The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s my full review of season one of “Invincible,” an animated series based on a comic series by Robert Kirkman of the same name. In a year where comic fans have been spoiled by great shows like “WandaVision” and “Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” this show offers something different. At the same time, it offers a unique story that fits perfectly with the current cultural zeitgeist. I explain why in this video while also just celebrating my love for this show. Enjoy!
Tag Archives: animation
Depending on who you ask, we either live in a golden age of television or a deepening dark age. The rise of streaming media and the decline of traditional TV models has completely changed how Hollywood does business. Some say it’s a good thing. Some say it’ll lead to the utter destruction of the entertainment industry, as we know it.
I don’t want to talk about such dire issues.
Instead, I want to talk about “The Animaniacs” reboot.
It’s a relevant topic because this reboot just wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago. It wouldn’t have been possible 5 years ago, either. It’s riding an ongoing wave of reboots and revivals. Many of them are banking on nostalgia from certain eras to attract an audience.
Is it shamelessly desperate in the never-ending fight for more eyeballs and subscribes? Yes, it is.
Is most of it utterly forgettable and completely unfit for the current media landscape? For the most part, it is.
That’s exactly why “The Animaniacs” reboot is such a wonderfully refreshing achievement. It’s doesn’t just bring back a beloved show that many kids in the 90s, myself included, grew up watching. It perfectly captures the spirit of that show while still embracing a modern aesthetic that fits perfectly in 2020.
It helps that this show didn’t try to completely reinvent itself. It brought back the original voice actors for Yakko, Wakko, and Dot. It didn’t significantly change the theme song, the comedic style, or the overall structure of the show. The only noticeable changes were updated animation and a more contemporary setting.
Everything else is as zany, irreverent, and meta as you remember. It’s the same style long-time fans grew to love in the mid-1990s. Remarkably, that style works just as well 22 years later.
A big appeal to that style is just how self-aware the show is of its absurdities. The Warner Brothers, and the Warner Sister, know who and what they are in the grand scheme of things. They gleefully mock, tease, and joke about anything and anyone that crosses their path.
Some of that humor is more mature than a simple pie in the face. Other times, it’s as simple as Dot hitting her brothers with an oversized mallet. Both brands of humor are still funny and cartoonishly over-the-top.
It’s the kind of humor that works for kids and adults alike. That was a big part of what made the original show so popular and endearing. In watching this reboot, I still found myself laughing hysterically at times.
My inner 90s kid and my full-fledged adult delighted in the same jokes and gags. It never felt like my love of the old show was being exploited or mocked. It just felt like a fresh influx of zany comedy that I had missed for 22 years.
Even the Warners acknowledge in the first episode that the world has changed. The type of humor they did in the 90s just won’t land like it once did. That doesn’t stop them from making plenty of 90s reference, but that’s not the sole source of appeal. It’s just a small part of it.
No matter the era, “The Animaniacs” works by sticking to a simple formula. Put Yakko, Wakko, and Dot in a strange situation, be it the gods of Olympus or in search of a donut thief. Then, let them be their zany selves as they encounter various characters and obstacles along the way. The comedy just naturally emerges from there.
This reboot did not radically change that formula, both for the Warners and for Pinky and the Brain. It just updated the dates and settings while not avoiding the many ways the world has changed.
There are hipster douche-bags running donut shops.
There are self-importance CEOs who don’t give a damn about anything other than profits and themselves.
There are assholes who take up way too much space in a movie theater.
Some of these things existed in the 1990s too, but they’re more relevant to current pop culture trends. “The Animaniacs” gleefully and hilariously rides those waves.
That’s not to say that all the jokes land. Not every episode is perfect. Some jokes just don’t land and not every musical number is as memorable as Yakko’s famous countries of the world song. There are still many more hits than misses. I argue their song about reboots is the best of the bunch.
Now, you could say a lot about how relevant “The Animaniacs” is in this current era of adult animation. There’s no doubt the landscape is very different than what it was during the 1990s. This show was part of its own golden era in the 1990s, but that era is long gone.
These days, adult animation is dominated by shows like “Bojack Horseman” and “Rick and Morty.” Those shows still utilize comedy, but their brand of humor is a lot darker, built largely on the increasingly cynical trends that have been unfolding since the early 2000s.
I don’t deny that the kids who grew up watching the original Animaniacs weren’t nearly as jaded as kids today. Even before the awfulness of 2020, generations of kids and adults alike have seen a steady decline in hope for the future. Given that kind of attitude, it’s a lot harder for that zany style of comedy to land.
