Monday, November 29, 2021

He's Not A Bad Dog. He's Just Drawn That Way.

Anyone remember Dogs in Space, the 1986 Australian movie directed by Richard Lowenstein, known, according to his IMDB entry, for "He Died with a Felafel in His Hand". Really, guys? You're sure that's what he was known for? 

It starred Michael Hutchence, known about equally for being the lead singer of INXS and the lover of Paula Yates, aka "Bob Geldof's Wife" or "Her off The Tube". Ah, the eighties, eh?

Yes, well, there's no reason why you should, really. It wasn't a very successful move into acting for Hutchence. Again, as IMDB puts it, "Michael attempted a film career, but his first film Dogs in Space (1986) earned an 'R' rating, completely alienating it from teenagers, its intended audience."

I saw it around the time it was released. I can't honestly remember now whether I saw it at the cinema or only at home on VHS. I know I had the tape at one time. I remember watching it although I can't remember an awful lot about the film itself, mostly one long party scene in a squat/student house with a lot of drinking, drug-taking and some moderately good music on the soundtrack.

Back in the eighties and nineties I was keen on films like that. They don't seem quite so endearing now. I strongly suspect that to fully enjoy watching such scenes of debauchery and nihilistic, self-destructive hedonism you have to be either drunk or drugged yourself. Or both. All kinds of trigger warnings on the clip, by the way.

So, why am I mentioning it now? Funny you should ask.

I was idly browsing through the "New to Netflix" section a while ago when I happened on something called, you guessed it, Dogs in Space. I immediately thought of the movie and then, a microsecond later, of the Muppets' Star Trek parody, Pigs in Space. (Pigs.... In.... Spaaaace!!") I imagine that's what the show's creators were thinking of, too. I hope so, anyway.

Of the two, Netflix' Dogs in Space is far closer to the Muppets than Michael Hutchence and his degenerate pals. It's an animated show (I'm guessing we don't call them "cartoons" any more?) featuring a bunch of dogs in a spaceship. Literal, much?

Seeing it there made me curious. When did animation become such a major part of mainstream television? It's always made up a huge proportion of children's programming, of course, but when I was growing up, animated shows for adults, or even ones suitable for collective family viewing (Remember that?) were rare. 

"Wait 'til Your Father Gets Home" is the first one I remember being touted as something new, a primetime cartoon specifically aimed at an adult audience (As opposed to, say, The Flintstones, which was fun for all the family but in a somewhat "Let's indulge the kids and watch what they're watching" kind of way.) It was the only US animated show to run in the evenings that got more than one series until The Simpsons arrived in 1989. WTYFGH ended in 1974 so it took a quarter of a century for the concept to catch on.

After Matt Groening kicked them down, I guess the doors were open for good. I begged off television from about 1998 until five years ago so I missed the whole sea change, when TV overtook movies as the new, serious medium for the visual arts. 

When I backed away there were already plenty of animated shows that seemed to be intended for what we now euphemistically call "young adults" - Ren and Stimpy comes immediately to mind, not to mention Beavis and Butthead - but they and the few more genuinely adult-oriented shows, like the downbeat, depressive King of the Hill, were firmly on the margins, tucked away in niche time slots or minority channels. Now, they're everywhere, at least on Netflix. On broadcast TV? I don't know! Who watches that?

Even as I type I'm aware I'm skipping over the anime deluge, which is like reviewing Jaws without mentioning the shark. I'm very much not qualified even to speculate on anime or how it fits in to any narrative after about 1990. I was there for what must presumably have been the opening of the non-specialist market to the concept of Japanese animation but I bowed out, without much grace, just about as soon as I could make my excuses.


I remember seeing Akira on its UK television debut, when a very big fuss was made of it. I also remember not being very impressed. It was alright but I coudn't see what the fuss was all about. 

At that time I would have counted myself a low-key animation fan. I watched cartoons and animated movies, I read books about animators and animation studios and I even wrote an article or two about the topic in comics fanzines once in a while. 

I was in that happy position of being the ignorant expert in a group of genuine ignoramuses (Ignorami?) when it came to animation. Comics fans, as parochial and elitist as most self-appointed keeprs of a flame, tended to look askance at any lesser artforms that threatened to impinge on their self-appointed preserve. You could look like you knew a lot just by dropping a few names. They didn't even have to be the right ones so long as you did it with sufficient confidence. A bit like here, really.

Anime put a stop to all that. I'm still not entirely sure why although I suspect it has something to do with the kind of visuals TV cartoons don't usually allow. Whatever the reason, a subset of my comic-reading contemporaries seemed keen on adopting an attitude to anime that was very different to their interest (or lack thereof) in classic Hanna Barbera cartoons. Almost without exception, the most vocal and enthusiastic among them were the very people I usually did all I could to avoid having to talk to at any length at conventions or marts. I quickly developed the impression that whatever this new variant was, it wasn't for me.

