Wednesday, February 6, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (02/06/2013): Archer, Green Lantern, Young Justice, Robot Chicken and Adventure Time

A deleted Cameron scene from House.
Best Super Bowl beer ad ever.
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated shows. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

The first minute of "Legs" is a thing of comedic-editing beauty and an atypical way for Archer to kick off a cold open. It centers not on Archer or a bunch of the major players in the same room but on secondary character Ray and his frustrating morning routine ever since Archer's crash-landing of the escape craft at the end of last season left the gay agent paralyzed (for real this time, after he pretended to be paralyzed for much of the third season).

With Ray Gillette as its star, John Woo's next two-gunned action flick will somehow be less gay than The Killer.
The sight of Ray struggling with his medical bills and the difficulties that come with being actually paralyzed--like having to relieve himself in a plastic bag--is slightly reminiscent of a much more somber montage during Ed (the Tom Cavanagh lawyer show, not the Matt LeBlanc baseball monkey shitpile), in which handicapped cast member Daryl "Chill" Mitchell, whose character on Ed was wheelchair-bound Eli, wordlessly demonstrated how much longer it takes for a disabled person to get out of bed and change clothes. But because this isn't Ed, where the characters were far less irritable, cynical and TV-MA-mouthed, Ray is grumbling aloud to himself while getting ready for work and cursing Archer, "the other shitbag in my life." Ray is like the long-suffering Frank Grimes to Archer's oblivious Homer Simpson, and this episode's subtlest and cruelest joke (but not as cruel as the countless ways Meg's been humiliated on Family Guy) is that even in an episode where Ray gets to drive much of the story's events, he ends up sidelined for most of it, due to undergoing surgery to receive robotic legs from Krieger.

Despite being a bottle episode, "Legs" is a shining moment for the show's editors. Besides that cold open about Ray's crappy morning, they also demonstrate their editing skills through that "cutting away from one conversation to another so that it sounds like the character in the next scene is replying from faraway" device Archer deploys, but rarely to the extent that the show does in this episode. (The funniest of these gags cuts away from Cyril asking Lana if Terminator cyborgs are asexual to Krieger in mid-conversation with Pam while operating on Ray: "Not when I'm done with him.") It's fitting that "Legs" makes use of this choppy comedic device so often because Ray is being rebuilt in a similar (and much gorier) way.

Both Archers are functional alcoholics, a species that's starting to become as endangered as compact discs, 20-song albums, pay phones and post offices.
Word of Ray's surgery causes Archer's fear of robots to resurface, which distracts him from heading to Rome with Lana and Cyril for an ISIS mission. Convinced that the robot apocalypse is near, Archer defies uptight ISIS armory supervisor Rodney and collects an array of weapons from the armory. He tries to thwart the surgical operation by himself, while Krieger races against time to finish Ray's new legs before Archer can burst in and ruin Ray's legs again.

Archer is that rare spy show where the hero occasionally becomes the villain, not because of mind control or brainwashing by some adversary but because he's simply an immature prick. When Archer fires a rocket launcher inside the armory and becomes a danger to the office building, Lana takes up the task of stopping Archer and gets to outwit him while he crawls through ducts like a typical, post-Die Hard '90s action hero. She has a repairman overheat the building's furnace, which causes Archer to doze off. Lana vs. Archer is always an amusing rivalry, whether she's verbally sparring with him in other episodes or pitted against him strategically like in "Legs" (most of her verbal sparring here is with Cyril rather than Archer). But both Archer and Lana wind up looking stupid at the end of "Legs" because Archer is also that rare spy show where the female spy who's supposedly more competent than the lead character sometimes screws up when she gets her chance to step up. Two days after she stops Archer from wreaking further havoc in the building, Lana realizes she forgot to turn off the furnace and let him out of the ducts.

Overheated furnace/ginormous heating bill screw-up aside, Lana and Krieger have helped Ray to receive something the ill-fated Frank Grimes never got: a happy ending. Ray regains the use of his legs--that is until the next time Archer causes him to end up paralyzed again. Because this is Archer, chaos reigns. On this show, happy endings don't last like chaos does--and are not as entertaining.

Stray observations:
* Ray: "I piss and shit in a plastic bag!" Krieger: "Me too!"

