The Deep End of Laughter

Cartoons ain't just for kids anymore, again.

<i>Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law</i>
Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law

Nowadays, it's the small things that satisfy me. Like having one of those rare, "Ah-ha!" moments. Case in point: Remember when Seinfeld used to air on Fox at 9:30pm, following The Simpsons? There was a minor stink when Fox changed their format, substituting news for what I called the "adult cartoon hour." I lamented the change, and several readers wrote to agree, although one reader scolded me for not just recording the programs (which were moved to the 6-7pm time slot) and watching them whenever I wanted. I wrote that the dear reader missed the point. Futzing with the VCR was the last thing any decompressing adult wanted to do. All we wanted was to plop down in front of the set for a bit of smart entertainment.

Imagine my satisfaction when I saw that Fox was bringing Seinfeld back to late-evening TV, this time at 10:30pm, starting Sept. 17. However, there's going to be some worthy competition for those adults looking to power down. The Cartoon Network has designed a new package of programming just for adults, called Adult Swim. The three-hour block of animated programming, which will air twice weekly, is aimed at adults in the coveted 18-34 demographic. My only question is, what took so long? But from what I've seen, Adult Swim is worth the wait.

The new block of programming is an eclectic mix of new toons, returning favorites, and re-purposed cartoons from the past. The first hour offers an homage of sorts to the situation comedy, followed by a rotating mix of experimental works, which gleefully stretch the possibilities of animated fare. Here's a rundown of what's in store.

Home Movies: "Retro-scripted" dialogue is what makes this delightfully low-key toon work. Retro-scripting means the voiceover actors were encouraged to ad-lib during the recording process. The result is laconic, often deadpan humor. Eight-year-old Brendon Small is the star of Home Movies, a budding filmmaker and undeniable geek who lives with his divorced mother and baby sister. Pals Duane, Melissa, and Jason offer support on- and off-camera, and Brendon's soccer coach, Mr. McGuirk, offers dim-witted, yet well-meaning adult male guidance.

Leave It to Brak: Other than being a teenage space pirate with a diminutive human father, a statuesque alien mother, an annoying little brother, and a best friend who makes Eddie Haskell look like a choir boy, life for Brak is downright normal. Written by the team who created Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Leave It to Brak shares some of the same absurdist humor and situations. In the first episode, Zorak (Brak's mean-spirited best friend) hocks a loogie that takes on a life of its own and becomes a money-grubbing agent who sees a profit to be made in Zorak's new, "lovely man voice." Yes, it's strange, and yes, it's hilarious.

The following cartoons will rotate in the second hour of Adult Swim:

Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law: Cartoon aficionados may remember Birdman as the Hanna Barbera superhero with wings. He still has wings. Now he has a wool suit and a briefcase. In this kooky cartoon-meets-law-drama hybrid, Birdman plays the token superhero lawyer in a firm assigned to handle cartoon characters' litigation. Among his cases are a bitter custody battle between Benton Quest and his "partner" Race Bannon over Jonny Quest and Hadji. A later episode calls for Birdman to defend Shaggy and Scooby Doo, busted for possession.

Space Ghost Coast to Coast: The talk show with the cranky, animated host returns with all new episodes. Premiering on the Cartoon Network in 1994, Space Ghost soon became a cult favorite. Future guests include Tenacious D and Busta Rhymes.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Strange, very strange. Three pals -- who happen to be life-sized fast-food products -- live and work as private detectives in New Jersey. Master Shake is the self-appointed leader of the group. Meatwad is the dopey ball of meat who conveniently shape-shifts as needed. Frylock is the ever-cool straight man there to keep everyone on the straight and narrow, and to occasionally zap bad guys with his laser beam. How, why? Not sure I care.

Sealab 2021: This redux of another Hanna Barbera cartoon, Sealab follows the adventures of a crew of scientists sent to explore undersea life in a high tech compound. Characters from the original series are cut and pasted into this new version of the cartoon, with new dialogue and new situations -- including a storyline in the premiere episode with marine biologist Debbie DePree looking for a suitable sperm donor among the ship of fools when her biological clock goes off.

The anime series Cowboy Bebop anchors the last hour of Adult Swim. According to press material, the series follows the exploits of space-traveling bounty hunters in the distant future when humans have migrated into space. Its appearance on the Cartoon Network marks Cowboy Bebop's U.S. television premiere.

Adult Swim launches Sunday, Sept. 2, airing Sunday and Thursday nights, 9pm to midnight. Though the shows are rated TV-PG and TV-14, the Cartoon Network plans to promote the package only during its late-night hours, with reminders throughout Adult Swim that it's targeted to adults. Launching in conjunction with Adult Swim is its companion Web site, Adultswim.com. Until then, visit CartoonNetwork.com for further information.

E-mail Belinda Acosta at tveye@austinchronicle.com

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More TV Eye
TV Eye: That's What She Said
TV Eye: That's What She Said
After 10 years in print, 'TV Eye' has its series finale

Belinda Acosta, July 8, 2011

TV Eye: Go LoCo
TV Eye: Go LoCo
Awards, and a word about what's on the horizon for 'TV Eye'

Belinda Acosta, July 1, 2011

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Cartoon Network, Hanna Barbera, Adult Swim, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Cowboy Bebop, Sealab 2021, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Leave It to Brak, Home Movies

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle