Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summer 2012 TV shows: Wilfred, Louie, and cartoons

It's time to examine the summer TV shows I've been watching! As you can probably tell from the fact that I run a movie blog and not a TV blog, I generally prefer film to TV shows. I'm also not a big fan of current mainstream TV, though part of that is just because I don't have a lot of time to watch TV. All of these shows are a half-hour long (except Cartoon Planet which is a a bit different) and most are cartoons.

Wilfred Season 2 on FX
Last summer I saw a commercial for a new show called Wilfred. The ad explained the general premise of the show, which is that a young man named Ryan (played by Elijah Wood) sees his neighbor's dog (Wilfred, played by Jason Gann) as a guy in a dog suit. I thought the idea had potential as a strange mix of Harvey and Donnie Darko so I immediately started watching it. I quickly fell in love with the show and discussed Wilfred a couple of posts last year. I won't rehash what I wrote earlier so I'll just say that season 2 has been great so far. The first season ended with a huge cliffhanger and Wilfred found a creative yet satisfying way to handle that and let the show to keep growing. Wilfred is based on an Australian comedy of the same name, but having seen a good amount of that show, the FX version is going in a very different direction. Although I find Wilfred very funny, I don't really watch it for the humor anymore. I just love seeing the interactions between Wilfred and Ryan and well as the increasingly dramatic story lines. Wilfred is stretching the limits of what even a cable show can do and is constantly full of surprises. It may just be the best current show TV has to offer.

Louie Season 3 on FX
Last summer when I started watching Wilfred religiously I noticed that it was directly followed by a show called Louie created by comedian Louis C.K. At the time I was only somewhat familiar with the stand-up work of Louis C.K. but liked what I had seen so I gave it a shot. I already liked the FX shows It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Archer, and Wilfred and wondered if they could strike gold again. While I haven't seen the first season of Louie, seasons 2 and 3 (so far) have been fantastic. FX is really making up for FOX's reputation for canceling good shows early on. FX makes shows that of high quality and push boundaries. Then FX does a good job of marketing these shows, they become critically and commercially successful, and then are renewed for seasons to come.
Upon first glance Louie might seem like the show Seinfeld in that both are about the everyday life of a comedian who basically plays himself with short stand-up performances mixed in for good measure. While I enjoy both shows, Louie is quite different. When I said that Louie was created by Louis C.K., I mean that he writes, directs, edits, produces, and stars in the show. I think it is great that FX has given a talent like Louis C.K. full creative control over his own show, and their decision is certainly paying off. Louie doesn't rely on topical humor or reference jokes to be funny, simply draws inspiration from everyday life. The show is filmed almost like a documentary and the dialogue feels real. While the show has a great sense of humor, it also does a good job of handling the drama, which like the comedy is often the result of the awkward situations Louie finds or puts himself in.
Wilfred may or may not be the best current TV show, but Wilfred and Louie on FX at 10-11 PM Thursday night is without a doubt the best hour of Television on right now. 

Cartoon Planet on Cartoon Network
When I first heard that Cartoon Network was bringing back Cartoon Planet I thought it was a joke. There was no way Cartoon Network would bring back a show that featured Space Ghost: Coast to Coast characters Space Ghost, Zorak, and Brak hosting a variety show in the middle of classic cartoons! Now to be fair Cartoon Network did make some big changes to Cartoon Planet. First of all, Space Ghost is no longer part of the show so we just have Brak and Zorak. No big deal, though I love Space Ghost and his voice actor George Lowe. However, we do have brand new animations for Brak and Zorak which look great. The classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons between the host segments have been replaced with Cartoon Network cartoons from the 90s through the present. At first I was not thrilled with this change, but once I started re-watching Johnny Bravo, The Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory, Cow and Chicken, I Am Weasel, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy I realized that all these shows not only hold up well now that I am older, but are classics in their own right. I don't care much for the other shows aired by Cartoon Planet (most of which are more recent than the shows I mentioned) but that is why I usually watch this show on the DVR so I can fast forward through the ones I don't like... which does not happen often!

