Cartoon Brew, the essential Cartoon blog by Jerry Beck and Amid Amidi, has a fascinating post on TV animation in the ’00s that mirrors many of our own ongoing discussions over comics:
How many shows debuted in the past decade that were entertaining, made a lasting impact on their audience, and have a shot at being remembered by future generations? A handful of American shows come to mind as standouts, most of which were cult favorites rather than mainstream successes—Invader Zim, Superjail, Venture Bros., Samurai Jack, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Yo Gabba Gabba. (A comprehensive list of TV shows can be found on Wikipedia.)
Compare this to the 1990s when we saw the debuts of TV shows that were cultural phenomenons like The Simpsons, The Ren and Stimpy Show, South Park, Beavis and Butt-Head, Batman: The Animated Series, Dexter’s Lab, Rugrats, The Powerpuff Girls, Spongebob Squarepants and yes, even Family Guy. It seemed like we were on the cusp of a new era of “creator-driven” shows that were free from the meddling impulses of network execs. It’s little surprise that these shows are the ones that audiences still discuss nowadays.
We’d never really thought of the ’90s as a wonderland for animated TV, especially when there are so many MORE toons these days, and every cable channel has gotten into cartoons. On the flip side, Cartoon Network now is live action, audiences are smaller than ever and there are three shows by Seth McFarlane on.
What’s especially interesting in regard to cartoons is the lack of new blockbuster characters — something that the comics industry also laments. To be fair, sometimes it takes 20 years for a character to become a household name — Deadpool being the latest example. But in the world of animation, things normally move much faster. The merch is part of the plan from the gitgo.
There may be lots of Venture Bros. cosplayers and their panels may be riots, but you still can’t buy Venture Frosted Flakes — or indeed…ANY Venture Bros. merchandise aside from DVDs and T-shirts. Although just thinking of what Venture Flakes might be frosted with gives one pause.
Of course, Venture Bros. is very much a cult show — in a world peppered by cults. Last night’s episode, “Self Medication,” featured Rusty going into a therapy group with other former Boy Adventurers, one of them a failed hero named Boy Wonder (voiced by Patton Oswalt) taking off on Chris Ware’s Rusty Brown fantasies. The idea that an obscure Chris Ware character would ever be “mainstream” enough to be referenced on a cult TV show is kind of mind-boggling in itself.
The conversation at Cartoon Brew continues in the very lively comment section, where the various quirks and trends of programming execs as part of the process is also discussed. So what do you think? Were the ‘toons better in the ’90s?