Watts (chipotle) wrote,

Modern TV animation sucks

So thanks to BitTorrent, I watched the first episode of "Father of the Pride." You're going to read that, look at the subject, and think I'm about to rag on this show. Well, no. While I'm not going to heap praise on it, I'm not going to heap dung on it, either.

"Pride" definitely isn't calculated off the formula for prime-time animation these days. It's following an older tradition, that of--gasp!--the situation comedy: a collection of characters who are exaggerations of people the audience knows, all of the quirks amplified to a point where, except for one or two central folks, they're not quite believable. It wasn't exceptional writing by any stretch, but it was hardly the train wreck that doodlesthegreat and others have made it out to be. When you take away the animal character trappings, yes, it's 100% conventional sitcom stuff, but within that context it had smooth enough writing and solid voice acting. Basically, it's "Everybody Loves Raymond" with CG fur.

So, no, it violates the increasingly rigid formula for prime-time animation: rapid-fire jokes chosen for shock value and sheer incongruity. The plot exists only as a bare framework and each scene has to get more outrageous and brazenly ridiculous as the show wends its way through its 22 minutes. The stupider, grosser, more in-your-face the better. Innuendo? Who needs innuendo! Bring on the talking turds!

I'm not entirely sure where this came from. Sure, "The Simpsons" has the constant barrage of non-story-related quips as its stock in trade, but why does everyone have to be doing this? "Family Guy" and "The Critic" were both abject failures until they hit the syndication afterlife. "Dilbert" didn't make it through its second season. "South Park" has been successful, within the context of cable shows, but that's an important qualifier I'll come back to.

Those foul-mouthed little kids led to shows like "Sealab 2021" and "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." Yeah, I know the bad animation and bad voice-casting are supposed to be part of the fun, but let's face it: the real spirit of their shows is stare in wonder at our complete, divine awfulness. You're laughing because it's funny to watch people try so hard to deliberately suck. They're going for meta-comedy, in which the audience is in on the joke. The main characters are a milkshake, a meatball and a box of fries! Don't you get it? Um, no, actually. Of course you don't! That's the point! Isn't that frickin' hilarious? Uh... yeah...

Sure, I'm exaggerating for effect, and I do laugh at some of the weirdness on "Adult Swim." Sheer ludicrousness can be funny. But it's not the only way to be funny. This kind of nudge-nudge-wink-wink hip stupidity schtick gets tiring pretty fast.

I gather the "Adult Swim" folks have taken digs at "Father of the Pride" for not doing things the way they do, to which I can only say: they're on crack. The biggest problem "Pride" has doesn't come from ignoring the lessons of other prime-time toons, but from the one lesson it picked up--that modern TV cartoons have to be raunchy and shocking. I know a lot animation buffs get their shorts in a twist when one acknowledges that cartoons are watched by children, but the fact is, all the characters are cute, and they have obvious kid appeal. "Pride" tries for a mix of cuddliness and raunchiness that never quite gels, and I suspect many people will find very off-putting.

Sure, "South Park" wants to make its viewers uncomfortable. That's part of the joke. (Actually, it's the whole joke, most of the time.) This works for the cable shows. But cancellation-level ratings on NBC would be reason to break out the champagne and caviar at Comedy Central or Cartoon Network. "Pride" fell 23% in its ratings between first and second show, and that second show still trounced the best ratings "South Park" has ever pulled.

So. Do I expect "Pride" to make it? No, not really. The problem with it is, well, just what I sad at the beginning: it's "Everybody Loves Raymond" with CG fur, except raunchier. It won't draw in the parts of the hipper-than-thou crowd who couldn't stand something like "Raymond," but it won't draw in most fans of a show like "Raymond," either.

There's been some talk of "furry fans will watch this because they'll accept any old crap as long as it's furry." There's some truth to this... but that's a topic for another message.

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