Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Adult Swim: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly (2001-present)

Over the last few days, we've reviewed some of the earliest entries from Cartoon Network's [adult swim], which was rebranded as a separate network about 18 months after its official launch, even though it shares the same operating space as its "parent". Think Nickelodeon and its "sister", Nick at Nite. Same idea.

We limited our focus to shows based on pre-established product. Hence, you won't see any reviews of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, easily the longest running series [as] has, even after a name change enacted in recent times. Any review of that series or other [as] shows going forward will appear in The Land of Whatever. This time, we will address the most glaring problem us old schoolers face in relation to [as], and that is its total disrespect, under the disguise of satirical comedy, of the Hanna-Barbera library.

It starts, of course, with the repackaging of 60's superheroes Space Ghost, Birdman, & Mightor in other roles. As we've discussed, Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast got the ball rolling, rebooting the Phantom of the Spaceways as a parody of late night talkers like David Letterman. Birdman was revived as a unemployed hero, leading to the cult favorite Harvey Birdman, Attorney-at-Law, which became the place where classic H-B characters were deposited for not only revival and tribute, but also abject ridicule.

Take for example the episode, "Very Personal Injury". Two of the ethnic, studio-created members of the Super Friends, Apache Chief & Black Vulcan, were brought out of exile in this story, with Apache Chief the main focus. They used the between scenes bumpers used on SF from 1978-86 in concocting a flashback to a supposed untold case, but it was clear from the outset that the producers were playing to a section of the internet that wasn't exactly fond of the SF franchise. I won't even bother posting the episode, because that would be glorifying what these turds have done, and I won't give them that satisfaction. Suffice it to say that the characters were cast in a less than exemplary light, and that includes Wonder Twin Zan, who made a cameo appearance as a witness, with sister Jayna nowhere to be found. It was insinuated that Zan had harbored a secret crush on one of his mentors, Wonder Woman. Of course, it didn't help that the Amazing Amazon & Zan were among the characters who appeared in a series of interstital skits for CN, along with Birdman & Thundarr, around that time, poking fun at the rampant use of expository dialogue in action cartoons back in the day, so what the loons at CN were suggesting was that Wonder Woman had found herself a new boyfriend. Yeah, right.

On the other side, a Sopranos parody cast Fred Flintstone as "The Dabba Don", but it also poked fun at "The Godfather"'s famous scene, using the severed head of Quick Draw McGraw for a cheap laugh. Nice idea, but the execution went off the track somewhere in production. These nuts can't help themselves.

And, speaking of the Wonder Twins, you might say that the series of truncated, repackaged versions of their 1977 shorts were a spinoff from Zan's appearance on Harvey Birdman. I have plans to pick out one of those micro-shorts in a future post, but, let's put it in simple terms. The original stories were given new endings, more for the worse in contrast to the original stories, and new dialogue, with subtle double entendres tossed in at random. In one of these bits, Jayna, in her eagle form, is harassed by a male eagle that suddenly wants to mate with her while she's on a case. That sounds like a case of Williams St. inserting some new stuff where it didn't belong. It didn't stop there.

Around the time of the movie, "Be Kind, Rewind", [as] produced a Wonder Twins short by the same title, which also brought back the sibs' predecessors, Wendy & Marvin, who were presented as being in a rock band. The Twins are in the wrong part of a video store, and, worse, to avoid detection, find themselves in a most, ah, compromising position, as discovered by a now-bearded Marvin, suggesting----and this is cause for much cringing---a little incest between the twins. Is nothing sacred anymore? Insofar as [as] is concerned, no. They call it absurdist humor. I call it as it should be. Utter blasphemy.

Mike Lazzo and his staff should be ashamed of themselves.

Ah, but there is a reason why this is titled, "The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly". There are some positives to [as], after all.

After Fox initially gave up on Family Guy, the series resurfaced at [as], and ratings for the reruns went through the proverbial roof. Coupled with exploding sales for DVD's of the series, that was enough for Fox suits to reconsider and relaunch Guy, forging a new business relationship with creator Seth MacFarlane, a CN alumnus. The result is that reruns of not only Guy, but also American Dad, air on [as], which also has aquired rerun rights to Guy spinoff, The Cleveland Show, to begin next year. Home Movies, which couldn't find an audience on UPN, landed on [as], and went back into production as well. The same can be said for The Oblongs, which aired on [as]' then-sister network, WB in its primetime run. Futurama, yet another Fox castoff now on Comedy Central, can chalk up its revival in large part to its run on [as], following the same formula as Family Guy. You'd think Fox would've learned their lesson then, but now they have a sort-of partnership with [as], so it wouldn't surprise anyone if MacFarlane's planned revival of The Flinststones, due on Fox next year, would also get the repurposing treatment on [as] concurrently.

[Adult Swim]'s lineup is loaded with anime that other cablers weren't willing to take a chance on. One series, Naruto, has since moved to DisneyXD, but the anime is really what is at the heart of [as] in 2012. Not everyone gets the Anime Channel, so [as] is a welcome destination for people looking to DVR or tape their favorites.

We've covered the good and the ugly, so what's the bad? Well, not everything that [as] has acquired has worked out for the best. For example, John Kricfalusi's Ripping Friends, which we've previously covered, moved to [as] after bombing on Fox (naturally) as a Saturday morning entry, but didn't last long on [as], either. Kricfalusi's extreme takes on The Jetsons & Yogi Bear will be addressed at a later time, but those toons haven't seen the light of day in forever, and, maybe, there's a reason for that. Also, as [as] has expanded its schedule, now starting at 9 (ET), directly opposite Nick at Nite, it's clear that in time, it may grow too big to be sharing space with Cartoon Network, and may require being spun off into its own channel. With the resources Time Warner has, don't discount the possibility. Of course, given the type of material that's there, there may be a few red flags that would attract the usual media watchdog groups, who've already given Seth MacFarlane some bad grades. Yes, they grabbed another show off the Fox scrap heap in King of the Hill, which is out of production, and had been played to death on FX before moving to [as], but it's a better fit to air on sister network TBS than having Family Guy get shoved down the throats of TBS' audience. King is also safe enough to air on CN proper as a bridge to [as], if the programming monkeys actually thought of it.

Does [as] have room to make improvements? Of course. They just have to get the creative team's collective minds out of the gutter as it relates to the classic characters they've already ruined, almost beyond repair. A few fresh ideas would help, assuming they're not afraid to accept suggestions.

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