Wednesday, March 27, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (03/27/2013): Archer, Out There, Apollo Gauntlet, Bob's Burgers and Adventure Time

Bob's Burgers becomes the first Fox cartoon to pay tribute for an entire episode to On Golden Pond.
Al suggests to his son-in-law Bob an idea for a burger, which he calls the Rusty Trombone Marrow Burger.
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.

99 does the old 'Savannah Guthrie trying not to appear taller than Matt Lauer' trick.When Mel Brooks and Buck Henry tried to pitch Get Smart to ABC in the mid-'60s, network executives found their pilot script to be too strange for their tastes and proposed to Brooks and Henry that they give Maxwell Smart a lovable dog to add more heart to the show. According to Time magazine in 1965, "Brooks and Henry went back and perversely put in a cowardly, mangy, wheezy dog that chased cars and bit strangers." Fang continued to bungle Max's directions for a few more episodes of Get Smart (which ended up on NBC after ABC considered the show to be too "un-American"--oh, conservative America and your idea of humor), until the writing staff (which, by this time, Brooks was no longer a part of) wrote the canine CONTROL agent out of the show because the producers fired the dog who played Fang for being equally uncooperative, just like how the new Broadway production of Breakfast at Tiffany's recently shitcanned a feline actor for being unruly on-stage.

This week, another spy comedy adds a dog to the proceedings, but with pukier, fartier and gorier results. In "Un Chien Tangerine," Archer sends Sterling and Lana on a mission in Morocco to extract an agent who turns out to be a giant, gun-hating dog named Kazak. His purpose is to transport on his collar microfilm that contains intel about "nukes in Pakistan or one of the -akistans." Archer, who's far kinder to animals than humans, gets the brilliant idea of feeding shitloads of kufta (Middle Eastern meatballs) to Kazak, who proceeds to frequently puke out the snack on Archer and Lana for the rest of the mission. When he's not blowing chunks, Kazak's farting up a shitstorm that's like a soundboard someone on the Web assembled out of each of the many different toots from the bean-eating scene in Brooks' Blazing Saddles.

My face reacts the same way whenever I see Bill O'Reilly criticize hip-hop.
The animation for Kazak is sublime and is the highlight of a story that's one of the more inessential ones on Archer this season, despite a climactic car chase that's probably one of the best action sequences in animation to ever involve a dog who gets to save the day by tearing apart human flesh. A far more interesting development takes place over at ISIS Headquarters, where debt-ridden Pam tries to talk Malory into making her a field agent after she aces the IFAAB (ISIS Field Agent Aptitude Battery) and overpowers Cyril, Ray and Krieger in the fighting portion of the IFAAB (and she does so naked, like Richard Roundtree in the training sequence in Shaft in Africa).

I'm dying to see Pam in the field because it's time to see another female ISIS agent in action, as well as a female agent who'd be more enthusiastic about the job than Lana has been lately (she seems to be considering getting married and settling down, as evidenced by the unspecified "decision" she was weighing in "The Honeymooners" and her thinking that Archer was going to propose to her at the end of "Un Chien Tangerine"). Is it me or is Lana's constant complaining during missions starting to get tiresome, as is the tendency to put her in situations in which she has to get rescued by Archer? We've seen enough bark from Lana this season. How about a little more bite?

Stray observations:
* Archer: "Didelphis virginiana! My second favorite animal with a prehensile..." Lana: "Tail." Archer: "Thanks, Brett Somers. Yes, a tail."

* My favorite sight gag in "Un Chien Tangerine" is a wordless payoff to a scene in which Malory tries to blow off a phone call from Lana and tells Cheryl/Carol to pretend she's not in the office, but Cheryl/Carol takes her literally, thinks Malory's really an apparition and checks her mirror to see if she's visible. During a later scene at Malory's office, Cheryl/Carol can be seen at her desk through Malory's door, slowly checking her mirror again.

* Pam, after being told by a less-than-thrilled Malory that she'll think about promoting her to agent: "Is that a real you'll think about it or a 'Pam, if your pig Leon wins a blue ribbon at the county fair, maybe we won't kill him and eat him for Easter dinner and render what's left into soap' you'll think about it?... Because I never really got over that."

* Archer to Kazak: "Okay, buddy, so here's the deal. A. Scrooch down! And B. Normally in this situation, I do a pit maneuver, but if I do, the truck will flip, and if Lana doesn't die, best case she's a quadriplegic and I marry her out of guilt. But after a few years of feeding tubes and colostomy bags, I start to resent her, and the night nurse is like Brazilian and 20." Kazak: "Rrrrrr..." Archer: "Don't judge me! I have needs, man!"

