Tuesday, February 15, 2022

They Rot Your Brain. You Know It's True.

I mentioned a while ago how I'd been watching some animated shows on Netflix, mostly Western-style animations but also some anime, about which I know next to nothing. Xyzzysqrl gave me some great suggestions on how to improve on my ignorance and I did follow some of them up but the sheer effort of having to go to a different platform to watch was enough to make me drop off the back of that particular wagon pretty darn fast. I am lazy and easily dissuaded by anything that feels like work.

A couple of days ago I was having a mini-discussion with Tyler F.M. Edwards in the comments at Superior Realities over the merits of the Star Trek spin-off cartoon Lower Decks (I think it has some, Tyler disagrees.) and it occured to me that over the last year or so I have at least tried to watch more animated TV shows than at any time since the mid-90s. I don't always stick with them but it gives me the flavor, at least.

As I may have mentioned about a hundred times, I like making lists. I also like writing capsule reviews or, if you prefer, making so-called smart remarks that I think are funny, even if no-one else does. Despite having my own blog, on which I ought to be able to write anything I want, I still don't seem to be able to come up with as many excuses to indulge myself along those lines as you'd think. This is one of them.

I thought about trying to do something serious and insightful with all of this but then I thought why bother? So here they are, all the cartoons (Do we still use that word? I don't seem to see it much any more.) that I've watched or tried to watch since the last time I did this. Not in any order, unless there's some shape or form to the Netflix algorithm that's passed me by, something that seems quite likely now I come to think of it.

Currently watching:

The Hollow - (Season One) - "Three teen strangers awaken in a dangerous world and try to make sense of what connection they have to each other as they attempt to make it out alive." - I had no idea this was Canadian until I looked it up on IMDB. Amazing how many things I like turn out to be from Canada. I've always quite fancied living there although not just so I could watch Canadian TV. I can do that from here. 

The Hollow has likeable characters. I took to them from the start. It also has a good, albeit well-worn, premise that made me want to keep watching, if only to find out what the hell was going on. Supposed to be "for kids" but seems equally suitable for immature adults. I get the feeling it might remind me of Lost if I'd ever seen it, which I have not. I also realize as I write this that I'm almost at the end of the first season and I still don't have the slightest idea why it's called "The Hollow"...

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts - (Season One) - "A girl explores the possibilities in a post-apocalyptic world." Produced by Dreamworks and about as good as that would suggest. Excellent characterization, very good voice acting, smart dialog, funny lines, solid, well-constructed plot. The animation is good but the background art is even better. The story has a moral dimension that doesn't feel forced because it grows organically out of the characters and their developing relationships. Really enjoyable and highly recommended.

Disenchantment  (Season Four) - "Princess Tiabeanie, 'Bean', is annoyed at her imminent arranged marriage to Prince Merkimer. Then she meets Luci, a demon, and Elfo, an elf, and things get rather exciting, and dangerous." - That's the Season One blurb. It seems so long ago. I'd actually forgotten Bean was called Tiabeanie until I copy-pasted that from IMDB. I love this show so much I literally bought the tee-shirt. Tee shirts, plural. Three different designs, no less. We're on Season Four now and I'm not quite convinced it's as strong as the previous three. I can't quite see what the season arc is this time around but I still have several episodes to watch so I mustn't pre-judge. Still superior to anything else in its class, anyway.

Watched all the way to the end:

Lower Decks (Seasons One and Two) - "The support crew serving on one of Starfleet's least important ships, the U.S.S. Cerritos, have to keep up with their duties, often while the ship is being rocked by a multitude of sci-fi anomalies." - I'm no kind of Star Trek fan. I wasn't going to watch this at all even though Amazon seemed determined I should. It's the only Amazon Prime show on this list, Netflix having hoovered up every other animated series since the dawn of time, which is possibly why they were so insistent on me seeing it. 

I was resisting, staunchly, when I read a passing comment in a post at the (Now sadly dormant) Legion of Super Bloggers. One of the writers was bemoaning yet another ruinous version of the LSH, contrasting it with Lower Decks as an example of a spin-off that gave due respect to the original IP. Since I've found myself to be in general agreement with the opinions expressed there, I thought I'd give it a go after all. Nothing like a personal recommendation. Honestly, though, I have such a vague understanding of what Star Trek is supposed to be I doubt I'd be able to tell if any given iteration was "true to the spirit" of Gene Roddenberry's vision. With that noted, I can say that Lower Decks is a great animated show in its own right. 

