Tuesday, August 5, 2008

DVD Review: Freakazoid Season 1

As I've foreshadowed in the past few entries: Yes, I have picked up the DVD of "Freakazoid Season 1." Yes, I have watched the whole thing. And yes, I shall review it right now.

To give a little history on Freakzoid: Back in 1995, the show was originally pitched as another Bruce Timm action show starring a psychotic superhero. In the case of tinkering actually helping the show, Steven Spielberg himself suggested that the series should be more comedic, and writer Tom Ruegger was brought on board. Along the way, he brought on Animaniacs crew members Paul Rugg & John McCann to help him out, and history was made.

Well, as they described in the DVD extra "The Original Freak," they only had about 8 months to put the whole show from concept to airtime. When a normal show is conceived, there's lots of discussion of stuff like "Writer's Bibles" and characters, and PLOTS. But there was just no time. It was all "see if this is funny and see if anyone agrees."

This gamble paid off and we got two seasons of one of the more bizarre kids shows in animation history. A superhero show that made almost no sense, but thanks to its wit, voice acting, writing, and love of stock footage, it managed to actually make some sense.

Emphasis on "some." After watching all 14 episodes, I actually found that the "weaker" episodes of the show were the ones that actually had a coherent plot to it. Those quotes (you can imagine me making those little finger quote things that Dr. Evil does when I said that) were used because they're still hilarious, slightly insane, and enjoyable.

For instance, it's not unusual to have Freakazoid simply walk of the set of an episode, mingle with all of the cast members on their break, and then walk back on and have the episode continue as if it didn't happen. It's also not uncommon to cut away to Paul Harvey (and we all know how much kids love references to Paul Harvey) to explain the back stories of various characters in lieu of actual storytelling. It's thanks to Tom Ruegger for coming up with the most outlandish names, such as Cave Guy's alias being Royce Mumphy. Bruce Timm deserves plenty of credit, as the crew had been given several sketches of characters and decided to create clever names & back stories that Bruce would probably never had been able to conceive in his wildest dreams.

A great example is, again, Cave Guy.

You get a drawing of a caveman and what do you do with him? Why, color him blue, make him highly intelligent with the voice of Thurston Howell III from Gilligan's Island while simultaneously acting primitively savage, that's what!

Then there's this guy:

Emmit Nervend. Like most of the other characters in the show, he came out of a random sketch. Someone saw him up on someone's wall and decided he'd be a good fit for the show. And so it was, as thanks to something called the "Pause Button," we can see how many times he appears in each episode, as well as all the gag credits telling us just how many times he appeared, among other things. About 10 episodes in, they stopped caring about counting how many times he appeared and let us to do our own damn looking. He's extremely hard to miss, though.

For more background details that I don't wish to list, just visit this post I did back in June.

Now, on to the episodes themselves.

On this set, we have 14 of the total 24 episodes that were produced for this show. There's actually 13 episodes (giving the 2nd season season 11 episodes), but for some reason we were given a patchwork Halloween episode that contains "The Cloud" in its first appearance and "Candle Jack" that was aired midway through the season. It's an odd inclusion but, hell, more Freakazoid. No one can argue with that one.

One of my favorite episodes on the entire set is the first, which contains the episodes "Dance of Doom" and "Handman." This episode served its purpose of any other first episode: It set the bar for the tone of the series and was merely a taste of what was to come.

"Handman" is what set the bar for the show's insanity. The cartoon is a story about one of Freakazoid's many sidekicks, this one being Handman. Handman is simply a face drawn on Freakazoid's right hand and talks via a terrible ventriloquist act. He actually manages to save Freakazoid from certain doom from The Lobe in his first appearance. And then Handman meets Handgirl (Freakazoid's Left Hand) and they make out with each other. And then they make out again. And then they get married and make out some more. Then we see their Honeymoon and they make out. And then they have sex with implied Frenching. And then we see Freakazoid's feet with faces drawn on them, and they fight. And then the credits roll. It seems so inane and nonsensical, but it's hilarious all the same. In the span of 6 minutes, at least 3 of those minutes are devoted to the hands making out.

The picture quality of the episodes looks like it was ripped right from 1995...meaning that there was no effort to clean it up whatsoever. I even caught one of those line grains a few times during one of the episodes. Supposedly, it's the same deal with the Tiny Toons release. Shame on you, WB.

As for the extras, there's quite a few. First of all, commentaries. I don't know about any of you, but I love commentaries on DVDs. It gives you that great "behind the scenes" feel with the cast & crew talking about their memories of creating the show and pointing out all of the obscure jokes that no one got until they turned 25. They make or break the DVD in my book, with a vast majority of the DVDs I own have some form of commentary track. Sadly, there are only commentaries on three episodes: The first (which has "Dance of Doom" and "Handman"), second ("Candle Jack" and Johnny Quest parody "Toby Danger"), and twelfth (which contains "Nerdator," one of the cartoons that "makes sense," as quoted by the commentators). I should be grateful that we managed to get commentary tracks in the first place, but I have been spoiled by the Simpsons, Futurama, and later Family Guy DVDs which have commentaries on every episode.

If there were any cons to this set, it would be for these two reasons only.

These tracks were also helpful with identifying whenever Paul Rugg (the voice of Freakazoid) improvised, like in this great moment from "Dance of Doom":

Everything past "Low Bridge" was all Paul. And then there's this little infamous moment from the end of the episode:

You can't write this stuff, people. "This is a happy place," indeed.

Now where was I? Oh yes, the extras.

There's an 11 minute documentary called "The Original Freak" that provides the back story to the series, as well as giving us more commentary on other season 1 episodes, like why the episode "The Wrath of Gutierrez" ends with Freakazoid, Cosgrove, and Roddy MacStew going to see "Congo" and arguing about whether or not they could tell the difference between a real monkey and some guy in a suit. It was that old standby "we saw the movie, and thought it would be funny to put in the show." So there. Also, in true Freakazoid fashion, halfway through the documentary, it's interrupted by Relax-o-Vision.

There's also a compilation of teaser ads for Freakazoid prior to its premiere called "Cruise Ship Ads." Because the crew did not have any footage completed to preview to the world, they instead parodied a Carnival Cruise line campaign at the time while explaining that they don't have any footage to show, so you should watch anyway.

Aside from the usual promos to other WB DVD releases, that's it for the extras. But it doesn't really matter, since it's a great set that I've literally waited years for.

For fans of the show, this is an absolute must to purchase so you can relive the greatness. I personally believe that the show is actually better than I thought it was, as I've actually gotten older and am now able to understand more of the jokes and parodies.

As for people who've never seen this show: Shame on you. You must. It's worth checking out and I guarantee you'll be hooked after the first episode. I said before that The Children have been missing a piece of their development by not being able to witness this show, but now you can complete the puzzle! I must say, this is a set worthy of your $20.

If this review goes over well, I may as well start reviewing some of the other discs in my collection in the future.

And speaking of the future, it looks as though you have spoken as a majority of my "fans" have voted that I continue my "50 Greatest Animated Villains of All Time" list.

Look for that one...soon. Why do I never set a concrete deadline? The great Douglas Adams said "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise as they go by."


Dan said...

Great review man! I love Freakazoid and am looking forward to picking this one up. And for what it's worth I'd love to see some more reviews in the future and can't wait to read part III of the villain countdown!

dc said...

I've never seen Freakazoid, but I may have to after reading this.

nostalgiajunkie said...

I have determined that I, in fact, NEED to go buy this DVD set right now. I used to watch this show all the time on Cartoon Network and I miss it greatly.