* Archer, deciding to spare a Moroccan thug's life: "Nah, guy's probably got nine wives and a jillion kids and... Holy shit, that's racist, Archer. What is wrong with you?"


Out There pokes gentle fun at Manic Pixie Dream Girls in "Enter Destiny," when Chad, who's been frustrated over his longtime crush Sharla swooning over a jock, falls for free-spirited Destiny (special guest star Selma Blair), his egg drop science project partner and the new girl in town. This Pat Benatar headband-wearing MPDG likes to snack on sugarcubes, reads Albert Camus' The Stranger and enjoys hanging out in abandoned roller skating rinks.

For a while, Chad thinks he has a shot with Destiny, but he pisses her off when he defends his little brother Jay from a bully named Tenebres (Flight of the Conchords member Jemaine Clement, the episode's other special guest star) and makes Jay's tormentor cry, only to discover that this bully who sounds like he was named after a Dario Argento giallo is Destiny's little brother. Out There takes this moment of triumph for Chad, who's rarely this assertive (or charitable towards Jay), and gleefully flushes the triumphant moment down the toilet with the reveal about Tenebres.

To apologize for their son's rough treatment of Tenebres, Wayne and Rose extend an olive branch to Destiny's equally artsy parents--Dad's a snooty poetry teacher named Babel (also voiced by Clement)--by inviting the family to their house for dinner. Here's the point where "Enter Destiny" goes from a bland episode about the quirky love interest that got away to a slightly amusing one that has some fun with how infantile most of these inane MPDG characters essentially are: at the awkward dinner between the Stevenses and Destiny's family, the episode takes this seemingly mature, Camus-reading teenage chick and unpeels her artsy layers until all that's left is a not-so-attractive girl who still throws temper tantrums in front of her parents like a four-year-old. Babel's refined demeanor also dissipates when he winds up in a fistfight with Wayne, while Tenebres remains an asshole who deserved to get roughed up by Chad.

Jemaine Clement's character on Out There is hugely lacking in the sugalumps department.
But the biggest laugh in "Enter Destiny" belongs neither to Blair nor to Clement. It belongs to series cast member Pamela Adlon, who voices both Astoria, Babel's wife, and Martha, Chris' unpleasant lab partner (Joanie, Adlon's usual character, is absent in this episode). Martha grumbles only two lines to Chris, but the raspy voice Adlon came up with for Martha is the funniest part of "Enter Destiny." Adlon does more with a couple of gravelly, Nina Hagen-esque grunts than most celebrities do with some starring role they're phoning in during some lame DreamWorks Animation feature.


Over the weekend, MTV celebrated the premiere of the one millionth season of The Real World (which takes place tonight) by transforming into "Retro MTV" and marathoning earlier seasons of The Real World. Retro MTV, my ass. If you want actual retro MTV, just go and YouTube buttloads of '80s and '90s music videos and late '80s Stevie and Zoya bumpers.

Stevie and Zoya was my favorite MTV show, even though each short lasted either only 40 seconds or a minute. It was the creation of former Boondocks director Joe Horne, who has started posting on Blogger full clips of many of his past animation credits (including his other notable series of shorts from the late '80s, the "El Hombre" segments on Pee-wee's Playhouse) and is still producing shorts featuring his mute spy duo. I used to be able to rattle off all 50 states and capitals when I was in second grade. I've since forgotten some of the names of those capitals, but I still know word-for-word the verses from Biz Markie's "Just a Friend" and the Stevie and Zoya opening narration by the late announcer Russell Johnson (a.k.a. the Professor on Gilligan's Island): "Stevie Washington: The Angry Youth. Born to die. New York's New York. The turn of the century. All crime!"

The adventures of a turtlenecked spy on a red, white and blue skateboard and his yo-yo-wielding, Playboy Bunny ears-wearing partner, Stevie and Zoya was like every shoddily animated, library music-soundtracked '60s action cartoon you've seen, except Johnson kept messing up his lines, the voice actors kept messing up their lines too, oddly patient and polite voice directors kept interjecting off-screen to help out the performers and many of the action shots were unfinished-looking storyboards. Horne's surreal series of shorts was an anti-cartoon--just like Canadian animator Myles Langlois' Apollo Gauntlet, which recently started its second season on the Rug Burn Channel. Stevie and Zoya was concerned not with parodying any specific popular characters but with deconstructing action cartoons by pretending to be an incompetent and blooper-filled one, often with amusing results. Though Stevie and Zoya contained crude animation, Horne's stylized and jazzy character designs actually looked terrific.

