The Eleven Best Toons on TV Today
Being a cartoon fan is something of a difficult task. What? Seriously! I was a kid in the latter part of the ’70s and I vividly recall Hanna Barbera more or less owning the decade with as many cartoons as one company could cram down our throats and still remain, sort of, fresh. Then came the ’80s where we saw many of the most kick-ass action toons of all time that either escalated our joy for a mere season, or went on to live in cartoon infamy.
As the ’90s were ushered in, it almost looked as though the dominance of the animated show was ending, as we were all forced to watch far more watered-down fare. But one thing has remained a constant in the realm of the cartoon: the more adult oriented and obscurely odd, the better chance you have of carving out your own niche. Ren and Stimpy anyone? Powerpuff Girls? Freakazoid? They were all bizarre and had an occasional adult theme or two (especially Ren and Stimpy), and that’s what made them really cool. But what about today? Here we sit mid-way through the first twenty years of the 2000s and we have to wonder: have cartoons really made any progress? Yes. They really have.
Definitely the patriarch of the group, SpongeBob continuously outdoes itself and proves time and again why it has such staying power and appeal. Though certainly a kid’s show at heart, its soul is an adult joke wrapped in layers of preventative innocence. Though SpongeBob himself might not necessarily be the fully saccharine-coated core of innocuousness he comes across as (he’s displayed varying degrees of evil and even a sinister wit), he certainly always attempts to mean well. This is a children’s show, sadly with no redeeming educational value save for learning about tolerance and friendship, but it’s also loaded with enough tongue-in-cheek mature humor that it’s hard not to love even as a 37-year-old.
Yes, I had to include at least one educational program on here. Why? Because I have kids and often times I’m forced to sit through Dora and Bubble Guppies just so I can watch one shining gem in the Fool’s Gold basket. Dr. Seuss fans can rejoice just a little because PBS Kids has truly formulated a neat little show here, albeit encased in goofy wit which can, at times, be a little much considering there really are lessons and a tinge of education mixed in. The art is simple, and that’s a good thing because it is bright, colorful, and definitely voiced to perfection by Martin Short as the Cat himself, and that’s a good thing, too. It’s funny, it’s light-hearted, and it’s really a lot of fun… especially if you have kids.
The other good thing about having kids is getting to discover bizarre shows that you might not otherwise have noticed. And Regular Show is most definitely one of those shows. Focusing on the outlandish adventures of 23-year-old duo Mordecai and Rigby (a Blue Jay and Raccoon, respectively) and their episodic interactions with their boss, anthropomorphic gumball machine, Benson, a Yeti named Skips, and the High Five Ghost. And yes, it’s as completely insane as it sounds. Though it takes more than a few key notes from more original shows, especially Beavis and Butthead, it really does have a pretty funny core.
Despite the fact that the newest Star Wars Trilogy did little to solidify our faith in Lucas’s writing and directing ability, it did do one thing right: it begat The Clone Wars. Hinted at for a brief moment in A New Hope — almost as a throwaway line — The Clone Wars became an actual thing beginning with Attack of the Clones, where we find out the guy whose own son becomes the eponymous Boba Fett is the basis for every single Storm Trooper from then on. Convoluted and contrived? And how. But at least the toon offers up some very cool characters, both Jedi and Sith, and a slew of new aliens. The writing is crisp, and though Genndy Tartakovski’s original series was far better animated, The Clone Wars has its charm and continues to be the only decent Star Wars thing around right now.
This show has become something of a pop culture Catch-22. During the initial run of its first series it became a phenomenon and changed the face of how adults watch cartoons. Then, inexplicably, it got the ax and was cancelled. And lo the people revolted! They snatched up the DVD releases in droves and FOX publicly proclaimed a mulligan, eventually renewing the toon and once again making everyone happy. Or did they? You see, in doing so, they basically gave Seth McFarlane carte blanche and he became the most prolific show creator around. Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show are all his and make up a full 3/4 of the FOX Sunday slate. But excess isn’t always the best idea, and some of the show’s backbone has crumbled, but it still strikes a resounding chord, and it’s still incredibly funny.
