Tuesday, August 31, 2004

And where the journey may lead you, let this prayer be your guide

NBC's Fall season starts tonight, with the usually-excellent (yet starting to get mildly inconsistent in its fondness for terrible guest stars) Scrubs, as well as the series premiere of Father of the Pride (previously suspiciously mocked here and here.) Knowing of NBC's propensity for offbeat and exceptionally precise primetime scheduling, I checked their main page - and for the first time noticed the official promo site for Father of the Pride. The character bios are mildly amusing, I'll admit - but suffer from an excess of topicality. Barack Obama may be an up-and-coming star of the Democratic Party, true, but such a gratuitous mention seems a bad omen. I believe animation should at least strive for timelessness of a sort; topical references shouldn't be overly specific. (On the other end of this scale was WB's Freakazoid!, whose animators were overly fond of randomly inserting Princess Diana, Bill Clinton, and Newt Gingrich into random scenes. But only they, again and again and again.) Consider the classic Looney Tunes short, "Falling Hare," (in the public domain, and freely viewable) which most may better remember as 'that one with the gremlin.' The punchline of one joke - "Say, could that have been...a gremlin?" "It ain't Wendell Willkie!" is utterly confusing to the average viewer today, who may know nothing of the 1940/1944 Republican presidential candidate. And that's to say nothing of the references to munitions quality control and gasoline rationing, mostly alien even now, despite another vital war raging. Or look at 1950's "8 Ball Bunny," with the recurring appearance of Humphrey Bogart's character from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre spoofing scenes from the same; current audiences may recognize the cariacature, but not necessarily the reference. However, these shorts continue to work despite their topicality, because they don't use it as a crutch; there's beautiful art to watch and broad humour to laugh at that doesn't exclusively rely on name-dropping. On the other hand, consider The Simpsons' "Treehouse of Horror IX," from Halloween 1998: Marge: I can't believe it. Jerry Springer didn't solve our conflict. Lisa: And now he's dead. Kang: Anywho, this is your last chance. Turn over the baby now. Kodos: Or we will destroy all your leaders in Washington. Marge: [knowingly] Oh, you couldn't destroy *every* politician. Kang: Just watch us. [laughing menacingly, they board their flying saucer and take off] Bart: Don't forget Ken Starr! Marge: Suckers. The Ken Starr line was notorious even at the time for having obviously been added after primary production of the episode was complete; it plays, sped-up, over a frozen frame of the back of Bart's head. The gratuitous topicality, even for a personage who was topical for about a year, seems somewhat mystifying now. In another ten years, I imagine those watching the rerun will have to look up Ken Starr to understand the joke. That's the problem, you see. That's why I still have terrible suspicions about the potential quality of Father of the Pride; it can't possibly be as brilliantly lively in animation as the early-to-middle Termite Terrace productions, and it doesn't have the institutional weight of multiple seasons behind it to compensate for occasional inconsistency. I'll still watch it, of course. It's not like there's anything better on in that particular timeslot; Governor Schwarzenegger doesn't speak until 10:00 tonight. But I have the feeling it'll yet turn out to be another The PJs or God, the Devil, and Bob.

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