Wednesday, May 15, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (05/15/2013): Apollo Gauntlet, Bob's Burgers, American Dad, Adventure Time and Executioner

Tina's new fanfic combines her love for butt-touching with her newfound love for espresso. It's called Star-Butts.
Pow! She just shit her pants!
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. "5-Piece" has been posted for 54 consecutive weeks--a.k.a. one year and two weeks--since May 11, 2012. I need a goddamn break. "5-Piece" returns on June 5 with a discussion of the first new episode of The Venture Bros. in 47 years.

Goofy-looking rotoscoping of Michael Jackson footage and a polite, purple-skinned baby who speaks in full sentences with a Julia Child-like falsetto are the highlights of "Just Me and You Now, Bud," another enjoyably surreal installment of Apollo Gauntlet. When animator Myles Langlois first streamed Apollo Gauntlet on his own, a few years before the Rug Burn Channel picked up the show to stream it exclusively, someone wrote, "If they were ever to make this into a live-action film, I'm going to suggest Will Forte take the lead." Apollo has the bullheadedness--and pornstache--of a typical Forte character, combined with a "What Up with That?"-style habit of interrupting people, especially his enemies, with rapping and dancing.

For Apollo's big "If I put my golden boot in your ass" dance number, "Just Me and You Now, Bud" recycles Apollo's dance moves from "Belenus Blade"--just as how Filmation used to always recycle footage to cut costs--but this time, the episode cops a few classic Michael Jackson moves, including the late Jackson's still-dope-ass anti-gravity lean from the "Smooth Criminal" segment of Moonwalker. That's not all that "Just Me and You Now, Bud" cops. The character design for the purple baby who agrees to help the Princess free herself from her cell appears to be lifted from the Dancing Baby. The voice Langlois chose for what's clearly a man in a baby's body is unsurprisingly strange--and amusing. The man-baby sounds more like the French Chef than Baby Herman. I keep expecting him to start giving the Princess tips about how to prepare a soufflé.

***

"The Unnatural," the Bob's Burgers third-season finale, caps off one of the most consistently funny seasons of any show--animated or live-action--in typically strong and endlessly quotable fashion. Gene dabbles in a sport he has no understanding of, while Tina gets addicted to espresso and can't bear to give it up. These two storylines are kind of standard-issue for a sitcom, but when Bob's Burgers gets its inventive, "Electric Boogie"-covering hands on them, these storylines soar.

Tina's storyline hits the same comedic beats as other "kid gets hooked on a drink she's too young for" storylines (I'm having flashbacks to Maggie Simpson going buckwild after tasting coffee ice cream). But then Bob's Burgers diverges from the other shows by intertwining her storyline quite smoothly with Gene's A-story (Tina has to go through caffeine withdrawal after Linda pawns the restaurant's new espresso machine to pay for Gene's overpriced baseball camp) and then tossing in a funny Trainspotting shout-out when Tina copes with withdrawal. (According to the comments section below the Movieclips excerpt of Renton's withdrawal hallucinations from Trainspotting, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic referenced the same Trainspotting nightmare scene as well. Sure, that's cool, and yeah, that Trainspotting gag is proof that Friendship Is Magic ain't your mommy's My Little Pony, but that's still not going to make me want to watch more of that cartoon. Sorry, Bronies, I'm still not feeling it.)

I'm glad to hear Rob Huebel return as a guest voice actor, even though it's as the "Dr. Yap" scam artist formerly known as "the Prince of Persuasia," the seduction guru Yap sought advice from, instead of his other Bob's Burgers role, as the Family Fracas producer who kept trying to make out with his show's male host a few weeks ago. Now known as the "Deuce of Diamonds," Huebel's con man character has been scamming wanna-be Little Leaguers and their parents out of their cash by running a half-assed baseball camp full of no actual baseballs and lots of amusingly ill-informed advice about the game ("A famous baseball player whose name I can't remember right now had Lou Gehrig's Disease and he didn't let it slow him down"). When Mr. Manoogian (Jason Mantzoukas, reprising his thick foreign accent from his role on Enlightened), the manager of the motel where the Deuce currently lives, threatens to throw him out on the street for not paying him back $1100, the Deuce tricks the kids into thinking he's taking them on a road trip and makes them act as his hired muscle at the motel ("We're just gonna take some swings... at your soda machine").

