Wednesday, April 24, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (04/24/2013): Out There, Apollo Gauntlet, The Cleveland Show, Bob's Burgers and Dogsnack

I haven't seen a Sarah Silverman character this entertainingly cruel since the time when Sarah Silverman slept with God and then dumped His clingy ass.
This new collection of Michael Landon's memoirs will sell like hotcakes.
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.

It took me a few episodes to adjust to Out There's more gentle brand of humor--though 20th Century Fox Television co-produced the show, former South Park director Ryan Quincy's creation is far less brash and flashy than what I usually expect out of an animated series that's co-produced by Fox--but right when I feel like this cartoon about awkward adolescence in the '80s has started to gel, the show's 10-episode season on IFC concludes with "Ace's Wild." The season (or series) finale covers--in one whole episode--an arc that Freaks and Geeks, one of Out There's spiritual ancestors, would have explored with gawky Bill Haverchuck in the second season that Paul Feig and Judd Apatow never got to produce: what if Bill became a jock and began to spend more time with other jocks? Would his best friends Sam and Neal resent Bill and his new clique or would they remain loyal to Bill like Millie did with Lindsay even though she disapproved of Lindsay's new friends from the "freaks" crowd?

In "Ace's Wild," Chad, who's always longed to belong and not be so invisible to everyone else at school, is the one who falls in with a new crowd: the cool kids in charge of yearbook. Style-conscious yearbook editors Amy (Sarah Silverman) and Amber (Ellen Page) are so entertained by Chad's classroom doodle of their biology teacher reimagined as a walrus that they recruit him to draw similar caricatures for their yearbook. Chad recognizes that his best friend Chris is beginning to feel jealous about all the fun he's been having outside of class with the yearbook committee, so he makes sure Chris doesn't get left out of his new activities by persuading the aspiring daredevil to promote himself to the committee as a candidate for the yearbook's "Voice of the Wild Man" page.

Behavioral Despair sounds like some lame San Francisco new wave band Live 105 used to always include on its playlist in the '80s.
Amy, Amber and an overly pretentious yearbook photographer named Cedric (Jason Schwartzman) are enraptured by Chris and snap several photos of his antics for the yearbook. But Chad realizes that Amy, Amber and Cedric aren't laughing with Chris. Instead, they're laughing at him and are intending to make him and many others around school--like the crying drunk girls at a popular clique's party whom Amy tries to capture photos of at one point--the laughingstock of the campus in the pages of their yearbook. The yearbook staff is basically the TMZ of Holford High School, before there was an Internet or a TMZ: they're a petty, shallow-as-fuck crew of parasites with no journalistic integrity whatsoever. All that's missing from the yearbook staff is an oddly conservative contempt for rap music.

Chad won't stand for the yearbook staff's treatment of Chris, so to get even, he and Chris secretly devise a prank that's their most elaborate and entertaining one yet. Meanwhile, in a B-story that ties into the finale's themes of plotting behind the scenes to help out someone who's been wronged and trying to improve one's social status, Jay wishes for a new bike for a BMX race he wants to participate in, but Wayne refuses to spend so much cash on a new bike. Rose, who was the youngest in a family of 12 kids and was always stuck with hand-me-downs that were given to her from her older siblings, sympathizes with her youngest son's dissatisfaction with receiving hand-me-downs from Chad like his old bike, so she secretly dives into her own savings and gets him the new bike.

But Jay's new ride is the ugliest thing on two wheels before this ride existed, and when Jay winds up in last place at the end of his first race, the spectators ridicule him, especially for his lame bike. Infuriated by their jeers, Rose takes to her garage late at night, demonstrates previously unseen body shop skills and pimps Jay's ride all by herself. In a great little twist, the badass refit--newly christened "the Black Rose"--doesn't improve Jay's speed overnight. He still ends up dead last in his next BMX race, but thanks to Rose's efforts, the other racers and the spectators are so impressed with the Black Rose's design that they ignore his lousy performance and want to pal around with him after the race. If there's any character on Out There who's evolved a bit over the season, it's Chad and Jay's previously unassuming church organist mom. Rose started out as a cipher whose lines consisted largely of typical June Cleaver-esque dialogue like "Here are your lunches, boys." She's been given a pulse in these last few episodes and has turned into the kind of mom every viewer wished they had: Paul Teutul Sr. in a pink housecoat.