Cheryl is apparently the pink slime from Ghostbusters II. Anger excites her.
* According to Cheryl/Carol's dialogue with Archer about cyborgs, the show takes place in a universe where the Voight-Kampff machine from Blade Runner is now apparently a household item (extra points to Archer for not having Cheryl/Carol awkwardly point out it's from Blade Runner for the folks in the audience who never saw the film). The Voight-Kampff test ought to be used on reality TV stars like Kim Kardashian to confirm that they're all really machines because when most of these attention whore-bots cry on-camera, they don't look like normal people crying--they look like Cameron the Terminator when she creepily imitated human grief during Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

* Someone finally came up with the brilliant idea of giving Krieger and the equally crazy Pam a bunch of scenes together. Krieger's form of crazy is rarely in sync with Pam's form of crazy, except for when Pam, the world's worst nurse, asks Krieger if she was supposed to scrub up before surgery. His answer is "Eh, I didn't."

* More scenes from tween Archer's screwed-up childhood: he injured his testicles after trying to stick his dick in a vacuum cleaner, which had a blond wig and a magazine photo of an attractive lady attached to it. Yikes.

* Cyril: "Why is your instinctive response to run toward explosions?" Lana: "Uhh, because I'm not a giant pussy?" Cyril: "Although somehow incredibly single." This exchange gets an amusing callback a few minutes later when Lana barks at Krieger on the phone to not use nerve gas to stop Archer, and Krieger mumbles, "And yet incredibly single."

* Speaking of repetition, I've mentioned tired ringtone gags as something that's funnier when Archer does them, and in last week's episode and "Legs," ringtone humor is joined on that list of "They're funnier when they're done on Archer" by the repetition of a running joke--not once or twice but three or more times, like when Archer's co-workers bitch about the same past disastrous office party, "the Fourth of Ju-Luau." My favorite of these running jokes in "Legs" are Cyril continually pushing away a horny Cheryl/Carol from his crotch and the casual racism of both Malory and her new husband Ron.

* Speaking of racism, while Malory is a ballsy racist like in Paul Mooney's stand-up bit about old white racists who proclaim that "This Negro doesn't intimidate me!," Ron is a less hostile racist. Perhaps that's due to Ron learning to get on minority customers' good sides from years of being a smooth-talking Cadillac salesman and having minority employees, one of whom he refers to during his defense of Lana's skills as an agent in front of a typically ornery Malory, which turns from well-meaning to condescending in an instant. "[You remind] me of the head mechanic at my dealership in Yonkers," Ron says to Lana. "He's a black!" I love Aisha Tyler's incredulous, almost Christopher Walken-esque "Wow!," as in "Wow, that's kind of racist!"

* The oeuvre of Emilio Estevez is also apparently among the list of movies from Archer's childhood that he believes are real: "The thermostat's becoming sentient! Oh God! That's how Maximum Overdrive started!"


'And remember, guys. Don't cross the streams!'
In the "Things That Are Hardly Surprising" department, a badly damaged Aya found a way to reboot herself on Green Lantern: The Animated Series, after having been too faraway from the Interceptor to upload herself back into the ship's computer banks and appearing to die in Razer's arms at the end of the last episode. Off-screen, Aya transferred herself into a disabled Manhunter robot's CPU and found her way back to the Interceptor (her clunky, limping movements while temporarily housed in the Manhunter's hastily reassembled body bring to mind the stop-motion animation of both the endoskeleton at the end of the original Terminator and Sally in The Nightmare Before Christmas, and they're the best bit of animation during "Cold Fury"). Any kid viewer of GL:TAS who didn't see Aya's resurrection coming is really new to this TV-watching thing.

The major twist of "Cold Fury," other than the Anti-Monitor's killing of the Guardians' Science Director, is even more surprising than Aya's demise: the resurrected Aya merges with the Anti-Monitor to destroy it, but then she switches sides and declares herself queen of the Manhunters. But the cause of the twist, her assumption that her friends have rejected and ignored her, is rushed and unconvincing. When Aya returns to the Interceptor and asks Razer if he meant it when he told her he loved her during the cliffhanger ending of "Loss," he says no. But it's clear from the pain Razer feels while he rejects Aya that he's lying to her for a variety of reasons that are more complicated than "This Red Lantern's just being his usual jerky self, and he only knows how to hurt people." "Cold Fury" wisely doesn't have him articulate these reasons (in what would have been clunky-sounding dialogue that would have been out of character for this laconic emo bad boy) and leaves them open to interpretation.

