Every single one of us likes to look back on our childhood and revisit the old shows, toys, and movies we enjoyed as children. Most of our trips down ‘nostalgia lane’ focus on our younger, more carefree years rather than our late teens or early twenties. Can you blame us? Childhood memories usually fill us with that warm, fuzzy feeling. Our teenage years and early adulthood can bring us into some pretty dark territory such as the struggle of growing up, trying to fit in, or the fear of kick-starting a new life on our own. It’s much more comforting to remember the feeling of watching Care Bears than it is to remember your first awkward date watching Greg Kinnear and Lauren Holly in A Smile Like Yours.
Even during the years that weren’t so happy-go-lucky, there were still cartoons. Cartoons aimed at adults and older teens have been around forever, but they really hit a stride thanks to shows like The Simpsons that made every network attempt to produce a cartoon aimed at an older audience. Later, MTV and Cartoon Network would perfect the art and bring adults some fantastic animated programming. Unfortunately, for every hit like Rick and Morty there are ratings duds that fall into obscurity – even when they’re really good.
Whether you thought they were amazing or just awful, keep reading to see if you can remember any of these forgotten animated gems that were geared towards adults.
15. The Brothers Grunt
Even if you were a huge fan of MTV’s slew of original animated series in the 1990s, you might have missed The Brothers Grunt.
The Brothers Grunt tells the tale of some very strange individuals who are supposed to be some sort of off-shoot of humanity. They are more or less human except they are constantly straining and grunting as if they’re trying to defecate. Their veins and arteries are constantly pulsing, and they communicate in a series of strained grunts. They live in the wilderness and the brothers Frank, Tony, Bing, Dean, and Sammy, must go to the “big city” in search of their brother Perry (The Chosen One). Humans more or less ignore the Brothers Grunt and just pretend everything is fine.
14. Home Movies
Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim isn’t quite the block of programming it used to be. In its early days, it was a bit, well, we’ll just say it was a bit “tamer” by the standards set since shows like Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job! and Xavier Renegade Angel aired in the famous block of television.
Home Movies follows Brendon, an aspiring 8-year-old filmmaker. He and his friends put on productions in their homes and around their neighbourhoods while dealing with their parents and Coach McGuirk. The series originally aired on the now defunct UPN. It ran for five episodes before cancellation. Cartoon Networked picked it up and it was the first series to air on the first ever Adult Swim. It was a great series that Cartoon Network was able to get five more years out of.
13. Æon Flux
Æon Flux was a fantastic science fiction series that saw life across a number of different types of media. The original MTV series told the tale of a nearly nude, leather-clad secret agent from a seemingly anarchist society infiltrating the nation of Bregna. It seems at first that Bregna is a repressive totalitarian country, but it’s mentioned throughout the original animated series that it has elected officials and a house of Parliament. During her missions, Æon often encounters her nemesis, Trevor Goodchild. Trevor is often times Æon’s lover as well.
The series first appeared as a series of short films on MTV’s Liquid Television. It was then given five stand-alone full episodes and then a ten episode season. After the animated series became a cult classic, it was developed into a live-action movie starring Charlize Theron. When the film was released it came with a tie-in video game that featured aspects from both the film and the animated series.
Duckman was such a good series that aired during a wonderful era of original programming coming out of the USA Network. It followed the life of a private detective named Eric Duckman (voiced by Jason Alexander). Duckman’s life is anything but normal. He lives with the twin sister of his deceased wife, his comatose and flatulent Grandma, his genius conjoined twin children, and his moronic son Ajax. Outside of the home his partner, a pig named Cornfed, does most of the heavy lifting at work. He also employs two office assistants that can only be described as Care Bears.
11. Liquid Television
Liquid Television is probably one of the best things ever produced by MTV. Shows like Beavis and Butthead and Æon Flux went on to get their own series and some material, like Dog Boy and The Specialists, definitely should have.
The shorts featured on Liquid Television were not entirely animated. Some of the shorts featured, like Dog Boy and Art School Girls of Doom, were done in live-action. The short Winter Steele was done with puppets. Most of the programs were animated though.
A major shout-out needs to go to The Adventures of Thomas and Nardo. It was a fully 3D short made out of paper about a man and his anthropomorphic house. Nothing looks like or has ever looked quite like it. It might be the most forgotten segment on Liquid Television, but it was easily the most visually unique.
10. The Critic
It’s pretty surprising The Critic only lasted two seasons. Perhaps it was just ahead of its time. When you consider how long Family Guy, American Dad, King of the Hill, and even The Cleveland Show lasted, it’s surprising The Critic never became one of the mainstays airing in FOX’s animated block anchored by The Simpsons. Heck, Jay Sherman (voiced by John Lovitz), the main character of The Critic, even appeared in the Simpson’s episode “A Star Is Burns.” Jay came to Springfield to oversee a local film festival.
Oddly enough, critics loved the show but that wasn’t enough to keep it going. It just didn’t get the ratings to stay on FOX. It remained on television in reruns on other networks but it has yet to see a television revival (though ten webisodes were made in 2000-2001 on AtomFilms). It boasts an impressive 8.0/10 rating on IMDb.
