A couple of years ago I wrote about the loss of Saturday morning cartoons — my childhood refuge, where I was persuaded to buy G.I Joe and Transformers toys, not to mention sugary cereal, which I was probably eating a foot away from a TV set.
That set was bigger than me, but its screen would be considered tiny by today’s standards.
On Sunday, as the rain started to wash away some of the late spring snow and the wind howled down my chimney, I relived those days a little as I started watching a trio of DVDs a friend had lent me, all by Adult Swim.
According to Wikipedia, Adult Swim “shares network space” with the Cartoon Network in the U.S. and some of its shows can be found in Canada on Teletoon. A few of these have been around for a while, such as “Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law” and “Robot Chicken,” which uses those aforementioned children’s toys of my youth for all sorts of stop-motion misadventures.
The DVDs have an 18A rating, so these cartoons will most definitely offend those who get angry or upset by the violence, nudity and language which made American cable networks like AMC and HBO famous.
Wearing PJs and slippers, and eating an adult bowl of raisin bran, I sat down to reacquaint myself with one show I had seen a few times before — “Moral Orel” — and two new shows by the network: “Metalocalypse” and “The Venture Bros.”
The show follows a young, uber-devout evangelical Christian — from Moralton, Statesota — who gets into trouble by trying to do God’s work. Like the kids in those “Family Circus,” cartoons, Orel often takes things far too literally. The irreverence the show has for religious fanatics is on par with the creators of “South Park,” so if you are offended by bible-bashing stay far away from this over-the-top sendup.
Each episode ends with Orel being sent to his dad’s study, where he’s seen pulling up his animated pants while his dad holds a belt in his hands. It’s then that we realize the moral of the story is not what we expected, but something even more farcical.
Here’s an example: after raising the dead, because to throw away life is a sin, Orel is chastised, not for causing a zombie uprising or even performing a Satanic ritual, but for removing the zombie’s clothing, because it was soiled with blood. After all, we’re told, the 11th commandment is “Thou Shalt be ashamed of thy natural anatomy.”
After a half-dozen, 11-minute episodes of “Moral Orel,” I moved on to “Metalocalypse,” which follows a heavy metal act so famous that their success or failure can destabilize the world’s economy. A board of shadowy figures constantly monitors their rock-star antics to make sure they don’t go too far, though this satire continually asked how much more ridiculous could it be, and then finds more absurdity to throw on its burn pile.
For example, the show opens as the band — Dethklok (pronounced Death Clock) — are on their way to northern Norway, above the Arctic Circle, where hundreds of thousands of fans have come to hear the band play a single song — not a song really, but a new jingle for a coffee company. Of course, the band’s singer likes his coffee “blacker than the blackest black times infinity.”
And how do they travel? In a helicopter that could not possibly be aerodynamic, but which looks “really metal” — a cross between a flying castle and a steel dragon.
Don’t get me wrong, the show was my favourite of the three: maybe because after graduating from Saturday morning cartoons, I entered the school of thrash metal and spent my teenage years banging my head to “Metallica” and “Slayer.”
The music is really well done with tongue firmly in cheek, and the animation is an ultra-violent, cartoonish gore-fest; an 11-minute skit-meets-music-video that will appeal to fans of the music or horror movies and violent video games. I must admit after four or five episodes of “Metalocalypse,” on top of an hour or more of “Moral Orel,” I couldn’t really get into “The Venture Bros.” I blame animation overload more than anything else. I’ll probably return “Moral Orel” to my friend right away, as I get the joke, and a little can go a long way. As for the adventures of Dethklok, I think I have a new favourite band. I’ll be finishing the first season before these evil babies go back. They’re so metal.
“The Simpsons” certainly started a revolution in adult animation. What’s your favourite cartoon aimed at grownups? Correspondence goes to Dave Bartlett at email@example.com.