Wednesday, April 10, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (04/10/2013): Archer, Scooby-Doo!, Out There, Apollo Gauntlet and Do's & Don'ts

'Tonight on LMN, our pyromaniac marathon continues with Molly Quinn in Mother, May I Light This Match? at 8, followed at 10 by Gary Coleman in that TV-movie where he played an arsonist.'
Some people just want to watch the gazebo burn. (Photo source: Archer Wiki)
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.

Jon Hamm's last animation guest shot had him voicing a talking toilet on Bob's Burgers, and in Archer's two-part "Sea Tunt" season finale, Hamm voices a character who's almost as bizarre as that toilet: Captain Murphy, one of many batshit crazy characters who populated Sealab 2021, Archer executive producers Adam Reed and Matt Thompson's Adult Swim show from the '00s. Here, Captain Murphy (the namesake of electronica/hip-hop producer Flying Lotus' masked alter ego as a rapper) is reimagined as an eco-terrorist who's plotting to attack Miami, New York City and the nation's capital with missiles tipped with nerve gas.

But the Mad Men star doesn't really get to do much in "Sea Tunt: Part I." The episode is more of a showcase for guest stars Eugene Mirman and Kristen Schaal, who get to interact with their Bob's Burgers co-star H. Jon Benjamin, and the entire regular cast (except for Lucky Yates as Krieger, who stays behind at ISIS Headquarters), and any episode that traps the entire cast in enclosed farcical situations that escalate into gory (or in other episodes, nudity-filled) chaos is always entertaining.

Instead of voicing their Bob's Burgers characters like John Roberts got to do in "Fugue and Riffs," Mirman voices Cecil Tunt, Cheryl/Carol's oceanographer/philanthropist brother, while Schaal plays Tiffy, Cecil's easily perturbed helicopter pilot and girlfriend. Malory turns to Cecil for one of his deep-sea vehicles, which will allow her and the agents to recover a hydrogen bomb inside a B-52 bomber that went down in the Bermuda Triangle in order to get a reward from the U.S. government. Of course, nothing goes as planned: the bomb turns out to be a hoax concocted by Cecil to get ISIS to stop Murphy, the lead scientist at Cecil's undersea research lab, from going through with his plan. The hoax is also a scheme for Cecil to obtain on record as many stories about his sister's insane behavior as he can from her co-workers so that he can get conservatorship over her to steal her inheritance and use it to fund his numerous philanthropies.

How fitting that this two-parter involving an undersea lab has a guest star named 'Mirman.'
(Photo source: Archer Wiki)
"Sea Tunt: Part II" is bound to be a more impressive and chaotic half than "Part I," but this episode isn't too shabby, thanks to killer jokes about score music and Cheryl/Carol's sanity. When everyone reacts in shock to Cecil's bit of info about Murphy's nerve gas supply, lifelong pyromaniac Cheryl/Carol is the only one who's thrilled about the madness that's about to ensue. Her giddiness matches our own.

Stray observations:
* Malory: "We are going to beat the Russians!" Archer: "Give it up, folks! Mike Eruzione!" I knew watching that DVD rental of Miracle would pay off someday.

* Archer, after being introduced to Cecil: "Yeah, Rien Poortvliet just called. He wants you to pose for him. [Awkward silence.] Oh, c'mon, beloved illustrator of Gnomes? Jesus, read a coffee table book!"

* Pam references an '80s Stephen J. Cannell show that, for a change, is neither The A-Team nor The Greatest American Hero: "I assume you've got an epi-pen on this big Riptide-lookin' bastard?" I wouldn't be surprised if Archer or one of the other ISIS employees was a Renegade viewer back in the '90s.

Best allergy medicine commercial ever.
(Photo source: Archer Wiki)
* Homer Simpson's eating noises used to make me instantly chuckle, but now I think Pam's eating noises while wolfing down vegan crab legs, courtesy of Amber Nash stuffing her face with cheese puffs, are funnier. Or maybe it's because they're paired up with the sight of Pam's face swelling up from soy allergies.

* Cheryl/Carol keeps hearing suspenseful score cues: "Just ignore it. It's non-diegetic." And later on: "Goddammit, shut up, John Williams!"