On the other hand, Apollo Gauntlet looks genuinely sloppy, as if Napoleon Dynamite took his notebook doodles of ligers and attempted to bring those drawings to life all by himself instead of working with a team of professional animators. But like with Stevie and Zoya, Apollo Gauntlet's intentional incompetence is entertaining. In "Belenus Blade," the show's opening theme song doesn't even show up until halfway through the episode, and Apollo, a straight-up mentally ill hero who often talks to his right gauntlet and makes it talk back, disrupts a swordsman who's about to attack him with the episode's titular weapon by breaking into an earwormy remix of the swordsman's battle cry and moonwalking over a mound of warriors he killed in the second-season premiere. The animation for Apollo's moonwalk is so bad it's brilliant.

The credit that makes a huge deal out of "Hollie Dzama as the Princess" in episodes like "Belenus Blade" is funny because Dzama, a Canadian illustrator who voiced a villainous witch Apollo defeated last season, has been mute every time her princess character makes an appearance. The princess may not be much of a talker, but she's one helluva dancer, as we see in the clunkily rotoscoped dance fantasy Apollo imagines himself having with the princess at the start of the episode, which continues the show's great running gag of Apollo's terrible listening skills. He pays little attention to the swordsman and his speechifying, first by fantasizing a goofy dance with the princess and again by imagining himself as an EDM DJ and busting out the aforementioned remix.

I'm so fucking glad this ain't a Harlem Shake video.
The teaser for the next episode shows that Apollo is still battling enemies inside the throne room. I might go from mildly liking this weird cartoon to straight-up admiring it if its new season never bothers to leave that throne room (is this a jab at how The Walking Dead spent much of its lukewarmly received second season confined to a farm?--I doubt it, but that would be hilarious if it is). I'm not sure if I'll ever bother to watch Disney's much-maligned John Carter, but I think I'll end up enjoying this slightly Stevie and Zoya-esque take on John Carter-style heroics way more than the actual lavishly budgeted thing.


"It Snakes a Village" marks a milestone for Bob's Burgers because during an Indiana Jones map sequence that hilariously lasts a millisecond, the episode puts an end to the dilly-dallying around the issue of where the show takes place and finally confirms it. As a West Coaster (and a rather reluctant one, although I often go to bat for the coast I was born and raised in, except in the pizza department) who was hoping the Belchers' unnamed seaside town (a composite of different seaside towns) would be Santa Cruz, the town where I attended university, I'm kind of disappointed that the show's setting has turned out to be the Jersey Shore all along. (Then again, Jersey would make more sense than a California town because Archer didn't travel very far when he lost his memory in the flashback during the Archer/Bob's Burgers crossover.) My slight disappointment is partly due to the Belchers' (as well as the show's) laid-back attitudes towards outsiders, misfits, different countercultures or sexuality--particularly Bob's lack of discomfort during a conversation he has with his shy father-in-law Al (Sam Seder) to try to find out Al's sexual fetish in "It Snakes a Village." Their attitudes are very Santa Cruz.

During the Belchers' vacation away from the restaurant (Bob has to temporarily close it down to have it fumigated), which they spend with Linda's parents at their Florida retirement home, Bob tries to help Al rekindle his sex life, both out of the kindness of his heart and because he and Linda are dead set against her parents moving in with them. Al and Gloria (Renée Taylor) didn't realize the retirement community they chose to live in is an elderly swingers' club, and unless they take part in the club's sex stuff--which is difficult for Al and Gloria because their love-making skills are a bit rusty--they'll be kicked out of the community, and they'll have to move in with the Belchers. Episode writer Kit Boss must be a Real Sex viewer because the fetish that Al confesses to Bob--he has a thing for ladies who sit on balloons and pop them--is straight out of a Real Sex segment.

In Goldfinger, Sean Connery wore the exact same fucking outfit Al is wearing.
The B-story, in which Gene must overcome a fear of snakes to join Louise and Tina in helping one of Al and Gloria's neighbors (Linda Lavin) find her missing puppy, is much more G-rated, but it's equally engaging (the nightvision shots of Louise in the woods are cleverly executed), and it ties in well with Linda overcoming her disgust over the thought of her parents banging each other to help them out. None of the scenes in "It Snakes a Village" take place inside the restaurant, so sadly, there are no burger pun gags, which I always look forward to seeing.

