Tag Archives: cartoon network

Dec. 21 – Rick and Morty – “Anatomy Park”

img_2952Rick and Morty is Adult Swim’s latest hit. Premiering in December 2013, it appeared to be just another Adult Swim cartoon, but come the season 3 premiere it seemed to really take off. That was the episode, you may have heard, that involved a certain flavor of discontinued McDonald’s McNugget sauce that went viral. It caught the attention of McDonald’s, who seeking to capitalize on the spotlight, re-released this sauce in limited quantities and geeky fans did what geeky fans do – they went nuts.

As a result of that debacle, Rick and Morty seems to have engendered a bad reputation. Or rather, its fan base has. Some of that is due to lead character Rick, a super scientist of extreme, almost god-like, intelligence who also happens to have real character flaws. He’s a user and an abuser, but he’s almost always right and the victor of each episode causing some fans to view him in a positive light. He’s really not supposed to be though and viewers should be laughing at him, not with him, as the saying goes. He’s kind of like a Walter White, or if you want to get real nerdy, a Raistlin Majere before that character had his redemption arc.

Is it the show’s fault when its fans act stupid in its name? Yes and no, but I lean more towards the “no” side. Ignoring the drama, Rick and Morty is just a really fun, inventive show created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland. It’s ugly, cynical, gross, and strangely captivating. It took me a little while to get into it, but that was mostly because the Rick character and his constant burping and drooling just kind of grossed me out. I don’t know what it is about his constant burps, but it just makes me queasy and I’m not usually the type who is turned off by gross humor. I got over it though, and once I did I got pretty well hooked. This is the kind of show I can just drop in and out of and usually have a laugh. There is some connective tissue between episodes, but in general you don’t need to keep up with it to know what’s going on and to enjoy an episode by itself.

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Are you ready for a Jurassic Park parody at Christmas?

At its core, Rick and Morty is like a deranged Mr. Peabody and Sherman with a touch of Back to the Future. Rick is the old man and a super genius. Morty is his neurotic grandson. Together they go on interdimensional adventures where sometimes Morty learns a lesson, and sometimes he does not. Sometimes they stay home and watch television and don’t even bother with the adventure. They have a some-what combative relationship. Morty is a need for Rick and the why is a bit of a deep dive I don’t want to go on right now. For Morty, Rick is a presence who exerts controls over him. Sometimes he’s a means to an end, and usually his ends are like most teenaged boys, and sometimes he wants to go on crazy adventures, but usually he does not. Do they love each other? It’s hard to tell. Sometimes the show will tease genuine affection on the part of Rick only to reveal it was a farce and sometimes it does but leaves the interpretation open. He’s probably not a truly repugnant grandfather, but he’s certainly not the best.

Rounding out the cast is Morty’s family. Rick lives in their garage and the home is owned by his daughter Beth (Sarah Chalke), a failed doctor who had to settle for veterinary work. She embodies some of her dad’s poorer qualities, like alcoholism and likely depression, and she’s in a rather loveless marriage to Jerry (Chris Parnell). She and Jerry got pregnant young and had a shotgun wedding and never really figured out if they were even in love, though they seem some-what dependent on one another. Jerry is a meek and insecure individual and he loathes Rick and the influence he has over their son. Summer (Spencer Grammer) is Morty’s older sister and is a fairly typical teen. She tries to ignore the dysfunction of her home life, but sometimes she gets pulled into one of Rick and Morty’s adventures.

“Anatomy Park” is the show’s third episode and it’s lone Christmas episode to this point and it originally aired on December 16, 2013. What starts off as a fairly conventional sitcom plot, turns into an outrageous Jurassic Park parody. It also gets rather dark and uncomfortable for a sitcom Christmas special, but that’s Rick and Morty for ya!

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Jerry’s parents have arrived and they’ve brought an unexpected guest.

The episode opens with Jerry, dressed in a festive sweater, getting angry at his family for being too attached to their various electronics on Christmas. He makes them all put their tablets and phones into a stocking, and when Summer refuses he threatens to create a Facebook profile. He tells them his parents are due over any minute for Christmas dinner and it’s revealed they haven’t been by in several years. The rest of the family seems indifferent. Meanwhile, Rick shows up with a gross looking Santa. When Gerry questions who this guy is Rick says his name is Ruben (Jess Harnell) and every Christmas Rick takes him in and gives him a full check-up as some kind of charity case. Jerry isn’t buying it, and the only thing Ruben can say is “Pearl Harbor” while the rest of the family seems charmed. Rick and Ruben disappear into the garage and Jerry’s parents then turn up with an unexpected guest. Leonard (Dana Carvey) and Joyce (Patricia Lentz) have brought Jacob (Echo Kellum), a young african american male, along for Christmas dinner. They don’t really explain who Jacob is, and when asked they explain they’ve had a spiritual awakening of some kind and are focused on experiences and living while in the twilight of their lives. This seems to please Summer and Beth, but Jerry is just confused and anxious.

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Rick also has a festive surprise guest.

Rick pops back in to greet Jerry’s parents, but mostly to take Morty with him to the garage. Once there we see Ruben, naked on a table save for his tattered Santa hat, who Rick says is in bad shape. He’s speaking rather hastily and pushing Morty along who is growing increasingly concerned and panicked as Rick outfits him to look like a poor man’s astronaut. Rick doesn’t explain what’s needed of Morty, and only barks out important instructions as he shoves him into a device and then shrinks him into a tiny syringe. As he jabs the syringe into Ruben, Beth pops in to ask where Morty went and Rick explains he’s busy.

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The episode is a parody of Jurassic Park, but Anatomy Park is also clearly a parody of Disneyland. And the show is not above going for the easy jokes here.

Morty finds himself injected into Ruben’s body and there he finds Anatomy Park. Rick has constructed a microscopic amusement park inside the man’s body and he introduces it in grandiose fashion as Morty walks around and takes it all in. He seems impressed and strangely not panicked, until he arrives at the liver. It’s a scary place, and Rick fills him in on Ruben’s alcoholism and mentions you have to be in a pretty bad place to let someone build an amusement park inside of you. Rick needs Morty to find Dr. Xenon (John Oliver) as something has gone wrong. He first encounters Poncho (Gary Anthony Williams), a crazed military man who freaks him out. Dr. Xenon, some kind of a sentient germ or something, shows up though and welcomes Morty and also introduces his fetching young assistant Annie (Jackie Buscarino) whom Morty takes an immediate liking to. With them is Roger (Harnell) who resembles Steve Irwin. Dr. Xenon explains the security systems have gone haywire as a giant, yellow, xenomorph-like creature bursts onto the scene.

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Our “heroes” of Anatomy Park. Most of them will die.

Back home, the rest of the family is seated down for dinner. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves except Jerry, who is still really thrown off by the presence of Jacob. When he pushes the issue, his dad fesses up to what’s going on. Seeing as they’re getting older, Leonard and Joyce are focusing on the connections that will last beyond their years: their spiritual one. Less important is the physical, which is what brought Jacob into their lives. Jerry gets rather worried and asks if Jacob is their lover and is relieved when his dad says, “No.” That was a bit of a fake-out though as he explains that Jacob is actually his mother’s lover, he just likes to watch and often while wearing a Superman costume. Jacob acts like this is not the least bit awkward and the rest of the family seems amused by it, except Jerry.

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Beth and Summer seem to enjoy the hearing the truth about Jacob.

Inside Anatomy Park, the others run from the creature and flee into the lungs. There they’re joined by a cast member of the park dressed like a dog (Rob Schrab). When he removes his mask he is immediately chastised by Dr. Xenon; apparently breaking character is forbidden. As they look around the lungs, Morty decides to bounce around and have some fun, until they’re attacked by tuberculosis. The little black beings descend like spiders and Poncho opens fire, which rips holes in the lungs causing Ruben to cough. The dog-guy gets caught in a cough, but Morty grabs his hand and requests his name (it’s Alexander), but another cough causes him to go shooting out of Ruben peeling the skin from his bones. He splatters as phlegm on Rick’s face.

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Fare thee well, Alexander.

Rick then starts to pass along advice to our adventurers and prepares to cure Ruben’s TB, until he flat-lines. Proclaiming he can’t cure death, Rick starts to advise Morty that things are going to get dark so he should try riding Pirates of the Pancreas, which is a ride he designed and is really proud of (he insists it wasn’t white-washed and the pirates get really rapey). He also adds that getting them out of the dead man alive is the priority, but why not treat yourself too? Morty is not amused by Rick’s logic.

