Thursday, October 25, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (10/25/2012): Tron: Uprising, Motorcity, The Avengers, Adventure Time and Regular Show

This week on Motorcity, Chuck gets hooked on PCP and for some reason, starts repeatedly smashing his head through plate glass windows.
Chuck finally finds his niche in life as a competitive eater, especially in cherry pie-eating contests.
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner"--or in this case, late late Wednesday--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.

In "The Reward," the first new Tron: Uprising episode in decades, General Tesler (Lance Henriksen) intensifies his hunt for the wanted Renegade (Elijah Wood), a.k.a. Beck, after experiencing a nightmare in which the Renegade derezzes him. Tesler decides to involve the Argon City citizens in hunting down the Renegade and even throws in a prized VL-1 roadster as a reward to the citizen who turns him in. Tesler's supercilious right-hand man Pavel (Paul Reubens), who usually kisses up to Tesler, gets pissed off by the general's recruitment of regular folks to do the task that was given to him by Tesler because it undermines his power, so Pavel comes up with a scheme to humiliate his own boss, with the hopes that Grid dictator Clu will oust Tesler and give Pavel the general's job.

I don't think these neon glowstick steering wheels were such a good idea to help make NASCAR look less boring to neophytes.
Tesler, Pavel and his rival Paige (Emmanuelle Chriqui)--a woman of integrity who's working for the wrong side--are a more interesting pack of characters than Beck and his mechanic friends Mara (Mandy Moore) and Zed (Nate Corddry), simply because of the ongoing discord between the irritable general and his aides, one of whom will backstab anybody at the drop of a hat, even his own boss. Meanwhile, what are Beck, Mara and Zed stuck with in the A-story of "The Reward"? "You never hang out with us anymore, Beck!" That's not as entertaining. Zed's constant whining about Beck (who can never win with Zed, whether he's himself or in hero mode as the masked Renegade) has started to grate since "Identity," a.k.a. the Lake Bell episode. It's nice to see the weekly visual spectacle that is Tron: Uprising back on the air after months of no first-run episodes, but I'm also starting to realize why I didn't completely miss the show, and one of those reasons is Zed.


Chuck experiences a personality change and Dutch finds love in Motorcity's long-delayed "Fearless" episode, which finally aired in America last Friday when the show resumed airing first-run episodes after a way-too-long hiatus. There were rumors that Disney XD shelved "Fearless" for so long because its drug addiction plot was too dark for the channel (cowardly Chuck gets hooked on a KaneCo "booster" that purges him of his fear but turns him into a rage-filled asshole), which, if true, is strange because "Fearless" is the kind of story the channel's younger viewers need to see these days instead of being shielded from it, at a time when so many of their peers or maybe even their parents are heavily medicated like Chuck in this episode.

It's also the kind of ripped-from-the-headlines sci-fi story Star Trek used to frequently tackle, often successfully and sometimes not-so-successfully (see the original Trek's third season for the cheesiest and most heavy-handed examples). The scene where Mike has to snap Chuck out of his asshole state and ends up getting into a scuffle with him is even reminiscent of the scene in Star Trek's "This Side of Paradise" episode where Kirk frees Spock from his alien spores-induced blissful state. "Fearless" is, fortunately, a non-preachy, "Just say no" bullshit-free story about the negative side of relying on medication to try to improve your life. Instead of lecturing Chuck with an unnatural-sounding "Boosters are bad, mmm-kay?" speech or going all A&E on his ass and staging an intervention with the help of the other Burners, Mike gets through to Chuck by admitting that he experiences fear too in a rare serious moment that this lighthearted action cartoon executes quite well when it needs to.

Chuck could have had a V-8.
Meanwhile, Texas competes with Dutch for the attention of Tennie (Aimee Garcia, the leggy and hot nanny on Dexter), a teen mechanic in the "Cabler" village who's a whiz with machines like Dutch, and of course, an Asian guy once again gets the shaft. Somebody at the Burners' garage should point Texas in the direction of the more athletic Julie, whom several Motorcity fans have been "shipping"--God, I hate that word--Texas with ever since he lifted her up during a celebratory moment at the end of "Off the Rack." But if you do that stupid merging-the-names-of-a-guy-and-his-boo thing with Texas and Julie, you end up with "Tulie," which sounds exactly like the name of one of the show's villains, Kane's idiot assistant Tooley, so that's a bad sign, just like how it would be wrong for Liz and Jack to hook up on 30 Rock because the result of the merging of their names is "Jizz."


Over on The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, it's nice to see longer storylines return to the show for the two-parter of "Operation Galactic Storm" (which aired last week) and "Live Kree or Die" (American airdate still unknown) after a rather lame switch to standalone episodes, but it sucks that the writers had to kill off an Avenger of color, Black Panther, in order to do it. T'Challa sacrifices himself to protect Earth's sun from the Kree invasion, an intergalactic threat that the show appeared to have forgotten about for a while but has resurfaced just in time for the penultimate episode.