I've always wanted some restaurant or foodie to take one of those puntastic burgers on Bob's chalkboard and make a real-life dish out of it, but stand-up and Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell staff writer Janine Brito is doing one better. To the delight of Bob's Burgers staff writer Scott Jacobson and those of us who have always been curious about what Bob's Burgers of the Day taste like, Brito recently launched a Tumblr about the Burgers of the Day, in which she and other Bob's Burgers fans will attempt to prepare a different burger from Bob's chalkboard and blog about the results. I wonder if any of the burgers will turn out as disappointing as the Jersey thing.

Memorable quotes:
* Gene: "Florida's our most penis-shaped state."

* Bob to Linda: "Why can't they live with your sister? Her life is already ruined."

* Al: "You just, uh, www-dot-womeninflatesaballoonandsitsonitandpopsit-dot-com." You can tell this whole conversation betwen Seder and H. Jon Benjamin about the balloon-popping fetish is improvised because Benjamin nearly cracks up a couple of times.

'People still watch The Tonight Show, Louise? Really?!'
* Tina: "You saved us, Gene. I owe you my life." Gene: "No thanks. I've seen it, and I'm not impressed."

* Gene, on why he chose to rescue Tina and Louise: "I didn't want to be an only child. They're always weird."

* Gene: "Those people should learn to have a potluck without popping all those balloons." Tina: "And without having really loud sex."


Marcelinsanity sweeps the Land of Ooo.
"Simon & Marcy," the final episode that writer/storyboarder/composer Rebecca Sugar co-wrote for Adventure Time (she's moved on to Steven Universe, an upcoming Cartoon Network series she created), is a nice sendoff for the immensely talented Sugar. As a sequel to one of Sugar's best episodes, last season's surprisingly moving "I Remember You," "Simon & Marcy" isn't as heart-wrenching a story about Marceline's past with the Ice King, but it takes a slightly moving turn in the oddest of places, and it's a moment that has TV nerds like myself, uh, cheering.

The sequel flashes back to 996 years in the past, when a seven-year-old, pre-vampire Marceline (Ava Acres) wandered the post-apocalyptic landscape with Simon Petrikov--the man the Ice King was before his magic crown drove him completely insane--as her protector and surrogate dad. In one scene, Simon entertains Marcy with a broken TV and a re-enactment of a show from Simon's younger days called Cheers. Memories of Sam, Norm and the gang, as well as songs he makes up on the spot about Marcy (which plant the seed for her future as a musician), are all Simon has to keep his and Marcy's spirits up, as she comes down with a bad fever and Simon must dodge post-apocalyptic, slime-oozing mutants to find some chicken soup to cure her fever.

'Hmm. OLYMPUS HAS BALLED 'EM? Must be a kids' movie. I think you'll enjoy it, Marcy.'
When dodging these nasty-looking mutants isn't enough and they start to swell in numbers, Simon must rely on the crown to give him powers that he can use to fight back and protect Marcy, which worries her because he's had some trouble reverting back to his saner self whenever he slips on the crown. It's a great tragic contradiction: the powers that Simon relies on to save Marcy's life will end up causing him to deteriorate to his unhinged and amnesiac state as the Ice King.

Now I never really cared for Gary Portnoy's "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" as a theme for Cheers, even though it's become such a huge part of Cheers (and now Madison Avenue) that I've learned to live with it. Frankly, I think "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" is a bit sappy for a show that was often above sentimentality and proved that '80s sitcom writing didn't have to be so sappy, preachy or dumbed-down, although Cheers was capable of being occasionally heartfelt (like in a rare dramatic scene where Nicholas Colasanto's Coach reassures his insecure and grown-up daughter that she's beautiful or a later moment in the series run when Sam briefly makes a return to the pitcher's mound and wishes the now-dead Coach could see him play again). But when Simon sings "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" to keep his humanity from slipping away as he unleashes his powers on a pack of mutants, I can't think of a better song--or a better use of Portnoy's lyrics. (Tom Kenny's voice work when the Ice King finishes the song while reverting back to Simon is excellent and heartbreaking.)

'Jinkies! I can't see without my glasses!'
It's also fitting that Sugar turns to a theme from such a classic work of TV as part of her farewell to Adventure Time, which is on its way to becoming as much of a classic as Cheers. Adventure Time taught her so much about crafting great TV and took good care of her, much like how Simon took good care of Marcy.


  1. I liked "I Remember You," but "Simon & Marcy" absolutely ripped my heart out. Simon sacrifices his sanity for that little girl, who, of course, is doomed despite his very best efforts. I didn't think I would like "Adventure Time" at first. Nick's live action promos were so annoying. But the show just gets better and better.

    Thanks again for doing what you do, Jim.

  2. Another set of great episodes from Nickelodeon.