However, “The Animaniacs” reboot finds a way. It resists the urge to fall into the same dark traps as many other failed reboots. It doesn’t try to be “Bojack Horseman” or “Rick and Morty.” It just tries to be the same Animaniacs we know and love.
That’s what makes it work.
That’s what makes it funny.
That’s what makes it totally insaney, even in a year as insane as this.
That’s exactly why I love it and highly recommend it to anyone with a Hulu subscription.
We live in a strange era of reboots, re-launches, and revivals. It’s brought out a lot of mixed feelings and extreme reactions from fans of all stripes. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Some people are just completely indifferent.
Regardless of how you feel about it, there’s no escaping it. The rise of streaming media and the public’s endless appetite for new content makes it as inevitable as death, taxes, and Thanos. We’ve no one to blame for this trend but ourselves is what I’m saying.
It doesn’t always go well. In fact, there have been more misses than hits. Just as fans of “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” and “Roseanne.” However, some franchises are just more conducive to reboots/revivals more than others. That brings me to the latest revival effort by Hulu for a zany show called “Animaniacs.”
Now, if you were a kid or pre-teen in the 90s, there’s a very good chance you grew up watching this show. It debuted during the apex of 90s era cartoons. Alongside classic Marvel cartoons like “X-Men” and “Spider-Man,” as well as heavy-hitters like “Power Rangers,” this show epitomized wacky, goofy cartoon antics to the utmost.
Personally, I have many fond memories of this show. It was one of my favorite shows to watch when I was a kid. It was even one of those rare cartoons I could still appreciate as I got older. Teenagers could watch this show and still laugh at the jokes, alongside young kids. Some jokes were surprisingly mature.
Just look up the infamous “Finger Prince” joke.
Of all the 90s shows in need of a rivial, “Animaniacs” is probably the best suited. It’s style of comedy and antics might actually work better today than it did in the 90s. When Hulu released a trailer for the upcoming revival, I became even more convinced.
We need this show.
The world needs a little zaniness.
It needs it like it needs an anvil to the head right now.
I’ve watched the trailer at least 100 times and it still puts a smile on my face. Here it is in case you still haven’t seen it.
I couldn’t be more excited about the return of this show. In celebration of the “Animaniacs” comeback, I’d like to share a quick personal story. It involves a real-life zany encounter between me and Rob Paulsen, the voice of Yakko Warner, Pinkie, and about half of every great cartoon character of the past 30 years.
Now, I need to preface this by saying this encounter is one of the high points of my adult life. I had a chance to meet Mr. Paulsen, as well as Jess Harnell and Tess MacNeille, who voiced Wakko and Dot respectively, at New York Comic Con.
Having made many trips to New York Comic Coon, which I’ve documented before, I can attest that getting in line to meet celebrities of this caliber can be harrowing. The voice actors for “Animaniacs” are among the top of the heap in terms of the voice acting hierarchy. Just getting in line to meet them required a significant effort.
That meant getting to the Jacob Javits Convention Center extra early and essentially making a beeline to the celebrity booths as soon as the doors opened. Even then, it still took a while to get to these three amazing human beings.
It was still worth the effort. However, my effort included a zany twist that just made it that much more special.
In an zany fluke of luck, I just happened to get in line in front of this girl who dressed up in this amazing costume of Dot. I wish I could find the picture of it, but I cannot overstate how amazingly adorable it was. I knew as soon as she stood behind me that I was not going to be the center of Mr. Paulsen’s attention.
I was proven correct.
Shortly before the booth opened, Mr. Paulsen himself came walking out to greet the crowd. Jess and Tess were with him. We all cheered, our inner 90s kids going crazy. Then, knowing this girl’s costume was special, I tried pointing her out to Mr. Paulsen as he walked by.
It didn’t take long for him to notice. As soon as he saw this girl’s costume, his face lit up in a way that would’ve made any cartoon character from any era proud. He immediately started talking like Yakko and greeted the girl.
Yes, by the way. He greeted her by saying “Hello Nurse!”
Keep in mind, I’m standing right next to her. Mr. Paulsen is within arm’s reach of me. I came hoping for an autograph and to express my gratitude, but seeing him react to that girl’s costume felt like something so much more. The love he had for the characters and the show really revealed itself.