After the business with Rick is concluded, Dr. Xenon seems ready to eulogize his beloved park, but Morty shuts him up and insists they find a way out. Dr. Xenon explains, rather frankly, the way out is through the digestive tract and Morty insists they head there while Poncho is annoyed he’s supposed to listen to “some 12-year-old.” Dr. Xenon then warns Morty that what has happened to Anatomy Park is the work of an inside job, and cautions him about Annie in particular who was written up for her work at the churro stand. Undaunted, Morty tries talking to Annie where he awkwardly tries to explain he’s not 12, but 14, and it doesn’t go well prompting Rick to make a comment at his expense.

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Dr. Xenon is the only one who seems to enjoy this endless ride.

The group is then shown on the digestive tract ride, which is styled after It’s A Small World and apparently goes on for miles. They’re then set upon by gonorrhea, which rises from the brown water in a rather threatening manner. Dr. Xenon cautions that if they don’t move it won’t see them, then says “whoops” as he mistook gonorrhea for a T-Rex. Their boat is soon capsized, and they’re forced to swim away in the nasty looking “water.” They arrive “on shore” while the penile gonorrhea looms. Poncho then recalls Dr. Xenon saying the chamber was filling with gas and lights a match. With a cool parting line about a burning sensation, he tosses the match at the grotesque monster causing an explosion and destroying it.

At home, the family is gathered in a drum circle all except Jerry who is moping in the corner. Beth offers some consoling his way, but he knows she’s enjoying this. A teenaged boy then shows up and we find out it’s Ethan (Daniel Benson), Summer’s boyfriend. He’s pissed that Summer hasn’t returned any of his texts, but that’s because Jerry took her phone. Summer gets angry in return while Jerry demands to know if he is indeed Summer’s boyfriend which just causes Jacob to step in and defuse the situation suggesting that Jerry needs to get closer with his family.

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You don’t want gonorrhea. You really don’t want gonorrhea.

Back inside Ruben, the “heroes” of our story have reached the end of the digestive tract. They need to gain access to the enlarger ray or whatever it is that gets them out. Before that happens, Morty notices a weird, black, slime creature poking out of Poncho’s backpack. It’s bubonic plague, and it turns out Poncho is the traitor who released the TB virus earlier. He grabs Annie as a hostage and explains he hates working for Dr. Xenon and a lot of people would pay for the plague if he smuggled it out (damn, Ruben had a lot of shit going on in his body). Morty attacks, likely wanting to impress Annie, and Poncho tosses him aside but he does release his hold on the girl. The plague breaks free though and bites him. He loses his balance, and plunges to his death off of the catwalk they’re all standing on. Roger then lets them know they need to go, as the retaining wall they built for Ruben’s bowels is about to burst. As they run, Roger’s foot gets caught. He tells them not to worry, then goes into a long-winded speech about telling his wife what happened to him as the damn breaks and he’s killed by poo.

In the livingroom once again, Jacob is trying to counsel Ethan who is a very angry and troubled young man and the source of his anger is Summer. Jacob works his magic and of course the scene ends with Summer and Ethan in tears making an uncomfortable display of affection in front of everyone. Everyone is pleased, and Joyce is apparently turned on as she and Jacob begin making out while Leonard ducks into the closet to observe from a distance. This causes Jerry to finally blow and declare he hates this, and he’s immediately reprimanded by his mom. Declaring he hates Christmas, Jerry takes his leave.

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Ruben is going to go for a little ride.

Inside Ruben, the three living beings are for some reason taking in a show. It’s a parody of Great Moments with Lincoln, only it’s hosted by an animatronic Ruben. Dr. Xenon is enjoying it while Morty and Annie make out. Rick asks Morty to shut the radio off so he doesn’t have to listen in when Jerry bursts into the garage. Apparently they can’t get out via the digestive tract any more, and something Jerry says about his relatives gives Rick an idea. He has Jerry get him some dynamite and as he cuts open Ruben and shoves the explosives inside him Jerry decides to leave. Rick then tosses the cadaver in his spaceship and takes off, telling Morty he needs to get to the left nipple.

Dr. Xenon explains they can take the bone train and goes into a bit about it that Morty gets irritated by. When they get to the platform Dr. Xenon explains that one person will have to stay behind because the train doesn’t have an autopilot. He lets that hang in there an uncomfortable length of time before conceding he was a dick for doing that. Since Anatomy Park was his responsibility, he’ll be the one to stay behind. Before they can say good-bye they’re beset by ecoli and Morty and Annie jump into the train. As Xenon releases it he realizes it does actually posses an autopilot, but then claims he wanted to die heroically, but he’s not convincing.

The train takes Morty and Annie to where it needs to, while Rick deposits Ruben into space. There he enlarges the body well beyond its normal proportions (he’s a super scientist, after all) and Ruben floats over the United States. There the news picks up on this giant Santa and we see how everyone is reacting with relative calm at a giant, naked, Santa in the sky. All except a poor lumberjack who had the misfortune of being where Ruben’s penis made land.

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Saved by hepatitis!

Morty and Annie are preparing to flee through the nipple duct, when they’re attacked by the big yellow guy from early in the episode. Before it can get to them though they’re saved by Hep C in true Jurassic Park style. It gives the duo a thumbs up, which just confuses Morty as the two are rescued by Rick who can only admonish Morty for losing Dr. Xenon Bloom as Ruben explodes.

On earth, the explosion causes blood to fall from the sky. The family was preparing to head out for some holiday fun, without Jerry, but instead are forced to retreat in terror. There Jerry gets to comfort them assuring everybody things are going to be all right because the TV said so. He returns their tablets and phones and encourages them to relax. In the garage, Rick is a bit down that Dr. Xenon is dead claiming he was the only one capable of building an amusement park inside someone. Annie then chimes in that she thinks she learned enough from him and that she could possibly do it. Rick, apparently convinced, immediately shrinks her and puts her away for later use, which disappoints Morty. Rick assures him he dodged a bullet citing a “floppy vagina” but Morty doesn’t see the problem there. The two then head into the living room and find the family absorbed in their electronics. Rick goes on a rant about it being Jesus’s birthday and they’re all being self-absorbed, but no one cares and Jerry mugs for the camera. In a post credits scene, Rick is on speakerphone with Annie and her new team of developers as they build a new Anatomy Park. They question Rick’s design for Pirates of the Pancreas, causing Rick to hang up on them. The camera pans and we see it’s Ethan they’re inside and when he questions what’s going on, Rick goes on a rant how they’re building a monument to compromise inside of him. The episode ends when Ethan asks who’s paying him.

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It’s kind of like the Macy’s parade, but bigger and with more penis.

“Anatomy Park” is a vehicle for awkward humor that ties in the Christmas holiday. It wants to turn the holiday upside down, and is fairly successful at doing that. The holiday gathering with Jerry’s parents is basically a B-plot. After the reveal of Jacob’s relationship with Jerry’s parents is out-of-the-way, it’s fairly typically paced with the beloved outsider sort of usurping the holiday spotlight from the disgruntled patriarch. It runs out of steam, but those scenes are few and brief so it doesn’t overstay itself. The Jurassic Park parody is where the meat of the story lies, and it’s punctuated fairly well. The plot points aren’t afraid to “go there” with the poop jokes and such, but it’s really driven by the dialogue more so than the actual comedy bits. There are so many little jokes interwoven into the dialogue and I would be doing it a disservice by regurgitating them all here. Suffice to say, while this isn’t as outlandish an episode as it appears at first blush, it’s still very entertaining and I always like it when Christmas gets a little dark.

“Anatomy Park” should be an easy special to come by this holiday season. Adult Swim will likely show it multiple times, so if you were keeping up with the various holiday viewing guides you probably have seen it by now. And if you like waiting until the last minute (or first), Adult Swim is running “Anatomy Park” at midnight on Christmas Eve/Christmas morning. If you prefer to watch without commercials, Adult Swim streams it and it’s also available as part of season one on Blu-ray. I recommend just getting that as the whole season is full of laughs and it’s definitely worthy of a purchase.