June Cleaver meets American Chopper.
The B-story expresses a tinge of sweetness that Out There has only occasionally shown because the show has primarily been about Chad and Chris' misery within the high school that Chris likens in "Ace's Wild" to a turd farm. If IFC doesn't renew Out There, I'm grateful for how all 10 episodes brought us a view of high school that I identify so much with and hasn't really been seen on a comedic series since the days of Freaks and Geeks and Daria: high school is unpleasant, largely boring and ultimately worthless, and as Chad observes in the final line of perhaps the entire series, which sums up so well both the episode and Out There as a whole, "Visibility is overrated. The people you give a shit about will always see you clearly."

Stray observations:
* Chad, on the artsy yearbook room: "I felt like I just walked into an exotic city, maybe Istanbul or Reno."

* Silverman's character crosses off half of the yearbook photo caption of a creepy classmate she dislikes and replaces it with a fake quote of him admitting to being a bedwetter, which is funny because the title of Silverman's 2010 autobiography is The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee.

* Chad: "Are you from England?" Cedric: "I wish. Morrissey would be the best dad."

***

"Initiate: Psycho Mode," the latest Apollo Gauntlet installment, pits the title warrior against both a robot with a past enemy's disembodied head attached to it and a guard who winds up getting kicked in the Gene Simmons Family Jewels by Apollo so many times that somewhere, former nutshot footage collector Kevin Pereira is creaming his pants. There's a bit more fisticuffs in this episode than in most other episodes this season, but the nuttiness of Apollo's deadpanly delivered dialogue, whether it's with his foes or his own right hand, hasn't gone away. Series creator/voice actor Myles Langlois throws in a random American Movie reference that's as enjoyably incongruous as Ben Browder referring to his nemesis and his ambiguously gay lackey as Burns and Smithers in the middle of intergalactic warfare on Farscape.

Apollo's one-liners continue to be far better than Spider-Man's one-liners on Ultimate Spider-Man ("Hey, uh, sweetie, you fell asleep in front of the TV again"). Ultimate Spider-Man, there's a new head writer you ought to look into. His name is Apollo...

***

Fox recently cancelled the Family Guy spinoff The Cleveland Show, so I thought I'd check up on Cleveland Brown (the not-so-black Mike Henry) and see what he, Donna (Sanaa Lathan) and the other Browns have been up to lately. With standard-issue sitcom plots like the A- and B-stories in "Squirt's Honor," which has Rallo (also Henry), Cleveland's precocious and thuggish five-year-old stepson, joining a Boy Scouts-like group known as the Freedom Squirts and Cleveland and Donna working as hotel maids to pay off a massive hotel room bill, it's no wonder I always change the channel after I hear The Cleveland Show's fantastic theme song.

Roberta is doing what everyone does when they watch The Cleveland Show, which is to keep it on in the background while texting.
During the few times I've watched it, I've ended up liking The Cleveland Show way more than the scattershot and lazily written Family Guy, but it's not as interesting or offbeat as American Dad has often been, and the always hilarious Kevin Michael Richardson, who voices Cleveland Jr., deserves better comedic material, despite a funny musical number at the end of "Squirt's Honor" (a poorly performed orchestral cover of Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This") and frequent in-jokes about the show's low ratings. "Stay tuned, Ame-wica," pleads a faux-weepy Rallo as he breaks the fourth wall right before a commercial break in "Squirt's Honor," "we need the watings." The cwocodile tears aren't enough to save your ass, Rallo.

***

Accidentally cutting a part of my hand is a fear I've always had while chopping ingredients for burgers I cook for myself, which is why, like Bruce Lee once said in Enter the Dragon, you never take your eyes off your ingredient. Bob, who gets distracted by his kids' trouble-making antics while chopping a tomato, takes his eyes off his ingredient and ends up slicing his "finger crotch" at the start of "The Kids Run the Restaurant," the latest delightful bit of Bob's Burgers chaos.

