Posts Tagged Comedy
I usually try not to do straight-up, out-and-out reviews, but I feel like The Looney Tunes Show do warrant at least a bit of a discussion, since there’s been a lot of talk, mostly negative, about this reboot. This cast of wacky characters, made immortal by the likes of Tex Avery, Robert McKimson, and Chuck Jones, have been thrust back into the limelight in a more generic, suburban area, redesigned in look and style. They are essentially goofy animals in a sitcom instead of characters in random, crazy situations. The “Looney” is hardly even touched upon, and the “Tunes” are relegated to 2-3 minute shorts which has a character singing about something dumb (perfect for the inevitable Youtube promo). And yet, I have to admit what I’ve seen was… rather entertaining.
It’s a tricky game. Essentially, in placing Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Speedy, and the rest in a sitcom, we’re entering territory which would usually involve character development. Not to say that they don’t deserve a bit of development, but it’ll be interesting to see how the writers will toe the line of keeping these characters fresh without retconning them to create audacious or inconsistent backstories or histories. Not many people are asking exactly how Bugs developed his acerbic, sarcastic wit, and whether it was in high school or college, and whether he went to those two places at all. So it’s easy to avoid that early on, but come season 2? I wish you luck.
The redesigns, for some reason, don’t look good in still photos, but work very well in motion. It’s refreshing to finally see models that have solid design, recognizable body types, and weight to them, designs that don’t look like they we’re created by interconnected straight-lines and/or what some have been calling “notebook doodles”. One of my favorite moments in Cats Don’t Dance was a simple scene where Danny and Miss Dimple talk back and forth at a table, and just watching them interact, watching their expressions and reactions and body language, was a real treat. And in a way I see that here. The sitcom elements actually work to emphasize the face and body. Animators can concentrate their efforts on the simpler movements and expressions, and you can tell these animators are truly enjoying it. (Although, anything below the waist looks kinda crappy. Daffy’s feet look like spikes, and Bugs feet are big, round Chi-pets.)
May 10th’s episode consisted of Bugs and Lola going on a date, while Daffy uses someone’s club ID number to schmooze in a fancy country club. The pacing and gags were solid, but nothing spectacular. Lola has went through the largest character change, from a strong, aggressive basketball player to an athletic, talkative crazy geek. The change-over, in theory, makes since. Space Jam Lola is pretty much impossible to develop in any long-term way. New Lola (NuLola?) can be mined much more for jokes, and seeing that she’s voiced by SNL star Kristen Wiig, there’s no need to worry about the comic timing. Still, the little things bother me, mainly the fact they moved her away from basketball (here, she plays tennis).
It’s clear that most characters will be regulated to jobs and roles that fit their character personalities. We probably will see Lola in most athletic events. Pepe Le Pew appears as the wedding planner (calling it – future roles include: interior designer, theater director, love guru). Porky seems to be the guy that never has pants (which is weird, since neither does Bugs or Daffy). I’m not sure how deep they’ll go in explaining how they make their money, but I’m somewhat fine with that.
What IS a nice surprise is the adult undercurrents the show has, which is probably the best throwback the 60s and 70s creators and writers could do. Remember, the classic cartoons were pretty risque by today’s standards, so it’s nice to see them push those boundaries, if even by increments. I was surprise to hear Lola mention flat out that “she had to pee”. Pepe gives both Lola and Bugs kisses upon introductions, and his sexual proclivities are pretty obvious (he was married 7 times, and steals Lola at the end for a potential 8th.) We probably won’t have characters shooting each other, but I think we’ll have some sly humor and relatively mature innuendos here and there. There’s no fart jokes, so there’s a start.
I don’t love the new show, but there’s a bit of potential, and it’s certainly no “Lunatics”. I’ll be keeping my eye on this. You should too, as I think we’re entering a new era in animated cartoons. (Tune in next week to see what that is.)