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Dec. 20 – The Garfield Show – “Caroling Capers”

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Original air date December 15, 2009

Back in the 1980s, Garfield was pretty damn popular. His presence was pervasive in pop culture, so much so that younger people today would probably be surprised. He originated as a comic strip by Jim Davis, but his popularity grew enough to pave the way for some prime time animation specials. These proved popular, and were the springboard for his own show:  Garfield and Friends. Of those old specials, one of the most celebrated was A Garfield Christmas. It’s one of my personal favorite holiday specials and I included it in my countdown a few years ago as one of the 10 best holiday specials of all-time. It premiered in 1987 on CBS (my mother, who liked Garfield, somehow missed it when making our Christmas tape VHS that same year) and would be shown every holiday season for a few years, though it quietly disappeared in the 90s. Maybe audiences grew sick of Garfield, but I’m a bit surprised just how fast it fled from the annual network rotation. Later on in the 90s you could sometimes find it on cable, but now the special is seldom shown.

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The Garfield Show ran from 2009 to 2016.

What’s not really remembered too fondly is the second cartoon series based on the fat cat. Simply titled The Garfield Show, it premiered on Cartoon Network in November of 2009 and would run for over 100 episodes, eventually making the move to Boomerang in 2015. The Garfield Show is a CG animated program executive produced by Davis and it actually returned a lot of the cast and creative group behind Garfield and Friends. It was a half-hour based program in which each episode was split into two cartoons. It’s not a show I am that familiar with. I was aware of its existence when it originally aired, mostly just from seeing it on the channel guide and mistaking it for the old cartoon. It’s not something I was supposed to be aware of though since I didn’t have kids at the time and few of my friends did. It was created to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the character and I assume it was to re-introduce the characters to a new audience. Since it ran for so long I’m left to assume it was fairly successful.

“Caroling Capers” is the show’s first Christmas episode and it aired during the first season on December 15, 2009. It features the main cast of characters. There’s Garfield (now voiced by Frank Welker as Lorenzo Music passed away in 2001) whose personality is unchanged from his other iterations. Odie (Gregg Berger) the dim-witted mutt with a heart of gold. Jon (Wally Wingert) is just as awkward as always and is constantly being pestered by his cat for more food. And in this episode we also have Nermal (Marc Saez) the vain kitten from next door who annoys Garfield to no end.

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“Caroling Capers,” like most Garfield stories, is all about Garfield trying to get some free food.

The episode opens with Jon decorating his Christmas tree and having a difficult time with the star. He remarks how Christmas is his favorite time of year and that it feels like just yesterday he took down the Christmas decorations from last year. Garfield, watching television and looking quite relaxed in a lounge chair, remarks that’s because he probably did and that Jon rarely gets to taking them down before Halloween. Odie is watching TV as well and seems very into the Christmas special they’re watching. He angrily glares at Garfield who won’t shut up about his growling stomach (the sound of which also seems to annoy Odie). On television, Garfield takes note of some carolers in the program Odie is watching. They sing for an old woman, who then gifts them some treats. Garfield, after being informed the Christmas turkey is still hours away from being ready, decides that this may be the solution to his tummy trouble.

Putting on a festive hat and scarf, Garfield hits the neighborhood hoping to score food in exchange for Christmas carols. He first shows up to the front door an old man whom he interrupts while cleaning the floor. He sings a carol and his performance is quite terrible prompting the grumpy old man (Welker) to toss a bucket of water on Garfield and slam the door in his face. Undeterred, Garfield goes to another house and its the home of some bachelor who I have seen featured in other episodes (and is also voiced by Welker, who basically voices everyone, it seems). Garfield again performs for this guy and he’s just as awful as before so the man fetches a spray bottle to get Garfield the Hell off his property.

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Garfield’s singing fails to impress.

Odie has been watching this whole time and laughs at Garfield’s misfortune. Nermal then shows up to offer his 2 cents and also to demonstrate how to properly carol. Nermal invites Odie to be his backup singer and the duo perform for the same man that just sprayed Garfield. He falls for the two and offers them a prime rib dinner and figgy pudding. Garfield faints in shock while the two chow down, with Nermal remarking you either got it, or you don’t.

Garfield rises from the ground and gives chase, proposing they share some of that delicious food in keeping with the holiday spirit. Nermal shoots him down pointing out that Garfield never shares his food with them, which Garfield is forced to concede. He then suggests he could be their vocal coach, and Nermal seems to find the idea absurd. Garfield demonstrates his singing once more, and a Christmas ornament on a decorated tree in someone’s yard shatters (which makes no sense, since Garfield is singing low, not high). When Garfield tries again, the needles fall off the tree. Even after such a poor demonstration, Nermal offers to let Garfield in on their caroling if he can hit a high C note. Garfield explains the best way to do that is to yank out a nose hair, which he does and then (mostly) hits the note while running around in pain. Nermal lets him in, and Garfield explains he’ll be the conductor at the next house. When they begin their caroling for an elderly woman, Garfield stops them and demonstrates how he wants them to perform, prompting the woman to dump a bucket on his head. Nermal and Odie then resume their duet for food as he reminds Garfield he’s just not adorable enough.

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Garfield is about as good at conducting as he is at singing.

Garfield decides he needs to find a way to be more adorable if he wants to score food with this idea. He peeks in on a gentleman watching the same special Odie had been watching and notes that the carolers all sing rather high. Garfield decides he needs to sing higher if he wants to impress, which strikes me as a bad idea. Garfield tries some warm-ups, that sound terrible, then tries again on the next guy. He seems startled to see this bulky gentleman in the doorway, but he goes through with his performance. Singing so high he sounds like Welker’s version of Slimer from The Real Ghostbusters, it’s not much of an improvement, but it certainly is higher. The gentleman at the house is not impressed though and thinks Garfield is making fun of his unusually high voice. As the high-voiced man glares down at the cat, Garfield runs away suggesting maybe he needs some back-up singers.

Garfield is then shown conducting in a shed. It sounds fine, and it’s revealed he’s leading a trio of performing mice. The mice agree to join Garfield’s troupe so long as they get first dibs on any cheese gifted their way. With that, Garfield leads his new band to the next house which happens to be inhabited by a young woman. She sees the cat and his three mice performing and immediately freaks out. She grabs a broom forcing the critters to run. The lead mouse tells Garfield they’re out.

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Nermal and Odie actually make for a fun pairing.

While Garfield is wearily walking down the street, Nermal and Odie are performing for the first house Garfield hit. They have a wagon full of food at this point, and the old man who once dumped water all over Garfield happily gifts them a pair of hams. Garfield can’t believe it, and angrily kicks a can that was sitting on the sidewalk which lands in a nearby wheel barrow. The pinging sound catches Garfield’s ear, and he gets an idea. Rummaging through a nearby trash can, he comes out with some sticks and more cans. The sound of steel drums are then heard and they attract Nermal and Odie who find Garfield drumming on the cans which he placed in the wheel barrow. They both look at each other as if to suggest they have an idea, and soon we get a montage of the two caroling while Garfield plays “drums.” The people they visit all react favorably and hand out more food, and Garfield finally gets to share in the festivities.

The montage ends at the Arbuckle residence with Jon setting out the turkey and calling for Garfield and Odie. Odie drags the wagon into the room with Garfield laying in it, patting his full stomach. Nermal is there as well and they’re all too stuffed to consider eating dinner. Jon remarks that Garfield not being hungry must be a Christmas miracle, which causes Garfield to rethink his fullness. He smiles at the turkey while remarking that maybe he can handle a few bites as the episode ends.

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Jon is also still around and still making way too much food for a bachelor and his pets.

The Garfield Show, for one, really shows its age. I don’t think it looked particularly good when it aired, but the CG looks pretty dreadful in 2018. The show basically looks like a Playstation 2 game with very simple textures and backgrounds. There’s obviously some other limitations at work as Garfield and his buddies keep hitting the same houses throughout the episode instead of showing us new faces. Garfield’s mouth also moves this time, implying he (and Nermal) are actually talking though the mouth movements aren’t particularly good. There’s also lots of animation shortcuts as we usually see the aftermath of the water being tossed at Garfield, or the needles falling off of the tree, rather than seeing those things actually animated. I would not call the show ugly, but it’s definitely not as charming as the original specials and cartoon. I will say the Christmas decor looks fairly nice, and I like the festive clothing worn by the characters in this episode.