Bob's in no shape to be cooking with an injury like that--he always faints at the sight of his own blood--so while Linda takes Bob to the ER, Tina, Gene and Louise are forced to temporarily close down the restaurant and wait at the apartment above the restaurant for their parents to return. But the waiting and the loss of money that results from being closed--especially during Fleet Week, a potentially great week for business--are driving Louise bonkers, so she hatches a plan to reopen the restaurant, but as an underground casino for kids, and with board games instead of card games. Tina agrees to be the one-woman wait staff, while Gene provides the entertainment, an extremely nervous-looking girl group he plucked from the school cafeteria and has dubbed The Cutie Patooties. I love the continually petrified expressions on the faces of Gene's mostly tone-deaf singers, who never had time to rehearse.

And now we get some more confirmation that Bob's Burgers is set in Jersey instead of California: there are no basements in California.
It's funny how Kevin Kline reprises his Fischoeder character in this particular episode because he starred in Grand Canyon, where one of its most pivotal scenes had Kline's character badly cutting his finger like Bob does with his hand, but while making a salad. Fischoeder drops by the casino and proceeds to beat the house at everything, including rock-paper-scissors, which results in Louise owing Fischoeder $5,000 and Bob having to intervene (after a rather disastrous experience at the ER) and save the day in gory fashion.

Gory humor is something I'd expect to see on Archer, H. Jon Benjamin's other animated show, rather than Bob's Burgers, but it works like gangbusters here in "The Kids Run the Restaurant," especially when Bob can't stop a geyser of his blood from hitting Linda in the face while she drives herself and Bob back home. "The Kids Run the Restaurant" is also somewhat bolstered by the return appearance of transvestite hooker Marshmallow (David Herman), a character who's only appeared once before on the show but has become a fan favorite, although the episode doesn't really give Marshmallow much to do around the casino, aside from providing Benjamin with an amusingly matter-of-fact aside of "Oh, hey, Marshmallow."

Stray observations:
* Tina: "I only floss on my birthday, so I can look back on the year and remember what I ate."

* Of course the Belchers would have a burger phone in their apartment. I never noticed the burger phone until now.

* No activity has transpired at the Bob's Burgers Burgers! Tumblr that was launched a few weeks ago by Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell's Janine Brito ("We cook, eat and review each and every Burger of the Day from our favorite animated sitcom"). The site has been beaten to the punch by Uproxx, which took a stab at preparing several of Bob's puntastic burgers, including the Sound and the Curry Burger. My beef--no pun intended--with Uproxx's experiment is that they lazily dumped the outré ingredients on top of the patties instead of cooking them into the patties. Despite that drawback, I wonder what Uproxx would come up with for the Top Butt Burger.

How nice of Louise to not go for the hacky 'Ass Burgers' joke. Sure, Community did that joke too, but it's Community. It can get away with fucking everything.
(Photo source: Bob's Burger of the Day)
* Linda, on Bob's really boyish-looking ER doctor (Johnny Pemberton): "Look at that face! So young! I want to breastfeed that face!" Give it up for Lysa Arryn, everybody.

* Linda: "Da! Bobby, your finger crotch looks like a '70s porno."

* Gene: "Double or nothing--that's also my approach to underpants."

* After Bob's ordeal with his finger crotch injury in this episode, I think I should start wearing thick gloves while chopping lettuce.

***

The minute-long Rug Burn Channel series Dogsnack, the surreal creation of animators Lynn Wang and Ed Skudder, centers on a dog that snacks on its owner's farts. Not since Marley & Me have I been so moved by material about a pet animal.

I'm kidding. I've never seen Marley & Me. I'd rather get a root canal from the psycho lady from Audition than watch a tearjerker.

"Space Snack," Dogsnack's most inventive episode yet, comes up with the concept of air biscuits that are so powerful they cause the other creature in the room to teleport. Animated shows that consist of nothing but shit jokes aren't usually my cup of tea, but the continually clever Dogsnack is a stone gas, honey.

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