Tuesday, July 17, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (07/17/2012): Motorcity, Gravity Falls, Kaijudo, The Avengers and Regular Show

A thight for Thor eyes
The forecast calls for a 75 percent chance of "thy" and "thou."
Each Tuesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated cable shows that are found outside my Adult Swim comfort zone. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

Abraham Kane, the crazed businessman/scientific genius who makes life a living hell for the Burners and the denizens of Motorcity, doesn't appear in every episode of Motorcity and is absent during "The Duke of Detroit Presents..." I'm assuming Kane is holed up in a KaneCo lab, working on some new threat against Motorcity, like government cheese embedded with cheese mites in nanite form that are programmed to sicken ghetto dwellers' stomachs.

Kane's off-screen period of inactivity is driving Mike Chilton bonkers because he doesn't have anything to fight against--that is until the Duke of Detroit sets traps for him and his team to create action-packed footage for the new reality show the Duke is producing about the adventures of the Burners. In addition to being a junkyard owner and much-feared underworld figure, the Duke apparently wants to be Mark Burnett as well.

(Photo source: Hair Nets and Dog Food)
In the episode's best running gag, Texas, currently obsessed with "getaway gang movies" he's been watching on a gizmo that appears to be a cross between Google Glass specs and an iPod Touch, struggles to come up with punchy action movie-style one-liners for the reality show cameras, but he tanks every time. He sounds exactly like anybody who's tried too hard to be funny and witty on Twitter. None of the Burners has the patience in this episode to tell Texas that you can't try to be funny. You're either born that way or not. The masterminds at Titmouse are clearly the former.


Linda Cardellini in 2011, far from freaky or geeky
Linda Cardellini
Gravity Falls' "Inconveniencing" episode shows why getting former Freaks and Geeks star Linda Cardellini to voice the Pines twins' teen friend Wendy was brilliant casting, and it makes me wish Cardellini did more animation (other than this series and a recent Regular Show guest shot). On Paul Feig and Judd Apatow's classic show, Cardellini played Lindsay Weir, an unhappy math nerd who ditched the uptight and competitive mathlete crowd and found kindred spirits in her new friends, James Franco's underachieving burnout Daniel Desario and his pack of mischievous and much-maligned "freaks."

This time, Cardellini plays the charismatic Daniel figure who brings into her crowd a couple of newbies: Mabel and Dipper, who's got a crush on the older Wendy and lies about being 13 instead of his actual age of 12 to attempt to impress her. Because there are much less things for teens to do on Friday night in a small and secluded town like Gravity Falls, Oregon than there are in suburbs like the Detroit burb where Freaks and Geeks was set (and also because this is a TV-Y7-rated Disney Channel show, so the drugs and sex are kept off-screen), Wendy and her friends, including sullen musician/wanna-be artist Robbie (T.J. Miller), Thompson (episode co-writer Michael Rianda) and Tambry (Jessica DiCicco), break into the Dusk 2 Dawn, an abandoned convenience store that's rumored to be haunted. Dipper and Mabel tag along and discover the wonders of food fights and purloining junk food without paying for it and getting caught (even though it's 17-year-old junk food, which, judging from the kids' unperturbed reactions, doesn't taste like it's 17 years old).

Wendy was ironically wearing hunting caps before Portland like totes ripped her off.
(Photo source: Stuff I found on the internets)
The kids' fun at the Dusk 2 Dawn comes to an abrupt end when they realize the rumors about its history of corpses and ghosts are true. Chalk outlines of corpses are uncovered, and the haunted store traps the teens inside and attacks them one by one (Tambry gets sucked into the smartphone she won't stop texting into, while Thompson becomes trapped inside the screen of a "Dancy Pants Revolution" machine). The elderly couple (Ken Jenkins from Scrubs and April Winchell) that ran the Dusk 2 Dawn died 17 years ago inside the store from a simultaneous heart attack caused by their intense hatred of rowdy teen customers and their "newfangled rap music" (which contained offensive lyrics like "Homework's wack, and so are rules/Tuckin' in your shirt's for fools!"), so the owners' ghosts are retaliating against any teen who trespasses.

