Saturday, May 16, 2009

Overdue, But Worth It

Well, I wanted to talk the last two weeks about it, however circumstances beyond my control (not quite Whiskey Tango Foxtrot worthy) did otherwise. So, I will talk about my current favorite cartoon series right now.

Having lived for almost five decades, I have liked (in chronological order) Astro Boy, The Flintstones reruns, The Smurfs, Pokemon, SpongeBob SquarePants and most recently, Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, but right now, because I babysit for a two-year-old nephew, he is in love with superheroes. Currently, his three favorite shows are Super Why, Curious George and WordGirl. There are some built in reasons why he likes Curious George and WordGirl, because both shows have monkeys in a central role. According to the former head writer of WordGirl, Jack Ferraiolo, who co-devloped the series with creator Dorthea Gillim, monkeys make any cartoon 30% funnier. Well, that's what he says. And why do I like WordGirl? Allow me to count the ways.

1. You learn something and LOL at it. Okay, there's two levels at this series simular to a cartoon series called Rocky and Bullwinkle, which is celebtrating it's 50th anniversary this year. (All hail Wottsamatta U!) The first level is aimed at the kids, who learn a new word or two in the episode, while the adults get a batch of in-jokes (such as the guy who thinks he's at the police station, but isn't, and we learn that "sometimes we need help setting up the next scene.")

2. The kitchy retro feel. WordGirl/Becky Botsford (her assumed alias) lives in the city of Preposparocity where her adopted family has a 1950's style station wagon, no digital cable/satellite TV or internet access, and her cell phone is so 1995 clunky sized. When she is Becky, she wears knee-high socks and black-and-white saddle shoes and her hair is done like Jackie Kennedy in a pompadour flip.

3. What kind of villainy do we have here? Because this is a send up of superhero cartoons, there are villians. There's Doctor Two Brains, once a noted scientist who was accidently fused with an angered albino mouse but is now trying to steal all the cheese in town (and buy crackers to go with them); The Butcher, who serves up meat attacks and mangles the English language; Chuck the Evil Sandwich Making Guy, whose head is a sandwich and lives in his mom's basement (think Nathan Brice with a noggin as a BLT); half-woman half-copier Lady Redundant Woman (a human Thesaurus); evil businessman Mr. Big, who uses mind control to get what he wants, namely squishy bunny rabbits (the mind control part is in his company's mission statement); Granny May, an elderly thief who feigns being scatterbrained to get her way; The Whammer, who interjects "wham" and "whammer" when he isn't using his fists to use in a sonic boom; a narcisstic game show host named Seymour Orlando Smith (think of an evil version of Bob Barker with a spray tan and some bling) and Steve McClean, whose gimmick is to tidy up his crime sites.

4. The Voice Cast. Where do I start? Lots of familiar actors from the cartoon world (Cree Sumner, Tom Kenny, his wife Jill Talley, Grey DeLisle and Darran Norris); familiar people from regular acting (John C. McGinley from "Scrubs", Jeffrey Tambor from "Arrested Devlopment", Peter "Good Morning Mr. Phelps" Graves, Patton Oswalt who was the voice of Remy in Ratatoullie); a narrator who's in on everything (ex-SNL regular Chris Parnell) and comedians/improv vets (such as Dannah Phirman, who voices the titlular character. She was a one-year regular on the now defunct "MadTV".)

And not only that, she's also promoting litereracy, too, even for the company that created her, Scholastic Entertainment. Check out the video.

Modern over-the-air television has simply cheapened the cartoon expreiences we had when we were younger, thanks mostly in part to kiddie-driven cable nets like Nick and Cartoon Network. These days, we are forced to have "consumer lifestle" programming from tween-driven Disney Channel on ABC disguised as "E/I" shows, CW has 4K!DS programming their block four years after they lost Pokemon (as per The WB, which merged with UPN to form the CW), NBC and Ion share a project called qubo, and CBS is abysmal after Nick was spun off into the new Viacom. Meanwhile, Fox has abandoned the genre for infomercials, and My MiniNetworkTV (which I don't even recognize as a TV network at all) doesn't even have kids shows. And the days if an independent station are not at all worthy, unless My MiniNetwork drops off the face of the earth. PBS is the only network with the guts and senses to continue this service of providing quality children's entertainment. Please thank them for it.

WordGirl airs weekdays on PBS, check your local station for times and info.

1 comment:

  1. Even though it's been years since I've seen it, my favorite cartoon was always The Fairly Oddparents.