Wednesday, April 3, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (04/03/2013): Archer, Out There, Apollo Gauntlet, Animation Domination High-Def and Adventure Time

Goddamn, his booty hole is really pooping out a ton of crap, or as it's also called, a Fox News rant.
Louie Anderson should really avoid coffee before making a high dive.
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.

Only on Archer will you see a lengthy comedic discussion of obscure European weapons like arquebuses and halberds (which, according to Archer, were made obsolete by arquebuses). It's what separates Archer from other spy comedies like Get Smart or the Austin Powers movies. What also separates the show from other spy comedies is its ballsiness--it doesn't give a shit whether you get some of its jokes or not--as well as the terrific character writing, which is on display in the coincidentally timely "Papal Chase," a fast-moving tour de farce that gives plenty of much-needed screen time this season to Woodhouse, Archer's long-suffering, smack-addicted butler (has George Coe been in poor health or something lately?). Woodhouse closely resembles the Pope (also voiced by Coe), so Archer uses him as a decoy to thwart an assassination attempt on the Pope's life.

Pam undertakes her first mission as a field agent and goes undercover as a nun, while Archer dons a cassock and seems to have based his priest disguise on old Weekend Update segments with Father Guido Sarducci. Sure, the ISIS HR lady aced the IFAAB (ISIS Field Agent Aptitude Battery), she's a capable fighter due to all those years of underground bare-knuckle boxing, she's amusingly nonplussed every time Woodhouse jabs a heroin needle in her neck and she's great at quickly picking up Italian phrases, but her field inexperience is evident during the mission, especially when she appears to have accidentally killed the Pope by dropping a giant mirror on top of his body while he's sleeping.

Speaking of dropping things, I wish we saw more mic drops from Pam throughout the season (I loved that "Wind Cries Mary" gag of Archer and Pam punctuating their sentences with mic drops) because the season's about to come to a close with a two-part finale that reportedly had Adam Reed treading carefully around Cartoon Network's legal department due to references to Sealab 2021, Reed's old Adult Swim show (like guest star Jon Hamm's role as Sealab's Captain Murphy). Towards the end of "The Papal Chase," Archer experiences a rare moment of genuine distress for one of the other agents when he sees Lana get shot in the arm (Pam's reaction to Archer not giving a shit about her shoulder bullet wound is classic Pam). Has Archer developed the kind of feelings for Lana that Sean Connery once described as "unselfish love, grown-up love" in the 1990 film version of The Russia House, and will the finale address it? Or will it be left abandoned like a halberd?

'I-uh saw the ad about missionary work, so I'm-uh here for the missionary position. Phrasing, uh-boom.'
Stray observations:
* Pam, to an incredulous Archer regarding the Italian phrases she learned during the flight: "Who am I? Cypher? The gayest X-Man?" Archer: "Well, I dunno. Gambit looks like he knows his way around a pair of..."

* I'm more incredulous about Pam being so well-versed in X-Men and New Mutants comics. She always struck me as more of a Mark Millar kind of gal. I didn't know who Cypher was and had to Google him after the episode. As Don't Panic's "League of the Lame Superheroes" list says about Cypher's not-so-dynamic-looking superpower, "Imagine being surrounded by mutants who can fly, control the weather, set things on fire, or morph into other people, and you're just a slightly more charismatic version of Google Translate."

* "Pambit," Archer's nickname for Pam, resulted in an Archer fan drawing "Pambit." Ooh, ooh, somebody should draw "Nightkrieger." He would bamf every time he exits a room with "Smoke bomb!"

I'd rather watch a movie with this Gambit instead of having to sit through X-Men Origins: Wolverine again.
(Photo source: All Aboard the Cutie Muffin Fuck Wagon~)
* In addition to all the dialogue about Marvel mutants during "The Papal Chase," the loss of all of Archer's clothes--including his socks and shoes--during the gas tank explosion appears to be a joke about how Marvel characters like Hulk and Wolverine often emerge from explosions with most of their clothes torn off, yet the remainder of their threads somehow strategically cover their bathing suit areas.

* Cardinal Corelli (special guest star Rene Auberjonois): "Mio dio!" Archer: "I know, right? Trope alert!"

* Archer: "Goddammit, quit telling me what to do! I'm the goddamn agent-in-command!" Pope: "Figo! He really drops the G.D. bombs..."

* The parachute pants-clad Swiss Guard Commander: "Well... ISIS has a certain reputation." Archer: "Hey, whoa! Not cool, Payne Stewart."


This week on basic cable, a teenage weirdo who's way too attached to his previously single mother plotted revenge against the boyfriend Mom adores so that he could have her all to himself. It sounds like an episode of Bates Motel, A&E's new Psycho pre-boot about the nearly incestuous relationship between teenage Norman Bates and his mom Norma, but it's actually an episode of the IFC animated series Out There.

