Name That Toon

When it comes to animated shows, I'm not going to go on at length about the shows I watched when I was a kid. That implies that there's a portion of my life during which I didn't watch cartoons, and there just isn't one. Take a spin through the exhaustive list, and you'll see cartoons from multiple eras, including today. It's not that I enjoy purely juvenile shows; the animated programs I watch these days are at least partially (and in some cases entirely) geared towards adults. But I also have to admit to periodically diving back into childhood favorites, and get genuine pleasure from breaking out the DangerMouse DVDs from time to time.

After tearing through Archer - Season 3 on Netflix Instant recently, I noticed in the automatic suggestions that Cartoon Network has made several of their shows available for streaming. Some, like Dexter's Laboratory and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, I'd already seen large chunks of, but there were others that I'd missed, and wanted to give a try. That sent me down a big ol' rabbit hole of animated shows that I've heard about at the virtual water-cooler, most of which turned out to be pretty damned good. Most.

Archer - Season 3

I don't think I've ever seen an episode of this show as it aired. It's perfectly-suited to shotgunning, so I tend to just wait until entire seasons are available. Season 3 was just as gleefully subversive as the previous ones, and I loved the guest performances from Patrick Warburton, Burt Reynolds, George Takei, and Bryan Cranston. Seasonal arcs have never been a big focus for Archer, but Season 3 had some great callbacks and multi-part episodes. Standouts include "The Man From Jupiter" (Burt Reynolds dates Malory), "The Limited" (Canadian terrorists on a high-speed train), and "Skin Game" (Kreiger reanimates Katya as a cyborg). Sometimes, it's easy to tell when a show is in the midst of a creative upswing, and Archer is pretty clearly in the zone right now. The Danger Zone.

Adventure Time - Season 1

This may be the weirdest effing show on television right now, and I kind of love it. I don't just like weird for weird's sake - otherwise I'd be a fan of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! which I despise. The stories on Adventure Time may be strange, but they've got a lot of heart, and a surprising amount of world-building goes into them. I've only watched one season, and have a better grip on the creatures and places that make up this universe than I did after two Game of Thrones books. Jake the Dog and Finn the Human keep everything mostly grounded, which is good, because the rest of the characters in Adventure Time are wackadoo. The episodes are incredibly short, so do yourself a favor and check a few out. Any show that features a character named Lumpy Space Princess can't be all bad.

Regular Show - Season 1

I was introduced to this show at my sister's house; my nephew is a big fan. It's a lot like Adventure Time, except much more realistic. I mean, comparatively. I'm not suggesting that a giant blue jay (Mordecai) and his raccoon best friend (Rigby) working for their gumball machine boss (Benson) at the local park is realistic, but they do relatable things like have jobs and resent successful siblings and pine for girls and such. It's a funny, enjoyable show, and only suffers when held up in comparison to its cousin Adventure Time up there. Mordecai and Rigby are gigantic slackers, and all they ever want is to have as much fun while doing as little work as possible. This leads to some very funny stories, but they're not the most likable protagonists on the block. I do really enjoy Pops, though.

Frisky Dingo - Season 1

If I were aiming for accuracy, that heading would have read "Frisky Dingo - Season 1, Episodes 1-3", because that's all I was able to get through. It's not that it was terrible; it's just a show that needed another twenty minutes in the oven, so to speak. This is an Adam Reed show, and you can see clear precursors to Archer in its DNA. Ultimately, though, I can get a little tired of his nihilistic, misanthropic characters; it's why I had to space out episodes of Sealab 2021 so much. Killface is a nice spin on the evil supervillain trope, but the show overall left me cold.

Clone High - Season 1

It sucks that this show only got one season, because it deserved more attention. I can't describe its premise any better than its own theme song does, so go give that a listen. I've been wanting to watch this short-lived little gem for a while now, but wasn't able to track it down on any of the usual rental or streaming sources I use to watch TV. I'm not sure why I didn't think to check YouTube, but once someone pointed out that I could watch all the episodes there, I was on it in a flash. Clone High loved to subvert the ideas we have about hallowed historical figures. Teenaged Abe Lincoln is oblivious and dim. Gandhi is a party animal. Gandhi is infatuated by Joan of Arc, who is hopelessly in love with Abe, who loves the egocentric Cleopatra, who casually dates the sex maniac JFK, who bangs Catherine the Great (or as he says, "Catherine the So-So"). This is all set against the backdrop of a high school with a mad scientist principal and his loyal robot butler. Will Forte and Nicole Sullivan lead a pretty outstanding voice cast, and when the season was over, I found myself searching for a Season 2 I knew didn't exist. Boooooooooo.

In reading some of the descriptions of the shows above, it's no wonder why I like animated shows so much. They grant so much freedom. Show me a successful sitcom that I could write "loyal robot butler" or "gumball machine boss" about. As with "regular" TV shows, some are way more enjoyable with others, but as a genre, I'm glad it's here to stay. And with so much prime time space given over to shows like Bob's Burgers and such, it's pretty clear that unlike Trix, cartoons aren't just for kids anymore. Thanks be to the Robot Devil.

Archer - Season 3: B
Adventure Time - Season 1: A-
Regular Show - Season 1: B
Frisky Dingo - Season 1: C
Clone High - Season 1: B+


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