As the voice of Garfield, Frank Welker is obviously trying to do a Lorenzo Music impression and he mostly does a decent job. It’s sort of odd that someone with Welker’s background would feel the need to imitate another voice actor, but maybe he just also felt this was the most appropriate voice for the character. Garfield is a low energy character, and the sleepy quality of his voice is part of his charm. The other music in the episode is kind of weird and sounds like an episode of Rugrats. For the carols, the characters just say “La-la-la” or “meow-meow-meow” to the tune of “Deck the Halls” which is fine. The sound design on Garfield’s drums is quite nice though.

One thing this episode does get right is the humor of Garfield. It’s not a laugh out loud kind of show and is more of an understated brand of comedy. It fits with the character, it’s the limitations of the technology behind the show that ultimately hold it back and keep it from being a true holiday classic. I’d much prefer to watch the classic holiday special, which in addition to being funnier is also rather sweet and does a better job of getting that Christmas message into the show. This one is just fine though, and as a 12 minute cartoon the caroling scheme works well with the character. Garfield just wants to get fed while doing as little as possible.

If you want to watch this one this Christmas, then you have several options. While I don’t expect Boomerang to air it, the entire show is on Netflix. There was also a holiday themed DVD of the show released titled Holiday Extravaganza which may or may not be easy to come by. There’s also an official YouTube channel for the show, so I feel comfortable actually linking you to this episode since it’s apparently official. It’s also free!


Dec. 18 – I Am Weasel – “Happy Baboon Holidays”

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Original Air Date September 30, 1997

For today’s installment, we’re taking a trip back to Cartoon Network of 1997 and the animated short I Am Weasel – “Happy Baboon Holidays.” I Am Weasel originated as a segment as part of the Cow and Chicken show, which was part of the second wave of Cartoon Cartoons to become a full-fledged show. Like Dexter’s Laboratory, Cartoon Network asked the show’s creator, in this case David Feiss, to pair off the characters with another original character to provide some variety for the show. Feiss’s creation ended up being I. M. Weasel, a heroic weasel (voiced by Michael Dorn) who is beloved by all and always does the right thing. As an antagonist, there’s I.R. Baboon, a moronic and mean-spirited baboon who refuses to wear pants and hates Weasel. The pairing of a weasel and a baboon was inspired by the classic nursery rhyme/song “Pop Goes the Weasel,” and Feiss just thought it would be funny to have a heroic weasel instead of the typical weasel character which is usually scheming and selfish.

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I Am Weasel ran from 1997 to 1999.

I Am Weasel ended up being popular enough to get spun off into its own show. The old segments from Cow and Chicken were also packaged together making the broadcast order of the show a little confusing. It technically spanned five seasons, though it really only had one 27 episode season as its own show. “Happy Baboon Holidays” was part of the first season and originally aired with episode 12 of the Cow and Chicken show which first debuted on September 30, 1997. None of the other shorts appeared to be Christmas themed, and I don’t know why a Christmas I Am Weasel was inserted into a Cow and Chicken episode before Halloween. As we saw with Johnny Bravo last year and Dexter’s Laboratory earlier this month, Cartoon Network didn’t seem to think it mattered if Christmas episodes premiered out of season.

The comedy of I Am Weasel is largely slapstick in nature, and it also relies on the dichotomy of the two leads. It also, like Cow and Chicken and many 90s cartoons, thinks butts are inherently funny. I. R. Baboon’s bright red rump is almost always in frame when he’s present and there are plenty of close-ups on it. It’s probably the most detailed aspect of the character too. The audience is also expected to laugh at how poor and miserable Baboon is justified by the fact that he’s stupid and mean. The squeaky clean Weasel is actually rather boring as he’s pushed into the straight-man mold. He speaks intelligently and is often accompanied by a heroic theme. The series was aware of the fact that Baboon was really the star, since the humor flows through him, and he basically overtakes Weasel in the fifth season.

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Of course, he exits butt-first.

This episode opens with I.R. Baboon (Charlie Adler) in his dilapidated trailer doing laundry. Baboon is too poor to own an actual trailer that one would live in and actually lives in something closer to a camper. There’s a knock on his door and he peers through the peephole to see his family:  mom, dad, and sister. His mom (DeeDee Rescher) announces they’ve decided to surprise him for Christmas, and Baboon goes into panic mode because his home is not prepared to host for the holiday. He jumps out the window, leaving his family outside in the snow, to go fetch a Christmas tree.

weasels discovery

Weasel’s tree actually isn’t much better than what Baboon ends up with.

As Baboon goes off tree-hunting, time passes and snow falls causing his family to freeze. Weasel sees them and drags them into his lavish home which towers over Baboon’s trailer and thaws them out. Once free from their icy prison, the Baboon family is quite taken with Weasel’s home and find him quite charming. Mom even seems tickled by Weasel, but concedes she’s married and offers up her rather large daughter (Marabina Jaimes). Weasel is much too polite to decline the young baboon’s affection, though he’s clearly not interested.

baboons big tree

Easily the episode’s best visual.

Baboon returns home with a gigantic tree that he shoves through his front door and through the back of his trailer. It basically just lays there looking ridiculous. He notices his family is gone, but looks up and sees them singing carols with Weasel from his balcony. This enrages Baboon and he takes his wrath out on Christmas. He smashes the inside of his home and totally trashes it, destroying anything resembling Christmas. He even rips all of the needles off his freshly harvested tree, but he’s not done, for he needs to take revenge on Weasel. He seals Weasel’s chimney so Santa can’t come and covers the roof of his house with explosives to ensure his Christmas is ruined. After his trap is laid, he seems to lose his enthusiasm for mayhem. He returns to his ruined home to cry.

she likes weasel

Baboon’s rather large sister really takes a liking to Weasel.

Weasel takes note of Baboon’s sad state, though his reaction feels a bit detached like he doesn’t even know who this Baboon is. He realizes that Baboon needs to be cheered up so he puts on a Santa costume and stuffs a giant sack into Baboon’s home. Baboon looks upon this “Santa” with cautious eyes as the sack is opened to reveal Baboon’s family. He snaps out of his depression and is now happy to have his family in his home for Christmas.

baboon hates xmas

Baboon revolts against Christmas.

Unfortunately, he fails to tell Weasel about the trap he left for the real Santa. An explosion rockets Santa (Bruce McGill) off the roof and plunges him into a snow bank outside of Baboon’s trailer. Weasel frees him, but finds Santa is feeling a bit blue as this is apparently not the first trap-laden roof he has come across this evening. To help reinvigorate Santa’s Christmas spirit, Weasel directs him to look in on the Baboon family where he sees the four happily exchanging Christmas gifts. This seems to warm Santa’s heart, and all is right on Christmas as the brief short concludes.

santa weasel

Weasel does get to play Santa in this one.

“Happy Baboon Holidays” is fairly low-key for an episode of I Am Weasel. There aren’t even many butt jokes, save for Baboon’s boxer shorts containing a hole to display his prized rear end. Baboon’s tantrum is rather brief, but I suppose the most entertaining part of the episode. It’s kind of sad to see him smash his meager possessions, though I think it’s supposed to be funny to see him stupidly harming himself. The Baboon family doesn’t offer much, and the giant, ugly, sister isn’t really funny either. I don’t think I actually laughed at this show, though I did find the visual of Baboon stuffing a full-sized tree into his trailer kind of amusing.

Visually the show is pretty simple. Backgrounds are rather sparse and the show has a very flat look to it. Baboon is designed with a lot of corners and straight lines and is meant to be rather ugly, though Weasel doesn’t exactly look pretty either. The snow looks nice though and I did get a sense of cold from the visuals. The depiction of Santa is kind of ugly though, not as ugly as George and Junior‘s Santa, but definitely not as nice as the Flintstones/Dexter’s Laboratory one. He comes flying in on a sleigh pulled by four reindeer, which earns instant demerits from this reviewer.

happy baboon christmas

A nice, warm, ass-exposed, hug makes any Christmas worth having.