The Human Torch was denied a bank loan. No wonder he's pissed.
Cartoon Network's incorrect and spoilerrific DVR program description of "Cold Fury" says, "Ava [sic] returns to the ship as an emotionless droid." (Uh, "Ava" isn't emotionless when she returns. That occurs later.) A recapper who must have gone by that inaccurate description thinks that "Razer quickly realizes that her 'personality' did not make the transfer and that she is an emotionless shell of who she formerly was. He informs her that he does not love her." Razer rejects her not because she's turned emotionless. Her emotions are still intact because she expresses a tiny smile to Razer when she's back on board (if Aya were really corrupted by the Anti-Monitor's programming and sent back to the Interceptor as its Ilia-probe-like spy, she wouldn't be able to express any of the emotions that the Anti-Monitor has no understanding of and considers imperfections that need to be exterminated). I think Razer spurns Aya because he doesn't feel his broken and troubled self is worthy enough for Aya's love. He's also so damaged by his wife Ilana's death that he doesn't want to experience loss again--like he just did when he thought he saw the last of Aya--so he's been trying to shut down his emotions, including the rage that Saint Walker was teaching him to better suppress through meditation and whatever Blue Lanterns call yoga.

Razer's assumption that lying to Aya is easier and better than articulating his complicated feelings for her and his later advice to Aya that shutting down all emotions keeps you focused on work both end up coming back to bite him, Hal, Kilowog and perhaps the rest of the galaxy in the ass. Aya is unable to process the pain she's feeling after Razer rejects her and tells Hal that this pain is distracting her from her duties, so she heeds Razer's advice about purging herself of all the emotions she's developed over the past season and a half, harnesses the power of the ship's battery despite Hal's misgivings and goes off to face the Anti-Monitor on her own, now that she's made herself able to function at full capacity.

'Talk to the hand.'
Aya's solo defeat of the Anti-Monitor is, of course, a badass sequence. But the sudden change in sides that follows isn't as effective because the jilted lover card that this show opts for in her conversion to evil (and Anti-Monitor blue) is a tiresome cliché, and this not-exactly-jaded (no pun intended) Green Lantern's extreme decision to renounce and reject mankind is unconvincing when it's fueled solely by "Razer dumped me and Hal didn't talk to me long enough about the birds and the bees." The season could have used an extra episode or storyline where the idealistic AI would have been subjected to the greed and corruption of mankind on some planet and felt betrayed in that situation. That betrayal, combined with her form of heartbreak over Razer, would have made more sense as the cause for her switch to the Manhunters' anti-human, anti-emotion side.

I can already see how this arc will end: to bring Aya back to the Green Lanterns' side, a remorseful Razer will attempt to reawaken her emotions--whether it's by reviving her memories of him, faking his death or actually sacrificing himself--and she finally grasps that emotions are mankind's strength, not its weakness like the Manhunters believe. Fringe's final season just recently put the grief-stricken couple of Olivia and Peter through a similar arc, in which Olivia's love for an increasingly emotionless Peter saved him from completely losing his humanity and turning into an Observer, and that live-action show handled that arc quite well (Peter's reasoning for transforming himself into his enemy had much stronger build-up and motivation than what's been written for Aya's arc this season). GL:TAS is a decent show, but I'm not sure if it'll be able to do anything new and refreshing--or as equal to what Fringe accomplished--with that old sci-fi trope of "love conquers all."


Earlier this season, the recently cancelled Young Justice: Invasion reintroduced to animation Virgil Hawkins (Bryton James), the plucky kid with electromagnetic powers who will become Static, the most popular of the Milestone Media heroes and one of the few of those characters who has survived Milestone's collapse, infighting between their late co-creator Dwayne McDuffie and DC itself, several DC title cancellations and the entire film career of Shaq. The show gives Virgil an even greater showcase for his powers in "Runaways."

