Algebraic!: The Best Cartoons for the Thinking Adult
|Characters from Regular Show|
I’m not sure when the cartoon revolution started, but it’s here and I'm excited. Pixar and Disney are now slipping subtle adult jokes into children’s films (“Do you think he’s compensating for something?” –Shrek) to the delight and relief of (bored) parents and adult movie-goers everywhere. Once upon a time, cartoons were for children, but today they have a mixed audience. I now spend my weekends watching the cartoon network—and not just to experience the nostalgia of childhood simplicity. These contemporary cartoons are actually pretty smart. And, in some cases, they’re also very adult. So, if you’re interested in becoming a cartoon buff, I’ve provided you with my favourites below.
Adventure Time (a.k.a. AT)
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Adventure
Target Audience: Older children and Young teens (and probably stoners)
Any time I have a chance to sing the praises of Adventure Time, I do. At first, this show was of no interest to me, but a friend of mine casually mentioned that it’s actually a post-apocalyptic narrative and I had to check it out. I mean, what sort of children’s show is post-apocalyptic*? If you’re an observant viewer, you’ll notice that the opening sequence of AT hints at this fact. Among a pile of random objects (a ring, a broken tv set, headphones), a disembodied arm hangs from a spidery tree. If you look closer still, you’ll also spot several undetonated nuclear bombs (yup, this is a kid’s show). Later in the series, you’ll get to see a shot of the earth from space—and you’ll discover that a huge chunk of it is missing. The characters occasionally mention a “great mushroom war,” prompting speculators to suggest that the post-apocalyptic event took place after a global nuclear war. It’s no mistake that the opening song specifies Finn’s species, either: he’s the only human left.
AT is worth a watch simply because it sporadically explores the nature of the catastrophic event that ended the world as we know it. Additionally, it’s quite philosophical for a cartoon. AT questions the ethics of cloning, genocide for the greater good, capitalism, and war, among many other adult topics. In its randomness, it also manages to be incredibly funny. BMO, Jake, Lemon Grab/Squeeze, and Ice King are some of the most interesting characters with some of the best lines. All in all, this cartoon is not just one of my top programs for children, but also one of the top for adults.
*As it turns out, quite a few. Pokemon and The Flintstones, for example, are rumored to be a post-apocalyptic narratives as well. Go figure.
Genre: Teen drama (with a twist)
Target Audience: Teens and Young Adults
In this cartoon, genius scientists dig up famous guys and ladies and make amusing genetic copies: Abe Lincoln, JFK, Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, and Gandhi. Then, shadowy government figures send those same teenaged clones to high school. The premise itself is funny and creative and it only gets better. Clone High is riddled with guest stars, including Jack Black, Marilyn Manson, and Mandy Moore. Every episode is bizarre, fantastical, and hilarious in its own way and serves as a satirical and cynical imitation of teen drama (think Dawson’s Creek and Degrassi). The characters throw parties (with alcohol free booze); delve into the seedy world of drugs (their drug of choice is raisins); and go to prom (along with the deformed clone of Marie Curie).
On the surface, Clone High doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, but it’s distinctly adult. Firstly, Clone High requires viewers to have a solid grounding in history—the jokes aren’t always obvious otherwise. Secondly, there are moments of restrained profoundness. While the show is mostly concerned with the shallow worries of high school students, the viewers are occasionally reminded that these clones are part of some awful experiment and have a direct link to the suffering and tragedies experienced by their originals. The soundtrack, mostly composed by the Abandoned Pools, reinforces the melancholy nature of Clone High. Indeed, it helps set the tone of each episode—particularly the last scene of the last episode which reveals the hellish fate of these lovable clones.
Sadly, Clone High was cancelled after its first season and so, the finale’s shock ending remains painfully unresolved.
Genre: Monster-of-the-week (sort of)
Target Audience: Young and late teens, young adults, and stoners
Regular Show is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. A hybrid of The Bugs Bunny Show and Undeclared, the show revolves around the daily adventures of protagonists, Rigby and Mordecai. Rigby and Mordecai are humanized animals (I think Mordecai is a blue bird, but I’m unsure about Rigby) who are probably in their early 20s. Needless to say, they represent the X generation well in that they’re both underemployed and apathetic. They spend their days (barely) working at this hellish park—I’m half convinced they’re stuck in limbo—in the middle of a nameless city. Their boss is a gum ball machine. The park’s repairman is a giant white ape, Skips, who, as his name suggests, skips everywhere.
Regular Show includes fantastical elements each episode, usually in the shape of some sort of monster or mystical creature which Rigby and Mordecai then must defeat. Some notable monsters include a cyborg virus, a video game villain, and a movie-loving gnome. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this cartoon is the fact that many of the characters are immortal, suggesting, once again, that Rigby and Mordecai may in fact be stuck in purgatory. That would explain all the unusual happenings at what looks to be a normal park. Regardless of the validity of my theory, you’ll surely be intrigued and entertained while watching this not-so Regular Show.