The series previously established Chris Novak, Chad's prankster best friend, as weird and frequently delusional (in the pilot, he planned to escape Holford on a hot-air balloon) but relatively harmless. "Joanie Loves Terry," like most Out There episodes so far, may not be all that funny (the episode's most amusing moment has nothing to do with either Chris or the titular characters and instead involves the absurd fantasy life of Jay, Chris' little brother), but I appreciate the episode's willingness to dwell on the cruel side of Chris' character and make him creepy and unlikable for much of the story. When Chris is finally able to drive Terry, his mom's freeloader boyfriend, out of the house and he tries to fix Joanie up with the father figure he prefers--Paul, who runs the Gulp-N-Go--Terry's departure crushes the spirit of the always upbeat Joanie (one of the reasons why I loved Freaks and Geeks was its acknowledgement that nerds could sometimes be as cruel and unlikable as the popular kids, and "Joanie Loves Terry" takes a similar turn here with Chris).

Showrunner and "Joanie Loves Terry" writer Ryan Quincy really succeeds in making this mama's boy's attachment to Joanie off-putting (I'd hate to see what this cartoon would be like on HBO, the Incest Network) and atypical for a kid his age (props to Quincy for not having Chad explain in his brief voiceovers about how off-putting and abnormal it all is). Chris is 15 years old, and he lets his mom still infantilize and coddle him (she continues to call him "Monkey Pants"--Chris' beef with Terry in this episode intensifies when he overhears her calling Terry "Monkey Pants" as well--while Chris' nickname for her is "Mama Face"). It explains a lot about Chris' overactive imagination and constant run-ins with bullies he thinks he can escape from or overpower. And if you aren't skeeved out by either Chris' choice of words while plotting to save his mom from Terry ("Man, I gotta find a way to win back her love") or the closing credits scene where he gets down on one knee and presents Joanie with a ring to renew their vows as son and mom, well, you just might be in a creepy relationship with your mom right now.

Joanie's Mexican boyfriend is named Terry, which is a very Mexican name.
Joanie's taste in men has always been terrible, ever since she married Chris' dad, who later walked out on the family (and is glimpsed in a loincloth with his equally skimpily dressed son in Chris' dream sequence on a pirate ship straight out of a romance paperback cover, a moment that's as unsettling as Chris' fixation on Joanie because it reminds me too much of Matthew and Bill's "homoerotic adventures on the big muddy" from NewsRadio). In one of his voiceovers, Chad lists a rancher, a club DJ and a demolition derby champion as Joanie's boyfriends before she met the lazy and pretentious Terry. Judging from her last boyfriend (I wonder if Chris, who idolizes Evel Knievel and aspires to be a world-famous daredevil, is disappointed that it didn't work out with the derby champ) and her current one, it's clear that the kind of guy Joanie is attracted to is basically--yecch!--her own son.

Chris doesn't ever realize that he's not all that different from his nemesis Terry, an overgrown child in hippie clothes (and out of them frequently). When he temporarily moves in with Chad because he's had enough of the unwanted houseguest that is Terry, Chris becomes a similarly unwanted houseguest at the Stevenses' home, although Wayne is the only one there who despises him (the episode's second most amusing sight gag is a quick shot of Chris crawling into bed with an annoyed Wayne and a not-so-annoyed Rose). Later, after the exasperated Terry moves out, Chris lounges around in his tightie-whities much like Terry would do in his leopard-print Speedo, atop the couch Terry used to call home.

With some prodding from Chad, Chris is able to undo the mess he started by taking into consideration Joanie's feelings instead of his own and getting Terry to move back in, which makes Joanie happy again, but fortunately, "Joanie Loves Terry" doesn't put an end to Chris' hatred of Terry, which is more believable and interesting than having them finally get along. The dark character writing for the Novaks in "Joanie Loves Terry"--Chris has a somewhat unhealthy attachment to Joanie, she's equally strange and Terry is a pathetic-looking grown-up baby--proves that we're not in innocuous, rose-colored Happy Days/Wonder Years territory here. Now if only the comedic side of Out There were as equally punchy.


The funniest moment in "You Will Believe a Man Can Fly," the latest Apollo Gauntlet episode, is a great example of the Rug Burn Channel show's hilariously slovenly and low-energy take on old action cartoons (by the way, if you look carefully, you can spot film grain, hair and scratches on the images, and those were such fixtures of the cruddy prints of the '60s Marvel and Hanna-Barbera superhero cartoons that San Jose's Channel 36 used to air alongside He-Man on weekday afternoons in the '80s). In the middle of what's supposed to be an intense quest for Dr. Benign, the mad scientist who trapped him on a distant planet, Apollo pauses for a discussion with the Princess (who finally speaks!) about a palace mural that reminds him of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. He proceeds to deliver a childhood mnemonic about the Sistine Chapel that's so preposterously long that series creator Myles Langlois, who provides the Brian Posehn-like voice for Apollo, has some trouble finishing it and nearly collapses into laughter.

