Where the Boys Are
Though cable network TNN had its re-launch as Spike TV spoiled by legal troubles brought by filmmaker Spike Lee, it didn't stop the network from promoting its new identity as "the first network for men." Troubles started when the filmmaker accused the network of trading on his name. (The fact that a TNN exec referred to the filmmaker during Spike TV's prelaunch press conferences presumably aided Lee's case.) Besides his initial complaint, Lee didn't want to be associated with the new network's programming. TV-head that I am, I wanted to see what Lee was grousing about, but more importantly, I wanted to find out what a network for men would look like. Programming on Oxygen and WE, two networks supposedly designed for women, makes me snore. But watching the new TNN makes me so very, very thankful I'm not part of the narrowly defined male audience the network is courting, nor do I know anyone in that demographic.
Three new adult animated series serve as the centerpiece for the first network for men: Stan Lee's Stripperella, the return of former Nickelodeon 'toon The Ren & Stimpy Show, and Gary the Rat.
With voice work by Pamela Anderson, Stripperella bears some resemblance to Anderson's syndicated series, V.I.P., in that it mines the comic-book superhero genre (in V.I.P. it was the private-eye genre) for tongue-in-cheek laughs. While Anderson's Vallery Irons was the reluctant front for a bodyguard company, Stripperella mounts that motorcycle and fights evildoers when duty calls. Thankfully, Anderson as Stripperella (and as Vallery Irons) doesn't take herself too seriously and has great fun deflating the über-female superhero stereotype. As expected, Stripperella plays on Anderson's gravity-defying physical attributes and well-publicized surgical enhancements. Her battle against an evil plastic surgeon who satisfies his grudge against models with exploding breast implants was amusing, as is Stripperella's assortment of crime-fighting gadgetry, including a tongue piercing that serves as a camera (she has to lick to take photos). But if you can look past the huge ta-tas, the impossibly small waist, and those 5-inch heels, Stripperella is a good-hearted gal who fights crime because it's the right thing to do and strips because, hey -- it's a living.
When The Ren & Stimpy Show first premiered on Nickelodeon in 1991, it garnered a cult following that relished the "happy happy joy joy" adventures of Ren, the high-strung Chihuahua, and his oafish feline pal, Stimpy. There was a lot of quick action, mild gross-out humor, and naughty innuendo that stopped just short of bad taste. In TNN's reincarnation as Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon, good taste is not only absent, it's squashed beyond recognition. This is a "cartoon party"? It is if you like sour-tempered, violent 'toons where all bodily fluids are a source for humor. The undercurrent of this foul-hearted cartoon seems to be the more revolting, the better. If that weren't bad enough, the pace of the two episodes I sat through was as arduous as a root canal but not nearly as much fun.
I'm apparently in the minority when it comes to the third TNN 'toon, Gary the Rat. I like it. Other reviewers haven't been so kind. Gary Andrews is a rat, but he wasn't always a rat. First, he was a lawyer -- which to some means not much has changed. But now that the high-powered J.D. looks like a rat, his life is a lot more complicated. Like, how does a human-sized rat get a date? What does one do with that annoying tail at fashionable cocktail parties? And how can he convince others of his innate superiority when he looks like vermin? The harshest (and funniest) lines come from Gary's one-sided phone conversations with his off-screen mother ("No, mother, you can't leave. I told them to tie you down ..."). Though Gary is despicable, his mysterious metamorphosis into a rat and his determination to carry on in spite of it provides the series' hook. Deliciously voiced by Kelsey Grammer (Frasier), the 'toon is not only the most highbrow of the trio, it is also the most out of place (it would fit nicely in Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup).
New episodes of Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon, Gary the Rat, and Stripperella air on Thursday nights starting at 9pm. Other TNN programming for men includes reruns of Baywatch, the A-Team, Miami Vice, and many helpings of Blind Date, Real TV, American Gladiators, and WWE Wrestling. Feature films, like the ones included in last week's James Bond festival, are also included along with late-night infomercials.
I think I was a better man before TNN told me how it was done.