And it still isn't, even though I've long since lost that particular set of prejudices, along with any contact with the people from whom I acquired them. My new problem is, I think, that I'm just too old. Or possibly too English.

I can't follow anime-style narrative very well. It jumps about too much and seems to assume you can fill in the blanks. I used to have the same issues with live-action movies that used those super-fast jump-cuts that were all the rage in the twenty-oughts. Fortunately that fad seems to have passed for live action but it feels like it's going strong in the small amount of anime I've watched. Of course, those may be a decade old...

Age, origin and genre don't seem to figure much in Netflix's suggestion algorithm, which certainly doesn't make much of a differentiation between animation styles. It doesn't even really seem to care whether the actors in the shows and movies it suggests have two dimensions or three. There is one strand that's all animation but animated shows and films pop up everwhere. Reading the descriptions rarely tells me anything I can get a grip on. If I'm interested, the only way to find out if there's really anything there is to watch an episode.

So far I've tried F is for Family, Kid Cosmic, Disenchantment, Bojack Horseman, Tear Along the Dotted Line, Trollhunters/Wizards/3Below (Tales form Arcadia), BNA, Dogs in Space, X-Men (Japanese edition) and, of course, Bojack Horseman


I didn't do any of them any favors by watching Bojack first. That was a bit like getting into alt rock by listening to the first four Velvet Underground albums. If anyone knows another animated show that's even twenty-five per cent as strong as Bojack Horseman, please don't keep it to yourself.

Next best on that list, without any doubt, would be Disenchantment. I like it so much, for my birthday I asked for three different t-shirts featuring various characters and got them all. Now I just have to wait for next summer before people can see me wearing any of them, which is, of course, why I wanted them in the first place. Apparently I've learned nothing in the way of sophistication or self-control since I was fifteen. However much I like the show, however, it doesn't seem to be enough for me to get the name right. I keep calling it Disenchanted, which I actually think would be a better title. The writing is subtle, the characters convincing, the stories compelling and the animation supple. Looking forward very much to the next season.

Very close behind Disenchantment comes the Tales from Arcadia trilogy. Created for Netflix by Guillermo del Toro and produced by him, too, it's predictably well-written, coherent and smart with gorgeous CGI work. It's also solidly in the tradition of children's animation, which has a much higher quality threshold, so in effect it's even better than I'm making it sound. Top notch primetime tween/teen TV and plenty for adults to enjoy, too.

After that things get patchier. The first season of Kid Cosmic was highly enjoyable, not least the music parodies over the credits, but the second was a disappointment. It wasn't bad but it had a strong "We didn't really expect to get a second season and now we have no idea what to do with the characters" vibe about it. Might pick up in the third, if there is one, once the writers have gotten used to the idea they have to keep going. The animation is the highlight here: good enough in itself to make the show worth watching. Very much an homage to the classic 1950s/60s look with enough contemporary zazz to make it much more than a retro wannabe.

F is for Family is disorienting. It's like a twisted reboot of Wait 'til Your Father Gets Home, set in a peculiarly dour vision of the 1970s with a lot of edgy swearing to no obvious purpose. The animation is of a kind with the tone; flat, deflated, tired, albeit knowingly so. There are five seasons of it, the final one of which is either just about to end or has just ended. I've only watched a few episodes of the first season. I found it hard going, not because it isn't good but because it isn't fun. It's bleak and draining. It might be worth pursuing but I'd need to be in the mood.

Tear Along the Dotted Line is very odd. It's an Italian production that appears to have been dubbed into English by one person, who doesn't do voices. It's a very odd conceit. It works because, structurally, the entire narrative is subjective, seen from the point of view of the protagonist. He literally says, in the first episode, he can't remember what his quasi-girlfriend Alice sounds like so her voice is him, talking like a robot through some kind of vocoder. His female friend, Sarah, he just voices as himself and for his other pal, Secco, he puts on a Welsh accent even as he explains he can't do accents.  Once again, it's very sweary and extremely downbeat but somehow that doesn't detract from a certain joyous exuberance. It's also occasionally very funny. The animation is way more "European" than anything else on this list, if you know what I mean. It has a kind of roundedness and a lot of grubby edges. It's also very political in a particularly Italian way. Overall, effective and engaging if a little unsettling.

BNA stands for... erm... hang on, I had it a moment ago... Brand New Animal! That's it! It's the only genuine anime series on my watchlist, having originated on Japanese TV before Netflix hoovered it up. It exemplifies my difficulties with the form. I really liked the first three episodes, even though they went very fast and darted about all over the place. The animation is full of attack and pace in the action scenes but comfortably relaxed in the conversational pieces. There are some lovely, subtle touches. 


