Wednesday, March 13, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (03/13/2013): Bravest Warriors, Archer, Out There, Bob's Burgers and 5 Second Day

Archer prepares to assassinate the writers in charge of Smash this season.
Here we see Archer at his latest assignment, which is to sabotage the making of yet another "Harlem Shake" video.
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.


In "Catbug," Bravest Warriors concludes its first season with a nifty--as well as somewhat frustrating--cliffhanger involving the heroes' missing parents, who have been trapped for two years in another dimension, the See-Through Zone. The Warriors' animal sidekick Catbug (Sam Lavagnino), who's been jumping back and forth between dimensions, frequently brings the teens presents from their parents.

This time, Wallow receives peanut butter squares and the pocket-sized ponies that he used to raise as pets and are known as Pony Lords (a nod to the Bronies, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic's male fans). As for Chris, he's given his baby pictures, Will Rogers commemorative stamps, a sinus irrigator and a note from his parents that they're still alive, while Danny is given an expired lottery ticket and a knife. His folks must adore him. My favorite gag in "Catbug" also involves Danny, and it's the sight of him cradling a chainsaw while asleep, so that he's ready to attack any interdimensional or extraterrestrial threat that shows up at the Warriors' Invisible Hideout.

Stargate: The Clearasil Years
Meanwhile, Beth, who's never received any sign from her parents that they're alive, is saddened to find she's wound up empty-handed once again. But as the brain of her cherished and super-intelligent pet horse (who's been in a catatonic state since she was six years old, due to the awe--and I assume mental stress--he experienced from discovering the meaning of the universe) points out in the finale's bizarre concluding voiceover, Beth isn't aware that she's received a gift greater than any of her friends' presents. It lies behind the locked door to the See-Through Zone that materialized in front of the Warriors after microbes that were embedded in their parents' gifts fused together--and here comes the mildly frustrating part--we have to wait until next season for the Warriors to unlock the door with a mysterious key that a note from the See-Through Zone refers to only as "Ralph Waldo Pickle Chips."

The "Paralyzed Horse's Log" is a doozy of a voiceover, and the horse's mind is voiced by '80s Transformers announcer Victor Caroli. He's a little older-sounding, but he's still the same ominous voice that let viewers know that the beef between the Autobots and Decepticons will be briefly squashed for more toy ads, during a show that was one big 22-minute toy ad. In addition to revealing that Bravest Warriors officially takes place in the 31st century, the horse's mind describes Beth's gift as "an octave of death" and "a tentacle of time." Beth's item might not even be a gift. Perhaps it brings about the end of the universe.

Mister Ed still hasn't quite recovered from HBO's cancellation of Luck.
(Photo source: Bravest Warriors Wiki)
What about the Emotion Lord's cryptic hint to the Warriors that "It's always been Wankershim"? How does that--as well as all those visions of the future Chris briefly glimpsed--tie into this tentacle of time? And why am I glad this show is airing on Cartoon Hangover and not on a kids' cable channel where execs who are perplexed by the show's material decide to bounce it around the schedule so that viewers won't be able to find it and that gives the suits an excuse to cancel it?

***

I had no idea that the sloshed veterinarian was voiced by Charlie from Deadwood. All these Deadwood stars showing up on FX is making me wonder if Deadwood would have lasted longer if it were an FX show instead of an HBO show. On second thought, working for commercial TV again would have driven David Milch back to heroin. Shit, I guess Deadwood was better off on HBO.
I was dreading how Archer's "Coyote Lovely" episode would turn out when I first learned that it involved Archer ferrying a pack of illegal immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border. "Oh great," I thought, "Archer turns into a white savior movie this week. I fucking hate those movies." Luckily, "Coyote Lovely" prevents itself from earnestly fawning over Archer like so many of those annoying movies do with their white heroes by letting Archer be Archer and having him totally Jack Burton his way through this cause he's taken up because of his hard-on for Mercedes Moreno (Carla Jimenez, who plays Rosa, Virginia's boss at the cleaning service, on Raising Hope), the lovely titular people-smuggler.

In other words, Archer's a buffoon--a la the memorably bumbling trucker protagonist from Big Trouble in Little China, perhaps the most enjoyable upending of white savior movies Hollywood never realized it made--for most of the episode, especially after he gets shot in the back by a pair of incompetent and gay border patrol agents (one of whom is voiced by Justified's Nick Searcy). Archer's life has to be saved by both a drunken veterinarian (Sons of Anarchy's Dayton Callie, another FX star guesting in this episode) and Mercedes, who, as the episode's twist ending revealed, arranged to be captured by Archer (who was assigned to apprehend her mother, the woman in charge of the coyote system) so that her feminine wiles could lure him into helping her get the Mexicans across the border.

