Wednesday, March 20, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (03/20/2013): Archer, Green Lantern, Young Justice, Apollo Gauntlet and Bob's Burgers

This Archer episode was actually a discarded Undercovers script, found by a writer's assistant in a dumpster next to a spot where Vicki's human brother from Small Wonder once got blown by a hooker.
Lana puts a ring on it. And by "it," I mean her sausage finger.
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.

Most love triangle storylines on sitcoms bore the shit out of me. But the triangle storylines on Archer never do because they're accompanied by always hilarious and sharp dialogue and the batshit crazy Greek chorus of Cheryl/Carol and Pam, who, respectively, expound on aphrodisiacs ("The ultimate's doing it on top of a tranqed-up tiger") and break into impressions of Lana that sound more like Fat Albert than Lana while they join Cyril in spying on Lana in "The Honeymooners." Cyril has gotten back together with Lana, whom he dated in the show's first season, and Pam's belief that Lana's latest undercover surveillance mission with Archer will rekindle whatever lust she used to have for Archer spurs Cyril to grab some binoculars and check if Pam is right about Lana and Archer.

Not since the first American Pie has a piece of food been sexually violated so badly.
(Photo source: Entertainment Fuse)
Lana, the agent-in-command on this mission, and Archer must pose as newlyweds at a luxury hotel (which happens to be owned by Cheryl/Carol's family) to identify the terrorist who's about to sell some enriched uranium to North Korean agents at the hotel. Archer is, of course, easily distracted by honeymoon suite amenities like pedicures and $300 scotch, and for a while, it seems like the espionage material in "The Honeymooners" is on the tepid side. But luckily, it doesn't take a turn towards the tepid when Archer and Lana wind up captured by the North Koreans they've been trying to keep tabs on, and Archer gets to remind viewers of his resourceful killing machine side--which can easily get lost underneath all the immaturity and dickishness that make him and MacGruber such entertaining comedic action heroes--as he fights his way out of his captors' handcuffs and leads Lana to escape.

However, Lana and Archer fail to ID the seller, who, in a great twist, turns out to be Krieger, whose possession of uranium explains recent experiments like his attempt to attain the proportional strength of an ant. In another twist that borders on disgusting--nah, wait, it is disgusting--Krieger apparently enjoys sex with his irradiated pig Pigley Three. I'm looking forward to the inevitable Krieger/Pigley/Holographic Anime Lover triangle. Judging by how well it handles usually tedious triangle storylines, Archer will hit that one out of the park as well.

Stray observations:
* Current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles voice actor Hoon Lee played the leader of the North Korean spies. On Cinemax's original series Banshee, Lee has been fun to watch as transgendered hacker Job, Lucas Hood's partner-in-crime and the toughest Gaysian character to ever F-bomb--and building-bomb--his way through TV.

* "Relax, it's North Korea, the nation-state equivalent of the short bus."

* Cyril, mortified by Pam going to town on an order of ribs: "Oh God, were you raised in a barn?!" Pam: "No. I just slept out there a lot."

* Archer sometimes gets slammed for containing not-so-great animation. I'd like to submit as counter-evidence the really good animation for both the sequence where Archer rescues Lana after she loses her grip on the suction cups she's been scaling the side of the hotel with (the foley artists also did terrific work during that sequence) and Archer and Lana's reflections in the hotel window during the conversation afterward. The latter must have been really tricky to animate.

* While arguing about the sizes of their ISIS bonuses, Archer's lines to Lana about his brushes with death rival all those lists of comedic irritations Neil Simon characters would rattle off in the kind of monologue Simon once referred to as a "fingerprint" of his own writing: "Since I started working at ISIS, I've been shot, stabbed, set on fire, poisoned, shot, sexually assaulted, partially chewed, shot and declared legally dead. Twice on the same day!"

* Archer to Lana, in regards to North Korea: "It's not democratic, not a republic and definitely not glorious. Jesus, watch Frontline once in your life!"

* Pam and Cheryl/Carol, commenting on the smoke-covered fight between Lana, Cyril, Archer and the North Koreans: "Are they bangin'?" "They will be. Raves make everybody horny."


