There was a brief period in the early 1990s when, as a result of “The Simpsons” hitting it big for Fox, the big three networks – ABC, CBS, and NBC – decided that they wanted to try their hand at replicating the same kind of success with their own prime-time animated series. It didn’t work. (Two words: “Fish Police.”) Once we got into the 2000s, however, the sting of the previous decade’s failure had faded, and they decided to try it again. And again. And again. During the course of the decade, however, we did manage to get a few new animated series that were worth watching. Unfortunately, in most cases, we weren’t allowed to watch them long enough, and these are a few that deserved more of a shot than they got.
1. Clerks: The Animated Series (ABC): During Super Bowl XXXIV, ABC aired a teaser for the animated adaptation of Kevin Smith’s black and white ode to slackerdom, giving viewers a brief glimpse at Dante, Randal, Jay, and Silent Bob, then offering a vague assurance about when the series would premiere. (“Coming this spring. Summer. Whatever.”) The total lack of idea about what to expect from “Clerks: The Animated Series” left fans nervous, but the mere fact that the network was offering some promotion for the show during the Super Bowl surely implied that they were 100% behind the series. Right?
Not even fucking close. The show finally premiered on May 31, 2000, and it was canceled one episode later. You can blame many things for its abrupt demise, but near the top of the list would have to be the fact that ABC decided to kick off the show’s run with its fourth episode, then air the second episode. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal if the entire plot of the second episode hadn’t revolved around the guys getting locked in the freezer of the Quick-Stop and, while waiting for someone to rescue them, reminiscing about the things that had happened to them in the actual first episode; since no one had actually seen that episode yet, the entire joke fell flat.
“Clerks: The Animated Series” may not have thrilled fans of the original movie, given that it had to be tempered to broadcast network standards (Jay and Silent were now fireworks dealers), but if you check out the six episodes of the series that were produced and subsequently released onto DVD, you’ll see a show that loved poking fun at TV and movie cliches at every turn. Bonus: the show’s resident villain, evil billionaire Leonardo Leonardo, was voiced by Alec Baldwin, offering a performance in which you can hear many echoes of Jack Donaghy from “30 Rock.”
2. God, The Devil, and Bob (NBC): For most individuals, when you imagine what the face of God looks like, it’s hard to get George Burns out of your mind, but after watching a couple of episode of “God, the Devil, and Bob,” you’ll find that it’s pretty darned easy to imagine Him speaking with the voice of James Garner.
This series from the Carsey-Werner company kicks off with God (Garner) and the Devil (Alan Cumming) having a chat, with the former admitting that, although he isn’t necessarily excited about, he’s been having some serious thoughts about chucking everything that he’s created and just starting all over from scratch. God decides, however, that he’s going to give humanity one more chance…and, for the sake of propriety, he’s going to let the Devil pick one human being that will have to prove to God that the world is worth saving. Meet…Bob, voiced by French Stewart. He drinks beer, he enjoys his porn, and as often as not, his first question is, “What’s in it for me?” Still, there’s something about Bob that God finds endearing, and he ends up treating him as his go-to guy, occasionally sending him on various tasks, such as getting the TV networks to cut back on the amount of sex on television.
It was a great concept, and given our world and its morality, there was always going to be plenty of material, but after airing only four of the 13 episodes that had been produced, NBC canceled the show. No, the ratings weren’t exactly huge, but we’ve always suspected that it had less to do with that than it did to do with the fact that certain loudmouthed Christian groups were up in arms about it. Hey, I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumors, but when I die, I expect to have Him ask, “Say, why didn’t ‘God, the Devil, and Bob’ last longer? I thought that show was hysterical!”
3. Clone High (MTV): If you ever meet Bill Lawrence and want to get on his good side, just remember these five words: “Dude, I loved ‘Clone High’!” Lawrence co-created the MTV series with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and the premise is a doozy: a government organization known as the Secret Board of Shadowy Figures is running a high school filled solely with the clones of historical figures, including Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, Mahatma Gandhi, and JFK. I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned, concepts don’t come much more awesome than this, and the fact that these famous faces could be utilized to offer parodies of every teen drama plotline imaginable while filling the backgrounds with more historical jokes and references than you could shake a stick at made it doubly sweet.
Unfortunately, the decision to include Gandhi within its cast of characters didn’t go over well when the series made its way to the airwaves of India: nearly 150 Indian MPs and political activists pledged to fast all day in protest of the way the spiritual leader was portrayed in the series. Is that why the show never made it to a second season? Probably not entirely, but it certainly didn’t help any, either.
4. The Goode Family (ABC): We may be jumping the gun here, both in declaring the show dead (ABC kicked it to the curb, but Comedy Central is going to air the episodes, and if it does well, it’s not impossible that the network could order new episodes) and in declaring it to be a show that deserves to keep running, but given everything that Mike Judge accomplished with “King of the Hill” during the course of its lengthy run, it seems wrong to write off his first animated creation since the adventures of Hank Hill and his family and friends.
It’s easy enough to find humor in the foibles of a family of liberals trying to maintain a lifestyle of complete political and environmental correctness, though, so here’s hoping that “The Goode Family” finds an audience on Comedy Central, if only so that Judge and his co-creators, John Altschuler and David Krinsky, can have the chance to build on their initial vision in Season 2.
5. Father of the Pride (NBC): If you couldn’t hear the screaming and cursing that came from the offices of Dreamworks on October 3, 2003, then you just weren’t listening hard enough, because God knows it must’ve been loud as hell. That was the day that magician Roy Horn was mauled by a tiger, an event which put a serious damper on the excitement about Dreamworks’ first-ever prime-time animated series, “Father of the Pride,” about a family of white lions whose patriarch was part of Siegfried and Roy’s Las Vegas stage show.
One would think that, given the circumstances, someone would’ve said, “Maybe we should put the kibosh on this show. Roy’s in the hospital, and, c’mon, no one’s gonna be able to watch this without thinking about that!” Someone probably did say that, but there was a great deal of money already tied up in the show’s preproduction and they’d already started recording sessions with the actors. Add to that the fact that, even from his hospital bed, Roy demanded that the show go on, and there was no chance the plug would be yanked. So the show went on…and after 11 episodes, then the plug was yanked.
“Father of the Pride” was kind of a weird show. It wasn’t ashamed to play up the fact that it was a production by the same people who’d brought you “Shrek” (to the point of bringing Eddie Murphy on to reprise his role as Donkey), and yet it regularly went out of its way to have plotlines and jokes that were decidedly not kid-friendly, like having lions Larry and Kate – voiced by John Goodman and Cheryl Hines – go to a rave and get dosed with catnip, or having their son Hunter singing Tori Amos’ “Silent All These Years” in the bathtub, resulting in a dead silence from Larry and Kate which is only broken by Sarmoti (Kate’s father, voiced by Carl Reiner) asking, “Are we still pretending he’s not gay?” It’s hard to market a show that looks like it’s for kids but is actually for adults, and NBC pissed a lot of people off by pushing the “Shrek” connection, but with a ton of great guest voices behind the menagerie of animals that turned up in the various episodes and the mature sensibilities, “Father of the Pride” had the kind of elements that would’ve made it a hit on Comedy Central.