'And trim those nose hairs, Bobby! It looks like a '70s porno in there!'
I enjoy seeing Bob's pragmatic approach to parenting (he doesn't think Gene is cut out for baseball and would rather have him quit, and he can see through the Deuce's scam) bump up against Linda's optimism (she believes Gene has lots of potential in the sport, and she keeps thinking the Deuce is a legit coach), especially when it leads to a hilarious scene where Bob and Linda argue like an umpire and a manager over Gene's hit in the climactic game, a great example of the overlapping dialogue that distinguishes Bob's Burgers from the rest of the Fox "Animation Domination" lineup. "Ah, you're such a dick, Bob," grumbles Linda to her husband, whose unwillingness to root for Gene and the fact that the kid's baseball skills don't really improve overnight both make "The Unnatural" a cut above the overdone "bumbling kid athlete succeeds at the right moment in the game" story.

Other memorable quotes:
* "I love baseball: the pizza parties, the spiky shoes, the parade at the end of the season where we ride on a float." And later: "I'm gonna have a killer fastball and a magnificent perm!" Yup, Gene bats for the other team. He just doesn't know it yet.

* Teddy, refusing Bob's offer of a cup of espresso: "I don't like those tiny cups! They make it look like I have giant hands!"

* Louise, overhearing Bob's opinion that Gene's thought-to-be-permanent abandonment of baseball has a quiet dignity: "Quiet dignity? Have you met us?!"

* An overcaffeinated Tina rattles off Burger of the Day ideas: "Woulda Coulda Gouda. You Gouda Be Kidding Me. As Gouda as It Gets. Gouda Gouda Gumdrops. A Few Gouda Men. Gouda Gouda Two Shoes, comes with shoes. Gouda Day, Sir..."

Two Marlo Thomas references side-by-side: the Free to Brie You and Me Burger and Linda's That Girl hair.
(Photo source: Bob's Burger of the Day)
* The Deuce to the kids: "Okay, any questions so far? About anything at all? Girls, boys, life, money, inkjet printer repair?"

* Andy, recognizing the Deuce's motel: "Hey, this is where our dad goes for his naps."

* The Deuce, encouraging the kids to damage Mr. Manoogian's soda machine: "Babe Ruth used to beat the crap out of a root beer machine. Now look at him."

* "Soda, you made me fat, but you also made me strong!"

* Ollie, defending the Deuce: "He's gifted; he said so." Andy: "He's gonna do a TED Talk."

* Gene, regarding the Deuce: "He gave us his magic and then he disappeared. Just like Toad the Wet Sprocket."

***

Stan and Klaus re-create an ancient Flintstones cigarette ad.
"Da Flippity Flop," American Dad's eighth-season finale, encompasses everything I like about American Dad (offbeat gags like the hilarious cutaway from Steve's accidental phone conversation with a mute Dame Judi Dench to a live-action clip of a puzzled-looking Dench on her phone from Notes on a Scandal) and everything I hate about Fuzzy Door cartoons, whether it's American Dad or Family Guy (the lazily written "oh, those Asians and the funny way they talk" jokes). Sure, it's perfectly in character for a dickish con artist like Roger to slip into an offensive persona like a pidgin English-speaking Chinese restaurant owner, but it's fucking 2013. Network TV is still laughing at the way Chinese folks who weren't raised in America pronounce "bicycle"?

The A-story about Klaus' plot to steal Stan's body (and trap Stan in the goldfish body he's been forced to inhabit since the '80s) isn't as marred by wack racial shtick. The best part of the A-story is writer Matt Weitzman's decision to have Hayley and Francine immediately notice Klaus has taken over Stan's body when Klaus and Stan return home from the CIA lab. It's a great way for "Da Flippity Flop" to skip all the "everyone's so dumb and unaware about the body switch" hijinks that are typical of the body-switching genre. Stan inhabits two different bodies other than his own during "Da Flippity Flop," but that's nothing compared to the gold standard of the body-switching genre: Farscape's 2000 "Out of Their Minds" episode, where everyone in the cast--whether human or Jim Henson's Creature Shop alien puppet--swaps each other's bodies several times. Stream that awesome Farscape ep if you ever get the chance.

Memorable quotes:
* "You've got it made in that bowl. All you gotta do is float around all day, eat and poo wherever you want. Your whole life is like the last 20 years of Orson Welles' life."

* "I don't want to hear it anymore, Francine. The only thing I want to hear right now is the sweet sound of this Nickelback CD... cracking as I drive over it repeatedly."

