Wednesday, October 3, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (10/03/2012): Gravity Falls, Green Lantern, Young Justice, Adventure Time and Regular Show

Her arm also slices, dices and makes Julienne fries.
The Kanye West/Big Sean/Pusha T/2 Chainz track "Mercy" isn't about Mercy Graves, but it ought to be. (Photo source: Young Justice Wiki)
Every Wednesday 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.

Lil' Gideon Gleeful (Thurop Van Orman), the psychic entertainer kid who didn't take rejection from his temporary girlfriend Mabel too well in Gravity Falls' "Hand That Rocks the Mabel" episode, returns to menace the Pines family in "Little Dipper." This time, the creepy, porcine-nosed Gideon gets his grubby hands on a magical height-altering crystal that Dipper's attached to a flashlight and shone at himself to make himself a millimeter taller than his twin sister Mabel (Dipper's been bummed out lately by Mabel's delight over the fact that she's the taller twin--by a millimeter).

Aw fuck, is this another Honey, I Shrunk the Kids sequel? How many more times is Rick Moranis gonna fuck up his kids' heights again before he ends up saying, 'Honey, I'm being visited by Child Protective Services.'
This week's Gravity Falls cryptogram is "gsv rmerhryov draziw rh dzgxsrmt." The decoded result is "The invisible wizard is watching." (Photo source: Gravity Falls Wiki)
Gideon uses the crystal to shrink Dipper and Mabel and hold them hostage as part of his plan to take over the Mystery Shack, the tourist trap run by his business rival Stan, the twins' great-uncle (I like how Grunkle Stan is such a dick to Gideon throughout this episode). The pompadoured little jerk, who comes complete with a fawning stage dad (Stephen Root) who runs a shady car dealership to support Gideon's popular act, is shaping up to be a great--and original--Disney villain and is an especially relevant meanie in this age of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and similar reality shows where talentless and annoying fame-whore kids are let loose by scummy stage parents who live vicariously through them. I don't think I've ever seen a Disney villain before who scares his or her mother in the same way that Gideon petrifies Mrs. Gleeful (Grey DeLisle), who's always seen cleaning the house and avoiding making eye contact with her domineering and hot-tempered son. "Just keep vacuuming," mutters Mrs. Gleeful to herself repeatedly at one point.

'It's all for you, Damien!'
(Photo source: Gravity Falls Wiki)
In addition to being a fun villainy-heavy episode of Gravity Falls (I hate the term "shipping," so I'm not going to use it, but I think Gideon and another villain on the show, mean girl Pacifica Northwest, are made for each other), "Little Dipper" is also a good Dipper/Mabel story. Dipper's climactic realization that he's been a jerk to his sister (she's been hurt by his tendency to gloat over how he's better than her at everything, and height is the one thing where she's discovered she has an advantage over him) exemplifies why his dialogue with Mabel has resonated so much with Gravity Falls' biggest fans. Gravity Falls creator/showrunner Alex Hirsch took the traits of his own twin sister Ariel and used them to form Mabel's sunny personality, her love of both quirky sweaters and pea-brained animals (speaking of which, I enjoy how this show animates the dumbness of Gideon's inattentive hamster Cheekums and Mabel's pig Waddles, who's absent in this episode) and her interaction with Dipper.

"I've read countless comments on Tumblr, on Twitter, on message boards where people are saying, 'Thank you, thank you for showing a sibling relationship where they're not just sniping and hating on each other all the time,'" said Hirsch in a recent A.V. Club interview where he discussed viewers' enthusiastic responses to Dipper's scenes with Mabel. "When I started the show, I didn't originally begin with a conscious effort to do that. My conscious effort was, 'Oh, I want to make it like me and my sister, and I'll make it funny.'"

And "Little Dipper" demonstrates once again why Gravity Falls never falls short at delivering the funny.


Diedrich Bader's most memorable--as well as his most personal favorite--voiceover stint was the three seasons he spent as Batman on the lighthearted and surprisingly good Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-2011). He played the titular superhero not as a source of deadpan humor like Adam West's take on Batman, but as a straight man to the campiness surrounding him. Now Bader gets to take on a more comedic superhero role that's closer to his sillier work on The Drew Carey Show and Napoleon Dynamite: egotistical ex-jock Guy Gardner, Hal Jordan's replacement as the Green Lantern Corps member assigned to patrol Earth, in "The New Guy," Green Lantern: The Animated Series' amusing season premiere.