And this is why I don't trust a product with a name like 'Smile Dip.' It transforms you into Mr. Sparkle.
The highlights of "The Inconveniencing" include that amusing little parody of clean-cut '90s rap, the novel placement of Poltergeist-style gags in a 7-Eleven setting and the recurring acknowledgement of the crappy economy without directly referencing it in dialogue (Grunkle Stan's Mystery Shack gift shop doesn't seem to be attracting any customers). But I wish the end credits' hidden messages weren't merely snatches of earlier dialogue (by the way, this week's cryptogram, "rqzdugv drvklpd!," is "Onwards, Aoshima!," which Mabel said to her flying dolphin during her sugar-induced hallucination) and were actual clues about something--like that hot dog-shaped shadow hovering over Wendy's lawn chair on the Mystery Shack rooftop during "The Inconveniencing"'s cold open.

Does that noisy flying shadow have anything to do with that muffin-shaped explosion Robbie spray-painted on the town watertower? Did that explosion come from a UFO Robbie saw? And why aren't there more Disney cartoons that make their viewers think and play detective like this?


Judging from the lack of mentions or reviews on Tumblr and other sites, The Hub's surprisingly good Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters, about a secret order of warriors who are partnered up with powerful creatures from other dimensions, is a cartoon barely anybody's watching. Animation fans are missing out on some stellar small-screen animation by MOI, the same Korean studio that contributes equally top-notch work to Young Justice. Maybe barely anybody's watching Kaijudo because the show is based on one of the most boring nerd hobbies I had to endure once and never want to experience again: a trading card game (which also happened to be the subject of this week's new Adventure Time short).

In the conclusion of Kaijudo's not-as-boring "Into the Fire" two-parter, Ray and Gabe's rescue of their friend Allie from Lord Skycrusher (John DiMaggio, who amazingly sounds nothing at all like Bender or Jake the dog in this role) in the Fire Civilization turns into a rescue of Ray's partner Bob. In addition to having a bounty on his head and being targeted for execution by his dragon half-sister Moorna (Grey DeLisle), Bob is subjected to Skycrusher's mind control. For most of the two-parter, Ray and Gabe are aided by Saguru (Andrew Kishino), a mysterious bounty hunter who's the only human they've encountered in the Fire Civilization and who constantly shifts loyalties as if he's Gabriel Byrne in Miller's Crossing. One minute, the one-eyed Saguru is guiding Ray and Gabe towards Allie and then in the next, he's stabbing them in the back and handing Bob over to Skycrusher.

'Don't worry, Squeaky. I'll protect you from Richard Gere.'
One of my favorite elements of this series, the character designs for the creatures, or kaiju, are getting more inventive with each new creature that's introduced. Gabe's gadget-building little partner from the Water Civilization, Gargle (Dee Bradley Baker), whom Allie refers to as "the Spit Cup," amusingly uses his hands as feet and his feet as hands. The first part of "Into the Fire" introduced the Scaradorable of Gloom Hollow, a creature from the Darkness Civilization with both gerbil-like and koala bear-like traits that Allie first encounters in her prison cell. Allie nicknames her chittering friend "Squeaky." There's a great underplayed sight gag during Squeaky's first appearance where she appears to be as small as a puppy, but when Squeaky steps into the frame with Allie, it turns out she's as large as a grizzly bear. "Into the Fire, Part 1" also establishes Squeaky's ferocious side--she attacks the guards with a swarm of bats from her mouth--and in part 2, it's discovered that Squeaky can shed her gerbil/koala form and transform into a much more vicious-looking beastie.

When Homunculon came out of Saguru's eye, Gabe should have said, 'He's got crabs,' but that would have shot this cartoon into unwanted TV-PG territory.
Another intriguing creature that emerges in part 2 is Saguru's sidekick Homunculon, a metallic golden crab. It makes a memorably eerie entrance straight out of a Guillermo del Toro flick: it crawls out of Saguru's laser-firing right eye to treat Ray's wound. Homunculon's human partner is equally intriguing. We don't know whose side Saguru is really on, though for now, he's allying himself with the Choten (Oded Fehr), the Duel Masters' main nemesis, to recover pieces of his erased memory. After delivering Bob to Skycrusher, Saguru steals the coveted FireSword that Skycrusher has in his possession and hands it over to the Choten in exchange for information about his past.

I think Saguru is Ray's presumed-dead father. Mr. Okamoto must have used the memory-wiping Cyber Virus creatures on his family to protect them from his life as a Duel Master (what good that did because his son is now part of the Order of the Duel Masters) and then had a Cyber Virus erase his own memories of Earth. Saguru's Japanese accent and Ray's blind condition in the promo for the next episode--like how Saguru is half-blind--both hint that they're related.