Deadman Wonderland on Cartoon Network's Toonami
I had Cartoon Network since I was a child and actually remember the very first incarnation of Toonami with Moltar from Space Ghost: Coast to Coast as the host. This was before anime ruled the roost at Toonami which mostly featured shows like the original 1960s Space Ghost, Johnny Quest, ThunderCats, and Batman: The Animated Series. I still watched the show as it went into more of an anime direction and enjoyed Steve Blum's work as the host, TOM the robot. Toonami ended in 2008 but was brought back in 2012 on April Fool's Day in honor or Cartoon Network's 20th anniversary. The April Fool's return of Toonami proved to be so popular that it was brought back permanently on May 26th. The current line-up features old shows like Cowboy Bebop mixed in with two new ones: Deadman Wonderland and Casshern Sins. I watched the first episode of both shows but Deadman Wonderland interested me more (plus its shorter with 12 episodes compared to 24) so decided to watch it. While I'm not a big fan of anime, I do like Deadman Wonderland. It's got a cool title, an interesting premise about an innocent boy framed for mass-murder and placed into a prison that doubles as a violent game show, and is dark as hell. Sometimes the show gets either too dark or ridiculous (hilarious creative cursing) but its all part of one unique experience and I can't wait to see how it ends.   

Aqua Something You Know Whatever on Adult Swim
Aqua Something You Know Whatever is the ninth season of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, which was known as Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1 last season. Besides the title, the opening and closing themes have been replaced yet again. Why the changes? Why not! It certainly helps keep things fresh and adheres to the "never know what you are going to get" spirit of the show. So far this season has been great and an improvement over last season. Not that last season was bad, but the show felt like it was getting stale with a lot of episodes feeling repetitive or on topics you thought the show already covered (Predators, the ShamWow Guy). This season has been great so far as not only have we had some hilarious episodes, but even the weaker ones have been very creative. The animation was never the point of the show as it always has a cheap cut and paste style on purpose. Now we have some nice creative animations that breathe new life into the show. I noticed that some stories that actually have a beginning, middle, and end which is a surprise for this surrealist show. There has even been a twist on the fact that the show has no continuity. Usually in the past this meant that if all the "Aqua Teens" died they would be alive and well in the next episode with no explanation. But in one episode this season Shake accidentally killed himself but was perfectly fine in the very next scene! It's nice to see the show changes things up in a way that sticks true to itself and is hilarious, but is new at the same time.

Black Dynamite on Adult Swim
I loved the original live action movie, Black Dynamite (2009), which I reviewed on this blog. So when I heard last year that they were making an animated Adult Swim show out of the movie I was ecstatic! Most of those involved with the Black Dynamite movie have returned for this animated show which was great news. But how does the show actually stack up? I saw the pilot last year, which featured a plot about evil hand puppets, and it was fantastic. Unlike the 10 minute Aqua Something You Know Whatever, Black Dynamite is in a full 30 minute time slot. The first episode (of the first, but hopefully not last, season) premiered on July 15th.  Although I've only seen one episode so far, I'm hooked! The show captures the feel of the authentic 70s blaxploitation era that the live action movie handled so well, this time with stylish animation. The first episode features Black Dynamite meeting up with a young Michael Jackson and there is some great satire here. I can't wait for more of this show!

The Boondocks on Adult Swim
Although The Boondocks has been confirmed for a fourth season, there has yet to be an announcement as to when it will air. I am assuming that it will premiere late in the summer (August or early September) but maybe The Boondocks will be pushed back until the fall. I love what I have seen of the first three seasons of The Boondocks, even though I haven't seen all those episodes yet, and am eagerly awaiting new episodes. I'm glad that creator Aaron McGruber is still involved, especially since he seems to be permanently done with the great comic strip that the show is based on.

I will update later on with a follow-up post after these seasons are over (or start in the case of The Boondocks) and will probably do a fall TV post as well.


  1. Nice reviews. I also really enjoyed the Black Dynamite movie. Can't wait for the animated series to start playing in the UK.

  2. Thanks Jack! If you liked Black Dynamite then I think you will really enjoy the animated series.