Back in the good old days of innocence, when one thought of cartoons one thought of Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel. One thought of those glorious few hours of Saturday morning cartoons.
We thought those were the best days of our lives.
Well friend, the best is yet to come. More and more channels are writing original animated series, for ADULTS! And this stuff is way better than “Hey Arnold!” (and that was a pretty awesome show).
In 1989, FOX premiered a little show by the name of “The Simpsons.” Heard of it? Didn’t think so. “The Simpsons” single-handedly changed the notion of animation as only suitable for children and as inappropriate for prime-time television. The series celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2007 and is now the longest running American prime-time, scripted, television series, living on to its 22nd season and counting.
It was this booming success that lead to the surge of adult animated programming in the 1990s, such as “South Park,” “Family Guy,” “King of the Hill,” and “Futurama.”
Many also link the phrase “adult animated series” with [adult swim] on the Cartoon Network: the block of programming that airs from 10pm to 6am for “only mature audiences,” as opposed to the pre-teen programming they show throughout the day. Known for its quirky bumps between shows, [adult swim] features original cartoons such as “Home Movies,” “The Venture Bros.,” Squidbillies,” “Metalocalypse,” “Robot Chicken,” and the ever popular “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.”
Or perhaps, around these parts, one thinks of [adult swim] on Cartoon Network as that network that instigated the 2007 Boston bomb scare. “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” got more publicity than they had bargained for with those ads.
Comedy Central has produced other adult animated series such as “Drawn Together,” but the Holy Grail of adult animation, of course, is “South Park.” The wild stories and dark humor of Stan, Kyle, Eric, and Kenny have kept “South Park” the highest rated and longest running program on Comedy Central. The show’s fourteenth season premiered on March 17th, 2010.
Then there’s “Family Guy” on FOX. Love it or hate it, the die-hard fans are the reason this series lives on. In 2001, after their third season, FOX canceled “Family Guy” (FOX has a habit of canceling television series prematurely. Yes, I’m talking about “Arrested Development.” Still bitter). But after DVD sales and syndicated reruns proved successful, the series was brought back in 2004 and still lives on. Its eighth season premiered September 27th, 2009. Though the “it’s so controversial” novelty is wearing off, “Family Guy” is still not one for the kids.
But this is all old hat. What’s new in the world of adult animated series? Plenty. Perhaps taking the hint from both the cult and mainstream success of the aforementioned cartoons, networks such as FOX/FX and HBO have introduced their latest in adult animation.
In September of 2008, HBO premiered “The Life and Times of Tim.” Created by Steve Dildarian, the series is about Tim, a somewhat of a low-life who lives in New York City. Every episode finds Tim in the most ridiculous and awkward of situations, and his cynical views and monotonous tone are what gives the show its dry, sarcastic sense of humor. The animation looks like sloppy sketches and doodles from a highschool notebook, giving the show a certain charm as it truly speaks to the identity of Tim.
Each episode is split into two 15 minute segments. Just to give you an idea, a hooker and a drunk unconventional priest are recurring characters. If you’re the type of person that cringes at the misfortunes of Greg Focker in “Meet the Parents,” you are not going to be able to handle Tim. Season 2 premiered on February 19th, 2010.
HBO premiered “The Ricky Gervais Show” this February, as well. The show actually started as an XFM radio talk show with the same name, which later became a podcast. “The Ricky Gervais Show” takes these audio shows and adds animation to what Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, and Karl Pilkington talk about. The show is mostly Gervais and Merchant making fun of the absolutely ridiculous things that come out of Pilkington’s mouth. And honestly, he is incredibly entertaining to listen to. While the animation adds to the entertainment value, if you’re not a talk-radio person this show might not be for you.
And the latest adult animated series getting the most buzz among the college crowd is “Archer” on FX. The show is a spoof on all things spy/secret agent/government related. The main character, Sterling Archer, is a master spy with his own way of doing things. He can be a smooth-talking charmer and a complete asshole. Archer works with his mother, Malory, voiced by the talented Jessica Walter (Lucille Bluth on “Arrested Development”), as well as his ex-girlfriend, Lana Kane, and her new boyfriend, Cyril Figgis. And Archer has plenty to say about everyone. The show is raunchy and fun with plenty of quotable one-liners. “Archer” has also been officially renewed for a second season.
What makes animation so fun is that the boundaries are limitless. Cartoon characters can be put in any position in any location, which means endless possibilities for comedic situations. Plus, cartoon characters are so much less threatening than real people, which means writers can get away with making them say or do almost anything. And the writers of these series have certainly taken advantage of that.