Network: UPN & The Cartoon Network; Genre: Animated Comedy; Content Rating: TV-PG (for language); Available: on DVD; Classification: Cult Classic (Star range: 1 - 5);
Season Reviewed: Completed Series (4 seasons)
In 1999 primetime animation was so in vogue for the network that even UPN got into the act. After the much hyped 'Dilbert' slowly crashed and burned on the runway, those that stuck around found a surprise gem in the next time-slot. 'Home Movies' comes from comedian creator Brendon Small, Loren Bouchard and Soup2Nuts, the production company behind Comedy Central's modest hit 'Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist'. When UPN canceled the show after not even a full season I mourned the loss and put 'Home Movies' on the list as one of those great shows that never had a chance. Then a modern television miracle happened. The show was resurrected from the dead by the Cartoon Network 2 years later and thanks to the cost effective animation (turned into the flash style) and a real nuts-and-bolts crew that pulls the show off, it went on for 3 more seasons. Given the time and freedom, it fleshed out characters, matured and improved.
'Movies' follows 8-year-old Brendon Small (voiced by creator Small) whose passion in life is making movies with his home camcorder using his best friends, Melissa (Melissa Galsky) and Jason (H. Jon Benjamin, giving Jason a hilarious and endearing sniffle in his voice), as actors. The 3 kids talk as if they have the experience of adults, and like true young elites, often mock someone for not having seen a movie that was released before their parents where born. To complicate matters Brendon's best friend is pathetic soccer coach John McGuirk (Benjamin). The show's breakout character, McGuirk isn't above blaming the kids and not his coaching abilities when they lose or to mysteriously not show up for practice leaving them to stand around in the pouring rain.
Maybe it was the show's slow pace, very loose plotting and downright shabby animation, but 'Movies' was a show that I sometimes didn't look forward to watching and then, the episodes would win me over by the end reminding me what I liked about it in the first place. This is a charming and immensely enjoyable, where the humor comes in its improved naturalistic dialog, the perfectly deadpan way its all delivered and the unique, honest and fully developed relationships between each character. The bizarre friendship between Brendon and McGuirk; the banter amongst the kids; and the indescribably sweet and true-to-life relationship between Brendon and his single-parent mom Paula Small (Janine Ditullio). There's also Melissa and her father, the priceless egging-on McGuirk gives to Melissa, and Jason's own preoccupation with Brendon, candy and a fear of his bed among other tangential things. It's not a stretch to say that 'Home Movies' is the best character comedy in recent animated memory.
One of the funniest aspects of this show are the movies within it. Brendon is part Ed Wood, part Max Fischer and part every arrogant prick you knew in school. He builds elaborate sets in his basement, dresses his best friend up in a wig and writes his scripts based on whatever is going on in his life - using the movies to exorcise his demons. Few series main characters are as interesting as Brendon. His passion for what he does is infectious - we laugh at his cheaply made movies because that's the joke, but we also are pulling for him and his dream. And the more absurd and nonsensical the movies are, the better, such as "Attack of the 50 Foot Jesus" or his history-twisting masterpiece "Starboy and the Captain from Outer Space" in which space heroes battle tyrannical figures George Washington, Pablo Picasso and Annie Oakley.
In terms of sophistication, 'Movies' is light-years from the other Cartoon Network originals. Sometimes, however, it doesn't seem that way as writer Small and co-creator Loren Bouchard indulge in more cartoonish slapstick humor and pump the show full of annoying characters with grating high-pitched voices, dragging the gags longer than they need to be and just annoying the audience. Flamboyant, sexually confused couple Walter and Perry can prove hysterical additions - but there is only so long that the gag works. In seasons one through three the show is adult animation and deadpan humor at it's finest. I would rank 'Brendon's Choice' on a list all-time-favorite episode endings.
However, in the mysteriously delayed 4th season the show becomes overrun with its annoying impulses. Characters we don't care about are given an insane amount of screen time. It seems to even infect McGuirk who is reduced to a screaming mess in 'Camp' and giant man-boobs in 'The Heart Smashers'. This season is not the best of what this show has to offer, but Small and the Cartoon Network wisely pulled out before any real damage was done.
While 'Home Movies' never got the attention of more hyped up animated fair like 'South Park' and 'Family Guy', it deserves a place in that group as one of the best animated shows in recent years. Like 'Park' it is true independent television in which a skeleton crew does all the voice, writing, directing and even writing all the original songs that never cease to pop up in the episodes (the 'Starboy' theme is infectious). The show is Small's baby and (not to sound sappy) it's a celebration of the seemingly limitless possibilities of childhood. Small's series is a little gem, proving that sometimes less is more. Amid the slapstick and the screaming and the charmingly simple 2 dimensional, is a morality play and a fully constructed character comedy. A work of honesty - subtly funny, intelligent, and fully satisfying, this show is worth the time it will take to acquire a taste for it. A modest cult classic.
* * * * / 5
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