Jun 17, 2006
A short rant on mediocrity
I don't watch much television on a regularly scheduled basis, and almost no animated television at all.
Just a moment ago I happened to channel surf past an apparently new cartoon show. It looked astonishingly ugly, but art direction aside, what really struck me and had me zap the TV off in disgust was the scenario I was presented with: a dinner table scene. Yes, another one. Mom, Dad and sons are sitting at the table, having that sort of family time that makes me wonder who the writers and "creators" are. Did they grow up in the 1930s? Because the idea of presenting a modern "dad" in a tie at dinner, and "mom" in a flowery dress, batting her eyelashes, sporting a hairdo from approximately 1953 is so old it's dead, edges molding and about as funny as current events in the middle east.
When Brad Bird spoofed the nuclear family in the early 1980s with his "Family Dog", it was fresh and inventive, and most importantly it was funny. The audience--mere laymen along with we, the animation folk of the world, cheered and laughed our keesters off because it was so well observed. I'm not saying that it's impossible to continue to make comedy-animation hay out of the old paradigm of The American Family, but man, by now, 2006, it's got to be clever, it's got to be good--it's got to be real on some level. These aren't real in any way, shape or form, and they don't supply anything to fill the resulting gaps; no flights of weirdness that stems from anything approaching originality. Only a retread of a fantasy of a family experience that none of the creators actually had.
These shows, dozens of them, repeat and recycle the same dull old stereotypes, barely tweaking the "edgy" and utterly superficial design of the ciphers that stand in for characters. Watching it makes me feel faintly queasy--for the wasted talent I know is involved on the roster; for the disposability of such fare, filling up commercial time on the airwaves, all with a feeling of the old linguini-on-the-wall approach: let's see what sticks. Virtually none of it does.
Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows I love good design and ideas, just like everyone else---and I'm no snob when it comes to where and how it presents itself. I've always believed a good show could be achieved with tongue depressors--those flat wooden sticks--as characters, with the right story and execution.
But why do so few animated TV shows of the last 3 decades have any staying power? Why has our generation so far produced not a single inarguable classic along the lines of those that crowded the holiday schedules of the early-to-mid 1960s? "The Grinch", "A Charlie Brown Christmas", "Rudolph", any of the Rankin-Bass output in 2D and 3D--hell, even the original "Fat Albert", which I remember watching with my mouth hanging open. That was something else again.
And in the last 25 years we've seen...."Family Dog". One producer took a chance on a relatively unknown team of artists...Spielberg. It was a cause celebre.
With the range of talent that's now at the peak of their game and experience there's really no excuse for yet more shows that reflect a supposed "parody" of a never-never land of 1950s family life. It's OVER. Dead! We're ALL hep to it now, people! Even the tiny little kids! It's lame, it doesn't reflect anyone's real lives and it's meaningless.
I don't blame artists for this. They don't wield the checkbook. I simply feel sad and(obviously) a little perturbed that there aren't people in charge with...different tastes. Perhaps it's the overall corporatization of all media that makes taking a flying chance on an individual's unique idea for a show impossible.
still aired and loved after 40 years
I did see a HBO special made for the holiday season some years back--a compilation of short musical pieces done by animation studios all over the world(it may have been titled "'Twas the Night")...it was beautiful, funny in the right places, and honest. There's one segment that has a rabbit sailing a boat in side a snowglobe, gorgeous animation done to the old soundtrack of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"; the damn thing made me cry. Obviously all shows can't be like that, certainly not all series television, but my god, let's please try for some change. Things have sailed so far over the edge of genuine, heartfelt, new ideas that it'll require a herculean effort to pull them back.
And someone with lots of cash.