Viewers who are heartbroken about the cancellations of Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Young Justice have been campaigning to get Cartoon Network to reconsider its decision. GL:TAS and Young Justice are solid superhero cartoons, but their respective series finales, "Dark Matter" and "Endgame," prove that these shows aren't as perfect as their fans make them out to be.

In the case of GL:TAS, maybe it is time for it to go. The writers have pushed the show's biggest storyline, the chaste, non-physical romance between a humanoid (Razer) and a machine (the traitorous Aya), as far as it could go on a kids' show (this isn't the much looser turf of nighttime syndication, where Star Trek: The Next Generation was allowed to have Tasha Yar bang Data), and to have Razer search the cosmos for Aya, who's once again dead (but may not be), for its third season would have just been repetitive. I didn't really care for the second season's Aya-Monitor storyline. As I've said before, the way the show pushed Aya to a place of converting to evil was rushed and unconvincing (there's the rationalization that Aya is basically a teen, and she's overreacting to Razer's rejection like a teen would, but to turn genocidal because of only that is pretty silly), and the jilted lover card (which is funny because Razer and Aya never really got to be lovahs before she left the Lanterns) is such a played-out cliché.

Aya gets backup from the Sentinels, uh, I mean, Manhunters.
Despite its flaws, I'll miss GL:TAS and its sense of adventure (enhanced by newcomer Frederik Wiedmann's top-notch score music each week), just as much as I'll miss Young Justice, DC's first serialized animated series since Justice League Unlimited, its terrific animation (I get the feeling this might be DC's last cel-animated series), its diverse cast and frequent guest star Tim Curry's enjoyable flourish of having his Glenn Beck-esque G. Gordon Godfrey blowhard character always trill "the RRRRRRReach." Another aspect of Young Justice that made it a solid superhero show was its ease with ambitious storytelling, even though it resulted in lots of clunky-sounding expository dialogue that JLU was better at handling.

Kid Flash dies while helping save the world alongside Impulse and The Flash (who's voiced not by George Eads like in "Bloodlines," but by James Arnold Taylor, making this the second time the CSI star, who voiced Captain Atom in the JLU premiere but didn't reprise the role, has bailed on a DC cartoon). Wally West's demise is the moment that's supposed to make "Endgame" as memorable a series finale as JLU's "Destroyer," but it falls flat. It has none of the shock and dramatic heft of Inspector Dan Turpin's death at the hands of Darkseid on Superman: The Animated Series because Turpin was a non-superpowered human, while Wally's superpowered, and in the superhero genre, there's always some way for a superpowered character like Wally to come back from the dead.

Wally wonders if Artemis will let him check up on the Beav again.
Wally's body disappears in a fashion similar to how the JLU incarnation of Wally nearly faded from existence after increasing his super-speed to defeat the unstoppable Lex Luthor/Brainiac hybrid. If there were a third season, I wouldn't have been surprised if Wally had vanished into another dimension (leading to the inevitable Ghost-style scenes where Wally attempts to reach Artemis, who's now permanently assumed her undercover identity of Tigress, interdimensionally).

This not-so-finite-looking death mars "Endgame" (as does the cliffhanger of Darkseid joining forces with Vandal Savage, an arc that will never get to see the light of day, unless Young Justice showrunners Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti decide to work on a sequel comic). Although the long-homeless Young Justice team's new headquarters at the Watchtower is a nice way to wrap up the series premise of the team's frustrations with playing second fiddle to the Justice League, "Endgame" is a so-so finale to a largely effective second season that proved that Young Justice was so much the opposite of a superhero genre fiasco like Heroes, which collapsed under the weight of all the storylines it attempted to juggle.


If The Eric Andre Show, Scott Aukerman's IFC version of his own Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast and the Aukerman-produced Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis are anti-talk shows, then the Rug Burn Channel's extremely weird Apollo Gauntlet is an anti-cartoon. In each two-to-three-minute installment of Canadian animator Myles Langlois' web series, the titular hero (voiced with very Canuck inflections by a mumbly and dazed-sounding Langlois, who also voices all the other male characters) wanders an otherworldly medieval realm in intentionally crude animation, hoping to find his nemesis Dr. Benign, the scientist who transported Apollo from Earth to this other dimension, so that he can make Benign send him back home. Apollo takes down enemies in poorly rotoscoped and frequently recycled action shots that are reminiscent of the frequently recycled running and fighting scenes on Filmation cartoons like the (barely) animated Star Trek.