"Is this what a deleted scene feels like?," ad-libs Langlois, who also cracks up while bringing up a form of DVD extras that the Princess would probably not be familiar with. That incongruity of referencing modern-day items in a medieval sword-and-sorcery setting is nothing we haven't seen before in all the countless variations on A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, from Army of Darkness to Martin Lawrence's Black Knight, but when it involves movie trailer voiceover-style one-liners ("If you see one sword this year, make it Belenus Blade!") and obscure references to forgotten Garry Marshall rom-com flops that are spoken in an odd monotone, it feels fresh and different. If you see one cartoon that involves Giovanni Ribisi jokes this year, make it Apollo Gauntlet.


Here we see Raggedy Andy, after he abandoned his sister and moved to Paris to become a shitty nihilist poet.
Fox's late Saturday night "Animation Domination High-Def" block doesn't premiere until July 27, but its YouTube channel of the same name has already been posting original content to generate buzz about the "ADHD" brand, which aims to be more offbeat than its Sunday night counterpart. This original content includes a series of ADHD shorts, which the channel posts each Monday. One of the writers of these shorts is improv comic Heather Anne Campbell, whose past as a Geek Monthly magazine staff writer would probably explain the combo of superhero parody and scatological science factoids in the "Scientifically Accurate Spider-Man" short (I had no idea spiders' dicks fall off--good looking out, ADHD!). The shorts have ranged from amusing and surprisingly educational ("Scientifically Accurate Spider-Man") to forgettable and lame (last week's "Jurassic Park: Really Clever Girl," which dropped just in time for Universal's 3D reissue of Jurassic Park), but almost all of them have one thing in common: they're so filthy it's doubtful they'll get to air even on late-night Fox.

One of the better ADHD shorts, this week's equally filthy and really dark-humored "Future Travel," comes from British siblings Matt and Paul Layzell. The new short pokes fun at people's addictions to both their smartphones and social media. It imagines a future world where technology has progressed to the point where your social media avatars can become holographic beings or you can take hashtags and turn them into holographic scarlet letters to brand people in front of you as awkward or creepy, but no one has still been able to invent ways to improve lousy pick-up lines.

The Layzell brothers' futuristic sight gags in "Future Travel" are an odd mix of cutesy and unsettling, like the rest of the brothers' animation work. My favorite gag has a female el train passenger rolling her eyes and looking comatose in order to generate to her friend a hologram of the avatar of the nervous passenger who's been trying to spit game at her. She's like an ugly version of Rachel Nichols' tech-enhanced counter-terrorism agent hottie on Continuum. Hopefully, some more ADHD shorts will be up to the level of "Future Travel" and "Scientifically Accurate Spider-Man" so that I don't have to tag the ADHD series as unfunny.


'I'm gonna make love to you, left hand/Gonna lay you down by the fire.'
(Photo source: David OReilly)
Irish 3D animator David OReilly guest-directed the all-3D-animated Adventure Time episode "A Glitch Is a Glitch," in which Finn and Jake must stop Ice King (who's back to creepy, princess-chasing villain mode after "Simon & Marcy" presented a more sympathetic portrayal of him) from further unleashing a computer virus that will delete everyone from Ooo except for him and Princess Bubblegum. It's a perfect marriage of idiosyncratic director and equally idiosyncratic cartoon.

"The External World," OReilly's 17-minute 2010 short, is an inspired work of absurdist and very adult 3D animation, and some of that short's random, TV-MA-rated strangeness (which, by the way, was co-written by Wonder Showzen co-creator and Louie producer Vernon Chatman) seeps into "A Glitch Is a Glitch," particularly when Princess Bubblegum wards off Ice King's advances by making out with her hand, one of several masturbation jokes Adventure Time has somehow slipped past Cartoon Network censors. Maybe someone at Frederator has a photo of a Cartoon Network censor with a sheep.

Any episode that concludes with dope end title music by Flying Lotus, a.k.a. Captain Murphy, who's also produced bumper music for Adult Swim, is a keeper in my book. This isn't the first time Adventure Time has ventured into 3D animation, and because of how enjoyable and batshit crazy "A Glitch Is a Glitch" is (the prolonged "One second later" gag killed me the first time I saw it), hopefully, it won't be the last.

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