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Underappreciated animated television

Matt McMahon | Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Brought on by my unreasonable inclinations to fervently discuss and dissect one of television’s best series currently airing, “Bob’s Burgers,” and other underappreciated shows, I wanted to deliberate over “Bob’s” and some lesser-known, but also stellar, animated comedy series.  

Over the course of my time spent in front of screens, TV and computer alike, I have badgered and annoyed friends by championing the likes of the now-canceled “Happy Endings” and “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23” and the currently-airing, little-watched “Nathan For You” and “The Eric Andre Show.” Now I have a forum to take my discussions to anyone listening, reading or interested at all, and I will focus on animated comedies.


“Bob’s Burgers”

Surrounding the activities of Bob Belcher, owner of Bob’s Burgers and patriarch of his family, the members of which double as his employees, “Bob’s Burgers” freshly tackles the dysfunctional family trope. Each member of the Belcher clan has a number of weird eccentricities and quirks, but they are portrayed and responded to in such a loving manner that all of them are completely normal, understandable and accepted. Oldest daughter Tina, for example, has a notorious fondness for butts and is known to write “erotic friend fiction,” intertwining relations between her schoolmates and zombies. None of this is viewed negatively or made fun of, though, and Tina provides a relatable presence to any kid growing up and dealing with the oddities of puberty.

And if this short digression of analysis seems too serious, the show most definitely is not. While a mine for discussion of this nature, “Bob’s Burgers” is most deeply, at its core, one of the funniest shows – animated or otherwise – on TV.  The show features obscure references and episodic parodies (including “E.T.” with a talking toilet instead of an alien), witty, unexpected one-liners, a golden collection of original songs (see “Electric Love” and “Lifting Up the Skirt of the Night”), a wealth of puns based on hamburgers and a distinct rhythm to its dialogue that showcase the talent of the voice actors and writers. The show is currently in its fourth season, and if you’re not already watching, you should be.


“Clerks: The Animated Series”

Kevin Smith developed “Clerks: The Animated Series” as a spin-off of his career-launching movie of the same name. However, created six years after the release of the movie, the animated show features few similarities to the film, besides employing the same characters and setting. Smith created, produced and wrote the show, along with “Seinfeld” writer and contributor David Mandel. As a result, the show has much more of a sitcom feel, while retaining both Smith and Mandel’s penchant for absurdity.  Taking cues from all aspects of popular culture, the show was heavily referential, parodied classic television and movie tropes overtly, and established many running jokes, all with a not-taking-itself-too-seriously attitude.  The show only lasted six episodes, but the volume of laughs in these six densely packed episodes make it an extremely rewarding and re-watchable show.


“The Venture Bros.”

“The Venture Bros.” is perhaps most aptly described as the lasting effects a “Jonny Quest”-type childhood would have on someone into adulthood. The show follows the explorations of former boy adventurer Dr. Thaddeus “Rusty” Venture, his two naïve, home – er, “learning bed” – schooled sons and their bodyguard Brock Samson. The creators of the show, Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer, who both lend an extensive number of voices to the series, have fun with the universe that exists somewhere in the realm of old action-adventure cartoons and the late 70s to 80s post-punk scene. The extensive mythology developed throughout the show’s five seasons is both compelling and something of a joke in itself. It’s so difficult to keep track of all the who’s who and plotlines, it seems like the creators have proceeded, knowing the audience cannot keep up. At its best, the show is hilarious, inventive and sincerely sad. Nothing better captures the beauty of failure, and it shows “The Venture Bros.” can handle it with such heart.


“Clone High”

Conceived and produced by Bill Lawrence, creator of “Scrubs,” “Spin City” and “Cougar Town,” “Clone High” depicts the high school trials and tribulations of the teenaged clones of many notable historic figures. The main character is outcast Abe Lincoln, voiced by SNL alum Will Forte, who often gets into sticky situations with his friends, insecure Joan of Arc and wild Gandhi, voiced by MADtv alums Nicole Sullivan and Michael McDonald, respectively. If the premise of the show does not sound strange and intriguing enough, its principal character is a literal mad scientist named Abe who crushes on Cleopatra – who, on and off, dates popular jock JFK. Each episode parodies the “very special” episodes of high school sitcoms.  Unfortunately, the show only lasted one season on MTV from 2002 to 2003.


Other Notable Shows Worth Mentioning (because I either do not claim myself to be an authority on discussing these shows, or I am not sure they specifically fall under the “underappreciated” qualifier.): “Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” “The Tick,” “Daria” and “The Critic.” 

Contact Matt McMahon at mcmaho7@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.