He and three other teens whose superpowers were recently activated--during experiments by the alien conspirators known as the Reach--attempt to escape from STAR Labs, the facility that's been protecting them from their former captors. Outside STAR, the impatient and restless teens run into more trouble than they bargained for. Virgil's fellow escapees include Tye Longshadow (Gregg Rainwater), who was introduced in "Beneath" several decades ago and is friends with Jaime Reyes (Eric Lopez), a.k.a. the conflicted Blue Beetle; Asami "Sam" Koizumi (Janice Kawaye), a soundwave manipulator who speaks only in unsubtitled Japanese; and Spike Spiegel-haired Eduardo Dorado Jr. (Freddy Rodriguez), who can teleport.

'The Spike Spiegel Diaries will be back in a moment here on Cartoon Network, where we cancel only the stuff you like!'
If Ed Dorado's name looks familiar, that's because he's an updated version of the Super Friends character El Dorado--just as Tye is the new Apache Chief, Asami is a female reimagining of Samurai and Virgil is this group's Black Vulcan counterpart. This "Runaways" arc, which has the escapees choosing to accept an offer from Lex Luthor (Mark Rolston) to join a superteam he wants to form, would be a little more enjoyable if it wasn't such a retread of Justice League Unlimited's entertaining Ultimen storyline.

During that Ultimen storyline, JLU simultaneously mocked and paid tribute to the badly dated but influential Super Friends and its crop of superheroes of color. The Young Justice version is more affectionate towards Super Friends and played slightly straighter, although it's not without its moments of humor (most of them involving the teens' inability to understand Japanese or the clumsiness some of them experience while getting the hang of their powers). Apache Chief's power of increasing his size is cleverly reimagined here as the power to unleash a giant astral form, which Tye controls while in an unconscious state, and this astral form is a lavish bit of animation that's an example of how Young Justice's production values are superior to JLU's. But JLU remains the better-written DC superteam cartoon. Its one-liners were sharper, the writing was less soapy and the Timmverse show was more skilled at handling expository dialogue. Young Justice is as clumsy with exposition as the runaway teens are with their new powers.


Cartoon Network's DVR program description for "Robot Fight Accident," Robot Chicken's latest episode, says, "Little Red Riding Hood; The Avengers' Broadway show; do not mess with Archie; Harry Potter in college; the next Aliens film." As we've also seen from the DVR synopsis of GL:TAS last weekend, the network's descriptions are often incorrect. Neither Archie nor Harry show up in "Robot Fight Accident," but we do get a randy retelling of Little Red Riding Hood where her grandma turns out to be a freak in the bed, the Avengers and Aliens. The Avengers musical, which features guest stars Stan Lee (as himself) and Judy Greer from Archer (as Black Widow), would be slightly more amusing if it hadn't been beaten to the punch last year by the family-friendly MAD cartoon's much more clever "Hulk Smash," a Smash-up of The Avengers and NBC's mediocre inside-showbiz drama.

Superheroes and Broadway go together like Walter Matthau and Barbra Streisand. Ask your gay granddad.
The two best sketches in "Robot Fight Accident" aren't listed in the DVR program description. "Robot Fight Accident" reveals a rejected, Brian De Palma-esque ending for Jack and Jill (the Adam Sandler shitpile, not the old WB show with Amanda Peet) in which Seth Green does a dead-on Sandler impression ("You're Jack, but you're also Jill because the real Jill died when she was eight years old!"). A sharper musical number than the Avengers version of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is a reunion of Schoolhouse Rock characters like the "Conjunction Junction" conductor and the boy from "My Hero, Zero" (Eric McCormack). They resurface to pummel--in song, of course--all the illiterate adults who failed to grasp the basic grammar and math lessons they sang to kid viewers in the '70s and '80s. ("I'm a six-year-old with Down's syndrome, and I understand!," talk-sings a slovenly kid covered in spaghetti noodles at a restaurant.) The dumbass adults who get subjected to beatings by the Schoolhouse Rock crew for their grammatical or mathematical errors include a female hipster on the street who looks like Skrillex. I like how intentionally half-assed this parody of a hipster chick is, right down to the generic T-shirt that says "Dubstep." Recently on WTF with Marc Maron, Green, a Schoolhouse Rock fan, mentioned that both his parents were teachers, and his concerns over the decline of public education, which he expressed on WTF, must have fueled this Schoolhouse Rock sketch, a rare moment in which Robot Chicken throws some social commentary into its brand of lewd, pop-culture-reference-heavy and mostly mindless humor.

