Wednesday, May 1, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (05/01/2013): Apollo Gauntlet, The Cleveland Show, Bob's Burgers, American Dad and 5 Second Day

Louise and Tina do their best impression of Jesse from Breaking Bad enjoying meth.
"Doo-hude... Tina... I can totally hear my heart beating. It's like a Pharrell beat with guest verses being dropped by T.I."
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.

In "Rodent," the latest Apollo Gauntlet installment, Prince Belenus and Dr. Benign (both voiced by series creator Myles Langlois) blame an evil robot's abduction of the Princess (Hollie Dzama) on Apollo (also Langlois) and his pummeling of her royal guards, who would have protected her from the robot had Apollo not knocked them all out. Apollo replies that leaving the guards alone wouldn't have mattered anyway because "that robot would have come in here like Terminator in the police station."

That's not the only Terminator reference in "Rodent." Unless Langlois created a blooper without realizing it, the barefoot Benign is seen at the start of the episode running through a corridor making the kind of footstep noises that would emanate from someone wearing hard-soled shoes, not someone who's barefoot--an exact re-creation of the off-putting footstep sound FX the Terminator 2 foley artists created for a barefoot Sarah Connor after she broke out of her cell. I don't know if Langlois intended it to be a reference to one of the silliest foley artist bloopers ever seen in an expensive and beloved summer blockbuster, but I'd like to think he did.

I want to start a movie database that's full of nothing but erroneous movie trivia, just so that other websites will take a look at some of the fake trivia I made up, they'll think they're real and include them in their news articles about movies and I'll be my laughing my ass off when I read their articles.
Earlier in Apollo Gauntlet's second season on the Rug Burn Channel, I said, "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." Since then, the characters have stepped outside the throne room, but we've reached the season's seventh episode by now, and the show is still confined to the Dundrum castle (Apollo, Benign and Belenus will have to eventually leave the castle to rescue the Princess). The fact that the show has remained this long in one single setting proves how low its budget is, but budget limitations don't matter much when Apollo's dialogue, the awkward pauses and the intentionally wretched rotoscoping are so frequently funny.

Stray observations:
* "'Apollo Gauntlet'? Uh, yeah, sure, let's call him that," says a continually puzzled Benign to the Princess. In "The Interrogation of Dr. Benign by the Hero Apollo Gauntlet," Benign addressed Apollo as Paul. Apollo's full actual name is Paul Cassidy, according to YouTube's series synopsis.

* Where did Paul and Benign teleport from? I'm putting my money on an insane asylum where Paul was an inmate--which explains the conversations with his right gauntlet and all the slightly creepy hallucinations he's been experiencing--and Benign was either a scientist who was fiddling around with some sort of teleportation gizmo that happened to be lying around a lab in the mental facility or a therapist who was accidentally zapped along with Paul into the distant planet by the device while in the middle of a therapy session with him. (There's also the possibility that these adventures on this other planet are one whole illusion in Paul's mind.) The show also has yet to explain where Paul's magic gauntlets come from.

* "Oh no, Billy, Witchiepoo captured Pufnstuf!" H.R. Pufnstuf was way before my time, so I never watched it, but my comedy nerd-dom has exposed me to lots of jokes or sketches about the cheesiness of Pufnstuf that were written by comedians who grew up watching it. Weed references during late '60s/early '70s Krofft shows were really subtle back then. I bet H.R.'s next-door neighbor was named Phil E. Blunt.


Bryan Cranston, who plays Dr. Fist, doesn't voice the bear on this show, but he should. He can play fucking anybody, except black or Asian guys because that Cloud Atlas horseshit's just wrong.
On The Cleveland Show, Cleveland and his drinking buddies find a living out of being seat fillers at strangers' funerals. Donna objects to Cleveland's new side job because of how creepy it is for him to pretend to have known these strangers who died, so Cleveland wises up and quits. But his temporary stint as a funeral seat filler in "Grave Danger" has resulted in some gorgeous-looking vistas of Cleveland and his friends chillaxing at the cemetary, and the craft and care that's been put into the shots of the cemetary remind me that while this recently cancelled cartoon may not be the funniest on Fox's "Animation Domination" lineup, it can really look like a million bucks from time to time. I'm not so fond of the use of Blue Oyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" during the funeral montage though. Like all those covers of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," the depressed white person's "Macarena," that shit was charming the first 998 times I heard it on series TV.

Meanwhile, Rallo spends a weekend at his biological dad Robert's apartment in East Stoolbend, and he encounters a pack of street kids who are tougher than even Rallo himself. He's so intimidated by them that he agrees to "jack show-and-tell" at his kindergarten class for them, especially after they blackmail him with photos of him appearing to bully a fat kid at the basketball court (of course, Rallo was actually telling the kid to fall on his ass so that he'd appear to be tougher in front of the street kids). Rallo's story is nothing special, aside from a funny running joke involving eBay (see below). But the denouement--in which Rallo scolds the other kindergarteners for their cruel and classist words towards the East Stoolbend kids who tried to steal their show-and-tell items, and then after the East Stoolbenders leave the classroom, he calls the police on their asses--is a terrific subversion of the badly aging "More You Know" endings that were a fixture of so many of the black sitcoms that influenced The Cleveland Show.

