A classroom experiment, and I avoid any of the shows (The Venture Bros, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Space Ghost) I included in my favorite animated television shows list for fear of double-dipping.
Pivoting around the fulcrum of immanent critique, this criminally underrated Biblical assault on the Bible is both a toxic void of mid-century sitcom tropes and an exegesis on Christian norms that attacks the Bible not from without but from within. Plus, if the adherence to Foucault’s idea of accepting a text at its word and then exposing the immanent contradictions lying within it isn’t enough, it’s also brutally beautiful at times. The Davey and Goliath parody is the jump-off point, but this uncomfortable-in-the-extreme viewing experience shoots for the stratosphere aesthetically with a stunningly expressive color palette and an understanding of the living camera that expands on the tactility of the stop-motion style rather than falling back on it as a punch-line.
Admittedly, the lapses in the particular text the show targets make it a little easy, but the show never goes for the obvious joke, or at least it never tells the obvious joke in the expected way. Orel always punches up, upper-cutting social edicts while intentionally undercutting itself by drawing from a vein of social alienation and melancholy that reveals the lonely disaffection and existential crises hiding not-so-dormant beneath adherence to social ritual. There’s a tortured, tragic, harshly solemn sojourn into failure and unfulfilled expectations at the heart of Morel Orel, a show with a nasty mouth but a heart that truly bleeds. It is disturbing because of how disturbed it is, how much it reveals about the nature of the disturbance of idealism. Much like Adult Swim’s epochal (to me) Venture Bros., the dueling catalysts for the humor are the tickle that hurts and the creeping sadness of mid-century hope immanently torn to pieces by its own blind spots.
Studied surrealism and the unheralded intersection of high-art surrealism and low-comedy children’s animation, this follow-up to Space Ghost: Coast to Coast is much more than its helter-skelter production insinuates. The deepest morsels of thought are found in the unsettling of the typically harmonious balance of visual and aural experiential realms, unmooring the two and shooting planet-sized holes through the porous boundary between visual space and sound. It’s a shadowy twilight zone version of the classical cartoon that tethers the inherent absurdism of children’s programming and mushrooms into something nearly avant-garde in execution. More textured works in the spirit of artistic reconstruction of pre-existing works have been fashioned over time (Godard’s films, Rose Hobart, etc.). But, for a series most comfortable in the frat house, this show gleefully occupies the intersection of textual analysis and low-brow ludicrousness, with causal notions thrown to the winds of rational structures that no longer control the state of art or the world. Exhuming classical television has seldom been as inspired.
Check it Out! with Dr. Steve Bruhle
A truly tragic account of a man with no home in society cast adrift in the inner-space of do-it-yourself American exceptionalism, Check it Out is a venomous stakedown of the belief so essential to American entertainment that anyone can achieve anything if they set their mind to it. The dissonance is that Bruhle, while pathetic, is an inviting and essentially honest man-child defined not as a cruel instigator but as a man whose innocence could freeze you to death if you spent enough time waiting for his moment of epiphany. Semi-cruel but somehow even sweeter, Check it Out exceeds its home planet show Tim and Eric because it attacks not only the aesthetic of local broadcast television but its moral ethos and unstated intellectual tenor: the deification of the individual through self-help.
The hospital-show-parody trick is a dead horse and was long before Children’s Hospital. But this absolutely molten show causes much more trouble than mere parody; it cannot be contained by any one antecedent. It mugs social propriety and lambasts the middlebrow, socially-conscious cultural industry and runs amok with the anarchic twitch of social denigration. Swaddling in the blanket of parody is often safer than it wants you to think, but this show confounds any expectations of existing purely in reference to any entertainment artifact. Switching reference points by the minute, it revels in the exultancy of eccentricity.
Mike Tyson Mysteries
Norm Macdonald, he of the impossible to discern facial expression that disfigures the typical category of comedian as either punchline or cruel madman, deserves a TV show that can galvanize his comic misdemeanors and felonies rather than handicapping them. Mike Tyson Mysteries isn’t primarily his show, but it’ll have to do. Even if you don’t worship at the altar of Norm, this exercise in quiet absurdism is effective enough, taking the misfit coalition ideal of Scooby Doo to its illogical extreme. But the countercurrent is how laconic and laid-back it is, paradoxically settling down into its unsettled demeanor rather than ram-rodding the audience with chaos. This said, it’s undeniably saner than the normal, intensely alienating Adult Swim experience, with a narrative that is less brutalized and at least carries a whiff of classical cause-effect and Aristotelean time principles. For this reason, I’m happy to consider it more of a minor footprint in the stomach of modern television, rather than the effortful boot-print right in the face that the company’s best projects reflect.