When my high school sweetheart and I broke up (quite a long time ago) there were only a few things we fought over. We knew we each had to go our separate ways, so the breakup itself wasn’t the source of any fighting. One VHS tape on the other hand provided the focus of most our disagreements however. Get your head out of the gutter right now. That tape didn’t feature anything inappropriate for general audiences. Instead it was six hours of glorious “Animaniacs” recorded off television. This was before bit torrents or DVD, so home recorded videotapes were one of the only ways to enjoy television on a personal schedule. Naturally, we both wanted possession of six hours of one of the best animated television shows to hit the airwaves.
For those who haven’t had the opportunity to explore the brilliance of “Animaniacs,” here’s what’s so great about the show: the basic idea of the show is that the Warner Brothers (and the Warner sister) are rogue, oddball animated creatures that couldn’t be controlled by their animator. Instead the studio chose to lock the creations on the production lot water tower – a ridiculous thought obviously drummed up by some studio executives. I mean, who really thinks cartoon characters could be locked up in a water tower. Naturally, the characters escape frequently and run wild around the studio, allowing the show some brilliant opportunities at satire and farce of the various movies, characters, and actors.
Writing down the premise like that doesn’t sound all that fascinating. I wasn’t all that interested in the show when I first heard about it. It was only when I actually came across an episode on television that I saw just how intelligently the show was done. Imagine a caricature of William Shatner performing karaoke or a scary clown who acts and talks like Jerry Lewis (adding reinforcement to the “clowns are scary” idea). At the same time, the show provided some educational services through some of their musical numbers, such as a recitation of the countries of the world set to the Mexican hat dance song. Still, the show was at its best when it allowed its characters to utilize the cartoonish skills that made Bugs Bunny so exceptional.
“Animaniacs” gets a first volume DVD release this coming week, along with the first volume of “Pinky and the Brain,” a spin off show based on some of the variety of different characters that contributed to the show’s popularity. For those who don’t remember the show or never knew it, The Clicker is proud to provide a brief cliff notes on some of the more memorable characters of the show.
Yakko – the leader character of the Warner Brothers (and the Warner sister). Yakko talks circles around everyone else, provides the brains of the operation, and is best known for his trademark phrase, “Good night everybody!” Yakko helped the show appeal to different ages, often providing humor that would go above the heads of younger viewers but would be caught by adults.
Wakko – the hungrier and stranger of the Warner Brothers (and the Warner sister). Wakko eats just about anything, belches a lot, and fears clowns. With his Liverpool accent he is definitely the oddball brother of an already strange family. At the same time, he provides some of the best musical numbers of the trio and took center stage in the only Animaniacs movie.
Dot (aka Princess Angelina Contessa Louisa Francesca Banana Fanna Lay Onna Pile Of Origami the Third) – the Warner sister, Dot provides the feminine voice for the show, which really is like saying Smurfette provided a feminine voice for the Smurfs – it just really isn’t there. Still, she’s cute, at least that’s her real schtick, and that allows the show to fawn over good looking male celebrities just as much as the Warner brothers get to fawn over...
Hello Nurse – The nurse is part of the trio of characters who are perpetually trying to get the Warners back in their water tower, however she’s much more than that. The catchphrase attributed to the disproportionate beauty became an exclamation of awe for a while. Even today when I see an unnatural beauty there’s a part of my brain hollering out “Hello Nurse!”
Pinky & the Brain – Two lab mice providing a dichotomy of stupidity and brilliance, all while trying to take over the world. Brain comes up with schemes to achieve world dominance while Pinky (narf!) barely manages to remember to keep breathing. These two were the most successful of the other Animaniac characters, eventually getting their own show although it never succeeded in capturing the success of their roots. Eventually the duo were paired with Elmyra from “Tiny Toons,” totally jumping the shark.
Mindy & Buttons – Remember all the old Tom & Jerry cartoons where they chase after a baby as she wanders through dangerous environments like construction sites? That’s Mindy and Buttons. Each segment featured Buttons the dog being left in charge of baby Mindy, who inevitably would follow a balloon or butterfly into danger, making Buttons chase her. Sure it’s an overused schtick, but somehow “Animaniacs” made it work again and again.
Rita & Runt – Talk about your odd pairings, a musical cat and dog are among the top. On top of that make that dog a portrayal of Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man and you’ve got one of the strangest musical duos to ever appear. By adding Rita and Runt, the show was able to really go after some of the worst aspects of musicals. From popular shows like Les Miserables to shows that felt the need to randomly break out in song, Rita and Runt took them all on.