“Happy Baboon Holidays” is not really worth watching. I suppose if you liked Cow and Chicken it might be worth it to watch the entire half-hour block this segment first aired in. I did enjoy that show when it originally premiered, but I doubt I would now. It was a very 90’s show so it was rather loud and obnoxious. It struck me as the type of show that reveled in appealing to children at the expense of their parents. The show was actually pretty popular and one of Cartoon Network’s most successful. Despite that though, I Am Weasel has not received a proper physical media release. Seasons 1 and 2 were released in Thailand for some reason, while season one was also released in Region 4 (Australia/New Zealand). For US audiences, only sparse releases exist of a few episodes at a time on VHS and DVD. If you want to see this particular episode, you’re actually in luck as it was part of the 2005 release Cartoon Network Christmas 2:  Christmas Rocks. That DVD will likely only set you back around 5 bucks making this special one of the cheapest, and easiest to obtain that we’ve covered. If you’re dead set on not acquiring more physical media though, Cartoon Network is pretty lax when it comes to these old cartoons so free versions are not hard to come by online.


Dec. 17 – Metalocalypse – “Dethmas”

metalocalypse

The boys of Dethklok (left to right):  William Murderface, Skwisgaar Skwigelf, Nathan Explosion, Pickles, and Toki Wartooth

A show that felt like it was made for, Metalocalypse was an animated show on Adult Swim about a fictitious death metal band and their misadventures. And yet, it was a show I could never get into. It began in 2006 as I was exiting college and heading into “the real world” in which I had a brutal commute and long working day. As a result, I was forced to abandon my night owl lifestyle which meant I missed out on a lot of the Adult Swim programming that began during this era. Even when things calmed down for me and I attained some normalcy, I never really returned to Adult Swim for no particular reason and I slept on this show, despite numerous friends telling me it was something I needed to watch. I saw an episode here and there, it just never stuck. It was also kind of annoying to watch on cable since the script for each episode is loaded with profanity so there’s a constant stream of bleeps when shown on television. This is a show best enjoyed on either home video or via an uncensored streaming platform.

“Dethmas” originally aired December 6, 2009. Unlike a lot of these simply animated programs on Adult Swim, Metalocalypse is a half hour formatted show (for season 3 only). It was the brainchild of Brendon Small, a musician himself who is probably best known for the show Home Movies, and Tommy Blacha. Only someone familiar with the European metal scene could dream up this show, and it’s pretty incredible that it received a green light from Cartoon Network given how niche the subject matter is. It ended up being one of the longer running shows for the network, finally coming to an end in 2013 with a one-off special. In total there were 63 episodes produced, and this episode was part of the show’s third season.

Dethmas tree

Christmas is coming for Dethklok.

The show opens with the band watching television. They’re watching the news (and the anchor is voiced by Mark Hamill) coverage of their “friend” Dr. Rockzo (Tommy Blacha) who has been arrested for stealing from a homeless charity to fund his cocaine addiction. Dr. Rockzo looks like an 80’s David Lee Roth if Roth were a clown strung-out on cocaine. Toki (Blacha) is given some grief by his band mates over his friend’s relapse, but Toki is quick to point out he’s severed all ties with the clown. The conversation then shifts to the upcoming Christmas holiday, and William Murderface (Blacha) wants to put on a Christmas special, but the rest of the band tells him that’s lame. He gets pretty pissed off and vows to go it alone. Nathan Explosion (Brendon Small) reveals that their moms sent them a DVD for Christmas, and the band reluctantly watches it. It’s pretty easy to tell which woman on the video is related to which band member, with the most obvious being Murderface’s grandmother who looks exactly like him except she’s obese and rides a scooter. Murderface is quite taken by Skwigelf’s mother, a buxom blonde who briefly exposes her undergarments Sharon Stone-style. The video ends with the revelation that the moms are coming for Christmas, and the band is not happy.

dethklok moms

The Dethklok mothers, and one grandmother.

The band is then shown lounging in a hot tub still complaining about their mothers and Christmas. We’re shown a brief montage of what happened last time the ladies visited, which apparently included a drunken game of Twister. They vow to not let their moms drink this time. Murderface then meets with his business partner, Dick Knubbler (Small), and he’s not happy that the rest of the band won’t be joining them. He informs Murderface that he won’t have any creative input, and when asked why, he lists out other failed business ventures by Murderface which included exploding pyro devices and a cologne of his own urine. They need to secure some financing though, and it’s going to be hard with just Murderface.

rockzo claus

One horrifying Santa.

Dr. Rockzo is also shown being released on bail. He’s told to stay out of trouble and get a job. Conveniently, Toki, being the only member of the band who seems to love Christmas, heads off to the mall to see Santa and that’s just where Dr. Rockzo ended up getting a job (as Santa). Rockzo is able to get Toki to take him back to the home of Dethklok where he continues to go through cocaine withdrawals. Murderface also receives a phone call from Knubler letting him know his proposed ideas for the special (he wanted tits and murder) have been rejected. Worse news, they only found one sponsor:  The Christian Church. When Murderface questions if aligning himself with the Church would be considered selling-out, the various yes-men on the line suggest it’s fine and he cheerfully goes along with it.

The mothers have also arrived, and no one is happy. The moms want the boys to take them shopping, and we get a brief sequence of Explosion trying to find a parking space at the mall which ends in a car accident. Meanwhile, Dr. Rockzo has escaped and has managed to score some cocaine. He happily prances around the park announcing his score to the world while waving his drugs around in a plastic bag until he runs into a cop.

murderface view

Murderface doesn’t seem to mind at least one of the Dethklok moms being there.

Murderface and Knubbler are forced to meet their sponsor, an unnamed priest voiced by Small. He wants to put on a very Christian production and Murderface appears more onboard than Knubbler who can’t stop swearing in the priest’s presence. When he returns to the homestead, he finds his band mates in Christmas sweaters completely miserable. This allows Murderface the chance to convince his bandmates to join the special with him as it’s something they can do with their mothers to get them off their backs. He also claims it will be brutal, which is a blatant lie, but is needed to get Explosion onboard. We then get a montage, framed by Rockzo’s coke habit, of the band and their moms getting ready for the special. A lot of the images show the band forcing their moms into manual labor to get the set constructed.

murderface special

This will not go well.

When the special arrives, it’s actually a fairly wholesome experience. Hosted by Murderface and Knubbler, they do the nativity in which the baby Jesus defecates repeatedly and the audience seems to enjoy the impromptu poop jokes. The priest seems pleased as well, and the scene shifts backstage where Murderface’s grandma is on the hunt for booze. She finds a door comically chained and locked and claims to smell alcohol behind it. Rockzo is also there, and he’s managed to gain access to the backstage area. Toki, getting ready for his prized Secret Santa portion of the special, finds all of his gifts are gone and he immediately blames Rockzo. Meanwhile, the rest of the band is watching the special unfold on live television from the green room, and Explosion sees who the sponsor for the show is and immediately gets pissed.

rockzo job

At least Dr. Rockzo got to enjoy himself.

On set, Murderface and Knubbler are dressed in tuxedos and are seated in a living room setting. A knock on the door prompts them to speculate on what surprise awaits them on the other side, in true corny Christmas special fashion. It’s the mothers, and now armed with booze are completely smashed. They stumble onto the set rather clumsily. Explosion is next, and he simply punches Murderface in his murder face and drops an f-bomb, which does not go over well with the priest. The other band mates storm in and they’re just as pissed, and Dr. Rockzo is there as well. He collapses onto the couch and Skwigelf’s mother begins giving him a handjob. Toki also gets crushed by a giant cross on set along with Murderface’s grandmother, which Murderface seems to enjoy. With the whole special in disarray, the priest attacks Murderface and begins choking him out as Knubbler is forced to hastily wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

“Dethmas” is a silly Christmas special, which you probably expected. It seems absurd for this show to even have a Christmas episode, but the setup works and it’s amusing to see the band get suckered into a Christmas production. It’s a very crass special, with tons of profanity and even the other F-word is used at one point, which surprised me. The context was that Murderface and Knubbler looked “sissy” while hosting their special. It makes sense in that context, since it’s coming from an aggressively macho metal band member, though I do wonder if it would have been used if recorded today. Rockzo and his cocaine addiction also gets a lot of play for laughs, though by the end of the episode I was mostly over that. Him getting a handjob during the special though made up for it, as that visual was quite amusing. I’m guessing Adult Swim wouldn’t let them get away with animating anything more salacious, such as oral sex, as the positioning of the characters suggests maybe that’s what they originally intended to have happen.

dethmas ending

Not the ending shot the Christian Church was banking on.

