Watch This: Grown-Up Cartoons

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Yes, this feature is supposed to be about movies. But it’s also our website and we can do whatever we want. In your face!

In this latest installment of our ongoing Watch This feature — in which Adam and I give you a rundown on shows or movies you absolutely must see — we run-down the dial on the television and give you our picks for some of the greatest cartoons…

For grown-ups.

So put the kids to bed, pull up a bowl of popcorn, and lets take a look at what you won’t see on Treehouse.

Scott’s comments will be in Zoidberg Red, and Adam’s will be in Zorak Green.

Futurama (1999)

“Futurama” is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest cartoons ever made.

Basically, it’s the story of Philip J. Fry, a pizza delivery boy from the year 1999 who is accidentally (or is he?) frozen, and awakens 1000 years in the future. He ends up becoming a delivery boy for “Planet Express”, a company operated by his great-great-great-great-grandnephew to fund his mad science, alongside an amoral robot and a cyclops.

Still with me?

The show is by “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening, and I can honestly say it’s a vast improvement on it’s longer-lasting (too-long lasting) counterpart. Groening clearly took the lessons learned from “The Simpsons'” growing pains and applied them from the very inception of “Futurama”.

First lesson: stories surrounding the amazing cast of characters. The staff of Planet Express are all fully realized. From the core trio of Fry, Bender and Leela all the way to series darkhorse Dr. Zoidberg, everyone gets a chance to steal the spotlight from time to time.

Second lesson: The writing. “Futurama” is one of the few series I can think of that can make me laugh one instant, then get misty the next. Standout episodes such as Luck of the Fryrish, The Sting and Jurassic Bark are absolutely worth seeking out.

And lets not even get started on the hypnotoad! ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOAD!

The first time I watched Futurama, I was not onboard. It took me a good long while to appreciate what Matt Groening was trying to do: create a viable cartoon series that was completely separate from the mishigoss of the Simpsons (which I would argue is in many ways also an adult cartoon). The format — Pigs in Space on earth in a cartoon created by Matt Groening — allowed the characters to be more quirky in their quirkiness, more strange in their strangeness, and ultimately, in a really weird way, more believable in their unbelievableness.

I mean, who can’t relate to Fry — being frozen in some weird device only to wake up his own father (in at least one episode)?

This is an underrated show, and consequently, an often-cancelled one. It should be on your list of things to watch.

The Venture Bros. (2003)

Oh, Adult Swim… Is there anything you can’t do? I would suggest that the answer is no.

I was leery of this series when a colleague from work first suggested I spend some time with it, but the highly gay subtext of Hank and Dean, paired with the hyper-sexualized Brock Sampson makes this not only a must-see adult cartoon, but a must-laugh romp through the annals of late-70s, early-80s cartoon homages.

Easily my favourite character, Brock is by far the funniest, most over-the-top bit of cartoonery you’re likely to see this side of the Flintstones meet the Jetsons. Seriously, if you haven’t watched this show yet, go out and buy all available seasons and prepare to laugh your ass off…

I AM THE MONARCH.

A brilliant pastiche of the entire genre of serialized adventure. “Venture Bros.” draws much of it’s main inspiration from “Johnny Quest” but crams a ton of nostalgic pop-culture into each of it’s episodes.

Much like “Futurama” above, the primary selling point for “Venture Bros.” is less the plot (which is amazingly tight for a largely episodic series) and more the characters. The series is deceptively not about the titular Hank and Dean Venture, but about their father, Dr. Thaddeus “Rusty” Venture.

Dr. Venture is a former child adventurer, in the vein of “Johnny Quest” – but the trauma of those days of adventure have left him a cynical, bitter man, surrounded by failure. On a daily basis he has to deal with his two developmentally stunted boys, his father’s towering legacy, his necromancer tenant, and his butterfly themed arch-nemesis. Then throw in assassins, henchmen, walking eyes, super heroes, David Bowie and Brock fucking Samson. It’s a brilliant show, and it’s absolutely a must-see.