Slappy the Squirrel – What happens to cartoons when they get older? They go into cartoon retirement communities and reminisce about the simpler days of comedy where a seltzer water bottle squirted down the pants was real comedy. That’s Slappy the Squirrel – old fashioned cartoon humor from a cranky retired cartoon. It was close to my least favorite of the segments offered on the show, but still made me laugh.
The Goodfeathers – Lighten up the mob mentality of Goodfellas and make the central characters pigeons and you have Goodfeathers. If Slappy was near the bottom of my interest, Goodfeathers were right at the bottom, only above a pair of romantic Hippos. I don’t know why I didn’t get Goodfeathers, but it never seemed funny to me. The DVD release will either allow me to discover the humor in the trio of birds or fast forward through them.
“Animaniacs” Volume 1 hits DVD shelves this week – a good thing since the show isn’t currently being aired anywhere that I can find. Some of my favorite episodes are still missing but will hopefully appear on future volumes. Until then, I’ll have to continue trying to get custody of a decade old VHS tape.
Grizzly Man (Discovery Channel) 8:00 pm
Werner Herzog’s documentary comes to cable TV. Just a warning, the ending is a bit of a downer, but you can’t help but be fascinated by the story of Timothy Treadwell, the man who spent thirteen years living among the grizzly bears before being killed by them.
”Entourage” (HBO) 10:00 pm
Strange Days- (New!) – I really can’t let a week go by that I don’t promote this show to someone. This week Eric starts to have doubts about his relationship with Sloan. See, that’s what happens when you bring a third person into sex. Meanwhile, Vince goes up for bid in a celebrity auction.
”How I Met Your Mother” (CBS) 8:30 pm
Zip, Zip, Zip - (repeat) – The summer continues with a double dose of HIMYM on Monday nights which is a great way to catch up with the show if you missed it the first time around. In the first episode, Robin suits up and joins Barney for a night on the town. Catch the later episode at 9:30pm for a more downbeat episode as Ted and Victoria have to decide what to do when Victoria is offered a fellowship position in Germany.
”Big Brother 7: All-Stars” (CBS) 8:00 pm
(New!) – I’m contractually obligated to Television Section Editor Kelly West to mention “Big Brother” is new at least once in this column. It’s on like fourteen billion times during the week and I don’t personally watch it, but if I don’t at least mention it she has threatened to make sure I’m evicted from the Cinema Blend house… whatever that means.
”Eureka” (Sci-Fi) 9:00 pm
Many Happy Returns - (New!) Want a quirky science fiction comedy/drama? Previously a fan of “Eerie, Indiana”? You’ll probably really get into “Eureka,” the Sci-Fi channels latest new series. This week turns on the heat as the series “villain” appears in the form of Ed Quinn while Carter deals with meeting someone in his office whose funeral he just attended.
”Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King” (TNT) 9:00 pm
The Road Virus Heads North - (New!) – Tom Berenger and Jeremy Sisto become the next celebrities to appear in these adaptations of Stephen King’s short stories as a novelist finds himself haunted by a piece of artwork he felt compelled to purchase and an ex-convict gets his hands on a piece of a treasure map.
”The Office” (NBC) 9:00pm
Boys and Girls- (rerun) – Only one episode this week but it’s one of the funniest of the season. When Jan holds a “women in the workplace” seminar for Dunder Mifflin’s female employees, Michael decides to retaliate with some male bonding in the warehouse.
”Who Wants to be a Superhero?” (Sci-Fi) 9:00 pm
(New!) – Stan Lee offers up the prize of rendering the winner of this reality series in a new comic book, which is enough to convince people to jump into spandex and pretend to be a hero. I can’t promise this will be “worth a look” for substance, but it might make you feel a little better about your level of geekdom, provided you aren’t one of the competitors on the show.
”World Series of Poker” (ESPN) 8:00pm
New Orleans Circuit - (repeat) – Yeah, it’s a rerun, but what else are you going to do on a Friday night? Kick back, watch some professionals play poker, and be glad you’re not out trying to watch Miami Vice. Episodes continue for several hours, during which time you can also keep tabs on what’s going on with this year’s main event in Vegas.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (HBO Family) 8:30 pm
I really can’t recommend much of anything for Saturday night, a night so devoid of decent programming I almost wish CBS would offer some more episodes of “Big Brother” this night so there would be something to talk about. At the very least you can watch the best of the new Star Wars trilogy as Anakin Skywalker completes his transformation to the dark side for very different reasons than we were expecting when we walked into theaters.