I did enjoy the portrayal of each band member and their response to the holiday incoming. Toki was the cute one who genuinely likes Christmas and Santa and all of that stuff. He just wants to give his buddies gifts and be merry. Meanwhile, Nathan Explosion hates Christmas, but he also keeps finding a silver lining in the holiday suggesting the Christmas Spirit could be a murderous ghost or something. Pickles (Small) and Skwigelf mostly can’t be bothered with the holiday, though their attitude towards it is closer to Explosion’s. Murderface just wants to make money off of it and enhance his star. As the least charismatic member of the band, it makes sense that he always has an inferiority complex and is willing to sell-out for additional fame.

If you think your holiday needs a satirical dose of Heavy Metal, then “Dethmas” should do fine. It’s actually fairly light on music, but the atmosphere is still there. It’s also easy to come by. If you just want to stream it, Adult Swim will let you watch it on YouTube for a couple bucks. You can also pick it up with the rest of Season 3 on DVD. If you go that route it will probably set you back around $25 if you want it new, less if you’re willing to go used. You can also purchase it digitally through Amazon for $2.99 an episode. There’s also the chance Adult Swim airs it this month. The network is usually pretty good about airing its Christmas Specials though it favors shows still in production so it could get passed over. If you want to see this one though, you have no shortage of options.


Dec. 7 – Dexter’s Laboratory – “Dexter vs Santa’s Claws”

Dexter_vs_Santas_Claws

Original air date April 29, 1998. Yes, you read that right.

After yesterday’s entry ran 3,000 words, it seems like a nice time to slip in one of the shorter specials we’ll be looking at this year. This one comes from the Cartoon Network original Dexter’s Laboratory. Created by Genndy Tartakovsky, Dexter’s Laboratory was one of the inaugural series to be spun-off from the Cartoon Cartoon/What A Cartoon! show which was basically an elaborate testing ground for cartoon pilots. Cartoon Network, which at the time mostly consisted of old Hanna-Barbera shows, would package together three cartoon shorts and air them over a half hour of television. Viewers could call into a hotline and vote for the short they liked best. At the end of the year, Cartoon Network would have a big New Year’s countdown ranking all of the shows in order of what was most beloved and what was not. The network wasn’t beholden to do anything with the results so for all we know they decided on what to promote and what not to, but Dexter’s Laboratory was one of the most well-received and it was the first to get a full production order.

The show is about the title character, Dexter (Christine Cavanaugh), a boy-genius with an elaborate and high-tech laboratory hidden under his parents’ house. They’re unaware of their son’s impressive intellect, but sister Dee Dee (Kathryn Cressida) is not. Despite Dexter’s best efforts, Dee Dee often finds a way into his lab and drives him crazy often times ruining whatever his latest invention is. He also has a rivalry with another boy genius, Mandark, and one of his laboratory monkeys also got to star in his own series of shorts. An episode was usually broken out into three short segments and I have mostly fond memories of it.

dexters fantasy

What Dexter thinks happens on Christmas.

“Dexter vs. Santa’s Claws” was the third segment of episode 37 of season 2 which first aired on April 29, 1998. Why did a Christmas episode air in April? I do not know. The show did have some issues with production delays, but that’s not out of the ordinary for a cartoon series. Often when that happens networks will just sit on a holiday episode and air it the next time that holiday comes around, but Cartoon Network apparently didn’t want to do that. The network didn’t even want to wait for Christmas in July. In looking over the episodes from season 2, a Halloween one premiered the prior month so I’m guessing this was supposed to air in 97 or something, or Cartoon Network just didn’t care.

santa magic

What really happens on Christmas!

The episode begins with Dee Dee using Dexter’s super computer to make her Christmas list. Dexter is irritated she would be utilizing his computer for such a foolish task and reprimands her. He explains she’s wasting her time for Santa Claus is just make-believe. When Dee Dee counters with a question of who puts the toys under the tree, Dexter explains, through rap, that their father does that. The humor is in how far Dexter thinks his parents carry the ruse insisting that their dad not only dresses up as Santa, but he disguises the car as a sleigh and puts it on the roof. Their mother, dressed as a reindeer, greases him up and sends him down the chimney with all of the toys. Dee Dee insists that’s not what happens, cutting his very poor rap off in the process, and gives the more conventional explanation of elves and magic. Dexter vows to prove her wrong.

jolly santa

Dexter confronts Santa, who only speaks in “ho’s”

That night, while everyone sleeps, Dexter sits in front of his monitors fighting off sleep hoping to catch their father in the act. When a sleigh and some reindeer go whirling past he thinks he’s got him. He emerges from his lab to find Santa in the living room getting down to business. The Santa model looks almost exactly like the one from A Flintstone Christmas only he seems incapable of speech and just keeps saying “Ho ho.” Dexter accuses him of being his dad in disguise, forcing Santa to magically flee up the chimney. Still not convinced, Dexter heads for the roof as well and confronts Santa once again as he climbs into his sleigh. He manhandles a reindeer, thinking it’s an elaborate costume worn by his mother, and even snaps its antlers off. Santa then takes off leaving Dexter stuck in the chimney.

dick dexter

Dexter is basically a violent, little, asshole this whole episode.

Dexter was apparently prepared for such a development as the chimney morphs into a high-tech spaceship and detaches from the house. In doing so it takes the side of the house with it leaving Dee Dee’s room without a wall. She awakens due to the frigid air and goes to shut her already closed window when she catches sight of Santa. She watches as her brother pursues him firing missiles which Santa intercepts with gifts (“Those better not be my presents!”). Dexter resorts to laser-fire and eventually he hits Santa causing him to crash into their home.

dee dee mad

When Dee Dee doesn’t have her pigtails in, the flatness of her head makes her look like Hulk Hogan.

Now with Santa incapacitated in the ruined livingroom, Dexter approaches armed with an electric razor. As he shaves off Santa’s beard his father (Jess Bennett) enters the room demanding to know what Dexter is doing. His mom (Kath Soucie) follows, still wearing her rubber cleaning gloves that she always wears, and is horrified to see the Christmas tree and everything else in ruin. Dee Dee then follows and scolds Dexter further demanding to know where her presents are. Dexter is forced to apologize for ruining Christmas, again, and apparently realizing he’s in a Christmas special, implores his family to treasure that they’re together and not fret over the destroyed gifts and decorations. He breaks into a rendition of “Oh Christmas Tree” and Dee Dee puts a stop to that telling him he’s wrong and calling him a block-head. When he asks what Christmas is about then, a beard-less Santa let’s him know, “The presents.”

look out santa

Do you like dog fights in your holiday specials?

“Dexter vs. Santa’s Claws” is a pretty odd entry in the world of Christmas specials. We’ve seen plenty of cynical specials, and some that are just bizarre, but this one has an all-together different feel. Dexter basically beats up Santa Claus. He’s relentless and cruel. Unlike network-mate Johnny Bravo, he didn’t mistake Santa for an intruder or something he’s just trying to beat a confession out of him. And possibly worse, he assaults a reindeer and breaks its antlers off, which just sounds painful. The only really cute aspect of the episode is Dexter’s hypothesis on what really happens on Christmas Eve. Even though he’s super-smart, he’s still a kid and isn’t capable of just assuming his parents stick presents under the tree, they have to make it elaborate. The ending of the episode with the message being that Christmas is about the presents is pretty much the cynical 90s cartoon take. A lot of the comedy shows delighted in upending norms and that’s a pretty logical point for this one to make.

destruction

Ruined Christmas.

Revisiting this series reminded me how flat the design is. The characters are about as flat as those on South Park and they practically slide across the screen rather than trying to create the illusion that they exist in three dimensions. It’s a stylistic choice more than a budget one, I think, but it’s not unique to this show as basically all of the Genndy Tartakovsky shows were animated in this fashion. I really enjoy Christine Cavanaugh (RIP) as Dexter. He’s one part Chuckie from Rugrats (who Cavanaugh also voiced) with an accent that kind of sounds like Ren from Ren & Stimpy, with perhaps a slight Swedish twist? It’s an accent that doesn’t exist in the real world and it’s a funny quirk of Dexter. The show is also very bright and the characters change attires even in this brief little short which is kind of neat. I also definitely liked the homage to the Flintstones Christmas special. I wouldn’t think they were able to actually re-use the model from that special, but this Santa was definitely drawn to look almost exactly like it.

no beard santa

There is something very unsettling about a beard-less Santa.