Standout episodes include Dia de Los Dangerous!, Twenty Years to Midnight and iViva Los Muertos!

Clone High (2002)

I was torn here between two great shows that aired at roughly the same time and only lasted a single season. One of them was “Undergrads”. The other was “Clone High”. I like both… but “Clone High” wins in a fight every time.

The theme song pretty adequately sums up the show’s premise. Way, way back in the 1980’s, secret government employees dug up famous guys and ladies and made amusing genetic copies. Now the clones are sexy teens, and they’re going to make it if they try.

It’s basically a bizarre parody of the high-school sitcom, with the addition of mad science. And the stars are Abe Lincoln, Gandhi, Cleopatra, JFK and Joan of Arc.

The madcap humour, the hilarious characters and the “B” plots starring Principal Skudworth made this show. And it’s a damn shame it’s not still on the air.

No. It’s a crime against mankind that this show is not still on the air.

If you only see three episodes of “Clone High” ever, I highly recommend Episode Two: Election Blue-Galoo, Makeover, Makeover, Makeover: The Makeover Episode and Snowflake Day: A Very Special Holiday Episode.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Clone High, having only watched a handful of episodes. I defer to Scott on this matter, but suggest that Harvey Birdman is sadly absent from this list.

Harvey Birdman didn’t end up on this list, Adam, because of our next entry.

Space Ghost Coast to Coast (1994)

Hey Scott! … Are you getting enough oxygen?

Space Ghost Coast to Coast is easily my favourite cartoon of all time. Oh sure, it’s hilarious if you’re one of those pot-smoking gadabouts, but it’s also a hilariously brilliant indictment of the talk-show format. So allow me to spend a bit of time expound on my boy TV’s Tad Ghostal for you.

Tad was a hero. And then he was a talkshow, and he became self-obsessed — like all talk-show hosts. Even ones of super-popular, Edmonton-related pocasts. Having ensnared his enemies Moltar and Zorak and forced them to work as his producer and his band leader respectively, his guests are typically subjected to a barrage of questions… about Space Ghost himself. Few f these questions actually make sense.

“Would you like some of my sex? With me?”

The result is a pattern of interviews where the guests are typically confused and the content is always funny. And the best part is that you don’t even have to be stoned to see the humour in it!

Adam insisted we include Space Ghost on this list. Insisted. And the truth is… it really deserves to be.

Besides being damned funny, “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” is also the precursor to virtually every other Adult Swim cartoon. If it isn’t a direct spin-off (like “Aqua Teen Hunger Force”, “The Brak Show” and the impossibly funny “Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law”), it’s at least inspired by the wacky, risqué humour that Space Ghost introduce back in 1994!

So thank you, Space Ghost, for ushering in a renaissance of cartoons specifically geared toward a more “grown-up” crowd.

As Adam mentioned above, this is the funniest, most nonsensical late night talk show you’ll ever watch. Episodes that make me laugh out loud to this very day include Piledriver, Batmantis and Snatch.

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2 Responses to “Watch This: Grown-Up Cartoons”

  1. Mondo Jay
    March 4, 2010 at 11:40 am #


    Great list guys,
    I’m really enjoy these “Watch This” posts.
    You can definitely tell what kind of humor you guys have with the selections you’ve made.
    I’d give the shout out to Futurama over The Simpsons as well.
    Venture Bros have now secured a spot on my “Must Watch” list right after Avatar: The Last Airbender (I’m not kidding, I’ve heard nothing but good things about both shows).
    Keep up the great posts and the awesome podcasting guys.

  2. Jeff
    March 4, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    I have been with Futurama since day one. I was glad to see, in the last few years, that’s really built a following thanks to DVDs and re-runs. They do a great job skewering our modern day follies, and the idea of guest-stars via heads preserved in jars is genius.

    Sally is a huge fan of Clone High and turned me on to the show. You may have even noticed I’ve referenced “Makeover” before, I think I’ve done it at the website.

    Argumentatively, I would have chosen Undergrads over Clone High. I’m that kind of guy.

    Plus, when you combine Undergrads with Undeclared, you get the ultimate college experience.