After a shitload of translation work, the previously indecipherable name of the Evil Entity turned out to be 'Limbaugh.'
"Come Undone," the Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated series finale, takes one of the most wack and least imaginative story resolutions in sci-fi, the reset button, and somehow makes it work, much like how Mystery Incorporated took a franchise that was entertaining only when you were a kid--and had become so unwatchable--and made it appealing again and genuinely dark and funny. The Mystery Incorporated team manages to defeat the Evil Entity, the previously imprisoned Anunnaki deity that's responsible for all the costumed criminals and evilness in Crystal Cove and has ended up consuming all of the town's inhabitants except for the detectives (in a series of scenes that are the darkest and bleakest this franchise has ever gotten and are therefore, awesome). Their triumph over the entity erases every trace of it from existence and creates a new timeline where Crystal Cove, "the Most Hauntedest Place on Earth," is now "the Sunniest Place on Earth" because the entity wasn't there to corrupt any of it.

Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby discover that their lives in this new timeline are perfect, and everyone who was previously killed off, including Velma's lesbian lover Marcy (let's face it, Linda Cardellini's reading of Marcy's last line in "Come Undone," "That's my girl," confirms it), is alive again. (Patrick Warburton's Sheriff Stone says the funniest line in "Come Undone," when he introduces his and Mayor Nettles' kids: "Now Eastwood, Norris and Little Billy Jack need to be asleep by eight. Lynda Carter here can stay up as long as she likes, on account of her being more adorable than her brothers.") But in a great turn of expectations, everyone in the team is dissatisfied with this timeline because there are no mysteries for them to solve.

A.L. Baroza has got to sketch an illustration of these two.
Then here's where "Come Undone" cleverly handles the reset button: previous Mystery Incorporated guest star Harlan Ellison--the new Mr. E in this timeline and the only other person who knows of the changes the team made to the previous timeline because of his ability to see the events of alternate dimensions--contacts the detectives to let them know that he's enrolled them as students at his campus of Miskatonic University, the same setting from H.P. Lovecraft stories. At Miskatonic, there'll be plenty of mysteries for the team to solve, so in a brand new Mystery Machine they repaint after they destroyed the previous one earlier in the season, the detectives drive off to Miskatonic, perhaps encountering a few mysteries along the way, much like the ones they stumbled into while on the road back in the late '60s and early '70s. That means the entire run of Mystery Incorporated was basically a prequel to Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!

It's a brilliant way to end a cartoon that modernized Scooby and made it more like a Joss Whedon show by stocking it with snappy dialogue or in-jokes for older viewers (my favorite recent gag that no Cartoon Network viewer under 30 would understand was former MTV VJ Martha Quinn as herself, attempting to sell the detectives a bootleg of a Scritti Politti Christmas album that was recorded in Esperanto) and raising the stakes by building elaborate, apocalypse-related mythologies, which is interesting because Buffy affectionately borrowed from Scooby and nicknamed its central heroes the Scooby Gang. (Whedon regular Amy Acker even turned up on Mystery Incorporated and voiced the benevolent Anunnaki being who possessed Scooby's puppy girlfriend Nova.) The showrunner of the next animated Scooby incarnation should just give up. Whatever he has in mind for his iteration of those meddling kids is hardly going to be as good as Mystery Incorporated was.


'I'm Gumby, dammit! I'm show business!'
On Out There, Chad's solution to his fear of public speaking, which threatens to derail a report he has to give in his classroom about the Salem witch trials, is to shoot a home movie about Salem so that he doesn't have to do any speaking in front of the class. A nice surprise about "Salem, My Salem" is that it shifts from a rather bland story about amateur filmmaking (think the Cheers episode about pretentious Diane making an equally pretentious documentary about her friends at the bar or the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode about Mac and Dennis filming Lethal Weapon 5, but with less effective jokes) to a slightly more interesting, Tell-Tale Heart-style story about Chad grappling with both lying about incinerating his church organist mother Rose's cherished organ while shooting his movie and choosing to pin the blame on the previously unemployable Terry, whom the church hired as its new janitor after Rose put in a good word for him.