“Dexter vs. Santa’s Claws” is not going to make you feel good about Christmas. It might make you uncomfortable to see Santa get his ass handed to him, but it also might make you laugh. It’s certainly different and I don’t regret watching it or anything, but it’s more dark than funny so ultimately I suppose it comes up a bit short. If you’re looking to check it out this year, Dexter’s Laboratory can be found on Hulu and iTunes. The entire series is also available on DVD, but it’s out of print and kind of pricey. This specific episode can also be found on The Powerpuff Girls:  ‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas DVD and also on the Cartoon Network:  Christmas Rocks DVD and both are cheaper than getting the entire series. And as usual, if you’re not picky about quality you can probably find this one streaming for free somewhere on the world wide web.


Dec. 1 – Aqua Teen Hunger Force – “Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future”

athf

Aqua Teen Hunger Force – “Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future” originally aired on December 29, 2002

Welcome back to The Christmas Spot! It’s that time of year once again when this blog takes a break from the usual and turns into your very own Christmas advent calendar of holiday goodness, and some badness. Starting today, it’s nothing but Christmas specials until the big day, and to kick off this year’s installment it seemed appropriate to tackle the episode “Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future” from the Adult Swim original Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force was created by the duo of Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro and was one of the inaugural shows featured on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block in 2001. The show follows three anthropomorphic fast food items:  Master Shake (Dana Snyder), Frylock (Carey Means), and Meatwad (Dave Willis). At first, the trio are a mystery solving team, but that premise is pretty much dropped after a few episodes and the show is essentially about nothing. It’s random and absurd with the bad-natured Master Shake often trying to enrich himself at the expense of his roommates, Meatwad and Frylock. Their neighbor Carl (Willis) is a frequent victim of their various schemes and they often attract the attention of weirdos, freaks, and aliens who seek to do harm. Crudely animated and briskly paced, each episode is essentially 11 minutes of surreal comedy. Most of the time it works and it’s really funny, though there are some duds in there that swing and miss badly. The show ran for 139 episodes and even spawned a movie making it one of Adult Swim’s most successful shows.

ghost and carl

Carl has a ghost problem.

Closing out the first season is this episode, “Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future.” That mouthful of a title refers to a new character introduced in this episode, the actual Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future (Maiellaro), heretofore simply referred to as ghost or robot because I am already sick of typing out that title. The ghost first shows up at the episode’s open haunting Carl’s house. In February. Yes, this may be a sort of Christmas special but it doesn’t take place at Christmas for the sake of comedy. At first, the ghost is just annoying as he keeps telling stories about the past accompanied by an unusual amount of smoke. He shows Carl his Christmas as a child when his poor, dirtbag, of a father had nothing but carpet samples to give him as a gift. He couldn’t even play with them as the samples were also Christmas dinner. The scene is actually reminiscent of Scrooged and the flashback to Christmas past from that film.

carl's crappy xmas

Carl’s unfortunate childhood.

Carl is not exactly thrilled about being haunted by a ghost robot, but he becomes really annoyed when the ghost fills his prized above ground swimming pool with blood. Apparently, the blood is actually elf blood and at this point the neighbors enter the episode to question Carl about the blood-filled pool and the weird, annoying, robot. The ghost is happy to tell them about why the pool has been filled with elf blood, but not before first suggesting they pull up a few chairs and some snacks. He regales them with a story about the origins of Santa Claus, who was once a great, red, ape named Sir Santa of Claws. He constructed crude toys and hurled them at other apes. There’s also lots of defecation, as the robot points out. This Claws came into contact with some martian elves, that he enslaved and defecated upon and the story goes on and on. Eventually, everyone either gets annoyed or falls asleep. All except Meatwad who seems both horrified and captivated by the story.

ghost's story

The ghost is eager to tell his tale, but warns that any who listen will likely want to get a snack first.

At this point, Carl just wants to know how he can make the blood in his pool go away. The ghost tells him he needs to give of himself to the great, red, ape in space. And by give of himself, he means sexually. Carl, surprisingly, doesn’t seem mad as he deadpans a “wonderful” response to the request. We then time-jump to the next day (presumably) and Frylock and Carl are discussing him selling the house. Frylock asks if he considereds just doing what the robot said, but Carl is pretty adamant about not getting raped by a gorilla in space and I can’t say I blame him. He mentions he has somebody coming over to look at the house, then tells Frylock to go away so he can take a shower. He heads off to do just that, then comes running out of the bathroom horrified and covered in blood. Frylock tells Carl he can just shower at their house, but he’s about as excited about “gettin’ nude in your house,” as he is about the space monkey.

santa claws

Santa Claws!

Carl is then shown giving a tour of the house to his respective buyer, and it is none other than Glenn Danzig who is voicing himself. We’ve covered quite a bit of Danzig material this year at The Nostalgia Spot so it seems only fitting we should cover his foray into animation this Christmas, no? Danzig is illustrated as being a shirtless guy in black pants and he’s pretty intrigued about a house that bleeds. His only concern really is if the robot can make the blood flow up the walls, and the robot pops in to assure he can. He’s also in love with the idea of a swimming pool filled with blood. He’s not a good house-buyer as he’s clearly let on to Carl that he wants the place, and when he asks for a price Carl just throws out a million and Danzig happily accepts. Carl is overjoyed, a rare occurrence on this show as he usually ends up dead or something at the end of most episodes.

story's over

Shake has the right idea.

Sometime later, Master Shake is looking out the window at the house formerly owned by Carl and sees Danzig heading over. He tells everyone in the house to scatter as the door is pounded upon by the muscled musician. Shake cheerfully opens the door and offers food from their “Haunted Kitchen!” and Meatwad goes into a lame routine of turning the lights on and off while wailing “Daaaaaaaanziiiiiiiiig! You want something to eaaaaat?” Not amused, Danzig goes into a rant. His robot ran away and he’s the source of the house’s blood so Danzig is quite ticked off that he’s not around. He warns Shake that if he’s hiding that robot there will be Hell to pay, in more words or less. After he leaves, Shake is relieved and the ghost robot pops into the image. He announces that he hates living with Danzig and finds him annoying. Plus, he never wears a shirt. Shake doesn’t care and simply demands that the robot make their house bleed right now and then we cut to the end credits.

carl's buyer

Looks like Carl has miraculously found a buyer for his bleeding house in Glenn Danzig.

So this one really isn’t much of a Christmas special. It contains a really wild tale about the origins of Santa Claus, though it will be admitted in later episodes that the ghost who spins this tale knows nothing of the past and isn’t even from the future. Like many characters on this show he’s just insane. Carl is the victim, as he often is, throughout most of the episode but actually ends up doing well in the end. The main characters of Shake, Meatwad, and Frylock actually don’t have much to do since the ghost’s story takes up so much of the meager 11 minute runtime.

angry danzig

Danzig isn’t too happy when his robot runs away. Seems like we’re overdue for a follow-up episode about a rocker and his search for his beloved robot.

There’s no denying that, as a Christmas special designed to make you have those warm, fuzzy, feels “Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future” comes up woefully short as there’s really no Christmas spirit to be found at all. How much you enjoy the episode depends on your brand of humor, and if you’re amused by the Glenn Danzig cameo (which I obviously am). Danzig apparently wrote a lot of his own lines and if you’ve ever heard him rant in an interview or on stage then that probably doesn’t surprise you as his rant at the episode’s end is very much on brand. The episode is animated crudely so it’s not particularly attractive, but there’s value in the crudeness and humor as well. I find this one funny, and it’s short enough that it doesn’t overstay its welcome (though the intentionally long back story of Santa does toe the line) so I can give this one a solid recommendation.

And if you’re looking to catch this one on television this year then you may be in luck. Adult Swim is pretty good at airing its various Christmas specials throughout December. Since this one is so old and from the pre-HD era they may bypass it. In that case, it appears to be streaming for free at adultswim.com and finding it online isn’t particularly hard either. It was also released on DVD as part of Volume 2 of the show (even though it was considered a season one episode) and getting that set probably won’t set you back much. If you liked reading this though then come back tomorrow when we’ll have another Christmas special to talk about, and I promise it will be a bit more “Christmasy” next time. See you then!