The Skrull invasion arc concludes in a suitably epic but somewhat rushed fashion on The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. "Secret Invasion" episode writer and series MVP Christopher Yost chooses the steps of the Capitol Building in D.C. as the site for the climactic battle between the reunited Avengers and the Super-Skrulls (one of these Super-Skrulls is a mash-up of Cyclops and Wolverine, so if he had to face off against Jean Grey, he'd probably turn into Goofy and "aw-hyuck" repeatedly about his pants suddenly being too tight).

The Skrulls' whole M.O. is to copy people. They're like a race of Carlos Mencias.
While it's a great setting for a battle for the soul of the free world, the Capitol, like many other famous real-world settings brought into animated shows, looks oddly underpopulated during "Secret Invasion" despite the sight of a few reporters and cameramen. For instance, why aren't the Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives conferring with Secret Service agents?

I would have preferred to have seen this invasion arc continue for another episode or two (did Yost forget about Red Skull's role in this invasion?), although "Secret Invasion" ends on another cliffhanger, with Captain America walking off in sorrow to try to restore a reputation that he may not be able to repair because it's been heavily tarnished by his Skrull doppleganger. Don't worry, Cap. Spider-Man's got your back next week.

The best line in "Secret Invasion" isn't a one-liner at the expense of the Avengers' alien adversaries. It takes place when someone on this show finally acknowledges the absurdity of the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier always being compromised or attacked. (Why weren't any CTU agents ever this observant or witty about the crappy security at their L.A. headquarters on the ultra-conservatarded 24? Oh yeah, because many of its writers were ultra-conservatards, and they're known for their sharp sense of humor.) Agent Maria Hill mutters, "I've had the same car since I was 19 years old. Never had a problem. Yet this thing falls out of the sky every other Thursday."


Contempt for snooty restaurants or clubs is an anti-establishment tradition in comedy on the screen that goes all the way back to the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges. That tradition lives on in Regular Show episodes like last month's "Access Denied"--where writers Sean Szeles and Kat Morris seemed to be channeling past lousy nightclub experiences like how Aaron McGruder worked an encounter with a snooty doorman into The Boondocks' Martin Luther King episode--and this week's "Fancy Restaurant."

Muscle Man went to last weekend's Comic-Con and cosplayed as Steve Martin in The Jerk.
Mordecai and Rigby's fellow groundskeeper Mitch Sorenstein (Sam Marin), a.k.a. Muscle Man, has to impress the parents of his girlfriend Starla (Courtenay Taylor) by taking them out to dinner at an elegant French bistro suggested by Starla. Mitch's idea of a fancy meal is the buffalo wings at Wing Kingdom, so the dumpy Hulk lookalike frets over what to do at the bistro. He turns to Mordecai and Rigby for help in dinner etiquette and dressing like a proper gentleman, and they, in turn, seek the advice of a kids' etiquette book with cutesy illustrations of penguins demonstrating fancy behavior.

On the big night, Mordecai and Rigby coach a constantly perspiring Mitch via mini-headsets and masquerade as waiters to check in on him. Despite some awkward early chatter from Mitch to Starla's parents, "Sir Herbert Gutsmandottir" and "Madame Rose Gutsmandottir," about the subject of groundskeeping ("I'm just lucky I get to do what I love, which is basically just mowing the lawn topless"), the night goes smoothly--until the wait staff catches on to Mordecai and Rigby's act and destroys their hidden communication equipment. The head waiter tries to expose Mitch as a fake by quizzing him about something he'll easily get wrong: dessert utensils. I love how Mark Mothersbaugh's synth score switches to intense Mortal Kombat mode while the hostile waiter snarls to Mitch, "You do not eat zha crème brûlée with zat kind of spoon. You disgust me."

Muscle Man resembles Porky from the Porky's movies in this poster.
(Photo source: Calvin Wong)
Because this is Regular Show, the breeches-wearing waiters know martial arts and arm themselves with swords and chain weapons when they throw out customers who aren't fancy enough to dine at their restaurant. The heated exchange between the waiters and the Sorenstein party escalates into Wrestlemania, and Herb backs up Mitch with his fists and reveals he and Roz have been pretending to be fancy and cultured too. Wing Kingdom is where Herb would rather be.

It amuses me how the night becomes violent for the two green-skinned couples (but not violent on a body-bisecting Metalocalypse level for obvious reasons). "Fancy Restaurant" is the perfect episode for anybody who's ever had a lousy experience with a supercilious waiter and wanted to see that waiter get tossed out an open window at the end of the evening.

'Hall H is a Joke / Nightmare. It's a JoMare.'--FilmDrunk
Regular Show voice actors J.G. Quintel and Sam Marin at last weekend's San Diego Comic-Con (Photo source: GO 4 IT)

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