Even though it's not as confusing or exhausting as it might be, I still have trouble following the plot. There was such a radical shift of tone in episode four I actually paused the stream and checked I hadn't somehow skipped a whole season. Then the entire premise of the show gets thrown under a bus and never referred to again and all the characters have complete personality changes. Disorienting barely scratches the surface. Even so, I will persevere. I really like the main character and the story, even when it makes absolutely no sense, keeps things rolling.

X-Men (That appears to be all the title it's getting.) is also a Japanese production, with the team flying to Japan in the first episode to investigate a clutch of mutant abductions. That's mutants being kidnapped not mutants doing the kidnapping, in case I didn't make it clear. Given it's an X-Men show I guess it could go either way. The animation is average to really horrible, looking like someone tried to do Todd McFarlane on the cheap. Or Rob Liefeld, even. That bad. The story, dialog and voice acting is okay, though, and it's the X-Men so you know what you're getting. Once an X-Fan, always an X-Fan, sad to say.


And that brings us back to where we began with Dogs in Space. DiS is an absolute joy. The pace is gentle and slow (Rather like the leader of the team, the hapless and unhappily-named Garbage.) All the dogs are both characterful and likeable with some great ensemble dynamics, very much like you'd get in a well-cast, well-developed live action sitcom. You definitely don't need to be a dog-lover to appreciate the dog jokes but I'd guess dog-lovers would dog-love it even more. The animation is tidy and functional, never spectacular or flashy. It's entirely appropriate to the tone and structure, which is basically sitcom, although halfway through the season, which is where I am, an unexpected and potentially dark undertone comes creeping in around the edges. 

I'd recommend Dogs in Space. I obviously don't need to recommend the multi-award-winning Disenchantment and Tales of Arcadia. They recommend themselves. The rest, taste them and try.

I imagine there will be plenty more animated shows popping up in my Netflix suggestions so there could be a Part Two  of this post someday. Odds on I'll watch quite a few. 

Oddly, Amazon Prime hardly ever pushes any animation my way. Maybe Netflix bought them all.


  1. As I read this post I was all excited to shout about Wait Til Your Father Gets Home and then you mentioned it yourself. How about The Point? ( Narrated by Ringo Starr!

    Right now everyone is buzzing about Arcane on Netflix. I watched 2 episodes but haven't gone back to it.

    1. Ah I'd totally forgotten about The Point. I'd heard of it but I dodn't think I've ever watched it. Thanks for the link.

      I thought about watching Arcane. It has an amazingly high review rating. I know absolutely nothing about League of Legends, though, so I'm uncertain whether it would make any kind of sense. I think I'll stick it on the watchlist anyway but whether I'll ever get around to watching it is another question.

    2. I don't know anything about League of Legends either and I don't think that matters. Like there may be references I'm not getting but I don't feel like I'm missing anything. First two eps are about a gang of young miscreants pulling off a heist that goes wrong. It feels more Artful Dodger than League of Legends, at least to me.

      In case you ever feel the urge to give it a go. Like I said, I watched 2 episodes but haven't felt the pull to go back for more just yet.

  2. Hah, I remember watching Wait 'til Your Father Gets Home. And it was kind of a big deal...well, maybe a medium deal... being an animated series on during prime time in the era of things like the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Bob Newhart.

    My wife remains one of those "cartoons are for kids" people, not an uncommon point of view for many years, so I have had to watch things like Bojack Horseman with my daughter.

    1. Mrs Bhagpuss tried watching Bojack but couldn't get past the fact they were all animals, which was weird. She doesn't have a problem with animations of people (King of the Hill, The Simpsons, Daria, she likes all those) and she likes playing anthropomorphic characters in games but apparently human bodies with animal heads is a deal breaker.

      Wait 'til Your Father Gets Home used to air in the middle of Sunday afternoons when I watched it, around 2pm - 3pm as I recall. An odd slot but definitely "adult" viewing time. I don't think it ever really caught on but I'm not sure that had much to do with it being a cartoon. It may just have been too specific for a general UK weekend audience in the '70s. I remember it being very culturally rooted in a certain kind of suburban, middle-income experience that probably would have been a difficult sell here even in live action in the '70s.

  3. Amusing to me as someone with a fair bit of knowledge, Studio Trigger (who make Brand New Animal) have made a name and career for themselves by producing very fast, jumpy, not entirely coherent but visually striking animation.

    From what I know of your tastes, I would recommend a less fast-action show like Kids on the Slope (two college students explore emotional distance and also jazz music) or Carole and Tuesday (two girls on Mars try their hand at being musicians).