Stray observations:
* There's a good score music gag when Rallo cowers from hearing helicopter blades whirring, gunshots, a violin playing slashing chords, wolf howls, spooky moans and the cackling of a witch. To keep from getting scared, he switches on the TV and hears an anchorman (Kevin Michael Richardson) report that "according to police, the crazy wolf-ghost-witch violinist is believed to be armed and flying a helicopter, hunting for little boys who look like you."

* "Thanks again, Padre, for forgiving me for pushing the fat kid and for keeping your hands to yourself."

* "That's a nice suit, Rallo." "Thanks. I got it on eBay. Peter Dinklage wore it to the Golden Globes."

* Donna to Cleveland: "Is that a new suit?" "Mm-hmm. Got it on eBay. Tilda Swinton wore it to the Golden Globes."

* T-Pain voices one of the kindergarteners on the show? That's bananas. Then again, I shouldn't be surprised because of this cartoon's history of strange and random casting choices--like enlisting David Lynch to voice a bartender.


Easy, Louise-y, it's just a Bon Iver concert. No need to lose your shit.
An array of great reaction shots from Louise elevates Bob's Burgers' "Boyz 4 Now" episode from amusing and kind of predictable boy band parody to standout Louise episode. Sociopathic, previously-indifferent-to-boys Louise experiences her first crush while accompanying Tina to a concert by Boyz 4 Now, Tina's favorite boy band, but Louise is initially in denial about her irrational crush and expresses it in ways that are classic Louise. Her wish to administer a slap to the face of Boo Boo (New Girl's Max Greenfield), the littlest Boyz 4 Now member, instead of kissing him is so punk rock.

"Ew, gross, it's so gorgeous. I wish I would slap it. I want to slap it. I just want to slap his hideous, beautiful face!," exclaims Kristen Schaal as she channels a bit of her own breakout role, Flight of the Conchords' Mel, the stalker who was obsessed with both Bret and Jemaine. Another bit of fangirl behavior that's even more reminiscent of Mel is the sight gag of Tina sniffing the singers' underwear while hiding with Louise inside the tour bus' laundry hamper. The fact that "Boyz 4 Now" is scripted by a pair of sisters, Lizzie and Wendy Molyneux, must be why the scenes where Tina helps Louise process her first crush ring so true. (Another nice touch in "Boyz 4 Now" is the casting of comedian Tig Notaro in a bit part as the band's tour bus driver, which is fitting because one of Notaro's signature bits is about her admiration of the singing voice of one of her favorite pop stars, Taylor Dayne, and her real-life and frequent run-ins with Dayne, "the easiest person in the world to run into.")

The B-story has Bob expressing indifference about Gene's table-setting tablescaping competition that, like Louise's initial indifference about boy band singers, transforms into something else. In Bob's case, he gets swept up in Gene's competition and turns into an excitable stage dad. The B-story is a little less memorable than Louise's attempt to slap a preteen celebrity, but it contains a couple of funny lines each from Gene and Linda and adds a few more outstanding bits of dialogue to an episode that's endlessly quotable.

Other memorable quotes:
* Gene, regarding Linda's purse and the items that frequently go missing in there: "You put my baby brother in there, and that was the last we saw of him! Javier Belcher, I love you!"

* Gene, replying to Bob's suggestion that he should set the tables at the restaurant or at home: "No, Dad. I don't set where I eat."

* "This is the best thing Aunt Gayle's done since she pooped her pants at the cell phone store last year!"

* "Ugh, no wonder no one likes women."

* "Be careful. There's a lot of puberty in there."

* Linda, trying to help Gene come up with a new tablescaping theme: "Lipstick, pepper spray, tiny bag of carrots." Bob: "Uh, what's the theme?" Linda: "Uh, 'Woman of the Night.' She gets dressed up, she kills a john, she has a snack."

* "Tina, did you learn nothing from the Boyz 4 Now song 'Girl, You Don't Need a Backstage Pass'?"

* "Is 'booster seat' code for drugs?"

* Gene to the tablescaping judge (Brooke Dillman): "As you'll see, beside the plate is a sanitary napkin. May I place it on your lap in case there's a big spill?"

* Linda: "Ooh, I got an idea for next year. Baby Jessica stuck in a well." Gene: "Yes! You have to look for your dinner for two days as the nation watches."

* "I'm no hero. I put my bra on one boob at a time like everyone else."