You just don’t get that from most celebrities, be they athletes, celebrity chefs, or voice actors. Just being there, seeing Mr. Paulsen react to the love of the fans and these characters, was such an experience. I must have smiled for a good hour or so after that.
While that girl was definitely the star of the show, I still managed to get my picture and an autograph from Mr. Paulsen. I tried to put into words how much I appreciated his work. I’m not going to lie. My voice cracked somewhat while talking to him. I probably sounded like an idiot. He still never stopped smiling.
He, Jess, and Tess were just so wonderful on so many levels. They took the time to talk to fans. At one point, Mr. Paulsen even sung his famous countries of the world song with a fan who claimed he could sing it faster. Seeing and hearing that was a spectacle in and of itself. I wish I could put into words how amazing it was. I don’t think I can.
That’s one of the many cherished memories I have of New York Comic Con. Now that “Animaniacs” is coming back, I find myself recalling it regularly. It still brings a smile to my face.
To Mr. Paulsen, as well as Jess and Tess, I doubt he’ll ever read this. I’ll still say it. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Thank you for being so awesome that day.
Thank you for bring so many insaney, zany voices to this world.
Countless kids in the 90s and countless more kids today will be forever grateful for it.
The following is another video for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. Once again, it focuses on “F is for Family.” I know it’s a show I’ve talked about a lot, even on my burgeoning YouTube channel. I’d hoped to post something like this earlier, but I had to delay it a few times to ensure it had the necessary polish. I think it’s finally ready.
Please let me know what you think. Just be warned, some of the topics in this video are going to make you want to put someone through a fucking wall. Enjoy!
For any show, the difference between a good season finale and a great season finale isn’t just how much it leaves you wanting more. It’s making you want more and feel something more than impatience for new episodes. Most shows don’t go that extra mile. They’re content to just build a little excitement for the next season.
However, “Rick and Morty” isn’t most shows. After four seasons, that’s abundantly and hilariously clear.
Recently, the show aired its season 4 finale, “Star Mort: Rickturn of the Jerri.” For a show that was delayed for so long, and subject to a lot of criticism for its fan base, it had a lot to live up to. It would’ve been easy for it to falter, given the current state of the world.
That didn’t happen, though. This remarkable, quirky, eccentric show found a way to cap off season in a profoundly satisfying way. For a show that’s raised the bar for a lot of things, from sci-fi tropes to fart jokes, that’s saying something.
The synopsis of the episode has many moving parts. It starts with an invisibility belt and the return of Beth’s clone from “The ABC’s of Beth.” From there, it quickly turns into a bloody brawl between Rick, his family, and a newly formed galactic federation, courtesy of Tammy and a rebuilt Bird Person. I won’t spoil all the details. I’ll just say that there’s a lot of bloody brawls, spilled bear, and shameless promotion of wrangler jeans.
Trust me. That makes sense by “Rick and Morty“ standards.
As a finale, it wasn’t quite as groundbreaking as “The Wedding Squanchers,” but it had a much more dramatic impact than “The Rickchurian Mortydate.” It also helped that the episode built on the continuity established in previous seasons, namely “The ABC’s of Beth.” It took an open question as to whether Beth was a clone and turned it into a more complex story.
Personally, I had mixed feelings about this episode when it began. However, those feelings quickly changed as the episode unfolded. By the end, I felt like this episode and this season, as a whole, achieved something special. In the context of larger “Rick and Morty” lore, it gave new depth to the show and its characters.
More than anything else, the last few minutes of the episode furthers a trend that began at the end of Season 3. It was subtle for a while, but now it’s very overt.
Rick Sanchez is losing control over his family.
By that, I don’t mean he can’t influence them. He’s the smartest man in the multiverse. He literally has any number of methods for doing that. The issue here is that they no longer need him.
Since the show began, Rick has asserted himself as someone his family needs to some extent. Morty needs him to grow, both in terms of strength and capability. Beth needs him because she needs her father’s approval. Jerry and Summer need him, by default, since Beth and Morty need him.
Control matters to Rick. It matters a lot. If he’s not in total control of his world, then he can’t handle it. He values being able to do anything at any time with his genius. Throughout the show, he demonstrates capabilities that are almost god-like. Hell, at one point in this season, he actually fights a god.
However, he can’t do any of that to the degree he wants without maintaining control. This is perfectly demonstrated in the episode, “The Old Man and the Seat.” It’s an episode with a similar ending, in terms of tone. In that episode, Rick is left by himself, berated by other holograms of himself. He’s sad, alone, and miserable. It’s not quite as dark as the ending to “Auto Erotic Assimilation,” but it sends the same message.