It's smart, funny, intelligent, well-observed and has some thoroughly likeable characters, who grow and change visibly throughout the course of the two seasons. The stories manage to be both complete and satisfying in the individual episodes and also fit convincingly into larger arcs that feel organic and unforced. It's certainly the tightest, most focused, most satisfying Star Trek show I've seen, although as I said I'm anything but a fan of the IP, let alone an expert on it. I'd recommend Lower Decks to people who previously haven't thought all that much of Star Trek. Whether actual Trek fans would enjoy it or not is a different question.

Kid Cosmic (Season Three) - "A young boy who dreams of becoming a hero, stumbles across some cosmic stones of power. His dreams appear to have come true". - Sadly, this was the final season. I could have watched more. At least it all came to a very satisfying conclusion with no loose ends and everything wrapped up convincingly. The whole Season Three arc was very cleverly handled. To say more would be to give too much away. A really top-class show throughout; great characters, great animation, consistently funny and with some of the best music of any cartoon I've ever seen. There was a different, original song at the end of every show and I watched to the end of the credits every time just to hear it. I'd buy a soundtrack album.

Saturday Morning All Star Hits! - A live action/cartoon hybrid with some connection to Saturday Night Live that I was totally unaware of until I wrote this post. Paul Rudd and Emma Stone feature in the voice acting. Didn't know that either. It's a very specific, I want to say loving, parody of eighties and nineties Saturday Morning TV and when I say specific I mean actual shows (Care Bears, Thundercats...) not just the genre as a whole. 

Given how American the context is supposed to be, I found it extremely familiar. Not only did we get most of the same shows (Maybe not Denver the Last Dinosaur - never heard of that one and I can't say I'm sorry I missed it, based on this.) but we had presenters with much the same attitude and appearance as Skip and Treybor. When I started watching, I thought it was going to be too annoying to stick with but it's very skilfully paced. Everything changes just subtly enough and just soon enough to keep you invested in the story and the characters, both the live action and the animated segments.

The Polygon review makes a point of stressing just how age-critical SMASH is and I suspect they have a point. If you didn't watch this stuff growing up it probably won't have quite the intended effect. That said, I was a grown adult when I watched the Saturday Morning cartooms in the eighties, usually with a hangover from the Friday night and it worked for me. Recommended to anyone of a certain age and anyone who likes scabrous parodies.

Started but didn't finish:

Boy Girl Dog Cat Mouse Cheese - "Following the adventures of two families as they come together under one roof." Is it? Is it really? Can't say I got that from the one episode I watched. It was the title that hooked me, obviously. I watched the first episode and enjoyed it but I haven't watched another. It's about as manic as you'd expect from that title. The characters seemed not just anarchic but quite unpleasant at times although you can't really judge from a single episode. Often they soften. It's some kind of international production and it was first aired on the BBC. Probably not going to watch any more.

Johnny Test - "The adventures of average suburban boy Johnny Test, who wittingly plays test subject for his genius twin sisters' various experiments, reluctantly fighting evil villains in the process." Nice use of "wittingly" there. Respect! This one's really old, like more than fifteen years old. Prehistoric, even. Once again, the title lured me in with its obvious reference to Johnny Quest, another even more ancient show I never really watched, so why that worked I have no clue... Once again, one episode was enough. Nothing wrong with it but you probably need to be about nine years old and stuck in the past.

Aggretsuko - "Frustrated with her thankless office job, the 25-year-old red panda copes with her daily struggles by belting out heavy metal karaoke after work." Come on, you'd watch that! It's anime, it's metal and I was really out of my comfort zone not to mention my depth. I did like it, kind of, but boy was it loud. And spiky. Can't say I wasn't warned. I managed three episodes: there are four seasons. I don't think I can cope with much more but I'll probably try anyway. It was pretty good.

Super Crooks - "Johnny Bolt recruits a group of ragtag supervillains for one last heist. Their target: A ruthless super-powered crime boss. What can go wrong?" Anime again, although this felt much more like a traditional American Saturday morning cartoon, if you ignore the death count. It was perfectly comfortable to watch. I just didn't think it was very interesting. Or good. I managed a couple of episodes and that was probably one too many.

