Monday, December 14, 2015

TV's Something or Other Animated Stars: Countdown to Boredom

So who knew that I could get lulled nearly to sleep (in the late morning) by a two-hour television special devoted to nothing but some of animation's best-loved characters? That's exactly how I felt this past Monday when I watched TV's Funniest Animated Stars: A Paley Center for Media Special on my local Fox affiliate.

I don't know if FOX, who ran the special, had any say in the candidates, as I have not found much in the way of information in regards to the voting process that was used. According to what is said in the special, the list featuring the Top 40 of television's funniest animated stars was decided by the voting of fans. My guess, considering the sponsor of the special, would be that it was either done at the two Paley Centers for Media in L.A. and New York, or in an online poll spearhead by Paley, or both. But since I have yet to find any reference to this anywhere that I have looked thus far, which has consisted mainly of wordings of the press releases sent out by Fox or the Paley Center, the voting remains a mystery to me.

The show was broadcast live from Dullsville (Fred Savage, likable or not, was the voiceover host), and really had me at odds with my remote control, because my personal protocol doesn't allow me to skip forward through a show or movie, even when I really, really want to do it. It wasn't that I didn't want to see who was next on the list; it's just that after only a short portion of the show, it was easy to see how the results were going to be laid out, and that killed any suspense there might normally have been if it was built around anything worthwhile.

Maybe I am just upset that I didn't get to vote, not that it would have counted for much. But I am interested in how many characters were offered up as candidates to the public initially. Was it a mere 50, so there would be less chance for FOX characters to be voted out, or were 100, 150 or even 200 offered? It makes a big difference. And there are some truly funny shows not represented on the list (more on that later). The reason I ask is because the special is loaded with characters from FOX network shows, especially The Simpsons and Family Guy, but also recent shows like Bob's Burgers and American Dad, and even former FOX fare like King of the Hill or The Cleveland Show.

In fact, FOX shows current and past make up nearly half of the list, 17 out of 40 finalists. Maybe that is why the show is being premiered on FOX, or maybe there was a deal made in order to secure rights to so many clips from the network.

For matters of conversation, and since I have not seen any other reviews for the outcome of the show nor the actual list in print, here is the Top 40 as determined by vote:

40. Bobby Hill - King of the Hill (FOX)
39. Rick and Morty - Rick and Morty (Adult Swim)
38. Dee Dee - Dexter's Laboratory (Cartoon Network)
37. Ren & Stimpy - The Ren & Stimpy Show (Nickelodeon/MTV)
36. Chef - South Park (Comedy Central)
35. Cleveland Brown - Family Guy/The Cleveland Show (FOX)
34. Linda Belcher - Bob's Burgers (FOX)
33. Randy Marsh - South Park (Comedy Central)
32. Angelica Pickles - Rugrats (Nickelodeon)
31. Lola Bunny - The Looney Tunes Show (Cartoon Network)

30. Mr. Burns - The Simpsons (FOX)
29. Yogi Bear - The Huckleberry Hound Show/The Yogi Bear Show (various)
28. Stan Smith - American Dad (FOX/TBS)
27. George Jetson - The Jetsons (various)
26. Phineas and Ferb - Phineas and Ferb (Disney Channel)
25. Hank Hill - King of the Hill (FOX)
24. Daria Morgendorffer - Daria (MTV)
23. Roger the Alien - American Dad (FOX/TBS)
22. Tina Belcher - Bob's Burgers (FOX)
21. Sterling Archer - Archer (FX)

20. Beavis and Butthead - Beavis and Butthead (MTV)
19. Marge Simpson - The Simpsons (FOX)
18. Bender - Futurama (FOX/Comedy Central)
17. Lois Griffin - Family Guy (FOX)
16. Lisa Simpson - The Simpsons (FOX)
15. Daffy Duck - The Looney Tunes Show (Cartoon Network)
14. Donald Duck - Mickey Mouse (Disney Channel)
13. Charlie Brown - various Peanuts shows & specials (various)
12. Fred Flintstone - The Flintstones (various)
11. Eric Cartman - South Park (Comedy Central)

10. SpongeBob SquarePants - SpongeBob SquarePants (Nickelodeon)
9. Peter Griffin - Family Guy (FOX)
8. Snoopy - various Peanuts shows & specials (various)
7. Bart Simpson - The Simpsons (FOX)
6. Brian Griffin - Family Guy (FOX)
5. Mickey Mouse - Mickey Mouse (Disney Channel)
4. Scooby-Doo - various series (various)
3. Bugs Bunny - The Looney Tunes Show (Cartoon Network)
2. Homer Simpson - The Simpsons (FOX)
1. Stewie Griffin - Family Guy (FOX)

Naturally, I have big problems with Stewie Griffin being chosen #1 -- I am not even close to being a mild fan of Family Guy -- but what can one do? The show is immensely popular, and if the list is meant to reflect the tastes of the current television audience and not a bunch of old guys like me being protective of their oh so treasured past, then so be it. The entire immediate Simpson family is represented on here, as are most of the Griffin clan, so FOX pretty much had it locked up from the start with just those two long-running shows alone.

