The advent of a plethora of continuing animated shows distinctifies the approach of the genre but, beyond the procedurals, there lies a grand amount of live action situations (cartoons if you like) that can get the boundaries bumping on good ol’ Earth. Granted many of these shows that can balance humor and drama are harder to come by but USA tends to keep on top of it as highlighted by their sophomore show “Fairly Legal” while a cartoon like “Bob’s Burgers” exemplifies using the medium to reflect real human intentions albeit with longer foreheads.
Ugly Americans As much as the lead character Mark wants to help people, he ultimately gets sidetracked by the element of pursuit that trumps all others: sex. In expanding their comfort zone outwards, the creators decide to switch Callie for an episode to a guy (ultimately so she can infiltrate the underwater kingdom of Atlantis) which creates an element of unease as Mark’s girlfriend (being a demon) doesn’t understand such things. Ultimately the idea becomes that pollution begets pollution. The aspect of upper and mis-management becomes a more particular case when, through the aspect of a bad stand up routine, Mark becomes the head of the company only to find out a grand amount of misspent money to celebrate employees birthdays. While not as mythological, “Americans” does find its footing but it is becoming harder for it to stay there.
South Park The application of social niceties never quite circled into Cartman’s realm but with the continuing thought here the balance between notions of genre and ripped from the headlines precedence seems to unbalance at the weirdest of times. While the bullying aspect might in fact be explored in deeper structure at a different time, the idea of Cartman as both a would-be emissary as well as the town’s worst nightmare seems to be prevailing whether he is racially profiling a relationship while also posing as gay or spearheading the most simple squandering based episodes about the new trendy kind of streaking to do. Despite this, the extremeness of the novelty is wearing off, even with an intrinsic spot on element about the TSA where inspectors are placed in bathrooms after an over-reactive mother dies on the toilet when her son doesn’t put the toilet seat down.
Thundercats Building the mythology involves the cats moving through worlds and not just staying on the ground. The evolution and pursuit of this is the key in making the series more epic. The use of the different animal classes whether it be dog, cat, bird, rat or beyond start to form an element of the hierarchy which gives the storyline much more gravitas beyond the literal threat of Mum-Ra. What is starting to happen is an evolution into a notion of “Spartacus” with Lion-O acting as that stalwart which has come into more specific focus when a new female cat who is a fighter in the arena becomes part of their clan. The infiltration of this storyline is subtle in the way it necessitates itself. However even the use of Lion-O going through different trials into order to win his life back after he mistakenly dies hints at a notion of theology which crystallizes even more when they have to take to the skies which is where their destiny lies, mystical rock or no.
Fairly Legal The tantalizing effort of mediator Katie seems to grow on a person. She can be a tad annoying but ultimately completely into control of her facilities. Last season seemingly portrayed an idealism of her being the pursuer instead of the pursuee in terms of her imploding marriage because she was so off her rock and focused on herself. There is no doubt that Katie is a selfish person at heart but her flaws (like the characters on many other USA Network shows) points to a fact of redemption. The idea that her resolution would come from a man who just has about enough regret as a spider shows the fire that the writers are playing with. It works in texture enough until it needs to be acted upon. Adding in a political race with Katie’s former husband as running for the contested DA seat creates some extra tension. What wins this viewer is simply Katie’s ability to be herself even in what should be a weighty legal world. His scenario to prove a legal point to her legal partner (and would-be suitor) using sexual teasing to prove a point is both intoxicating and heavily annoying which is what makes it work.
Bob’s Burgers The continuation of such a low-key show defies expectation but this little engine that could has done what “Allen Gregory” and “Unsupervised” cannot: a searing animated show that can still be funny without losing its irony or resorting to overdone sight gags. Whereas in “Archer”, H. Jon Benjamin is the star of the show, here he is the voice of reason; it is the kids with their intensive lack of sense and morality (or, in one case, too much of both) that propels the ideas. Whether it be looking for treasure in a soon-to-be-demolished taffee factory (which makes good reference to “The Goonies” with Cyndi Lauper even singing a modified theme song for the end credits) to Bob becoming a would-be hostage negotiator with his burgers, the irony is all too available. His kids are attention grabbers who will use whatever means they can to hog the high life from Bob who, beyond his simpleton view, means well.
Finding different intonations to set genres against requires different elements of design and character infrastructure which becomes harder and harder with the extensive formulaic elements progressing through the TV landscape. Whether it be the medical drama or the lost adventure, the key becomes seeing it through a different lens or narrative construct which will allow the audience to see themselves in a brand new light.
Green Lantern: The Animated Series With “Clone Wars” setting the bar high in terms of visual excellence on Cartoon Network, it is undeniably a highlight to see this incarnation doing so well. Succeeding in ways that the feature film failed on because of its need for mass market appeal despite some lofty possibilities in the attempt reflects the purity. Beyond the journey set up, which is what lifts the series,(using an almost “Star Trek: Voyager” construct), is that it forces the creators to think outside the box and create a new world with rules aside from what the Guardian lore creates. Mixing Hal Jordan with a monster Lantern who lives by a rule of discipline and adding a Red Lantern always on the verge of betrayal keeps an interesting dynamic moving, not to mention a neat AI perception of a ship that happens to look like RL’s slain wife. For a Saturday morning show, it is a bit dark but also deep on mythology. The most stunning aspect by far is how complete the look is with some of bigger set pieces (like a starship falling into a black hole) culpable to anything on “Clone Wars”.