Bader excels at this kind of role, a 180-degree turn from his subdued and benevolent version of Batman. It echoes the over-the-top machismo of the first role I knew Bader from, his title role in "The Searcher," a spoof of the Lorenzo Lamas action show Renegade that was a segment on the short-lived '90s Fox comedy anthology Danger Theatre. The new Green Lantern, who, in one of my favorite moments of Guy Gardner dickishness, autographs a photo of himself for a hot female cable news reporter while she's interviewing him live on TV, could easily be a main character in any one of Will Ferrell's movies where Ferrell deconstructs--via characters like Ron Burgundy in Anchorman and its upcoming sequel--what he referred to in a New York magazine interview as "the macho American male or the overly confident person."

'Listen, buster, I say the hackneyed one-liners around here, not you, alright?'
After fighting the Red Lanterns and preventing them from killing the Guardians on Oa, Hal returns to Earth to find his girlfriend and Ferris Air boss Carol has fired him from his job as a test pilot because, well, an employee who's been gone from the planet for several months is sort of a liability for a military aircraft company (this show's look at how intergalactic heroism can wreck someone's day job reminds me of Doctor Who a couple of weeks ago, when Rory got questioned by a hospital co-worker about why he's so often away from his job as a nurse). Hal also discovers that the Guardians replaced him with the publicity-craving Guy as the Corps patrolman on Earth and did so without informing him. Annoyed by Guy's cockiness and dismissal of Hal as a "helpless civilian" and "temp" who's butting in on his turf, Hal must put aside his differences with his oblivious rival when a group of Manhunters--the same Guardian-created robots that turned against the Guardians and slaughtered millions in the Forgotten Zone--arrives on Earth to purge the planet of its human population because of their human imperfections.

Speaking of purging things, I'm glad to see that "The New Guy" got rid of Guy's bowl cut from the '80s and '90s Green Lantern and Justice League comics. Guy's ability to charm the opportunistic cable news reporter wouldn't have been so believable with that ugly-ass bowl cut on his head.


'I'm an Arse-nal-ee-oh...'
It feels like it's been a year since Young Justice: Invasion aired a first-run episode, but it's actually been about four months since the last one. "Satisfaction" deals with both the Young Justice teammates' grief over the death of Artemis--whom they don't know is actually alive and helping Nightwing, Kaldur and Wally secretly take down Black Manta, Kaldur's evil father--and the anger Roy Harper (Crispin Freeman) feels over losing eight years of his life to captivity in a lab at LexCorp, whose scientists amputated his right arm for their cloning experiments. Despite rocking one arm (jealous?) and not being fully recovered after his recent awakening from his eight-year sleep, Roy, a.k.a. Speedy, escapes the hospital and packs up his quiver and arrows to seek vengeance against Lex Luthor (Mark Rolston).

Not since Justice League Unlimited has a superhero cartoon exuded such ease and skill in juggling so many characters' arcs and developing them, and that's especially on display in "Satisfaction." Also, I'm surprised at how the exposition to bring viewers up to speed after such an extended break between half-seasons is kept to a minimum in "Satisfaction" and artfully handled by episode writer and Young Justice co-showrunner Greg Weisman, whose expositiony dialogue for characters like M'gann can occasionally sound clunky (M'gann has only one such line during "Satisfaction" that's particularly clunky).

The episode climaxes with an intense parking garage fight between Roy and Lex's leggy bodyguard Mercy Graves (a character who was introduced on Superman: The Animated Series and was voiced on that show by a pre-House Lisa Edelstein), and the terrifically animated battle is one of Young Justice's most exhilarating action sequences to date. This new (and rather mute) version of Mercy is rocking a cybernetically enhanced arm. I wouldn't be surprised if one of her legs can transform into a rocket launcher much like Rose McGowan's weaponized replacement leg in Planet Terror. I'm looking forward to the episode where Mercy does a badass and sexy handstand to get her leg into firing position.


As part of the festivities of Cartoon Network's 20th birthday, Adventure Time marked its 100th episode with neither a momentous step in the relationship between Jake and his pregnant girlfriend Lady Rainicorn (which was what I expected to happen) nor--bleh--a clip show, but with something a little more low-key. "The Hard Easy" is a typical Adventure Time story of Finn and Jake bumbling their way through heroism, but it's loaded with much of the elements that got me hooked on Adventure Time over the summer: surreal Fleischer Brothers-meets-Nintendo imagery; funny dialogue that sometimes sails over the youngest viewers' heads and was clearly written for the enjoyment of grown-ups like myself; and the inability to know what to expect.