Rick Sanchez is not well.
He’s broken, damaged, and flawed.
He’s a terrible father, a bad friend, and hates himself.
He’s miserable, despite being the smartest, most capable being in the universe.
He can manage all that through the connections he has with his family, on top of his copious alcohol consumption. However, as season 4 has unfolded, we see his family drifting further and further apart. It’s not that they’re pushing him away. They just make it clear that they don’t need him. To Rick, that’s even worse than being pushed away.
Whereas season 3 began with Rick having almost complete control over his family, Season 4 ends with him losing it. It raises an intriguing question.
What does Rick Sanchez do when nobody needs him anymore?
This episode even teased a distressing answer. Tammy points out that when Rick is alone, he’s not a threat to anyone other than himself. Without Morty or his family, he’s lacking and it shows in how much he gets his ass kicked. It hints that without his family, Rick Sanchez loses a part of himself that he can’t replace, even with his genius and alcohol tolerance.
It’ll be interesting to see if this trend continues in Season 5, whenever that may come. It’ll also be interesting to see how it effects other dangling plot threads, namely Evil Morty. A more broken Rick Sanchez is sure to be a more dangerous and unstable Rick Sanchez. Given how big an asshole he can be at times, it’s hard to sympathize with him. However, “Star Mort: Rickturn of the Jerri” managed to make us feel for him.
I’m already looking forward to the next season.
Until then, wubba lubba dub dub!
Every now and then, a TV show comes along that transcends its genre. From “Bojack Horseman” to “Rick and Morty,” these shows are more than just binge-worthy entertainment. They leave a real, tangible impact. You don’t always expect it, but that’s what makes it so exhilarating. The concept of the show may not seem appealing, but it still finds a way to be great beyond all expectations.
We need shows like that now. Given the current state of the world and the agonizing isolation it has incurred, those shows are more critical than we’ve ever been, if only for our mental well-being. I have my collection of shows that help keep me sane during these difficult times, but there’s one in particular that I’d like to suggest to everyone who shares that struggle.
On the surface, it looks like a typical kids show. It takes place in a fanciful world full of fanciful characters wielding amazing powers. However, it would be irresponsible to call this “Avatar: The Last Airbender” a show for kids.
It’s one of the most underrated shows of its kind. It only ran for three seasons in the mid-2000s and aired on Nickelodeon, of all places, but rest assured this is no “Spongebob Squarepants.” This is a show that has action, depth, heart, and incredible voice acting. It’s a show that finds a way to be dramatic, tragic, fun, and heartfelt.
In fact, I honestly can’t think of any great feeling that this show doesn’t evoke.
It’s a show that deserved much more success than it got. Make no mistake. This show has some passionate fans and for good reason. It really is that good. Kids and adults alike can find something to enjoy. If you need further proof, just binge it over the course of a weekend. You’ll be glad you did.
It’s almost here.
The next season of “F is for Family” is almost upon us.
Let’s face it. We all feel a bit like Frank Murphy at the moment. Being stuck at home, with sports and movies being cancelled on top of it, we’ve all fought the urge to put someone through a fucking wall. These are tough times. Sometimes, we just need to go on a profane rant.
That’s where Frank Murphy comes in. He’s that angry rage beast in all of us and that’s why we love him.
A while back, the first teaser trailer hinted at how this season would revolve around Frank reuniting with his father, voiced by Jonathan “Mike Ermantrout” Banks. Like most plots in this show, it promises to inspire a whole new level of profanity from Frank Murphy.
Now, a longer and more detailed trailer has come out. In addition to Frank’s father joining the profanity-laced fun, some other plot elements are hinted at. They include, but aren’t restricted to heavy drug use, kids beating each other with hockey sticks, and graphic depictions of female genitalia.
In short, “F is for Family” is really stepping up its game and Frank is going to need to build more walls. Just watch the trailer. You might be inclined to help him build a few.
Beyond the profanity, blood, and graphic depictions of female anatomy, this season promises more than Bill Burr’s angry rants. Sue is almost ready to give birth. Bill and Kevin are building on their arcs from previous seasons. While Bill looks like he’s embracing his inner rage monster, Kevin is making new connections, which may or may not lead to more hilariously awkward moments.