'Ms. Marvel, I want those lens flares! It doesn't take a genius inventor like me to figure out that this ship's bridge needs to look less boring.'
The Kree armada that the Avengers and S.W.O.R.D. are faced with at the end of "Operation Galactic Storm" is an incredible sight that reminds me of the Mars Attacks! opening title sequence, but with much less cheesy-looking alien ships. "Operation Galactic Storm" is Earth's Mightiest Heroes doing what it does best--epic superhero action with occasionally great banter (from Yellowjacket and S.W.O.R.D. agent Abigail Brand this time, instead of Hawkeye, the show's usual resident wiseass)--but the episode feels incomplete without part 2, which, thanks to Disney XD's bizarre scheduling moves, is airing Galactus-knows-when.


Earth's Mightiest Heroes is, no doubt, one of the best animated shows to come out of Marvel, but it's no Adventure Time, an idiosyncratic work of animation that deserves all the ratings success it gets on Cartoon Network. Like EMH, this week's Adventure Time short ends on a (season-concluding) cliffhanger, but Adventure Time's cliffhanger is an example of how Pendleton Ward's show exists on some other level of quality EMH could never attain, even on its best days. It's one of the craziest cliffhangers I've ever seen on a show, whether animated or live-action.

'The Lich is back.'--Percy Rodrigues
(Photo source: Adventure Time Wiki)
"The Lich" marks the return of one of Adventure Time's biggest villains, the Ron Perlman-voiced Lich, who's been lurking in the body of the snail that's turned up in the background of every episode and has waited since the end of the second season to strike again until now. Having taken over the form of Finn and Jake's elderly warrior friend Billy (Lou Ferrigno), the Lich-as-Billy tricks Finn and Jake into collecting all the power crystals from the crowns of Ooo's rulers to help him use the Enchridion--the same book that Finn gave to his bear friend as a gift at the end of "In Your Footsteps," not knowing that the bear would hand it over to the Lich--to wreak havoc on Ooo.

The puzzling ending is one of many demented moments in an episode that stuffs so much craziness into 11 minutes. In another demented bit during "The Lich," Princess Bubblegum is up late at night, calmly cutting off the arms and legs of little Gummi farmer creatures with scissors and swapping the limbs around on her unassuming guinea pigs while her radio blasts synthesized smooth jazz. I don't know exactly what PB's slightly unsettling science experiment/Mr. Miyagi-style Zen bonsai thing with living creatures has to do with anything else in "The Lich," but it's a strange comic grace note that I got a kick out of. It's no surprise that PB, who's like a female Dr. Frankenstein, would find dismemberment to be a calming activity. However, her experiment interlude isn't as much of a head-scratcher as that cliffhanger.

An exclusive screenshot from Tom Sawyer: The Animated Series
After the Lich escapes into a portal that emerges from Finn's destruction of the Enchridion, Finn and Jake follow him into the portal to stop whatever he's about to do. But in the next scene, the boy and dog are suddenly relaxing outside a farm, with what appears to be no memories of the episode's prior events. They also look different from the Finn and Jake we know. Finn has a nose and a robot arm, and Jake can neither speak nor shape-shift, and in this alternate reality that Finn and Jake are now trapped in, Finn apparently has a mom whose face we haven't glimpsed yet. Did Finn and Jake's walk through the portal somehow erase Ooo as we used to know it, hence Finn and Jake's altered appearances and the presence of Finn's previously nonexistent mom? I have no idea what all this means, but good thing Adventure Time is a cable cartoon with an unsurprisingly bizarre and haphazard airdate schedule because I'll be able to find out the meaning of all this as immediately as next month.


Regular Show's "Pie Contest" episode marks the writing/storyboarding debut of Hellen Jo, an artist I once briefly met because we were both contributors on a graphic novel anthology. The series is the perfect outlet for Jo's anarchic sensibilities. In the entertaining "Pie Contest," Mordecai and Rigby pester Benson to give them the task of judging the park's annual pie contest because of all the pies they'll get to eat, and after they're willing to subject themselves to physical harm just to be judges, he relents and puts them on judging duty. The duo ignores Benson's warning that the task isn't as easy as they think it is (he even threatens to fire them if they quit the contest), so they end up regretting being judges when they realize that judging requires them to be, well, judgmental and brutally honest to their not-so-talented friends. One of those friends is Margaret, whom Mordecai has a crush on but is the world's worst piemaker, as Mordecai and Rigby horrifyingly discover.

Never trust any baked goods that talk back at you.
Mordo and Rigs' laziness always comes back to bite them in the ass in some strange and often monstrous form, and this time, it takes the form of Promise Pie (series creator J.G. Quintel), a talking pie who speaks to them from a trash can and offers to help them cheat their way through the judging process. Promise Pie looks like he stepped out of the Candy Kingdom from Adventure Time, but he's really a giant pie monster whose solution to Mordo and Rigs' predicament is to eat the contestants alive, and his brand of mayhem forces the duo to realize it's better to be opinionated than homicidal like Promise Pie. I was hoping Promise Pie would kill off Thomas the intern, a new and rather bland character who, so far, has turned out to be a useless addition to the show (someone in the A.V. Club comments section astutely compared Thomas to a character who was created as a prize for a winner of a "Be a Character on Our Cartoon Show!" contest), unless there's some malevolent purpose behind his frequent phone calls to his unseen mom. But the Murray Sue was absent this week.

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