    There's also Kino's Journey, which has no musicians in it but does have a girl, her motorcycle, and her self-imposed rule never to stay more than three days in any given country. Amagi Brilliant Park is a sweet little comedy about playing Roller Coaster Tycoon, except the park's employees are the fae.

    I could keep going but I fear I've passed the point of being one of those people you'd cross the street to escape from.

    1. Heh! I was actually hoping you might drop in with some recommendations. Those all sound great. I'll definitely follow them up.

      I do feel anime is an area where I'd really need to be curated (if you get what I mean). It's too vast and diverse for me to have much hope of just landing on the good stuff by chance. Feel free to make more recommendations!

      Also "very fast, jumpy, not entirely coherent but visually striking" describes the show exactly. It's like they gave a bunch of ten year olds marker pens and cartridge paper and left them in a room piled high with Haribo and Pepsi for a couple of hours, then gave the drawings to a team of professional animators to render.

  4. One landmark in TV animated series for teens+ that seems to be more forgotten today than I think it deserves to be is MTV's Beavis-and-Butthead-spinoff-in-name-only Daria. (I liked it enough to get the whole series on DVD, which I haven't done for any other TV animated series ever.) I kind of wonder how it didn't spawn imitators: it was well-written, and reasonably popular, and didn't seem that expensive to produce.

    …aand reading the Wikipedia page it looks like a Daria spinoff is due to land next year or so, with others possibly following. So… yeah.

    1. I love Daria to the degree that, when I played Baldur's Gate for the first time at release, I downloaded a voice pack that replaced all of my character's lines with samples from the show. My entire playthrough was narrated in Daria's deadpan, sarcastic voice, which probably goes some way to explaining why no other BG-like rpg has ever really matched up to it. Whatever happened to those voice packs, anyway? I'd olve to replace all my characters' lines in GW2 with Princess Carolyn from Bojack Horseman, just for an example.

    2. That's actually awesome. IDK why we don't see alt voice packs anymore: is it just that devs don't provide the necessary hooks?

  5. I have issues with anime too, which is part of the reason why I've never truly pulled the trigger on FFXIV. There's something about the tropes found in that subculture of anime, manga, and their R/X rated cousins, hentai, that I just can't deal with. It could be generational, but it just doesn't feel right to me.

    I did laugh at your comparison of the Velvet Underground to alt-rock. It makes a helluva lot of sense.

    1. My issues are mainly structural. I don't have the vocabulary yet to "read" it accurately. I don't have any particular problems with the content, at least as I've seen it so far. It doesn't seem that different from anything else in that there's a wide range and some of it feels okay and some doesn't. I watched the first episode of one of the shows XyzzSqrl suggested above and it was charming. I think I just need some landmarks like that to orient myself before I strike out on my own.

  6. I have almost nothing to say other than I enjoyed the Cowboy Bebop anime DvD's i borrowed back when DVD rental was still a thing. I note that there is a live action version out now too. A kids "cartoon" but still for adults is apparently "Bluey", an Aussie made thing that comes highly recommended by the parents of young kids. My own little rugrats are a bit too big now to be interested in trying and thus far I've not watched it myself. It was also recommended for adults in a review in the local press here a while back.

    1. I have Cowboy Bebop (the live action version) in my watchlist. Never seen the original. I probably should but whichever I watch first is sure to color my feelings on the other. I'll check out "Bluey" - thanks for the tip.

  7. As mentioned, Daria was fantastic and I'm jealous of your BG experience with a voice pack.

    I was skeptical on Arcane because I don't care for League of Legends and video game tie-in's are always awful. Wife and I just finished it yesterday and I thought it was actually very good. We were both very pleasantly surprised.

    One of my favorites on NetFlix has been Big Mouth. It is most assuredly not for everyone, but I think it is absolutely hilarious. Extremely crass, ridiculous, and gross while being extremely honest about the ridiculousness of puberty and growing up. It's spawned a number of very strange conversations between my wife and I about our own middle school experiences.

  8. Oh man, I forgot to mention yesterday that if you want to watch some good animated TV, you should really watch Avatar: The Last Airbender. Pretty sure its still available on NetFlix. The movie was awful, but the cartoon is exceptional. I don't know anyone who watched Avatar and didn't enjoy it.

  9. Not sure if they're on Netflix, but I would recommend Bob's Burgers and the original run of Futurama. The movies and the revival are ok-ish but they suffer from the lack of limits on the subject matter and jokes they can get away with and feel a bit 'lazy' at times.

    1. Of course I thought of more after I posted. Not sure where these are streaming if anywhere.
      Rick and Morty
      Gravity Falls
      Invader Zim
      Home Movies


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