overthinking the idiot box

June 5, 2006

Animation on television, child-safe and otherwise.

The Season in Review

by Adam Lipkin

With Season Two of SMRT-TV coming to a close, this is a great time to revisit some topics I've covered over the last couple of years.

In my third column last year, I praised season one of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Season two just finished its run on Adult Swim, and it's been every bit as intense. Everything that made the first season so impressive — the political intrigues, the hunt for a criminal mastermind, the thoughtfulness on what it means to be human in a world in which everyone is jacked into the net — is there in spades, but the stakes have been raised. What starts as another search for ideological criminals (this time for a group known as the Individual Eleven) eventually morphs into a series of political intrigues that puts Japan on the brink of a civil war. The sharp writing makes the complex plot flow perfectly. As far as I know, there's no third season in the works even in Japan, but the series comes to a satisfying conclusion by the end of season two.

I also devoted a column last year to two shows — Krypto the Superdog and The Life and Times of Juniper Lee — that were created by well-known folks, but which hadn't lived up to their potential. Looking back, Paul Dini's Krypto is still the same mess it was a year ago, full of cute ideas that simply fall flat. The insistence on running two episodes in each half-hour block might be a part of that problem, but other shows (like The Powerpuff Girls) have proven that it shouldn't be. In the end, Krypto, beautiful art aside, still underestimates the intelligence of its audience.

And I have to admit that it works in spite of what I suggested last year — the increased focus on June's family (especially her grandmother and her kid brother Ray Ray) has managed to make the show stronger.
The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, on the other hand, has matured into a show every bit as funny as I'd first hoped it would be. Creator Judd Winick seems to have done a nice job of letting his show evolve, as most shows credit him with the story idea alone, letting other writers shape the specifics of his plots. And I have to admit that it works in spite of what I suggested last year — the increased focus on June's family (especially her grandmother and her kid brother Ray Ray) has managed to make the show stronger, with Ray Ray in particular turning into one of the best cartoon sidekicks since Invader Zim's Gir. This one's definitely worth adding to your Tivo playlist.

I also praised Catscratch over on Nicktoons last year, and that's something that's unchanged. It would be nice, however, to see a few more episodes get released. The good news for folks obsessed with the show is that there are plans for a line of McDonald's Happy Meal toys early next year (something that should bode well for the show's chances of being renewed).

The first column of this year reviewed, and panned, Coconut Fred's Fruit Salad Island, still quite possibly the worst animated show of the last fifteen years. I've already reported its cancellation in this column a few weeks ago, but if you've ever had the misfortune of sitting through this derivative piece of crap, it's something that can't be said enough. This abomination epitomized everything that's wrong with animated television.

Last November, I had high praise for The Boondocks. Things only got better for that show as the writers found solid footing. Episodes like "The Itis," (about Grandpa opening a soul food restaurant that sent every customer into a food coma) were side-splittingly funny, and "The Return of the King," (the MLK-Day episode imagining how Martin Luthor King would react to the present-day world) was nothing short of brilliant. The show has been renewed, and a longer season (twenty episodes compared to the fifteen of the first season) is headed our way.

Finally, I've heaped more praise on Justice League Unlimited (and the other shows set in that universe, from Batman to Static Shock) than on anything else over the course of the last two years. Barring a miracle, there won't be any opportunities to do so during Season Three of SMRT-TV. So here's one last cheer to the end of the best animated universe on television, which went out with a near-perfect two-part episode last month. May it serve as an example for future animated series.

Here's hoping that everyone has a happy summer. When SMRT-TV returns this fall, I'll be taking a look at the best (and worst) of the new fall cartoons.

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Return to Season 2, Episode 18.