Mercedes realizes that Archer is far from the ideal savior she expected. She becomes frustrated--like Lana, Cyril and Ray so often do in the field--with both Archer's boorishness ("You think I am some kind of whore?!" "No, but... Chuy, back me up here. Was there not, like, a cock-hungry vibe?") and the fact that working with this man-child from ISIS turns into babysitting (which Lana realizes her job at ISIS has basically turned into at one point during "Coyote Lovely"), but ultimately, Mercedes is won over by him.

Jimenez, Searcy and Callie are better guest voice actors than the slightly wooden Anthony Bourdain in "Live and Let Dine" last week, and their performances are highlights during "Coyote Lovely," in addition to the usual hilarious dialogue. The story of how Archer creator Adam Reed got Searcy and Callie involved in "Coyote Lovely," as told by co-executive producer Matt Thompson, is amusing as well, even though this story of recruitment doesn't feature a hot Latina flaunting her cleavage.

Lana's hands were too big to fit in this scene.
Other memorable quotes:
* Archer, offended by Lana's theory that he's autistic: "Um, hang on, Lana, I'm stacking rocks in order of descending size."

* Malory to Bilbo: "Clean the impending massive heart attack out of your ears."

* Malory: "Swear to God, you people make me want to pump nerve gas through the vents." Krieger (over the PA system): "Just say the word."

* Mercedes: "¡Está loco!" Chuy: "Loco, no sé. Tal vez autismo." Archer: "Goddammit, Chuy, I don't have autism!"

* A wounded Archer: "Those are .357, ow, Ruger sixes. They each fired six." Mercedes: "How did you count them?" Archer: "I'm just super-good at that. Oh my God, maybe I am autistic."

***

Christian Slater is unrecognizable for most of Out There's "Springoween" episode as the voice of Johnny Slade, a much-feared biker thug who haunts the kids of Holford. As Slater gets older, he sounds less like Jack Nicholson and more like Chris Penn. In fact, I thought it was Penn, back from the dead just to do a measly guest shot on the Halloween episode of an IFC cartoon.

Last fall, "Summerween," Gravity Falls' clever Halloween-in-the-summertime episode, dealt with Dipper's urge to grow up and Mabel's sadness over her childhood ending soon. Like that Halloween story, "Springoween" takes place on a day that's not October 31--snowy weather caused the Holford City Council to postpone their town's Halloween festivities to springtime--and it too involves one character's itchiness to become a teen and do teen things and his best friend's sadness over change.

It's Halloween in the springtime, or as it's called in Seattle, the Emerald City Comicon.
The comedic material in "Springoween" (Jay gets chased around by Johnny, while Chad and Chris attempt to stop bullies from embarrassing them and ex-addict Wayne falls off the wagon during a costume party) is on the tepid side, whereas the less comedic material, which centers on the sadness 15-year-old Chad feels as he makes the awkward transition from a child dressing in costumes for candy to an adult dressing in costumes for parties, is actually more effective. When Chad is told by a neighbor that he's too old to be trick-or-treating, and he's disappointed that this last Halloween as a kid won't turn out like he imagined ("Some prick slams a door, and you know [your childhood's] gone"), it's a genuinely affecting moment, and it's one of the few times older Chad's frequent narration isn't such a distraction on this show.

Another highlight of "Springoween" is Slater's turn as Johnny (it's great casting too, because Out There takes place in the '80s, and Slater played a slightly similar outcast on a motorcycle in one of the best '80s movies, Heathers). To Chad's little brother, Johnny's a frightening bogeyman, but to us, he's a not-so-frightening homeless guy, a sewer-dwelling Fonzie without the laugh track or the ladies. Speaking of Happy Days, Out There is shaping up to be a bit like that show (sure, there are also the obvious similarities to Out There co-star Linda Cardellini's Freaks and Geeks, from the '80s setting to the focus on misfits, but the Chad-and-Chris dynamic has been reminding me of Richie and Potsie). Good thing Out There is reminiscent of the seasons of Happy Days when it was more of a proto-dramedy instead of the seasons when it dumbed itself down--in other words, the era when there was no studio audience applauding every single character entrance, no goddamn Chachi and no sharks to jump.

