Let us now praise the execs of Cartoon Network, who have decided to expand their post-pigtails audience by producing cartoons for older folks in a big way. Their new "Adult Swim" block of programming features no fewer than seven shows geared to grownups.
One of the funniest entries is Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. The show reinvents the stolid Hanna-Barbera superhero as an attorney taking the cases of noted cartoon characters who need legal representation. In the pilot, Race Bannon decides he's tired of schlepping Jonny Quest and Hadji all over the globe while Dr. Quest parks himself in the lab at home. Bannon -- who, as it turns out, may be more than just chums with Dr. Quest -- sues the scientist for custody of the boys.
Many of the funniest moments are just quick one-offs, such as when Dr. Quest enters Birdman's office and the attorney's sidekick, a giant purple eagle named Avenger, squawks angrily in Quest's face and he screams -- it's great to see these stuffy characters freak out. Later, Bannon complains testily to the doctor that he left him "a Post-It Note on the refrigerator" but that "you never read my Post-Its" -- it's a perfect lovers'-spat moment.
Show co-creator/co-writer/co-producer Michael Ouweleen explains that the "first four shows or so play with the concept of what you thought about the characters." In an upcoming episode, Birdman will defend Scooby-Doo and Shaggy when they're busted for dope possession. "Yes, they get busted," Ouweleen jokes, "but that doesn't necessarily mean they're guilty of anything. It could just be a misunderstanding."
In subsequent shows, Yogi Bear's sidekick, Boo Boo, is accused of environmental terrorism and Fred Flintstone is brought in for violations of the RICO Act (the episode also features Thundarr the Barbarian as a hitman.)
Other shows premiering on "Adult Swim" include Home Movies, which uses an animation style and realistic voicings reminiscent of Comedy Central's Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. The well-written comedy concerns a fourth-grader who emotes with his friends in their homemade films.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force, as the title would imply, is truly bizarre. The show features a crime-fighting team comprising a lazy milkshake, a floating box of french fries named Frylock and a ball of hamburger called Meatwad that molds itself into different functional shapes, such as a "meat-bridge." The show falls into the category of so-stupid-it's-funny.
The venerable and always-funny Space Ghost Coast to Coast, which is being subsumed into the block of programming, gives birth to a spinoff, Leave It to Brak, featuring characters from the popular cartoon talk show. Sealab 2021, which offers Erik Estrada voicing the part of an ultramacho imbecile, concerns a group of adventurers living in an undersea facility. Both Brak and Sealab could use a kick in the writing department.
"Adult Swim" closes with the U.S. premiere of Cowboy Bebop, an hourlong Japanese-animation show about a pair of outer-space bounty hunters.
At least several of these shows are destined to become cult attractions, if not surprise hits. Check out the whole block, and pick your faves.