'Tonight's episode: How Not To Build a Fire.'
(Photo source: Adventure Time Wiki)
Popeye shorts have a formula: Bluto bullies Popeye; Bluto tries to date-rape Olive Oyl; spinach winds up in Popeye's mouth; Popeye whups Bluto's ass. Bugs Bunny shorts have a formula: someone pisses off Bugs, who gets even and maybe fakes his death at one point to drive his enemy even more batshit crazy. Adventure Time shorts don't have a clear-cut formula--okay, maybe they do: Finn and Jake come to the aid of somebody--but none of them ever end the same way, and that unpredictability makes the show a delight to watch every time.

For instance, I never expected to hear Jonathan Katz voicing the red-skinned Elder Mudscamp, who asks Finn and Jake to protect the other mudscamps from a giant green monster known as the Megafrog. But there he is, the former star of the '90s animated series Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, stammering through a monologue about the Megafrog's reign of terror and bringing back fond memories of his improvised delivery on that classic show. I especially love how "The Hard Easy" leaves in an audio blooper where Katz pretends to be a female mudscamp and makes himself laugh while accidentally mixing up her voice with the voice of her child. I rewinded that blooper over and over because I always enjoy seeing or hearing comedic actors who aren't SNL-era Jimmy Fallon break character and fight their way back to being in character (on a similar note, over on New Girl this week, I could tell Hannah Simone was trying her damnedest not to crack up while Max Greenfield, whose Schmidt character is no longer dating Simone's Cece, rested his head on her breasts and ad-libbed that they're like memory foam). Katz's blooper isn't the only improvised bit of dialogue during "The Hard Easy." The episode also leaves in a Jake line that must have been ad-libbed by John DiMaggio ("The thing with frogs is they got a real subtle smell. It's kind of like when you open a new thing of, um, CD-Rs").

Good thing the mudscamp played by Dr. Katz didn't squiggle because that would have exhausted my eyes after two minutes.
(Photo source: Adventure Time Wiki)
Here's to 100 more unpredictable adventures in the Land of Ooo.


While Adventure Time opts for a small-scale (but still action-packed) 100th episode, Regular Show chooses to go epic for "Exit 9B," its fourth-season premiere, as well as its first-ever half-hour story (and one of three special half-hour episodes that are airing this season). The reason for the super-sized and mock-serious treatment of "Exit 9B" is the destruction of the park. As declared by the season premiere's tagline, which parodies often misleading taglines that networks always come up with for the melodramatic season premieres of many of their live-action TV dramas, "The park will never be the same," and thanks to the efforts of Garrett Bobby Ferguson Jr. (Sam Marin), the park gets blown up.

What Garrett ought to blow up is the barber who done fucked up his head.
(Photo source: Regular Show Wiki)
The son of past Regular Show villain and Billy Mitchell-inspired video game champion Garrett Bobby Ferguson (also Marin), GBF Jr. brainwashes all the destroyed park's senior staffers to prevent them from saving the park, except for Mordecai and a more-mature-and-resourceful-than-usual Rigby, who escape into the future (two months later, to be exact) with the help of Rigby's spherical $15 time machine from "Bad Kiss." The first half of "Exit 9B" follows Mordecai and Rigby as they help their amnesiac friends (for instance, Skips has switched to working as a garage mechanic, while Muscle Man is now the least like his previous self and has become a stuffy quantum physics professor) to regain their memories in a spoof of the heartwarming Lost series finale moments where the castaways rediscovered their previous connections to each other while stuck inside the much-maligned sideways universe.

In the second half, the reunited co-workers plot to bring the old park back. They discover that GBF Jr. and his dad are building a highway over the park to open a hole in time and space and summon onto the highway almost all of Regular Show's villains who have died so that they can kill the park staff in a chaotic showdown straight out of epics like Alexander Nevsky, Spartacus and Braveheart.

It doesn't take a handwriting analyst to figure out that Mitch is suffering from John Hancock envy.
(Photo source: Getting real tired of your bullshit)
"Exit 9B" feels more like a series finale than a season premiere because it brings back almost every villain from the show's first couple of seasons to do battle with the park staff--I didn't recognize any of the villains because I'm a latecomer to Regular Show--while almost every bizarre creature Mordecai and Rigby have befriended reappears to lend a hand to the gang. The only good guys I was able to recognize were the Guardians of Eternal Youth from "Fists of Justice" and the giant half-duck/half-human creature formed by the baby ducks in "A Bunch of Baby Ducks," who, in the funniest bit of comedic violence, locks No Rules Man from "House Rules" inside a portapotty, shakes it like a cocktail and dropkicks it into an airplane. Usually, magic or some temporary superpower granted to the gang saves everyone's asses at the end on Regular Show, but in an amusing departure from that formula, what actually ends up saving the park after all that Braveheart-style bloodshed is the not-so-fantastical device of a petition signed by the park employees. The park will never be the same, my ass.

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