For this special one-year anniversary of TV Party (yes, it is hard to believe that I've been writing this column for a year. It seems almost longer to several of you, almost like a cheap luggage set that your grandparents buy you when you go off to college), I ruminated over several ideas for how to celebrate - from a Doctor Who-themed column (which, well, will probably be posted on my personal blog) to several "highlights" from the past (including a note saying, "How could they choose the Nestle Quik guy over Lyle Waggoner for Batman?"), nothing really seemed to gel. But I decided, this year, to focus on an animated show that features superheroes, hasn't really been seen since its initial run, and which contains enough goofy humor and in-jokes, to make you smile.
First, a flashback - imagine you're back in the year 1995. It's the middle of the Clinton Presidency, and the biggest hit on television is that show with the six people - or is four? - sitting around talking. The X-Files , Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Mystery Science Theater 3000 have us glued to our seats in front of the television. Musically, we're leaving the grunge sound behind, and the Beatles release their Anthology series. Your humble author is in the midst of grad school, earning his master's degree in counseling and working for Harvard University. However, one Saturday morning, whilst flipping channels, he (I) come across a cartoon that fills his senses, that makes him laugh heartily, and that actually helped bring about Bill Clinton's reelection.
Actually, I'm lying about that third part, but Freakazoid! - originally running from 1995 - 1997 on Kids' WB - has been recently rereleased on DVD after sporadic showings on the Cartoon Network. And quite frankly, fellow comics aficionados, it is well worth hunting down, watching, and owning. (Note - one bad thing about grad school is that you're forced to use big words like "aficionado". And "hypertextualism". Or even "toyetic" ). Originating from Amblin' Entertainment (or "What Steven Spielberg did before Dreamworks"), it had already cornered the market with Tiny Toons and Animaniacs in terms of humorous, anarchic humor for kids, and Freakazoid was going to be more of an action-adventure oriented show. They even went so far as to ask Bruce Timm to provide some of the character designs. Although initially seen as a more straightforward action adventure show, the tone was changed to more of a comedy, and Timm left the production (citing the fact that he felt that he was not capable of meeting those needs. However, the DVD set contains some of his designs, some of which - like Ben Franklinstein - were never used.
However, the show eventually went into production, and the result is a rather stream-of-consciousness, flat-out wacky show. (In fact, although initially geared towards the kids' market, they found that their demographic was actually the teen audience.) Much of the success of the show is due to Paul Rugg, writer/voice actor/all around swell guy, whose ability to turn-on-a-dime-improvise really brought the show a manic energy. (It helped - or maybe it didn't - that the show was pretty much written on-the-fly, since they had inadequate time to write a series bible ). Although the show's second year was a bit more focused and linear, Freakazoid year one benefits from a mixture of short-and-sweet vignettes to longer, more linear adventures. There's a great sensibility and willingness to mix the superhero genre with humor - it's like the 1960's television Batman updated for the 1990s. (Several obvious swipes are the "Freakalair/Freakadog" naming system, some of the zips and transitions, and much of the dialogue.)
We interrupt this edition of TV Party to increase dramatic tension. And because, we, we think it's kind of funny. Thank you.
In fact, the series takes much of its tone from the Silver Age, most especially DC's offerings. Often, our hero finds himself channeling director/actor/writer/MDA Telethon host/former partner of Dean Martin Jerry Lewis, who had his own series in the 1960s (and who found himself interacting with heroes in the DC universe). However, the series shares a tone with two series - the first is the Inferior Five, which was (surprise, surprise) a parody to current super-hero comics. Much of Freakazoid contains then-current pop culture references, but uses them quite cleverly - for example, using Ed Asner's deadpan delivery to voice Freakazoid's policeman friend who distracts our hero from his goal, or Richardo Montalban riffing on one of his best known roles (they would use Jonathan Harris in a similar way in season 2); random inserts of stock footage that help break up the action; Lord Bravery, which is as close as we will come to a Monty Python - inspired superhero parody, F.G. Superman aside; and a Jonny Quest parody called "Toby Danger" so dead-on that you'd think that it was a ripoff of The Venture Brothers ). And the other inspiration - Arnold Drake's work on the 1960s Doom Patrol . Yes, when that other group of misfits led by a man in a wheelchair were wringing their hands over being outcasts, the Doom Patrol were willing to embrace their "freakiness"...and yes, they complained, but they also bickered and wisecracked. And they, too, had an unusual sense of humor. Bruno Premiani's art straddles the line between realism and flat-out parody (for example, how can Robotman with a metal face - or Larry Trainor, his face in bandages - make facial expressions)? One person's need for realism is superceded by a knowing awareness that these are comics to be enjoyed...and Freakazoid's humor easily straddles that line.
In short, what makes Freakazoid great is that, in its first year, there's a boundless sense of not knowing where it would go. It's like scattering a series of 45 RPM records (or, for you younger kids, hitting "shuffle" on your iPod)
But for this first anniversary TV Party, my advice is to get Freakazoid and watch it. Buy several copies and give them away as Christmas presents. No, not just because it's a great show, with a really strong grounding in Silver Age humor; not becase you would make me feel happy (although I would be happier with my own copy and not Netflixing it). No, because high sales mean a release of volume 2 of Freakazoid, which contains a sequence in which Ed Asner asks Jonathan Harris, as they're flying in an airplane to a foreign country "How about I pound your head into your tummy?" Because that, my friends, is what comics, cartoons, and this column should always be about - fun, mirth, and laughter.
And you know what? I love hearing from readers - talk to me on the TV Party Comic Related forums. If you'd like to read more, please feel free to visit my blog at http://blogthispal.blogspot.com, or follow me on Twitter, Plurk or Facebook. (And I'm even sponsoring a contest where asking me a question might win you a prize. Honestly). In addition, I also contribute to Junk Fewd, which is more of a social media/Internet-related blog.
And now, one final word of wisdom: Huggbees!
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general information, please visit his blog at blogthispal.blogspot.com.
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