The presence of Frank’s father is sure to heighten these moments. There are definitely some deep-seated issues between Frank and his dad. Some of those issues have clearly affected his relationship with his kids. It fits right into the larger themes of the show, which I’ve explored before. I look forward to seeing how this season builds on that.
While watching Frank hulk out is fun, “F is for Family” often tries mixing in some deeper elements. It has happened slowly, but each character has gained more layers as the show has progressed. The more we see, the more we understand where these characters are coming from and why they are the way they are. It’s part of what makes this show engaging, as well as entertaining.
Frank’s angry, profanity-laden rants will always be the primary draw, but there’s so much more at work in this show. That’s why I look forward to watching the whole season once it comes out on June 12th.
We should all start building more walls in anticipation.
How does a man get so angry that he regularly threatens to put his kids through fucking walls?
How does a man become so volatile and unhinged that the mere act of calling him during dinner will send him into a rage?
How does a man struggle so much to cope with such an unfair world?
These are just some of the many questions I find myself asking after watching three seasons of “F is for Family.” It’s not easy when I have to contemplate such things in between bouts of hysterical laughter, but they’re still worth contemplating. Given long wait we’ve endured for season 4, I think we’re all ready for some answers.
Recently, we finally got a tease in the form of a teaser trailer. The trailer even offers hints as to what makes Frank Murphy tick and why he’s prone to hulking out at a moment’s notice. It also offers some colorful F-bombs. It just wouldn’t be “F is for Family” without a healthy dose of F-bombs.
True to the cliffhanger we got at the end of Season 3, we’re about to meet Frank Murphy’s father. We don’t know much about him, but the trailer hints that there’s a good reason why Frank rarely mentions him. The fact he’s voided by Jonathan “Mike Ermentrout” Banks is another revealing insight.
This show has been subtle, but smart when it comes to revealing the character of Frank Murphy. I’ve noted before that he has more complexity than most TV dads. Even if he is a volatile ball of issues who often makes his problems worse with his anger, there is a context to his personality. A lot of it had to do with how his plans got derailed and how the American Dream essentially left him behind. Now, his father enters the mix.
The trailer hints that he did not have a good relationship with his father. It also hints that his father was more abrasive to him than he is to his own children. For a character who already demonstrates many issues throughout the show, it adds more intrigue that is sure to lead to many more angry rants laced with F-bombs.
At a time when everyone is on edge and inclined to put each other through a fucking wall, I think Frank Murphy is exactly what we need.
Every now and then, a narrative trend comes along that I neither care for nor understand. I get why many trends catch on. I’ve even been caught up in a few. I remember when stories about asteroid impacts became popular, as well as romance stories that relied on best friends falling in love. Some lasted longer than others. Some burn out. I think “Friends” alone killed the whole friends-falling-in-love-gimmick.
However, certain trends seem to catch on for all the wrong reasons. I’m not just referring to the gimmicky tropes of every sitcom attempting to rip off “Seinfeld,” either. These are narratives that attempt to troll the audience in hopes of a bigger reaction, as though that can somehow take the place of a compelling story.
Lately, the trend that I’ve found particularly frustrating is the idea of subverting expectations. It’s become a major buzzword in recent years, but not for good reasons. It became a big deal after the fan reaction to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and only intensified with the final season of “Game of Thrones.”
Now, I don’t want to get into extensive discussions about those emotionally charged subjects. I’ll let the fan bases continue to debate that in whatever way they see fit. Instead, I want to take a moment to look at this trend, note how it can be done well, and highlight why recent attempts are misguided and counterproductive.
While subverting expectations sounds cunning on paper, it’s one of those concepts that’s difficult to make work. The concept is simple. You take an audience’s expectations about a story, build up some narrative tension, and then go in an unexpected direction that changes and enhances the impact of that story.
It sounds simple, but it’s not. When it works, it’s amazing. When it fails, it’s downright toxic to itself. I would argue that neither “Star Wars: The Last Jedi“ nor the final season of “Game of Thrones” succeeded in that effort. However, one movie did succeed in this effort and it did so back in 2010, long before this trend even began.
That movie is “Megamind,” a film I’ve praised before for how it parodies the superhero genre. There’s a lot more I can say about this underrated gem, but this is one element that I feel is more relevant now than it was when the movie first came out. To date, I’ve yet to see a movie subvert expectations as well as this one.