The church incident gives Megan Mullally more to do than just be the June Cleaver of the show and politely serve everyone food or act as upbeat cheerleader to Chad, Chris, Wayne or Terry, whom she mistakenly gets upset at in "Salem, My Salem" when she's led to believe Terry caused the organ to burn. I initially felt like Mullally--whose specialty is characters who are far more uninhibited than Rose, like Tammy on Parks and Rec or Chief on Childrens Hospital--being cast in such a nothing role was a waste of her talents, but Mullally acquits herself well in "Salem, My Salem" as a distraught Rose, who experiences a crisis of faith in other people. Chad, Chris and Terry curse freely on Out There, but some people just can't find it in their heart to blurt out expletives, and Rose, who's one of those people, can only let out a "damn" and then quickly cover it up with "dagnabbit" in a moment that's nicely played by Mullally, in which Rose puts aside her usually polite self for about a millisecond after she hears Chad finally confess to her the truth.

The other highlight of "Salem, My Salem" is another appearance by gravelly-voiced Martha, Chad and Chris' gruff and perpetually scowling classmate. I have no idea how Pamela Adlon is able to summon up a voice like that from her repertoire, but I wouldn't be surprised if it comes from hours of voicing ogres or monsters while reading bedtime stories to her kids. I could listen to 22 minutes of Adlon just reading bedtime stories in her various voices and, because she's famous for having a potty mouth, adorning those stories with expletives too.


A cartoon that's "#1 in Greece, Bulgaria, Syria and Iran," the intentionally crudely animated Apollo Gauntlet gets funnier with each installment and reveals that Dr. Benign, the previously unseen and supposedly evil genius whom Apollo has been searching for to send him back to Earth, is nothing more than, well, a benign screw-up. "I'm Not Angry, I'm Just Disappointed" also introduces a power that Apollo's right gauntlet--the same gauntlet he sometimes talks to like how Sledge Hammer would talk to his gun--has never shown off before: it can extend from his right hand and function as a grappling hook. Apollo listens to the Princess' suggestion that he should try to be less violent by using his gauntlet to grab a snarky dungeon prisoner's neck and make his face collide with the cell bars.

My favorite bit of animation in "I'm Not Angry, I'm Just Disappointed" occurs at 0:29. The effort that series animator/voice actor/composer Myles Langlois put into animating Apollo's startled reaction to a previous enemy's surprise reappearance must have cost a fortune.


"Make sure not to elect a psychopathic leader," warns the announcer in the "Zombie Apocalypse" season finale of Do's & Don'ts: A Children's Guide to Social Survival, a Shut Up! Cartoons series created and produced by F. Ryan Naumann. Someone's been watching their Walking Dead, where one leader lost his temper and massacred almost all of his own followers, while another leader, still traumatized by his wife's death during childbirth, frequently experienced hallucinations about his dead wife.

The demented Do's & Don'ts, one of many webtoons that often leave you questioning the creator's sanity, has only been occasionally genuinely funny during its second season, including this finale. But "Zombie Apocalypse" scores some points for raising a question about zombie physiology not even zombie comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland dared to ask (and I doubt Warm Bodies, which I haven't seen, contains any jokes about it): do zombies ever poop?

Some Shut Up! Cartoons viewers have objected to Do's & Don'ts using actual kids to voice the show's characters, who are frequently put in situations where they murder each other or say profane things. In a Bubbleblabber interview, Naumann pointed out that his kid actors are directed to say "fudge" or "shoot" instead of the actual curse words, and bleeps are added later to make the kids sound as if they're actually cursing.

Even 36-year-old movies get subjected to the same criticism. During a recent Smartest Man in the World episode that was recorded at host Greg Proops' introduction and post-film discussion of a Cinefamily screening of Annie Hall, Proops noted that a film reviewer was offended by the hysterical scene where Alvy Singer's former elementary school classmates update Alvy on their present-day lives, not as their grown-up selves, but as themselves in the classroom, when they were kids ("I'm into leather"). Proops' opinion on that reviewer's objection to kid actors getting directed by Woody Allen to utter adult statements they didn't understand is similar to my own thoughts on kid actors who have no idea what they're saying, whether the comedy is Annie Hall or Do's & Don'ts.

"No actors know what they're fucking saying! Watch TV and movies all fucking day long. Find me two actors who know what the fuck they're saying, man," said Proops. "Do you think Al Pacino, when he did the Phil Spector movie, went, 'This part's deep for me. I don't quite get it…'? Who gives a shit if the kids knew what they were saying? It's fucking hilarious."

No comments:

Post a Comment