Entertainment Weekly’s list of the top 25 animated series of all time intrigues me. It intrigues me to the point where I want to take action. Three things I notice right off the bat about this compendium:
- Not a lot of these series are aimed at kids. Restricting animated series to the ghetto of kids’ culture is similar to committing the same crime against the comics medium (You may think comics are for kids, but you sure as heck aren’t going to give your 9-year-old a copy of Watchmen). All the same, it is viscerally surprising to see so many explicitly adult series dominate this list. Archer (a show I have never seen, but plan to see as part of my mission here) may certainly have more trappings of quality then, say, Yogi Bear or X-Men: The Animated Series, but is it (or any show like it) really more deserving of a place on this list than those universally beloved adolescent series? It seems like this list goes out of its way to jump on the Adult Swim bandwagon. Does this list truly reflect greatness, or just cultural cache?
- More than half of this list is comprised of shows which have aired within the last five years. Thirteen out of twenty-five of these shows were on the air, still going (or just starting) in 2007 or later. I mean, these lists usually take time to trump old classics people may have forgotten, but not this one. Only four of these shows (Bugs, The Flintsones, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Scooby) predate 1989, the year The Simpsons premiered. Does that mean animation has really jumped up in quality that much in this past decade? Or is this list pandering too much to the “in” crowd right now?
- As with any best-of list, there are a lot of omissions, but most can be chalked up to the classic conundrum of “Well, I have one of that, I don’t really need another.” Blame that syndrome for the omission of shows like Daria (already got King of the Hill), Rocko’s Modern Life (already got Ren and Stimpy), Hey Arnold and Doug! (already got Rugrats), any other superhero show (already got Batman), and any other anime (because you only need one to legitimize it, and they went with Cowboy Bebop). Countless others too. Some omissions I found particularly suspect because they seemed to ignore an entire realm of animation were the omissions of Tom and Jerry, every single animated show from the 1970s and 1980s (apart from Scooby rehashes), all remnants of ’90s Cartoon Network (Dexter’s Lab, The Powerpuff Girl), and every last ounce of Disney (DuckTales, Gargoyles, Goof Troop). I don’t begrudge them these omissions, but including any one of them would have made the list seem more rounded. Are this many Simpsons-inspired adult satire series really better than anything Disney has ever put on television?
These are interesting questions and I want to find some answers to them (as well as to questions like “What on Earth is Liquid Television?” and “What’s the big deal about Archer?” and “Can I really trust Clone Wars after Attack of the Clones?”). So I’m going to tackle one of these series a day (or as close to a day as I can get), watching a few representative episodes to get a feel for what makes them candidates for this list, or, conversely, what makes them the shams that stole a spot from a more deserving show like Tom and Jerry. I might even set out to watch and talk about some of the shows I feel like should have made this list to make my final assumptions even stronger. If I like a show, then I’ll add them to my list of discoveries I want to keep up with. A win-win proposition for all.
Most of these shows will be new discoveries for me. Half I have either never seen before or have been exposed to in only the most passing, trivial manner. (Adventure Time, Archer, Beavis and Butt-Head, Star Wars, Cowboy Bebop, King of the Hill, Liquid Television, Ren & Stimpy, Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Tick, Venture Brothers, and, yes, The Simpsons, which I have never really, kind of… watched before… Shame spiral.) Another eight or so, I am marginally familiar with, but I have not given them the time they deserve outside of a cursory glance here or there. (Animaniacs, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Batman, Futurama, Robot Chicken, South Park, and The Boondocks.) Even the remaining few I am very familiar with (Bugs Bunny, Family Guy, Rugrats, Scooby Doo, Spongebob Squarepants, and The Flintstones), I have not seen in years. Most were seen solely from a kids perspective. They were candy in a candy store. Now I’m an adult capable of understanding what a healthy diet is, and I’m wondering whether those shows I adored as a kid still deserve to be on the menu.
Setting out on this side-journey will hopefully get me back on track for my overriding mission. Aside from my ongoing quest through Whedon’s world, I have yet to really make good on my mission statement and leave the cordoned-off area of the popular culture I’ve done already. I love talking about Glee, but the point of this blog isn’t to talk about a show I know like the back of my hand. It’s to find shows I wouldn’t know from Adam and letting them alter the way I percieve everything including Glee. Using this list as a diving board (as well as using it as a calender) should provide me just what I need to truly begin accomplishing what it is I’ve set out for myself to do — to get lost in a mission of pop culture archeology and share what it feels like to uncover for myself what everyone else has been telling me to uncover for years. What better way to start this pop culture mission than with cartoons, which, for so many of us, were how we started our pop culture journey in the first place!