Anthea Fahy asks whether animated TV shows have become more poignant than sitcoms and whether traditional comedies are now a little bit, let’s face it, shit?
“Animation,” a word that transmits automated visions of innocence like Popeye the Sailor and Looney Tunes cartoons into your brain, from a time when colourful moving pictures had characters that could do and say things in virtual worlds that real people and actors couldn’t. Perhaps the word animation translates into Japanese animations; squealing Japanese girls with oversized eyes and magical powers of destruction. Maybe animation brings popular American shows like The Simpsons or The Flintstones into mind, or maybe animation could simply be translated into being forever designated as “kids shows.”
Nowadays, animated TV shows have a lot of subtexts, meanings and categories. One thing is certain: animated TV is rapidly encroaching on the world of comedy and the age of the innocent children’s cartoon that teaches moral lessons and is not to be “dampened with crudeness or adult humour” is now over. It has been for some time. Animated TV shows pose more serious questions and have become more intelligent, complicated and witty, because they don’t have to adhere to politically correct dogmas to which some popular comedy TV shows are bound.
Are animated TV sitcoms becoming better than the ones with real actors? They are certainly more politically and socially daring at times; the characters do more contemptible things than real ones do, making them imperfect and human. The plots are often bold and intrepid (what about good old South Park?), even in terms of providing current social commentary. Ironically, animations often capture the real world better than the heavily produced popular sitcoms, with their squeaky clean sets, heavily engineered scripts, costume design and stance of the actors on shows like The Big Bang Theory, Mike and Molly, The King of Queens, Two Broke Girls or Two and a Half Men.
This clean cut neatness of prime-time comedy actually distances people further from the tangible and current matters which are parodied, and also from tangible and faulty human beings. The humour and sarcasm is instead manifested through multiple one-liners and is drawn more from relationships, mainly between men and women, sex, and also jokes about women. Take Penny from The Big Bang Theory, who is the stock-standard pretty, dumb blonde at whom the “nerds” laugh. Is TV comedy becoming weak and perhaps just a little bit damp and shit? Or have sitcoms and “wholesome” TV comedies always been this shitty?
Some serious contenders in animated TV are shows like Archer, where the main character is a part of a sloppy government spy agency called ISIS. He is egotistical, self-involved and only interested in being a spy for the cheap thrills and turtleneck jumpers. He spends project expenses on prostitutes, gambling and drugs and is equipped with a sharp sense of humour and an indulgent personality. This loosely translates into outlandishly mimicking the corruption of political figures. However, the comedy in the show is also at times subtle and more human.
Archer has been so effective that in its sixth season they had to change the name of the spy agency and fictionally merge it with the CIA…because the American government didn’t want the animated show to be tied to the terrorist organisation linked to Islamic State.
Then there is Bob’s Burgers, which is better and more believable than most American family comedies like Modern Family. Bob and his wife Linda run a burger restaurant with their kids and live in the crappy apartment above. The jokes are not all “one-liners” and the family in the show seems so uncannily similar to the running of any normal family that quite often the script seems unscripted. There’s also Adventure Time, which has the set up of a kids show but has an immense adult audience.
More adult animation comedy cartoons that are on the rise are Brickleberry and Chozen (made by the creators of Archer and Eastbound and Down). Most of these shows pose comedy that is certainly more relatable, accessible and human than shows like How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Two Broke Girls, Modern Family or The King of Queens, which seem to force more unbelievable moral lessons into your brains (and are just a little bit shit) than the animated comedy shows, and have less polished and more faulty characters, with witty plots.