overthinking the idiot box

October 3, 2005

Animation on television, child-safe and otherwise.

An Island of Strangely Quirky Fruit, and Loonatics Gone Wrong

by Adam Lipkin

The Saturday Kids WB cartoon lineup has been undergoing an interesting — and not welcome — change over the last few years, as the endless Pokemon/Yu-Gi-Oh spinoffs have dumbed down what wasn't exactly a great lineup to begin with. Currently a mix of the worst anime imports they could find and equally mediocre home-grown shows like Xaiolin Showdown), with only the occasional show like The Batman showing any creative spark, the network announced three new shows for this fall, something that should have offered hope to those of us who miss their halcyon days. Alas, the two most-hyped new shows don't offer much in the way of originality, humor, or even decent writing.

Bottom: What to do. Top: What not to do.
I'd held off on pre-judging the most-hyped of the new shows, Loonatics Unleashed before I saw it. It was tough, as I'm sure anyone else who has heard the hype has noticed. The concept: In the semi-distant future, super-heroic version of the classic Looney Toons characters fight crime. Everything about the concept had "design by committee" written all over it, but WB has re-launched characters before (Tiny Toons Adventures, anyone?), and had it turn into a creative success, so I resisted slamming the concept until I watched it.

Oh, how I wish I hadn't resisted. The show is actually worse than I feared. Five classic characters — Wile E. Coyote as a gadgeteer, Roadrunner as a speedster, Taz as, well, Taz, Daffy as a teleporter who can also shoot eggs (maybe we've been wrong about "his" gender all this time?) and Bugs as the martial-artist/team leader — team with Lexi Bunny (a telekinetic and crush object of the team leader, sort of a bunny Jean Grey, although we haven't been lucky enough to see her die yet) to fight bad science fiction cliches. The concept didn't have to fail as spectacularly as it did — there's tons of room for a good humor show or a good sci-fi action show on the air right now. But Loonatics Unleashed doesn't know which way to go. We get the occasional burst of classic humor from Taz and Daffy (or, if you prefer, Slam and Danger Duck), but most of the characters are actually played almost too straight, or too one-note (most frighteningly, the updated Road Runner comes across much like the speed-freak Johnny Quick in Grant Morrison's JLA: Earth 2 comics). What little humor comes from "Danger Duck," following in Daffy's footsteps, constantly letting his ego get in the way. Otherwise, the show's a third-rate sci-fi show with humor that was old back when it was used in Battle of the Planets. You're better off watching Pokemon.

The "twist" is that Fred not only has a vivid imagination, but that anything he imagines comes true, much like the brain-damaged coconut version of Bill Mumy on the classic Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life."
Sadly, Loonatics Unleashed doesn't represent the nadir of the current WB lineup. I'm not sure there's ever been a less original or less funny show than Coconut Fred's Fruit Salad Island, which swipes concepts and outright sequences from Spongebob Squarepants without, alas, swiping any actual funny bits. The concept: Coconut Fred is a zany, annoying sponge coconut who might be a kid, might be an adult, depending on the plotline. He lives on an island of strikingly quirky sea-creatures fruit, including a squid lemon who can't stand him, a crab watermelon as his boss, and a really stupid starfish pair of bananas who follow his orders, or attempt to, at least. The "twist" is that Fred not only has a vivid imagination, but that anything he imagines comes true, much like the brain-damaged coconut version of Bill Mumy on the classic Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life," although without anyone getting sent to the cornfield, alas. There's nothing original or funny here, and as long as Nick's rerunning Spongebob, there's no reason in the world you'd need to waste time on this show.

The good news for the WB is that the least hyped of their new shows, Johnny Test, is actually a winner. In spite of the name, this isn't a Johnny Quest parody (and with the wonderful Venture Brothers coming back to Adult Swim next fall, that's a gap that's already filled). The concept of this show is almost built around an inverse Jimmy Neutron or Dexter's Laboratory. Johnny, the lead character, is a perfectly normal eleven-year-old kid. He has a pair of older twin sisters, however, who are supergeniuses, and who need a guinea pig to test their experiments on. That's where Johnny comes in, as his sisters give him various powers to either test out a theory, or to stop one of their experiments gone awry. The parents are aware of how smart their daughters are, and have a strict "no experiments in the house" rule, so the plots often revolve around making sure that Johnny is back to normal by dinnertime. Throw in a super-genius dog (the result of more experiments), and lots of cool gadgets and powers, and it's a fun show with the potential to be the next Kim Possible. It still falls short at times (really, do we need flatulence gags as a super power on any tv show, ever?), but it's certainly the most enjoyable of the new shows by a long shot.

The good news for WB animation is that there are still some great shows coming out of the studio. Sadly, however, those shows seem to be getting their airplay on Cartoon Network, and only hitting the Kids WB lineup in reruns. With the time and publicity invested in Loonatics Unleashed, one suspects that we'll be forced to suffer through it for the entire season, but if we're lucky, Coconut Fred will die a speedy death, and if the WB imports a show over from their sister channel (Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi would mesh nicely), the Saturday morning lineup would become a lot more fun. As it is, Tivo that early broadcast of The Batman, then sleep in until Johnny Test comes on. You won't be missing much in between.

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