And that's about it. I've looked at many, many more - Netflix is stuffed like a sausage with these kinds of shows - but so far nothing's sucked me in. Something will, though, you can bet on it. When it does, I'll be sure to come back and tell you about it.


  1. For your US readers, The Lower Decks is on Paramount+ and I think only on there.

    I went into The Lower Decks prepared to hate it because I grew up watching Star Trek and feel a familial affection for it and it is SERIOUS BIZNESS! Like that Spock's Brain episode? Totally serious. :)

    But Lower Decks quickly won me over and we loved it. BTW for your readers who watch Star Trek, there are lots of callbacks to the other shows, often just kind of quick one-liners, that are like the icing on the cake.

    1. This whole platform thing drives me nuts. Netflix just lost a whole raft of Marvel shows I've had on my watchlist for two years and never got around to watching. I missed the last three episodes of 30 Rock because I mistakenly believed if I downloaded them before they left the service I'd still be able to watch them. I have a load of similar tales of woe. I'm goign to have to start watching everything I'm interested in as soon as it *comes* to a platform I guess. It's far from ideal.

  2. "I had no idea this was Canadian until I looked it up on IMDB." Seriously? I took one look at the still from the clip and said "wow, a Canadian kids animation" :-). Having not watched The Hollow, your plot synopsis reminds me very much of The Starlost, an extremely poorly-received Canadian YA SF show from the 1970s. I remember accidentally catching a key episode as a kid and being captivated, so I don't know. That said, the best thing about The Starlost is that the show's science advisor, the amazing Ben Bova, wrote a making-of parody novel called The Starcrossed that I found hilarious even before I knew it was based on real events in the author's life. Can recommend.

    1. Heh. I didn't even notice what they were wearing in the still that gets auto-selected for the video link until you mentioned it. That scene must be from an episode I've yet to watch because they're all in jeans and tee-shirts in all the ones I've seen. I'll follow up on The Starlost, which I'm surprised I've never heard of. I wonder if it can really be that bad? I mean, Harlan Ellison's pretty much always annoyed about something someone's done with his work so I wouldn't read too much into that...

  3. Saw your list and went, "Wow! I know those!" Most of them, anyway. Loved Kipo as something with Futurama-style sci-fi humour but a lot more positive, enjoyed The Hollow, am mostly enjoying Disenchantment (the difference being that it has the Futurama-style blackness as well as the humour). Most of the others have popped up in recommendations on Netflix - I'll have to try Kid Cosmic (since you like other things I've liked and recommend it ;-)

    1. I really need to watch Futurama. I did start a few years back but I only sawa handful of episodes. Kid Cosmic is consistently good for all three seasons, I think. It's very upbeat overall although it has plenty of light and shade.

  4. We're a bit overwhelmed with series so I'll not rush to any new recommendations. But, of the list above that I've watched, I love Lower Decks the most. It has very tight writing which manages to be both funny and yet keep meaningful character arcs. Likewise if you haven't watched Final Space I consider it on a par writing-wise with Lower Decks, a great self-contained Sci Fi series. We bounced hard off Disenchantment after two episodes, the humour didn't work for me. Kipo is a really good series as you said above, I enjoyed the world-building in that in particular. I should like Aggretsuko, but I guess I'm on hiatus from learning Japanese and it is soooo shouty...

    1. That's curious. Final Space is on Netflix but I can't recall seeing it come up in the suggestions at all. I'm pretty sure i would have at least clicked through and considered it if it had. I've added it to my watchlist now. Thanks for the suggestion.

      Disenchanted really seems to be one of those love it or hate it shows. There doesn't seem to be much middle ground. There's a post to be written about the problems all serial forms have with building rapport with an audience. Tyler only gave Lower Decks one episode, you gave Disenchantment two. I would need to go back and rewatch both to be sure but I'm fairly convinced that most of the characters in both shows are significantly less likeable in the opening episodes than they're going to become and also the tone of both gives an impression that the shows are going to develop quite differently from how they do. Asking people to stay with characters they don't like as they deal with situations that are awkward and uncomfortable in the hope that those characters will grow and change from the experience and the nature of the whole show will change with them is a very big ask, even more so with the extremely wide range of alternatives now available.

      Anyway, that's a post, not a comment. Maybe I'll get around to writing it one day.


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