As for Aliens, the facehugger from the original Alien invades the G-rated world of the Jetsons. Its offspring wipes out everyone in the family's apartment before being mowed down by both Rosie the Robot Maid and Jane (also voiced by Greer), who strips down to her undies like Sigourney Weaver at the end of Alien and straps on a big futuristic gun. The one Jetsons character that's missing from the Aliens sketch and deserves a grim end more than George, Judy, Elroy or Astro do is the cloying alien Orbitty, the Scrappy-Doo of The Jetsons.

Dynomutt looks like a pussy compared to muthafuckin' Rosie.
Orbitty was a very '80s addition to The Jetsons who was so badly out of sync with the Hanna-Barbera cartoon's '60s visual design and non-cuddly sensibility that the producers must have realized what a mistake the new character was, so later episodes of the '80s revival act as if Elroy's new alien pet never existed. I like to think Rosie "accidentally" vacuumed up Orbitty one spring morning and deposited him into a flying garbage truck that passed by the neighborhood.


Goddammit, Cartoon Network! In addition to bouncing Sym-Bionic Titan around the schedule so that it would fail and cancelling decent shows like GL:TAS and Young Justice that deserve renewal way more than Annoying Orange (or that unwatchable live-action gamer sitcom starring that gawky ex-30 Rock semi-regular who bears the distinction of being the only person in the world who reportedly had a bad experience working on 30 Rock--how the hell is that possible?), you can't even get your airings of first-run Adventure Time shorts to properly sync up with viewers' DVRs. The first minute or so of "Little Dude" was cut off from viewers' DVR recordings, including my own, which adds some more credence to a theory of mine: inaccurate Robot Chicken synopses on the DVR aside, the Adult Swim half of Cartoon Network is run by competent (and witty) adults, while the other half is run by hyperactive chimps in diapers.

Ugly and unflattering tightie-whities also apparently survived the apocalypse.
(Photo source: Adventure Time Wiki)
Luckily, the missing first minute doesn't detract from the funny and imaginative moments throughout the slight but enjoyable "Little Dude," in which Finn's hat is accidentally brought to life after coming into contact with the magic flower that sticks out of the head of the bumbling Ancient Sleeping Magi of Life Giving (Dana Snyder), a wizard with a face made entirely of shaggy hair like the monster from Bugs Bunny cartoons. Finn and Jake's new pet, whom Finn names "Little Dude," immediately charms the duo, but it also causes trouble around their treehouse when it bites Finn in the arm, gets clingy around an uncomfortable BMO and turns each of the snacks BMO cooked and baked for Finn and Jake into poo (Little Dude's mouth is also its booty hole).

According to the Magi, the reason for the creature's rowdy and destructive behavior is that it's made of evil magic, which the Magi inherited from his heartless and evil father and has been struggling to suppress by shielding his hands in oven mitts and burying himself underground. Little Dude is attempting to possess the minds of whoever it leaps onto, which explains its clinginess around BMO. It was trying to possess BMO but was unable to, probably because BMO's a robot, so that makes him immune to its control ("Whomever the hat possesses gains the proportional strength of a hat," says the Magi in one of the short's funniest lines). Like many of the characters on Adventure Time, the Magi comes with daddy issues and must overcome them to help Finn and Jake save the Candy Kingdom from Little Dude.

Mitts complicated.
(Photo source: Adventure Time Wiki)
With its constant "Nyang! Nyang! Nyang!"-ing, Little Dude sounds exactly like the monkey that likes to stick its dick in everything during Richard Pryor's classic zoo animals routine from Live in Concert. If this show weren't TV-PG-rated or lower, Little Dude would also be humping everything in sight.

"Little Dude" also contains further proof that Adventure Time is actually made for adults while trying (kind of badly) to maintain its cover of being an all-ages cartoon. The animators toss in an awesome little sight gag of Finn and Jake munching on sausages that they dipped in a bowl of milk (huh?), with milk dripping from their mouths. How did Standards and Practices miss that? Oh yeah, it too is run by chimps in diapers.

Every time I'd rewatch "Little Dude" earlier this week, I'd ask myself, "Who the hell dips beef franks in milk? That shit's nasty." And then I realize that I keep forgetting Adventure Time is a cartoon about a batshit crazy, post-apocalyptic fantasyland, so dipping sausages in milk is as perfectly normal as a hat getting brought to life by a flower.

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