* "Which friends are you mad at, girl?/What size are your shoes?/You just went to the bathroom, number one or number two?/I want to know everything, everything about you."


Like all other shows lately, I've been watching American Dad on my MacBook Pro with headphones on, and the headphones have allowed me to notice that Patrick Stewart's lines this week were pieced together from recording sessions in various different studios (or hotel rooms). During most of his dialogue in "The Full Cognitive Redaction of Avery Bullock by the Coward Stan Smith," Stewart sounds reverb-y--which is especially off-putting whenever Avery is speaking outdoors--and there are other times where the reverb caused by whatever booth or room Stewart stood in has disappeared, so those lines are obviously retakes that Stewart performed in a different studio. But the varying audio quality of Stewart's lines doesn't detract too much from the fact that "Full Cognitive Redaction" is an Avery-centric American Dad episode, and Avery-centric episodes never fail to be entertaining.

'Idiot control now!'
In "Full Cognitive Redaction," Stan is faced with the dilemma of betraying his boss and mentor and turning him in to Agent Crisp (Phil LaMarr), a CIA Internal Affairs investigator who doesn't think Avery should be running the agency anymore--he believes Avery's been showing signs of dementia--so Crisp wants to take him into custody and erase his memory. Just when he's about to turn in the man who selected him to take his place as Deputy Director someday, Stan can't bear to see Avery reduced to a drooling vegetable. He changes his mind about cooperating with Internal Affairs and agrees to help Avery stop Crisp, whom Avery claims has been trying to ruin his reputation ever since he stumbled upon a conspiracy masterminded by Crisp and the oil industry to suppress fuel conversion technology that could benefit the environment.

Avery and Stan's quest for evidence to expose Crisp and his conspiracy has the duo sniffing around the SPCA (Seth MacFarlane's dog barks, while Stan is in disguise as a dog, sound exactly like the barks he does when he voices Brian on Family Guy) and at one point, Kevin Costner's house, where Dan Costner, Kevin's scientist brother and the genius behind the fuel converter, is said to be hiding. But the quest becomes increasingly fruitless and Avery's behavior gets more erratic, as we see in the episode's most sublime bit of animation, in which Avery dances to a boombox blaring Midnight Oil's "Beds Are Burning," exactly like how Midnight Oil frontman-turned-politician Peter Garrett dances in the "Beds Are Burning" video.

Stan may be an often heartless right-winger, but he also has a sensitive side, which is brought out by the kindness Avery has extended to him as his mentor. Like how Boston Legal's Denny Crane, another batshit crazy boss character played by a former starship captain, requested from his best friend and protégé Alan Shore that he euthanize him when his Alzheimer's worsens, Avery confided to Stan that when it's time for him to be put out of his misery, he wants one last cigar and a bullet in the back of the head. So Stan chooses to honor his request, but not before treating him to the most awesome day of his life and giving him a bath, a pedicure, piggy back rides and at one point, the chance to sit in the nude for a portrait he paints of him.

There's no way American Dad would kill off Avery, so the show blocks Stan's bullet to the head with a brain-scrambling chip--implanted into Avery as a prank by Dick Reynolds (David Koechner), a CIA employee who's had enough of being subjected to Avery's office pranks--and explains away Avery's erratic behavior as the effects of the chip. But that increasingly homoerotic final day montage would have been a lovely send-off for Stewart's standout character. Steve isn't as lucky as Avery in the B-story, which finds him regretting turning to Roger for help when a new school bully named Luis (John Leguizamo) threatens to pummel him. This B-story would have been forgettable if it weren't for the presence of the catchy theme song for Stelio Kontos, the mute bully who used to torment Stan in high school and is summoned by Roger to whup Steve's ass in order to cause Luis to lose interest in beating up Steve (because all bullies hate getting sloppy seconds). I'm a latecomer to American Dad, so this is my first exposure to the Stelio song, which previously appeared on the show. It may be the greatest thing Joel McNeely ever wrote.

Maybe Roger should also send Stelio to scare the American Dad episode synopsis writer at Fox into getting the show's details right. I can think of a few things that are wrong with the synopsis for "Full Cognitive Redaction," which was originally titled "Dementor."

It would have been Sir Ben Kingsley's greatest dramatic turn since his role in Schindler's List.


This week's Titmouse 5 Second Day installment combines two shorts, both made by comic book illustrator and Black Dynamite animated series background designer Diego Molano and both centering on a powerful grizzly who makes Bart the Bear from The Edge look like Don Knotts. In 2011's "Eat Fuck Kill," the nameless bear goes skydiving and winds up with a naked lady impaled on his dick, but the more amusing short is 2012's "Pluto Is a Dick," which comes up with a great explanation for the decline of Pluto as a planet that would entertain Neil deGrasse Tyson, the enemy of Pluto and third-graders everywhere.

Get over it, third-graders! As this bear proves, Pluto's a poopyhead.

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