'We're white, we're white, we're really, really white.'
(Photo source: Jamie Iglehart)
* "Sheesh, if it were only that easy to shut him up after seeing The Help. I get it, Stan, you want a black maid."

* Klaus, regarding his previous human body: "Now it's all gross and decomposed. It looks like Cameron Diaz without her Cameron Diaz mask."

***

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.
(Photo source: here you leave today)
If the late Russ Meyer directed a Cartoon Network Adventure Time short, it would look a little like "Shh!," whose special guest talent is not someone like Meyer but veteran Nelvana animator Graham Falk, who storyboarded and co-wrote the episode. The primary gimmick of "Shh!" is Finn and Jake's muteness for almost the entire episode, because they're playing a day-long game in which they've chosen to communicate only through pen and paper, which results in amusing sight gags like Finn realizing he didn't write enough signs to reply to Jake and the fact that his signs are all compliments to Jake. But that's not what's so Meyer-esque about "Shh!"

Rocky and Bullwinkle should have opened each half-hour show like this.
The Meyer-esque element of "Shh!" is the bevy of blue- or turquoise-skinned bikini babes BMO invited to the Tree Fort for a dance party, which BMO accidentally delays when he mistakes Finn and Jake's game as an attack by evil apparitions whom he thinks have stolen their bodies, so he hides in the Tree Fort's walls. There are tons of charming visual touches during this short that's driven by visuals and contains minimal dialogue, from the shout-outs to old-timey cartoon mice designs when Jake slips behind the Tree Fort's walls to search for BMO (Jake runs into a single mom mouse and her kids and a tormented writer who writes nothing but--what else?--signs), to, of course, the bikini babes themselves. The best part of these hot characters is the way that Falk and the other writers give the babes some personality (and diversity) despite their minimal dialogue (peep the babe who rattles a pair of maracas--the musical kind, not her own), particularly when they beat up Finn and Jake in the climax.

The ratings for this round of ladies' beach volleyball on NBC are a gazillion times better than the ratings for anything else on NBC.
BMO's favorite song is "No Wonder I" by LAKE, an Olympia, Washington band that features Ashley Eriksson, who sang the Adventure Time end title theme that surfaces only during the iTunes and VOD versions of the show. LAKE happened to release "No Wonder I" online right when "Shh!" first aired. The drum and bass remix that's crafted out of "No Wonder I" for the climactic melee (and layered with Adventure Time's customary 8-bit bloops and chimes) is a great musical touch by the show's scoring department.


"Shh!," which is dedicated to series storyboarder Armen Mirzaian, who died in a car accident in February, is nothing more than eye candy, but it's cleverly written eye candy.

Yeah, BMO is definitely in need of a fucking vacation from that crazy-ass tree fort for a long while.

She must be a Paul Weller fan.
Peep her impression of the hammer fight scene in Oldboy.
(Photo source: Graham Falk)
If...
(Photo source: Falk)
... only...
(Photo source: Falk)
... all...
(Photo source: Falk)
... late-night TV show...
(Photo source: Falk)
... cue card...
(Photo source: Falk)
... holders always...
(Photo source: Falk)
... looked like...
(Photo source: Falk)
... this.
(Photo source: Falk)

***

Executioner, the new Rug Burn Channel show starring Brian Posehn as the voice of a medieval headsman who's trying to adjust to modern-day life after an evil spell trapped him in the present, looked really shaky for the first couple of episodes. Look, I like gory decapitation gags like everyone else. Decapitation gags are why America loved watching Touched by an Angel for nine seasons. But they're not so amusing when there's no wit to their, um, execution or there's no genuinely funny situations or characters to surround them with like on Metalocalypse. However, that seems to be changing in "Ye Olde Dead Computer."

I haven't had a lousy experience at an Apple Store ever since I started using a MacBook in addition to a PC (in fact, I love how their employees ring up your purchases with just their iPhones), but I can see why those stores--or rather, most of the people inside those stores--would come off as annoying to Beavis and Butt-head writers and Executioner creators Greg Grabianski and Andy Rheingold, who seem to be PC people (maybe I'm wrong about the computers Grabianski and Rheingold prefer). "Ye Olde Dead Computer," which has the Executioner causing a bloody scene at an Apple Store while trying to get his office laptop repaired, is the first Executioner episode to show some promise with this ultraviolent fish-out-of-water concept. Or maybe it's because I just enjoy the sight of a hipster in a scarf over a V-neck T-shirt getting his head lopped off.

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