I’ve spoken about Joe Murray before, but mostly in the context of his cartoons and the influences I felt were strongly noticeable in them. Now with his new online venture, KaboingTV (a venture I too am heavily invested in), he is seeking to make a home for new, quality cartoons and animations for the web, an online version of what Cartoon Network used to be. After creating to popular hit shows (Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo) and with a book on the market (Creating Animated Cartoons with Character), he would be perfect for the job. He graciously took the time to respond to some questions I emailed him. Be sure to tune in this Friday for the next new episode of Frog in a Suit, his debut cartoon on KaboingTV.
TotalMediaBridge: First question: why KaboingTV? Specifically, why venture out into the world of internet-based cartoons and animation?
Joe Murray: The internet is opening a whole new door to creator driven animation. On the internet, there is a wide range of audiences that can find your style of cartoon and connect in a way that sidesteps the gate keepers. I have not shut the door on TV. I just advocated the internet as an alternative means to network based animated series, and figured I shouldn’t write a cook book without trying out the recipes. It’s a challenge, and I’m a sucker for challenges.
TMB: Do you see a real future in internet-based quality entertainment? Whether it’s live-action or animated?
JM: The fact is, TV viewership peaked around 2003 or 2004 and has been going down steadily since. In turn, internet viewership is rising. But the trick is, how we can the internet make the transition to funded original content? Right now, it is merely replaying content created for movies or TV. There is a slow melding of the internet, TV and DVD viewing, so why not? Of course.
TMB: What do you see in the future for KaboingTV itself?
JM: My intent is not for Kaboing to be a home for embedded videos from other sources, or replaying other material. It’s intended to grow into a home for original content. Just like MTV started out as playing music videos supplied by record companies and grew into original programming (along with cool animated programming) I see Kaboing doing the same thing. It will be a slow process I’m sure.
TMB: Tell us a bit about Frog in a Suit.
JM: FIAS has been in my head since I was editing the “I have No Son” episode of Rocko’s Modern Life“. We had an anniversary part with toads and frogs, and I thought, I have to do something with these. I had the full idea before Lazlo, but didn’t start developing it until the tail end of the show. It was originally called “Toulouse”. You can find the whole synopsis and characters on the behind the scenes section of KaboingTV.com.
TMB: A lot of people adore Rocko’s Modern Life, for obvious reasons: it was a great show. What was the inspiration behind that?
JM: I tend to think that fear was a huge inspiration behind it. Nickelodeon asked me if I had any ideas for a series, and this wallaby was a character I had used before in a comic strip. He wanted to come out and play. I infused this phobic fear of life I had at the time into a small wallaby whose basic conflict is modern living. His friends Heffer and Filburt were based on real life friends I had growing up. So there you go.
TMB: Many people seem to, in my opinion at least, over emphasize the adult nature of the show. “I can’t believe they aired this on children’s television!” is the common response. Did you actively seek to push the bar at the time?
JM: Nickelodeon said, “Do what you want”. We did what we thought was funny. Nick didn’t stop it because the pushing the edge with cartoons was getting them a lot of press and putting them on the map. Once they started getting real good ratings, and the big marquee advertisers, then they started to come down on us about our content.
I may have traumatized a few children in the 90s but now they are college 20-something fans, so that’s cool.
TMB: Camp Lazlo has its own batch of fervent fans, if not to the extent of Rocko. Any ideas why you think that is?
JM: I built Camp Lazlo to be enjoyed on a few levels just like Rocko, but not so edgy. When Rocko first ended in the 90s, there didn’t seem to be a very large fan base. It grew as those he grew up with it got older. Nostalgia always puts a nice polish on things (or is it rust?). So maybe in 10 years, I’ll be getting emails for Camp Lazlo that I do now for Rocko that say, “Dude, you shaped my childhood. Your show rocked!” Not sure how I shaped childhoods. Kind of scary to think about, but I get those emails.
TMB: What do you think about the state of animation today? Both visually and business-wise?
JM: I don’t think there is enough risk being taken today with new stuff like there was in the 90’s. Too many networks are playing it safe and serving us up vanilla. I like crazy flavors. Show me something new. Business wise, unless you are Seth McFarlane, the deals are getting worse for new creators of shows. All the more reason to have a good lawyer and to stick to your guns.
TMB: Any advice to people studying animation or the entertainment business in general?
