, or his competition, or relationship between him and Dracon, this would have been stronger. Instead, like so many characters, he shows up and we’re immediately supposed to hate him, as evidenced by the scene where he tells Eliza off.

This creates a roundabout scenario that leads to the inevitable accidental shooting. Broadway shows up to Elisa’s place after the film, finds Elisa’s gun, and in a self-deluded mini-game of cops-and-robbers, discharges the weapon and hits the detective. Fortunately, this wasn’t as heavy-handed as I was led to believe, mostly focusing on the fallout of the event than heavy speechifying. Broadway drops Elisa off at the hospital, flies away, and whimpers in utter guilt. Goliath learns of the shooting from Owen (a relationship that is growing more and more confusing) and when he visits her, he sees Elisa’s family and Elisa’s chief there, who relays the confrontation between Elisa and Dracon from earlier (which is a HUGE breach of police protocol, but whatever). So Goliath thinks Dracon shot her. Also, Broadway attacks an armed assailant who has one of the stolen laser guns, who directs Broadway in Dracon’s direction as well. The entire situation has a dark “comedy of errors” feel to it, and I’m reminded of the ridiculous stuff in Homeland’s “State of Independence,” where Brody, who’s in a clear position of political power, has to do a menially dangerous task for the enemy for no real reason – both “Deadly Force” and “State of Independence” are filled with random events where everything goes wrong, but at least “Deadly Force” has gargoyles ripping through steel walls.

This all leads to a fairly great fight between Goliath/Broadway and Dracon/his men, upon which Goliath comes very close to killing Dracon. But Broadway stops him and admits that he himself shot Elisa, which would have been a truly powerful moment if we got a more clear sense of Broadway’s guilt and how it was effecting him. The happenstance of the events that lead to the climactic fight does little to get into Broadway’s state of mind, unlike “The Thrill of the Hunt” and “Temptation” did for Lex and Brooklyn. He feels guilty, he gets angry, then he confesses, and it’s over. There are some truly nice moments – seeing Elisa’s family, the touching moment where Broadway admits it to Elisa herself – and some intriguing ones – Owen attempts to buy back the guns from Dracon, but Goliath blows them up, thus furthering the rift between himself and Xanatos – but it’s unfortunate that nothing significant occurs. I guess we could say Broadway, in one distinct moment, stopped his fucking around and grew up, but I wished we got more of a real distinct character moment from him.

That disappointment, however, is nothing compared to “Enter Macbeth,” a stunningly awful episode for pretty much the entire twenty-two minutes. First off, Disney switched animation studios, going from an assortment of places to the singular Wang. Wang is COMPLETELY out of its league here. While it took Wang a while to get a good handle on Ducktales when they took over (and even at their best, they couldn’t come close to TMS’s output at their mediocre), “Enter Macbeth” looks like shit. Characters constantly change sizes and shapes, perspectives are all out of whack, people manage to cross larges distances with only a few steps – this episode looks rushed as hell. It feels rushed, too, which is weird, since this is a fairly significant episode – Xanatos is released, the gargoyles moves out, a new villain with ties to Demona moves in – but writer Steve Perry in his first episode just can not balance all of this.

Owen discusses with Xanatos about the fate of the gargoyles – what to do with them now that Xanatos is about to be released from prison. All of a sudden, in walks a “new player” (as Xanatos refers to him) named Macbeth, who offers to take care of the gargoyles. It’s strange – Xanatos doesn’t want to kill the gargoyles, since they could be manipulated to his advantage, plus he has his trump card with Demona. So why Xanatos agrees to Macbeth’s offer instead of doing the deed himself is confusing. Xanatos seems to be more concerned with making things as convoluted as possible, to throw random forces into the ring and see which ones can be used, tossed aside, or expendable, like he did with the Pack and Demona. Xanatos’ lack of a clear goal makes it hard to latch onto him as a villain, let alone a human being. He’s more like a instrument of chaos – The Joker, but with ideals and class.

So Macbeth arrives at the tower and just starts kicking ass. He captures Lex, Brooklyn, and Bronx, then escapes. It’s just all perfunctory, and Wang’s poorly staged action scenes don’t help. Goliath goes after him, while Elisa convinces Hudson and Broadway to move out, since it’s clearly too dangerous to stay on Xanatos’ home turf. There’s the pointless scene where they fight Owen for Magus’ magic book, which I think was there to show that Owen can handle himself, but he still gets his ass kicked, so it’s really for naught. Meanwhile, Lex and Brooklyn helps Bronx escape (I utterly love how Lex grasps technology so readily), Goliath sees Bronx tearing ass down the city streets, and then follows him back to Macbeth’s hideout. We enter into yet another funhouse of dangers, and yet again, Goliath says “screw this” by breaking through a brick wall. Goliath and Macbeth battle within a burning room (despite it being mostly stone), upon which Macbeth mentions his real prey – Demona. Yet with no context as to why he’s really after her, this reveal, too, is just perfunctory. Goliath beats him, sort of, and Macbeth escapes again, and the gargoyles head back to the castle, only to be diverted towards their new home – a clock tower, which I’m pretty sure New York doesn’t have. They convince Goliath to stay, albeit too easily, considering how adamant he was to stay at the castle. But here we are, yet it wasn’t exactly the most fun way to get there.

“Deadly Force” was a flawed but interesting episode, adding a bit of minor growth to Broadway’s character and hindering Elisa’s assistance. “Enter Macbeth” was fairly crappy episode all around, both in in writing and animation, aside from some minor developments. I’m hoping that Disney and the crew learn quickly that Wang is over its head and drops them soon. Not to begrudge the studio, but they just can’t handle this. And here’s hoping Steve Perry gets a better handle of the material on his next outing.

GRADE: “Deadly Force” B-/”Enter Macbeth” C-


, , , ,


Tumblr Tuesday – 07/23/13

So hopefully, if I can keep it up, I’ll be reposting the various tumblr posts I write during the week here every Tuesday. Because alliteration.

— Cartoon scheduling is pretty screwed up:

— But the music is so much better than years past:

— And I wrote a few choice words about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman verdict:


, , , ,

No Comments

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.”


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


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”


, , , ,