The way “Megamind” goes about this is not at all subtle, but it’s still powerful. It’s in the premise of the movie. It asks what happens when the evil genius supervillain actually defeats the handsome, square-jawed superhero? What do they do afterwards? Why did they pursue this goal in the first place?
The first 15 minutes of the movie do an excellent job of setting up the basic, generic premise of every superhero narrative since Superman. Metro Man is the hero. That’s how he carries himself. That’s how others see him. That’s how he’s perceived. Conversely, Megamind is the villain. That’s how everyone sees him. The prison warden himself says it before the opening title screen. He’ll always be a villain.
Everything is in place for a traditional hero-versus-villain struggle. Old concepts like justice, hero worship, and public perception come into play. Then, in the first real battle we see between Megamind and Metro Man, the unthinkable happens. Megamind, despite his grandiose boasting and casual bumbling, defeats Metro Man.
It’s not framed as some M. Knight Shamalyan twist. It’s not an attempt to shock the audience. It’s not some minor plot point, either. In fact, the rest of the movie is built around this sudden subversion of standard superhero stories. Every event, choice, and character moment stems directly from this subversion. It’s not just a minor element of the plot. It is the plot.
What makes it work is how this subversion helps tell a very different kind of superhero story. It’s not just about flipping the script for the sake of novelty. It makes a case that superhero narratives are capable of doing much more than simply having the hero save the day from the villain.
Throughout the movie, Megamind finds himself playing a part in every tried and true trope we’ve come to expect in a superhero movie. He starts off being a villain because that’s what he assumes he’s meant to be. He starts questioning that assumption because by defeating Metro Man, he finds himself without a greater purpose. In pursuing that purpose, he find out that those assumptions had serious flaws.
Such assumptions weren’t inherently right or wrong. It was a matter of digging a little deeper into the concept of heroes and villains, finding out along the way that the role he thought was right for him wasn’t the one he ultimately wanted. By the end, he still dresses like a villain. He’s still not nearly as handsome or powerful as Metro Man. However, he still chooses to become Metro City’s greatest hero.
This subversion of expectation works because it’s used to build a story rather than just tweak a few details. Moments like the revelation about Rey’s parents being nobodies or Arya Stark killing the Night King had only minor shock value, but they didn’t really factor into the larger plot.
If someone other than Arya had killed the Night King, then it wouldn’t have changed much in terms of how the last few episodes of “Game of Thrones” panned out.
If Rey’s parents turned out to be someone important in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” it wouldn’t have substantially altered how the events that followed played out. Rey still wouldn’t have joined Kylo.
Ultimately, those subversions just felt like trolling. These details that people thought were important just turned out to be tricks or ploys meant to get a reaction. It comes off as both dishonest and insincere. They might not have been intended as such, but given the fan reactions, I can understand that sentiment to some extent.
You thought all those prophecies about Jon Snow and the Night King meant something? Well, that turned out to be a big waste of time.
You thought Rey’s parents would impact the course of the movie? Well, that was just a complete waste of time, at least until “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” changed that.
At times, it felt like the story was tempting people to get engaged and then slapped them in the face the second the plot went in a different direction. As a result, it didn’t feel at all surprising or engaging. It just felt insulting.
Contrast that with “Megamind.” At no point does the plot attempt to demean the audience or anyone who enjoys the traditional superhero narrative. The subversion is in the synopsis. That same subversion is used to build a larger story that fleshes out characters who started out in generic roles, but ultimately embraced a different role.
This shift never feels forced or contrived. It’s not done just to get a cheap thrill or to stand out. At its core, “Megamind” uses the concept of subverting expectations to tell a better story than it could’ve told if it stuck to the traditional superhero narrative. That’s why it works.
Unfortunately, that’s also why other recent attempts keep failing. Whether it’s a movie, a TV show, a comic book, or a video game, the concept has been used in a misguided effort to do something different. Subverting expectations has become synonymous, to some extent, with doing something new and bold. The importance of telling a compelling, coherent story is never more than secondary.
I get the importance of trying new things, especially when that genre has been played out in so many forms. However, doing so does not mean taking audience expectations and defying them in a way that feels blatant. At best, it just makes the story confusing. It’s just different for the sake of being different. At worst, it insults the audience and makes them feel denigrated for enjoying that narrative in the first place.
It can be done and done well. “Megamind” is proof of that. It doesn’t just subvert expectations for the superhero genre. It dares to build a story around it and even have a little fun with it along the way. It doesn’t at all take away from the genre it parodies. It just uses it as a foundation to tell a unique story.