When reviewing the list, the first thing that you should remind yourself is that this special and list are meant for television characters. That means basically any cartoon characters that have appeared on television since the 1950s up to today, but as long as they are in original programming produced for television. They can have been in theatrical cartoons of yore -- beings like Mickey, Donald, Daffy, and Bugs -- but it has to be for more current work, not the classic cartoons that, quite frankly, most of my generation got to know mainly through television. So there is a bit of irony in some of the older characters making it to the list anyway, because there true TV influence to most people came through packages of their old shorts.

The special and list also weren't about overall popularity, so the classic characters like Mickey, Bugs, Daffy, and Donald -- while still on the list -- got rather short shrift in the rankings. They all placed fairly high, but for what I would consider substandard work compared to their old shorts. Those characters get included because of their recent or current forays into TV: The Looney Tunes Show (which ended in 2014) and Mickey Mouse, which is the latest Flash animation version of the famous rodent and his friends. Both shows are lightly amusing in a second hand way, and they do allow a new generation to discover the characters easily, but I wouldn't put them up with the funniest around. As for placement on the list, Donald (voted in at #14) has always been far funnier than the usually straight-man Mickey (too high at #5), and Goofy (not on the list at all) is usually funnier than both of them anyway. Daffy Duck is way down at #15 from Bugs' position at #3, where I find them equally hilarious, albeit in their theatrical versions.

Look, I could argue all day (and uselessly) about where people are placed on the list and why they should be moved here and there, but it was allegedly voted on and that's that. It's just a TV special that blows away once it is over. No one really cares about the results, and it is really just fodder for social media so people can be misinformed all over again. And my personal tastes don't matter either (though I will say that I find Eric Cartman, Bender, Mr. Burns, and Sterling Archer funnier on a television comedy level than most of the rest of these characters combined).

But they opened a can of whup-ass by having George Jetson, Yogi Bear, and Fred Flintstone. Not that I don't love those characters to varying degrees (The Jetsons is my personal fave of the three), but Astro was always funnier than George was and Barney Rubble should outrank Fred for hilarity (he was the Ed Norton of The Flintstones, after all). This causes me to speculate just how many older classic "television" characters were actually included in the list offered to voters. Where, for instance, are Jay Ward's Rocky and Bullwinkle, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Dudley Do-Right, and George of the Jungle. All of these characters have been kept alive in the public's eye to this day by continuing merchandising and adaptations. (Mr. Peabody and Sherman just had a new movie out and then a new series spun off from it.) Where is Bob Clampett's Beany and Cecil? Terrytoons' Deputy Dawg or The Mighty Heroes? How about other early Hanna-Barbera favorites such as Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Augie Doggie, Yakky Doodle, Atom Ant, Pixie, Dixie and Mr. Jinks, Magilla Gorilla, etc., etc. (Some of these aren't necessarily all that funny today -- or then, really -- but they were offered up as comedies.)

Adult Swim has basically rewritten the rules for televised animation over the past couple of decades, but they are only represented here by Rick and Morty, from a wildly ingenious show only in its second season. But where are The Venture Bros.? Where are Space Ghost in his talk show host form, Harvey Birdman Attorney-at-Law, SeaLab 2021 (the spiritual forerunner of Archer for that matter) or even the latter-day Brak, all cult hits when they aired? You can't tell me that those Hanna-Barbera updates are not recent enough, because goddamned Daria is on this list in a high spot, and her show hasn't had a new episode since 2002. (For the record, Space Ghost CTC had new episodes up through 2008, and new material during an Adult Swim marathon in 2014.)

Adventure Time is ridiculously popular, both with kids and adults (maybe even more with adults as the storylines have continued to grow up). So where are Finn and Jake? Lola Bunny is on the list, but nobody appears from one of the biggest and most wildly imaginative cartoon hits of recent years? Cartoon Network itself is barely represented (apart from the Looney Tunes characters including Lola, and one I shall discuss in a second), and while their quality is up and down, it seems their more original characters are getting harsh treatment. Apart from Finn, Jake, and the Ice King (amongst other AT denizens), where are Johnny Bravo, the Powerpuff Girls, Blue from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, and anybody off The Regular Show, an Emmy-winner for the past couple of seasons? But who did get picked from Cartoon Network: Dee Dee, the annoying big sister from Dexter's Laboratory. Amusing at times, but... ugh, when compared against what didn't make it.

How about Ralph Bakshi's incredible revisioning of Mighty Mouse from the 1980s? Let us continue with some popular favorites from within the past thirty years or less: Invader Zim and his robot in a dog disguise, Gir, Freakazoid!, any of the characters from Animaniacs and Tiny Toons, Beany and Cecil, Kim Possible's sidekick Ron Stoppable and Rufus, his naked mole rat pet, all of the DuckTales team, Sport Goofy... and Pinky and the freakin' Brain!!! All of these shows can still be watched on DVD or on regular reruns on numerous cable channels. It's not like the world doesn't still have instant access to most of this stuff to this date.

I could go on and on, but why bother? The show has been aired, and there are no do-overs. It was a commercial product to sell advertising, it did its job, no one bothered to review, and it probably scored low in the ratings anyway in a busy holiday season filled with news broadcasts about terrorist shootings and racist political frontrunners. Most of the audience was probably filled with guys like me who just want to rant about who was left off the list.

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