Apollo Gauntlet, the hero of the show of the same name, looks like if Rand from Robotech fucked the lead singer of Blue Oyster Cult.
At times, Apollo is aware that he's in a cheap cartoon ("Holy budget on this episode. Who's paying all these extras?"). Much of the laughs on Apollo Gauntlet thrive on half-assedness, from the lack of production values to Apollo's one-liners. At the start of one episode, a severed arm on the ground leads to Apollo saying to himself, "Quite a handsome scene, even if it is a little disarming," which is followed by him donning a pair of glasses--however, they're bifocals instead of shades--and adding, "Caruso in the house, yo." The sound of Roger Daltrey screaming doesn't punctuate Apollo's Horatio Caine-style one-liner because Apollo Gauntlet doesn't have the money to clear it. The show's so broke it can't even afford a Daltrey soundalike.

But is any of this intentional cheapness funny, and does this strange show, like any cel-animated Adult Swim original show that's not named The Venture Bros. or The Boondocks, require weed to enjoy it? Actually, without weed, Apollo Gauntlet can be pretty funny, especially during fight scenes. Langlois is clearly a fan of the Fleischer Brothers-era Popeye cartoons--the only Popeye cartoons that matter, even though they're occasionally racist--because like inbetweener-turned-voice actor Jack Mercer did with Popeye during the Fleischer era, Langlois has his warrior character mumble unscripted chatter in what's mostly an amusingly incongruous monotone while beating up adversaries. The ad-libbed fight scene chatter is the best part of the show's second-season premiere, "Win, Place, Show," in which the recap part of the episode is longer than the actual episode. It's called a joke, YouTube commenters who have complained about the recap's length.


Cosplaying as Seabiscuit from The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson proves to be futile for Jimmy Jr. and Gene.
Just when I thought Bob's Burgers reached the apex of intentionally unpolished music written by 11-year-olds with Gene's creation of "Electric Love" during last week's "Topsy" episode, the show tops itself with an even more clumsy tune in "Two for Tina." When Tina chooses Josh (Ben Schwartz), the boy she fell for at the grocery store in "Lindapendent Woman," over Jimmy Jr. (H. Jon Benjamin, who opts for a lisp to distinguish the Pesto kid's voice from his regular voice as Bob) as her date to a school dance, Jimmy Jr. climbs into a horse costume with Gene to attempt to woo back Tina with the following masterpiece:

"T" is for the way
You take my breath away
"I" is for the way
I like it when you take my breath away
"N" is for
No one else takes my breath away
And "A" is for asthma
That is a disease that takes people's breath away.

The rest of "Two for Tina" is equally inspired. The episode has Jimmy Jr. challenge Josh to an over-the-top, Step Up-style dance-off that must have been a ball to animate, while Linda takes Bob, who skipped out on school dances when he was a teen, to his first-ever school dance in the B-story. She spices up the occasion with peach schnapps and fake drama to make Bob's first school dance a special one.

Every week, Bob's Burgers breaks ground as the first piece of food porn that's descriptive food porn rather than visual.
(Photo source: Bob's Burger of the Day)
Linda started out as the least interesting Belcher (she was also initially the most irritating, because of John Roberts' shrill voice for her, which took some getting used to, much like how the sight of Doc Hammer's faux-raspy voice coming out of the comely Dr. Girlfriend was kind of disconcerting when I first watched The Venture Bros.). She's evolved into sort of a fourth Belcher child and is someone who's understandably the source of much of Tina's dirty side, Gene's theatricality and Louise's love of mayhem.

Speaking of mayhem, "Two for Tina" concludes with Linda puking up a storm, which causes her and Bob to get thrown out of the dance by Miss Jacobson (Melissa Galsky) and her pint-sized bouncers, but an even funnier gag in that final scene is Bob trying not to puke. "B" is for the way Bob's a great straight man. "O" is for the way that often, like with Dave on NewsRadio and Michael on Arrested Development, the show makes Bob as weird as the rest of the ensemble, even though he's the straight man. And "B" is for blowing chunks, which is always an easy gag to opt for, but suppressing the urge to blow chunks is somehow funnier, especially when it involves the straight man.

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