The River Bringing a found footage angle to network television is a tricky thing because much depends on the scare factor which is hard to function on a network (this one is on ABC). While, in certain scenarios where it is about what you don’t see (like LOST) it works to its advantage. This set-up works partially on this element but the pay off is not apparent. For what it is so far, its premise is engaging. What provides it with a solid ground is the flashback personage of Bruce Greenwood as a TV famous biologist who goes into the jungle to search for a lost “angel”. His found camera footage in the wilderness including the warding off of the “demon” and his refusal to kill his dog to avoid sacrificing his humanity is exceptionally compelling. The surrounding elements watching these journals but also the attacks from undead perceptions lack a degree of depth or tension creating a vessel and a void which definitely has potential for greatness but is not quite there yet.
A Gifted Man Approaching the medical environment with textures of paranormal influence is not unusual with ideas of guilt versus moving on. This series tries with good emotional weight to take this on but with a limited amount of perceptions to feed the fire. While the death of his ex-wife in a car crash resurfaces in heart transplants and the definition of love in the re-emergence of his high school sweetheart who eventually suffers from a life ending concussion has repercussions, the idea of what the lead character finds necessary to learn feels unstable and not very telling. Patrick Wilson tries his best but almost over-emotes the necessary beats to make an audience connect.
Two Broke Girls Using the vapid intentions of “Sex & The City” writer/producer Michael Patrick King on a network sitcom is both engaging and slightly worrying simply because the line becomes much more maligned just because of the nature of the beast when one moves between pay cable and network passing over basic cable entirely, While some of the jokes play dirtier than normal for network, it does play to the honesty of the characters. Kat Dennings’ slacker slut-type is perfectly in control of her facilities and understands her position but knows when to take risks even though she knows she might fall on her face. The actress sometimes plays it too hard because her sweetness in real life shows through while her cohort, more unknown to the public, is seemingly and paradoxically the more transparent of the two. The attempt focuses on a trajectory for these girls yet the most telling scenes (which at times are not used enough) are the moments in the diner where the true facts of life ring strongly.
The nature of legacy shows resounds in their ability to highlight and enhance without losing what they were in earlier incarnations. “Two & A Half Men” has been the most prevalent viewpoint in the last year with the departure of Charlie Sheen and eventual replacement by Ashton Kutcher but approaching characters like Batman and the vastness of the Star Wars universe holds its perils as well.
Batman: Brave & The Bold Interacting with the lore and mythology of other characters within the guise of Batman allows the creators to show and gauge the interest of fans (or the writers themselves) of how interesting certain backstories run. Highlighting lesser known vintage characters like The Atom or exploring the essence of sequel prowess with Green Lantern’s handling of Star Sapphire shows the possibility of them against those backdrops without having to worry about logic. However, something like traveling through time to save different incarnations of Batman so he can exist in the current timeline is straining belief but the creative team knows that this is a chance to go off the rails before the next series inevitably return to darkness.
The Clone Wars Making the mythology more vast and intrinsic without overcoming the basic nature of the universe it has a created is a daunting task especially when you are writing the backstories of several of the species in later films. What this show tends to do, in short order, with adequate results, is create a depth of structure where the features just laid the ground work. Two story progressions this season so far show this both with the “Water War” progression with the Gungans and the Mon Calamari which dictate certain emotional responses in terms of war structure. By contrast, the episodes with General Krell where he displays a lack of empathy and regard to the clones results in a mutiny of sorts that creates a microcosm of battle command in its simplest form wrestling the idea away from being purely Jedi=centric.
The Big Bang Theory The indiosyncrasies of the core bunch continue to grow but what Chuck Lorre has learned to do is spin moons within the planetary configuration of the core five specifically with Howard’s fiance and Amy, Sheldon’s would-be girlfriend. The show has always been about social inadequacy and how technology and simple awkwardness make the possibility of these people connecting even more so. By changing the dynamic, especially with Penny, the idea becomes more of a wingman persona with all these people moving out in different directions on their own while still remaining a core group with varying circumstances and results.
Two & A Half Men In resurrecting the show after the unfortunate inevitable departure of Charlie Sheen, one would have thought it would be disastrous without him. The way however the writers have maintained shows a distinct undeniable truth that the writing, if done in a very specific way without negating or denying Sheen’s influence and still having a snarky but not mean edge towards its former star, shows an effective overhaul. You realize how key the bumbling mannerisms of Jon Cryer truly anchor the show and magnifies the everyman quality of it. Ashton Kutcher’s character is not a Charlie Harper but takes on a more cool quality from creator Chuck Lorre’s other show “The Big Bang Theory” in that certain qualities can be good and bad. An especially good two episode arch involves Alan (Cryer) and his worst day as well as a psychotic break where he reverts and tries to emulate his brother. It is neat because it addresses the good and bad sides of Charlie Harper while showing empathy. It might not be the Charlie show anymore but it does show that it can survive with dignity and darkness without him.
Produced & Interviewed By Tim Wassberg
Produced & Interviewed By Tim Wassberg