JM: It’s a bit of nomadic life, with many party-filled, palm tree oasis’ between long stretches of dangerous desert. If you are okay with that life (I personally love it) and are willing to fight off a few bandits and sand worms along the way, the rewards are amazing.
I apologize for the lack of updates, as I had to quickly get reacquainted with the East Coast time. I am working on two other columns, one for Damnlag, a brand new gaming website, and one for Wildsound, a film review website. [The latter is really hard to navigate, and there’s no general link to the specific articles I wrote. I did the ones for Freaks, Dracula, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Fly, and other films that’s earlier than 1950.] I am also working on a comic AND putting together a pitch for a cartoon sitcom. Details about those two will come later.
CHILDHOOD REVISITED features will not be weekly, but more or less done on a “when I can” basis. This allows me to do other writeups without having to spend time watching a movie, something I have less and less time to do, until the summer at least. So, I will be providing more analysis of various cartoons, shows, and other entertainment elements that ought to be explored. Should be goooooooood.
First up – A Review of “take it or leave it” CatDog!
It could be argued to a certain extent that Nickelodeon’s CatDog triggered the onslaught of the more absurdist, surreal types of animation that now assaults the airwaves of Disney, Cartoon Network, and Nick itself. The departure from clearly defined character models and coherent settings allows far a larger pool of insane scenarios to pull from. This kind of variety doesn’t really exist beyond the classic shorts of the 50s, whose 4 minute escapades could occur anywhere.
CatDog was somewhat remarkably genius in its simple, odd premise. Prior to this cartoon, dogs and cats were pointedly DIFFERENT and constantly ENEMIES. Always. Cartoons cribbed from the canine’s propensity to chase felines as a universal sign of their natural animosity. Writers and animators chose sides and inevitably valued one over the other. Dog City. Road Rovers. Garfield. Heathcliff. Notice, too, the pack-group collectiveness of the dog-shows in comparison to the single-lead entity of the cat-shows. Dog lovers are SOCIAL! Cat lovers are INDEPENDENT! This is what IT MUST BE.
So for producers of CatDog to say “Well, let them be roommates” is relatively fresh in itself, but to either up the strangeness or justify the pairing, they had to be not only brothers, but… joined, exactly at the waist.
What we have here is an organic creature where one side is a dog and one side is a cat. The cat’s name is Cat. The dog’s name is Dog. Cat. Dog. CatDog.
Being joined at the waist must have been a NIGHTMARE for the animators. Luckily, following the laws of physics wasn’t necessary, but maintaining the lively movement between the co-joined siblings still seemed particularly nasty, even given the ability to stretch the torso as much as necessary. Their body was essentially a Slinky, their legs and arms interchangeable. But there were the shoes and the skates and the coats and the occasional pants, and the driving and the eating at a table and the fighting and the running and so on. How do you portray all that without looking, well, stupid? The answer? You can’t. But still, you gotta give them credit for trying.
The simplistic brilliance of actually pairing a dog and a cat is undermined by the on-the-nose names, but at least that would have been meta-comedic. Their personalities, however, became the primary issue, cribbed from both the consistent clichés of conflicting brothers AND the pre-conceived personification of canine and feline attitudes. Dog is playful, goofy, loves to fool around; Cat is serious, cultured, well-groomed. There was no subtlety to those personalities, which was perhaps the show’s main downfall (there was others, which will be addressed.)
I’m reminded of the Angry Beavers, which, prior before hitting its excellent stride of brilliant soul-music parodies, its speedy insanity, its comically, well-done side characters, and its uniquely defined characteristics, began as the inane pairing of one stupid brother fucking up while the other, smarter one exploited him and reaped the rewards. I suppose this personality clash can create a number of stories, but the formula is stale from the get-go: pick a setting, pick a conflict: dumb brother loses, smart brother wins.
AB improved leaps and bounds when it showed the willingness to not only put Dagget in the spotlight, but to put both of them in insane situations and watch them respond. Norbert’s superiority became arrogance and jealousy, which made him his own brand of stupid. Once Dagget and Norbert began getting smashed by trees an equal number of times, once the formula was destroyed, the show became a classic.
