Posts Tagged Comedy

The Rise of the Animated Sitcom, 2.0

When an exasperated Bugs tries to passive-aggressively flee a misguided Lola Bunny from her insane belief that the two are dated, he spouts the usual one-liners that would normally invoke an exasperated laugh-track, only to have her respond in kind, invoking another theoretical laugh track. Here, however, Bugs ends up crushed under a giant, weighted barbell, his eyes popping out momentarily as a goofy weight-lifter looks on, confused. Don’t worry, Bugs is a pro. An animated pro.


Welcome to the new animated sitcom. Here, the stories are taken from the well-worn box of typical sitcom tropes and conventions and placed in animated form, but the kicker is that we allow those characters to get hurt, and our conflicts can involve magic and surreal insanity and goofy chaos to resolve them. These characters are real in spirit but fake in action. You’ve seen them before, but not quite like this.

The new animated sitcom differs from the old animated sitcom in that they embrace their cartoony elements more than ever before. The creators adore their squash and stretch roots, their sillier and exaggerated plot-lines, their anvils or otherwise heavy-objects crushing or hitting their characters flat along with their rooted, serial dilemmas easily solved within a 22-minute period. They aren’t The Simpsons, or King of the Hill, or Bob’s Burgers. They’re not Animaniacs, Freakazoid, or Spongebob. And they aren’t Batman, Justice League, or Ben-10. They are an oddly perfect mix of the three.

It was birthed in the fires of Family Guy, but sloppily regulated to cutaways and minor sight gags. It was fine, but MacFarlane’s titular show was always emphatic on the pop-culture gag and, in the end, falling back on the typical sitcom tropes we know and love (or tolerate). While Family Guy post-cancellation has been a hodge-podge of a mess (American Dad seems to be the stronger show nowadays, with also an firmer grip on its cartooniness and sitcomy-ness), the first three seasons broke the physical wall of what an animated sitcom could and should do. It said that animation should and could be, at times, goofy and silly. It is a fucking cartoon after all; maybe, on occasion, can it act like one?

Of course, critics don’t really care too much for such antics; when animated sitcoms get too “cartoony,” this is considered a bad thing. Take a moment and think about this, and reveal in the unaware irony. It’s good to know that the newer batch of critics and viewers, those of use who grew up on Rocko’s Modern Life, Angry Beavers, Invader Zim, and Eek The Cat are a little more lenient when, god-forbid, a cartoon act like a cartoon sometimes. Of course, our tastes and expectations change. We’re older and we’d like to explore older themes. We love our wallabies and beavers and aliens and (non)helpful felines, but now we want something a bit more deeper.

Regular Show

Family Guy was the trigger, but the first cartoon to really embrace cartoon and sitcom alike was Regular Show. It’s somewhat hindered in it’s 2 x eleven minute short format, but it’s a cartoon and a sitcom all the same. Two kids with a somewhat backbreaking job while trying to find ways to slack off and party? How many times have you seen shows like this come and go on ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC? Of course, those shows don’t end with a powerful being of the likes of Party Pete floating in the air and glowing. Or it doesn’t have a song that sends objects and creatures, literally, to the moon.

And yet there’s a heartfelt style to it. The dialogue is goofy and the beats in the early parts of the episodes are quiet, low-key, verbal based. They say they’re “pissed off” and “what the ‘f’.” They are frustrated by crappy video games and annoying friends, but are somewhat impressed by their boss who both hates and loves them. Regular Show kinda reminds me of the new Comedy Central show Workaholics, but more cartoony, more appreciative of its animated format. A few times, I’ll say to myself, “Ahh, so that’s why this is animated.” I couldn’t say that for King of the Hill.

People will be confused and ask who this is for. Who is the audience? It’s for you, guys. Anyone who understand the nature of demographics is in that demographic. Another great irony. Of course it doesn’t get as deep or life-reflexive as a typical sitcom. There are no character or story arcs as far as I can see. But re-occurring characters are committed to their roles, and the characters have a real, grounded place and real, grounded stakes.

Enter Lauren Faust and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

My Little Pony

I wrote about this before, but My Little Pony is the first real show to gauge itself as both a sitcom and a cartoon. It’s easy to focus on the cartoon elements, due to the colorful cast, the pun-based terminology, the expressions and squash-and-stretch emphasis, and the crazy situations the characters get into. However, the characters are deep and unique, the stories are grounded (in MLP-world terms), and there is indeed a story arc, or at least a consistency to the world Faust has created. The only thing that holds it back is it’s perceived demographic (young girls), but as far as the internet is concerned, My Little Pony is for everyone. And it’s a full 22-minutes, too.

Other shows can be argued to be part of the Animated Sitcom, 2.0, but fall short. Ugly Americans utilizes an exotic cast of wizards, werewolves, and robots as legit, fleshed-out characters; it’s limited animation holds it back, however, keeping it along side Futurama and most content on Adult Swim. It’s rare to see the characters of those shows really embrace their cartoony natures. I won’t count action cartoons either, as 1) they aren’t really cartoony and 2) they really aren’t sitcoms. (Batman: Brave and the Bold comes close, but it’s too removed from the “sitcom” trope and is firmly in the action realm.) Phineas and Ferb seem like a good candidate, although character depth is more or less focused on the characters of Candice and Doofenshmirtz, there’s no central theme (beyond two boys making the most of their summer), the 11-minute format is too restricting, and warmer, subtler moments come too few and far in-between to register any poignancy (although there is quite a bit of potential on the peripheral, like Doofenshmirtz’s daughter.) Likewise with Fairly Oddparents and TUFF Puppy. In fact, if you want something closer to compare this phenomenon to, look to the classic Disney Afternoon block from the 90s, where each ‘toon fully embrace it’s 24-minute timeframe for a solid, character-rich show with some pretty fun cartoony elements (although lacking in the sitcom department, there was a few basic elements from it, mostly among character relationships).

(As an aside: a lot of live-action kids TV shows seem much more cartoony than not these days, with their outlandish premises and storylines, like iCarly, The Wizards of Waverly Place, and Hannah Montana.)

With the new Looney Tunes Show embracing that dual role of both cartoon and sitcom, probably in the strongest fashion thus far (although it lacks both 1) the manic energy and 2) a coherent, fleshed-out world as tightly created as MLP), we’re slowly entering a brand new era of the late night, 8pm entertainment. It’s interesting to note that as of a few weeks ago Seth MacFarlane acquired the rights to reboot The Flintstones, arguably the first animated sitcom of its era, a show brimming with cartoony potential but held back by Hanna-Barbara’s limited animation. It’s interesting to see where he takes it; there is a chance that it will be a lame, pop-culture riddled mess, but there’s also a chance it could be a fairly fun, silly animated sitcom as well – after all, he did do typical cartoons before he received FOX money.

It will be interesting to see if Cartoon Network, Nick, or some of the outlier networks like Spike, Comedy Central, or FX start to snatch up sillier cartoon fare with a sitcom base. It would be nice to see more animated sitcoms embrace the “animated” portion of its namesake versus the “sitcom” part, and it looks like we’re seeing more of this in the coming years. Here’s hoping audiences love it as well.


, , , ,

No Comments

The Looney Tunes Show – Review

Looney Tunes Logo

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.)


, , ,

1 Comment

Q&A: Joe Murray Interview

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.

Joe Murray holding a book

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

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.

KaboingTV Icon


, , , ,

No Comments