***

Tina is starring in Julie Taymor's Babar: Turn on the Throne.
I think Louise Belcher will grow up to be a movie director because she's great at ordering people around, and she relishes the sight of mayhem, whether she's creating said mayhem or not (also, she's never seen without her bunny-ear hat, and we know directors are fond of rocking headgear). Bob's Burgers' "Topsy" episode finds Louise at her most forceful and brash, as she takes down a Thomas Edison-obsessed substitute science teacher and professional Edison re-enactor (Mark Proksch) who dislikes her and her fondness for volcano science fair projects. Her solution to making her new nemesis look like an ass is to re-enact Edison's electrocution of Topsy the elephant (a real-life experiment I immediately YouTubed, just like everyone else after they saw Louise, Gene and Tina YouTube the Topsy footage in the library) and "tell everyone the truth about Edison the Electro-cutioner."


With the help of aspiring composer Gene, Tina's acting skills and the singing voices of Aunt Gayle (Megan Mullally) and Mr. Fischoeder (Kevin Kline), the family's landlord, Louise turns her science fair project into a mini-musical about the bond between Edison and Topsy. I don't care for show tunes, but I always enjoy John Dylan Keith and Loren Bouchard's original music on Bob's Burgers, and the brilliance of "Electric Love" is that it doesn't sound like a polished show tune and sounds totally like something an aspiring 11-year-old musician would cobble together.

In addition to the fun of seeing Louise, Gene and Tina band together to make a laughingstock out of the cruel and self-absorbed sub (with an added bonus of long-overdue return visits from Gayle and Fischoeder, who wind up making out after Asha Bhosle-ing the tone-deaf Tina and Gene), "Topsy" throws in a B-story that brings out Linda's competitive side, and any B-story that involves that side of her is a good one (her beefing with the other Wagstaff School moms in "Spaghetti Western and Meatballs" was the best example of this). The science fair spurs Bob to resurrect his own attempt at being an Edison in the kitchen: an invention he calls "Spiceps," spice rack sleeves he wears on his arms. The Spiceps make Bob look like a lame '90s Rob Liefeld superhero. The unimpressed Linda would agree--if she knew who Liefeld is. She comes up with a feminine answer to Spiceps, the "Spice Rack," which she wears on her chest (her shimmying and maniacal laugh as she introduces her invention are the episode's best bit of animation), and a rivalry ensues.

I wonder what his name would be if he were a member of Rob Liefeld's Youngblood. Probably Mustache Ride.
(Photo source: Bob's Burger of the Day)
The most amusing part of this rivalry is that when Bob and Linda press their kids for an answer to who invented the superior wearable spice rack, none of them give a shit. Neither does the episode, which cuts us off from finding out which Belcher parent won top prize at the science fair. It's an open ending Louise, the mischief-maker and master manipulator who's bound to be a director, would appreciate.

Stray observations:
* "Topsy" introduces another entertaining lunatic in the Wagstaff faculty: deranged librarian Mr. Ambrose, who suggests to Louise that she YouTube Topsy for her project. He's voiced by Billy Eichner, host of the only non-Crate Diggers reason to watch Fuse these days: the genuinely funny game show Billy on the Street.

* Besides the Topsy project, Bob and Linda's competing inventions and the Pesto twins' "How Many Hairs Up There?," other projects at the fair include: "Human Urine: Number One Fertilizer;" "Pluto: You Almost Had It All;" "Why Do Peanuts Make My Face Swell Up?;" "How Carbohydrates Made My Dad Fat;" "Sulfur Smells Bad;" "Global Warming: Is It Hot in Here, or Is It Just Earth?;" and "DNA Is Just AND Backwards."

* Louise to her classmate Jeremy: "Oh, you son of a snitch! What's your favorite movie?! Squeal Magnolias?!" Jeremy, under his breath: "War Horse."

***

Not all the one-to-two-minute shorts in the Rug Burn Channel's 5 Second Day series of animated works (culled from the Titmouse employees' annual shorts festival of the same name) are of the sick and twisted kind like Angelo Hat's puntastic "The Meating" or are absurdist cartoons like Mike J. Moloney's "Origami" and Matthew David Taylor's "Peddals and Mexico." There are also shorts with a serious tone, like one of this week's 5 Second Day entries, Otto Tang's "By the Stream," which Tang has posted before as part of his offbeat His Little Hong Kong series.


"By the Stream" remarkably encapsulates a Hong Kong newsstand owner's entire life through the time he spends running his newsstand. As a short about the drudgery of work getting brightened up by the presence of a soulmate, I found "By the Stream" to be a more affecting piece than the corny but well-made Disney short "Paperman," which won the Oscar for Best Animated Short last month (and led to one of its producers getting in trouble with uptight Dolby Theatre security for the way she celebrated her short's Oscar win inside the theater, in an incident that interestingly echoes the way the short's title character rankles his equally uptight office).

Now back to more familiar Titmouse turf.













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