No matter how many expectations you subvert, there’s no substitute for a quality story. “Megamind” gives us that and the undeniable charm of Will Ferrell. That’s what makes it so enjoyable.
Why do we root for people who do awful things?
Why do we root for the crazed killer in a slasher movie?
Why do we celebrate anti-heroes over traditional, upstanding heroes?
Why do we want people who do irredeemable things to be redeemed?
These are questions are similar in that they have a common theme, but they apply to a wide variety of situations. It feels like those questions have become more relevant in recent years as the standards for quality TV, movies, and characters has risen, which I’ve called the Walter White effect. While it can make for compelling stories, the questions themselves have distressing implications.
I’ve found myself contemplating those questions more seriously after the final season of “Bojack Horseman.” While I love this show and have praised its themes in the past, the final season really pushed the envelope on how far a show could go in telling stories about broken characters.
There’s no getting around it. From the first episode to the series finale, it’s abundantly clear that Bojack Horseman is not a respectable person. He’s a self-centered, narcissistic, alcohol, ego-centric asshole who has hurt people, exploited people, and taken full advantage of his celebrity status. If we knew someone like this in real life, we would never root for them. We’d probably root against them.
However, as I watched this show over the years, I still found myself rooting for Bojack. In following his story, learning about who he is, where he comes from, and how he deals with his problems, I genuinely hoped that he would find some semblance of peace in the end. Even as his sordid deeds started to come to light in the final season, a part of me didn’t want to see him fall, especially when he’d made so many strides.
Bojack isn’t the only character with this issue. There are countless other characters in popular culture, such as Don Draper and Wolverine, who do many awful things throughout their story. I’m a fan of those characters, especially Wolverine. At the same time, I can’t ignore the fact that he’s done terrible things that are on par with Bojack’s crimes.
At the same time, I root for Wolverine. I also find it easier to root for him over Bojack because while Wolverine is largely a product of what others have done to him, Bojack is a product of his own awful decisions.
Bojack has no special powers or excuses, outside being a celebrity. He has his share of issues and circumstances, from verbally abusive parents to substance abuse to legitimate mental illness. However, throughout the show, he’s still the one who makes the choices that ultimately hurt him and his loved ones. Moreover, he spends a great deal of time avoiding the consequences or downplaying them.
This is why I think the final season of “Bojack Horseman” was so impactful. While I did often root for Bojack throughout the show, the final season made it a point to remind everyone of the terrible things he’s done. The show is brilliant in how it has everything collapse around Bojack, but not because of circumstance. Once again, his own terrible choices and endless excuses are what do him in.
Seeing him face real, actual consequences for his decisions helped give the show a sense of balance when it ended. Bojack didn’t have a happy ending. Very few characters did. At the same time, he wasn’t killed or endlessly punished. It just left him in an uncertain state where he faced consequences for his past choices. Now, he has to make new choices moving forward.
It’s not satisfying for anyone who’d been rooting for Bojack. At the same time, it’s cathartic for that part of us who wanted him to face consequences for the awful things he’d done. Even so, the fact we rooted for him in the first place is oddly jarring and I think it speaks to a part of our nature that’s difficult to understand.
On some level, I feel like people want to see horrible people redeem themselves. Redemption stories are powerful in both the world of fiction and the real world. I think it’s in our nature to want to see good in everyone, even when they’ve done awful things. The power and desire to forgive is real.
However, does that mean we should let horrible deeds go unpunished? It’s one thing to forgive someone for a lie, but what about someone who abandons his best friend when he gets fired? What about someone who nearly chokes a woman to death in a drug-fueled rage? What about someone who takes advantage of a woman with amnesia?
Those deeds are all things that Bojack did over the course of “Bojack Horseman.” There are many others, some of which he never faced consequences for. Even though he’s an extreme example, even by fictional character standards, we still root for him. We still want him to find redemption. I think that says more about us than it does about him.
Awful people will do awful things, but when we see them trying to make things better, it’s hard not to cheer them on. I believe its in our nature to want to see others be the best they can be. The challenge is balancing that inclination to root for them and the need to punish shitty behavior.
Bojack’s story is over, but there are plenty of other characters like him that we root for. It’s not wrong to root for them, but it’s important to maintain a proper perspective. Redemption can be a powerful story. However, can there be any redemption without consequences?
I don’t know the answer. If you have some insights, please share them in the comments.