Batman cartoons have been around for ever, beginning way back in the ’60s using the voices from the original TV series. Since then, they have gone through several changes and styles, nearly all of which you can read about HERE! But the most recent, and in this writer’s humble opinion, one of the best, cartoon has seen fit to bring back many of the more obscure villains and heroes alike. The animation is relatively simple and makes use of both action sounds during fight sequences akin to the West/Ward live action show, and a bit of Japanese-style anime. The writing is crisp, light-hearted, and definitely gives back something to the fans who long for Golden Age Heroics. Even if superhero shows aren’t your thing, or if you just happen to pine for the ’90s Batman: The Animated Series, give this show a go. If nothing else, it has nostalgic value in spades.
Finn the Human is a 13-year-old boy, and his dog, Jake, is 28. However, unlike any normal boy and his pet, Finn and Jake spend much of their time in the Land of Ooo imagining and doing anything and everything their minds can create. Fortunately, Jake can bend, twist, grow, and shrink to nearly any size, and Finn, well, Finn has an awesome hat that covers his glorious coiffe and an auto-tuned voice that is magical! Finn is about as ADHD as one kid can get and with his rampant hyper activity often finds it difficult to assist with tasks where a more subtle approach is required. In other words, he prefers fighting, like any good kid would. The show is certified insanity and one of the greatest things, animated or otherwise, around today.
What do you get when you combine years and years of built-up pop culture references, stop-motion animated toys and dolls, and the amalgamated senses of humor of a bunch of writers who’ve never really grown up? Robot Chicken, of course. Well either that or the crew here at Gunaxin, but that’s a story for another time. Anyway, ever since Cartoon Network revamped parts of its evening lineup to a more, um, childish-semi-grown up block of programming called Adult Swim, Robot Chicken has been a staple. Though not a toon in the more common place definition of the term, it’s still animated using almost nothing but ’80s and ’90s action figures, Barbies, and exquisitely designed props. The show is hilarious, especially considering its use of just about every famous current film and TV star as voice-overs. Funny stuff with scathing wit and a purely blatant disregard for subtlety.
Another show in the pantheon of Seth McFarlane-helmed cartoons, American Dad! has, for my money, become the far more ridiculous and consistently funny of the group. It features CIA Agent Stan Smith and the obtrusively absurd ways in which he juggles work and family life, often ending in both blatant destruction and someone’s potential death. Stan’s home world includes wife Francine, son Steve, and daughter Hayley… but that’s not all. Years earlier he rescued an alien named Roger from Area 51 and moved him into his house. But even more bizarre is the goldfish with the brain of an East German Olympic Ski Jumper. Life at the CIA isn’t any more normal, considering his boss, voiced by Patrick Stewart, is clinically insane and frequently sends Stan on missions that are borderline criminal. It’s a trainwreck of a show in its pacing, and that’s a good thing since you wouldn’t really want to look away, anyway.
Falling yet again under the umbrella of cartoons that have been risen from the dead comes the animated zombie called Futurama. Now in its second season post regeneration, Futurama has improved in both writing quality and humor ten-fold giving us one of the downright funniest cartoons on TV today. Unlike FOX’s love for all things McFarlane — and subsequently its lack of looking ahead into other animator’s portfolios — Futurama is a Comedy Central baby written and produced by Matt Groening, the guy behind the longest running show in TV history, The Simpsons. For those who don’t know, the show centers around Philip J. Fry and his cryogenic arrival in the year 2999. He works at Planet Express with his own distant nephew, Professor Farnsworth, a female alien cyclops named Leela, a pair of humans named Amy and Hermes, a semi competent alien physician called Dr. Zoidberg, and a robot named Bender. Basically they’re a delivery company who more often than not don’t actually deliver much of anything… except humor! They deliver hum– never mind. Just watch it.
When it comes to modern, fully adult-themed cartoons featuring boobs, bombs, and blood, you’d be hard pressed to find a better choice than Archer. Dreamed up by the man behind such classics as Sea Lab 2021 and Frisky Dingo, Adam Reed knows his target audience and lowers the common denominator to levels befitting a high school gym class. That is to say: filthy and brutally riotous. Sterling Malory Archer (voiced to perfection by H. Jon Benjamin) is the perfect spy. His rapier wit is matched only by his itchy trigger finger and his over-stressed crotch. Partnering with Lana Kane on many a treacherous adventure often leads to palpable sexual tension, all under the misguidance of the faces behind ISIS: Mother, Malory, office ladies Cheryl Tunt and Pam Poovey, numbers guy Cyril Figgis, and bonkers Mad Scientist, Doctor Krieger. Nothing they do is strictly legal and everything they do is borderline hilarious. If you’re going to watch a cartoon and you want one with more cursing than a HBO special, Archer needs to be your huckleberry.