Unfortunately, CatDog consistently maintained the Cat-smart, Dog-dumb balance no matter what happened, which made the craziest, most unique and eccentric of plotlines come off stale. Dog would want, or do, something, Cat would grumble and sprout a sense of superiority, Dog would be sad. Then – BLAM – something happens that would make Dog appear right and Cat look dumb, Cat would apologize and they’d hug as family. This happened pretty much like clockwork, which was disappointing; CatDog reeked of tremendous potential.
Children aren’t stupid. They probably don’t think in terms of social interaction, but they understand the concept that, yeah, being two natural enemies joined at the waist must be fucking hard. You hate each other, and society hates your freakish nature. Somehow, you have to cope. CatDog could have been cleverer in that regard, but opted for the simpler stories and generic cartoon fare, which made the more surrealist elements of the settings seem more gimmicky than purposeful.
When they did make episodes that played to Cat and Dog’s strengths — when they did indeed have their transformative moments — they were more than often pretty good to excellent, but they came so far in between that it wasn’t worth the mundane tediousness of the regular show’s staple. Those strong episodes, more often than not, came against the show’s most frustrating set of character this side of the cast of Heroes.
This trio of dogs and their mere existence to destroy CatDog went from nominally intriguing to downright, insultingly maddening. The Greasers, comprised of the gruff n’ buff leader, the high-squealing, short, female sidekick (who, of course, has a secret love interest for Dog), and their bumbling, moronic third member, spent every scene chasing CatDog for the sole intent of beating this piss out of them. The Greasers meant to represent the meanest of society’s constituents, whose obsession for purity invokes an unexplainable hatred for this mixed abomination. But as the episodes went by, and more of the Greaser’s exploits became more obvious, they were no longer that meaningful.
For one thing, it became clear that the Greaser’s hated Cat over Dog. While that’s understandable to a certain extent, it is essentially asinine without some sort of contrast. Where was the pro-Cat gang? Elevating the Greaser’s hatred towards CatDog to a direct, anti-Cat position skewed the entire show’s central premise. Why break down the cat vs. dog wall only to render it moot with a pro-Dog, anti-Cat antagonist? It would have been richer to keep The Greasers’ displeasure at the overall mix instead of the feline half.
At some point, though, the creators must have became aware of this, as the Greasers in time stopped being a gang of CatDog (emphasis on CAT) haters and instead became the show’s staple conflict catalyst. They became what the Red Man was on Cow And Chicken – CatDog’s consistent obstacle into whatever they needed to do. Climbing a mountain? The Greasers want to stop you! Going on a flight? Guess who’s running security! And so on.
This gave way to the other central problem to the show: TOO. MUCH. GREASERS. Between the second and third season, maybe two episodes had nothing to do with them. They were fucking everywhere, endlessly popping up and meddling in CatDog’s affairs, their lives going from a punk gang that messed with CatDog for kicks into a group whose SOLE existence depended on assaulting CatDog for their mere survival. If they didn’t at least throw one punch at CatDog, God would SMOTE them. This was made worse by the mere fact that CatDog already had their own Red Man – a green bunny character who played the role of anything that didn’t necessarily hate CatDog, but could cause problems all the same, just by being a jackass. With this character already causing enough issues, was the overabundance (over-dependence being more apt) of the Greasers really necessary?
Even as the show harped on its ultra-one-note direction, it perhaps had a bright moment with their TV-movie, which involved a ridiculous search for their parents. The twist being their parents were NOT a cat or dog couple, but two other species entirely, implying they were adopted. This certainly brought up a number of questions: where are the real parents? Were they abandoned? But such rich questions were never meant to be; the writers had no interest in pursuing this. Besides, the show was canceled after four seasons.
CatDog was a show that lacked the wherewithal and self-awareness to make something clever and interesting; instead being content to run through the gamut of generic siblings and overdone-to-the-point-of burnt Greaser plots. Its minor triumphs couldn’t overcome its overall blandness, and even with its surreal elements, it never brought them to any poignant use. Despite the potential for weird greatness, CatDog was as uninteresting as its name…. and its theme song.