Dec. 23 – Teen Titans Go!: Second Christmas

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Original air date December 4, 2013

The Teen Titans are a super hero group consisting of all of the heroes no one cares about:  Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Raven, and Beast Boy. They got a chance to shine in their own series, which was eventually spun-off into a satirical comedy series called Teen Titans Go! This series is basically a flash animated cartoon in which the team does little actual super hero stuff and mostly just confronts every day mundane activities in an overly dramatic way. It’s not a show I’m very familiar with, having only watched an episode here and there just because it seems to always be on Cartoon Network. My once infant son seemed to like the theme song and all of the colors, so I’d on occasion use the program to distract him for a few minutes. I’ve had people tell me it’s a really funny show, and others tell me it’s one of the worst things DC has ever done with its brand. I’m guessing if you have no affection for the comics then this show is mostly just dumb humor that’s not entirely annoying, but if you actually enjoy the Teen Titans as a super hero group then you probably have a negative opinion of this thing.

“Second Christmas” aired during the show’s first season in 2013. I may not be familiar with this show, but i am familiar with the post-Christmas blues. December 26th is often cited by me as the saddest day of the year – 364 days until next Christmas, 365 if it’s one of those wretched leap years. Boxing Day just doesn’t do it for me, and the premise of this episode is immediately appealing to me because the characters are dealing with that very same thing, and to combat it, they come up with Second Christmas.

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Who doesn’t enjoy a good Christmas sweater?

The episode opens on Christmas morning. We get some shots of the Titans’ HQ, a giant building shaped like the letter T, and it’s all decorated for Christmas with numerous DC references. The stockings are hung by the fireplace loaded with toys and goodies, implying Santa has come and gone. I very much like that Cyborg’s stocking is a giant steel boot. The camera zooms in on a Batman alarm clock which immediately goes off at 8:00 AM. What?! You mean in a building occupied solely by kids the inhabitants stay in bed until 8 on Christmas morning? Hell, I rarely let the sun beat me to Christmas morning. When the alarm goes off, the Titans come running out from their rooms. They observe the cookies have been consumed, the milk has been drunk, and they tare through their wonderful new gifts. The gifts are supposed to be kind of funny, I take it, but the only one I like is Starfire’s Dr. Seuss inspired thing that I couldn’t possibly spell.

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I feel like Beast Boy should really be a reindeer here and not a dog.

The Titans move onto ugly Christmas sweaters and food. The day, as it often does, goes by like a whirlwind and suddenly it’s the 26th. Everyone is feeling down except Robin, who channels my mom in this scene by gleefully pulling down all of the Christmas decorations. He’s the most straight-laced of the group and wants to get back to training and doing super hero stuff while the others just need to wallow. Starfire is less upset as she apparently has a Christmas-like holiday to attend on her home planet, or wherever she’s from. There some kind of purple dinosaur that isn’t Barney replaces Santa amid chaos and flames. Seems interesting. The others are a bit jealous that she gets to run off for more holiday shenanigans so Beast Boy comes up with the idea of telling her about Second Christmas. Raven and Cyborg play along, and they soon have Starfire convinced that Second Christmas is a real holiday complete with its own Santa, obviously named Second Santa. He’s tall, skinny, and wears a green track suit and flys around with a jet pack.

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Robin is pretty willing to move on from Christmas while the others are reluctant to do so.

Robin walks in on them and immediately tries to put this Second Christmas nonsense to bed, but Beast Boy informs Starfire that Robin is the Grouch of Second Christmas and she shouldn’t listen to him and instead punch him in the face – so she does. Second Christmas suddenly becomes a thing that occurs at the expense of Starfire as the others leave it to her to re-decorate the place, cook a new Christmas dinner (consisting of junk food like pizza and burritos), and handle all of the presents and such. Somehow a Second Christmas kite becomes thing, and Starfire is very much interested in meeting Second Santa. A Dr. Seuss-like narrator also pops in to add a little magic to Second Christmas. Starfire is happy to go along with everything as she’s promised a Second Christmas miracle by Beast Boy should everything go well.

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All decorated for Second Christmas.

A montage, very much a re-hash of the opening one that covered Christmas, takes place showing the Titans in celebration. Robin remains a grouch, but doesn’t continue to protest. He still gets punched in the face though for making a sour face during Second Christmas Carols. He finally voices concern when Starfire activates the many, many lights she’s strung up all over the building, drawing attention to the huge waste of money powering them all is. He notes that their generator can’t handle this much stress and tries reasoning with Starfire. He tries being sympathetic to her and explain that the others are playing a trick on her, then gets angry when that doesn’t work, only earning him yet another punch in the face. Starfire won’t be fooled by the Second Christmas Grouch, the narrator informs us as we get a look at the swelling generator.

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All seem quite pleased with how Second Christmas turned out, except Robin.

Inside, Beast Boy remarks how he’s beat from all of this Second Christmas celebrating and Raven and Cyborg are quick to point out how great it was. They all decide to head to bed, but not Starfire who did not miss her people’s most important holiday to not witness a Second Christmas miracle. Suddenly, the others show a bit of remorse, but they only tease copping to her about the whole thing. When they say “There’s something we should tell you,” it just leads to them bidding her good night after unsuccessfully trying to get her to go to bed herself. Robin can only look on with disappointment.

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Starfire is pissed.

Starfire takes to the roof to fly her Second Christmas kite in hopes of spotting Second Christmas Santa. She tries to convince herself to believe, assuming that’s what will lead to a miracle, but nothing happens. The narrator comes in to recount all of the things she has done throughout the day to ensure Second Christmas was perfect. Just then, a flash of light bathes her in a warm glow! Second Santa? Nope, it’s just the elevator to the roof containing her teammates with Robin ordering them to tell her she’s been had. They finally come clean and hang their heads in shame, apologizing, but Starfire isn’t too accepting. She missed the most important day of the year for her home world for Second Christmas and she goes ballistic throwing nuclear snowballs at her “friends.” Even Robin isn’t spared as she still calls him the Grouch and punches him in the face. I’ve always thought Robin was pretty lame, but damn does he get abused in this episode.

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He is real! He’s really real!

After all of the Titans are trapped in the snow, a bright light appears. Even Robin and the others wonder if this is the coming of Second Santa, while Starfire turns to the light with renewed Second Christmas Spirit. Turns out it’s just the generator overloading and soon the whole thing explodes. We fade to white and find the Titans all waking up in hospital beds. Turns out the explosion put them all into comas and they’re just now all waking up simultaneously 363 days later – it’s Christmas Eve! A Second Christmas Miracle! The creation of their fake holiday has had the intended result as the Titans were not forced to wait for next Christmas, it came! They reflect on the miraculous event, as the camera leaves the confines of the hospital room to reveal the identity of the episode’s narrator as none other than Second Santa himself. He takes to the sky in his jet pack, just as Starfire approaches a window to witness him. He gives her a wink, and writes Happy 2nd X-Mas in the sky before flying off.

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I guess I should have run this on the 26th, but there’s no way I’m doing a 26th blog entry on Christmas this month!

“Second Christmas” is a pretty silly and, at times, mean-spirited little Christmas special. It’s also strangely relatable as who likes waiting a whole year for Christmas? I mean sure we all get sick of the songs at times and there’s always a few really annoying commercials each year, but Christmas is such a wonderful time of year it sometimes gets a little sad knowing it’s just one day out of the whole year. Of course, that one day has been stretched into two as Christmas Eve is basically a holiday at this point, and the entire Christmas season is eerily undefined. At retail it basically begins the week of Halloween while many at least push it off until after Thanksgiving. And then it kind of lingers through the new year before vanishing completely as kids return to school and adults back to work. As a concept, I love this episode and I like the little flourishes that give it a holiday special vibe such as the narrator or visual gags like a snowman coming to life when Cyborg places hie head upon it. As something that’s funny or entertaining, it’s less successful as there’s really no laugh-out-loud moments, but a short running time (about 11 minutes with opening and closing credits) keeps it from over-staying its welcome. As a result, I’m pretty lukewarm on the whole thing which pretty much matches my attitude toward the series as a whole.

Teen Titans Go! is run all of the time on Cartoon Network, it’s basically that channel’s SpongeBob, so I expect this episode to air numerous times during this holiday season. If the network is smart, it’ll be shown on the 26th to really capture the mood of the episode. As of this post, it’s scheduled to air on Christmas Eve at 1 PM. The show is also available on DVD and Blu Ray and streaming in various places on the web.