9. The Maxx
The 1990s saw a huge boom in the comic book industry. One of the biggest things to come out of this boom was the creator-owned publisher Image Comics. A lot of “rock-star” talent came out of Image and many people were approaching the publisher to adapt their books into other media. Spawn saw a live-action movie and an animated series. Savage Dragon and WildC.A.Ts saw an animated series. Witchblade (from Image’s Top Cow imprint) saw an anime and a live-action series. The greatest adaptation of the bunch is easily Sam Keith’s The Maxx, which was adapted as a series by MTV as one of the seasons of MTV’s Oddities.
The show focuses on The Maxx, a homeless man who think he’s a superhero meant to protect a social worker named Julie Winters. He continuously shifts between two realities – the real world and an “outback” where Julie reigns as the Jungle Queen. You think Maxx is probably crazy, but the show (and especially the comic) unfolds into so much more.
8. Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist
Dr. Katz might be most easily recognized by its unique art style achieved with the Squigglevision animation software. The style features characters with outlines that are constantly in motion or “squiggly” while backgrounds and inanimate objects remain more traditionally drawn.
The show was developed by comedian Jonathan Katz in conjunction with animator Tom Snyder. The series served as a vehicle for comedians to recite their stand-up material as if they were opening up to their therapist, Dr. Katz. Each episode generally featured three therapy sessions, usually interspersed with Dr. Katz chatting at a bar with his friend Stanley and the bartender.
7. Mission Hill
It’s a shame that Mission Hill has yet to see a revival of some sort. The series that followed a group of twenty-somethings making ends meet in the big city had a very short lifespan but it was actually rather well done.
Mission Hill originally aired on the WB in 1999 but was pulled due to poor ratings after just two episodes. WB gave the series another shot in 2000. This time, Mission Hill aired four episodes before the plug was pulled. This left nine completed but unaired episodes and five written but unfinished episodes.
Fortunately, Teletoon, TBS, and Cartoon Network all reran the show, including the “lost” nine episodes. Cartoon Network reran the series during their Adult Swim lineup and the show picked up quite a bit of a following. While the “lost” nine episodes were aired, Cartoon Network never made the effort to pick the series back up. They just reran the first thirteen episodes over and over again for a year.
It’s probably a good thing we’ve all mostly forgotten Stripperella. Stan Lee is probably grateful we’ve forgotten it as well. Stan The Man was the creator of this series that was set to air as part of a block of original adult animated cartoons on Spike TV. Stripperella, as well as the entire block of animated television, didn’t seem to go over very well with viewers.
The series starred Pamela Anderson as the voice and likeness of Stripperella. By night, Stripperella was a stripper named Erotica Jones. Yes. Her name was Erotica Jones. That’s the best they could come up with. But she was secretly a superheroine/secret agent named Stripperella, which isn’t really any better of a name than Erotica Jones.
Stripperella had your run-of-the-mill power sets for when you can’t think of any good powers – enhanced reflexes, increased strength and agility – yawn. She also has access to James Bond inspired high-tech spy gear.
5. The Head
Before The Maxx, a totally different series aired under the banner of MTV’s Oddities. This series was The Head.
The Head was the story of a man named Jim who wakes up one morning to find out his head (from the eyebrows and up) has increased in size to gargantuan proportions. It turns out an alien named Roy has taken up residence inside Jim’s head to get used to planet Earth. Roy has come to our planet to stop a similar alien species from taking over the planet. While Roy’s species has a mutual relationship with their hosts head, Roy’s adversary, Gork, has a parasitic relationship with his host (as does the rest of Gork’s species).
The Head ran for two seasons and maintains an impressive cult following. It’s a shame that The Maxx and The Head can’t get a nice Blu-Ray collector’s set together as both shows aired as different seasons of MTV’s Oddities.
4. Capitol Critters
After FOX’s The Simpsons gained so much success as a prime time series targeted primarily at adults, other networks, including FOX, made attempts to capture that same lightning in a different bottle. Most of those attempts maintained cult followings but that didn’t help the ratings any. Capitol Critters, like many of those shows, only lasted a short time. Only seven episodes aired on ABC with Cartoon Network picking the show back up and airing the remaining six episodes.
The show was about the vermin (mainly rats, mice, and cockroaches) that lived underneath and within the walls of the White House in Washington DC. In these politically charged times, that’s a metaphor that might make a hit. Perhaps Netflix should consider a revival!
3. Cartoon Sushi
A few years after Liquid Television had left the airwaves, MTV decided there might be a place for experimental animated shorts once again. Instead of just bringing back Liquid Television, MTV whipped up a new series that more or less served as a spiritual successor. This series was known as MTV’s Cartoon Sushi.
Most of the shorts on Cartoon Sushi were new to the series, though ‘Stick Figure Theater’ by Robin Steele did carry over from Liquid Television.
As was the case with Liquid Television, some of the featured shorts were mined to become pilots for full length series. It was on Cartoon Sushi that Celebrity Death Match would get its start with an episode pitting Charles Manson against Marilyn Manson.
2. Family Dog
As was mentioned earlier, a number of networks wanted to have their own Simpsons. Along with Capitol Critters, Family Dog would also be a series that had a strong cult following but couldn’t find enough viewers to stay on the airwaves. Family Dog first aired as a segment on Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories and was later developed into a full series.
It’s not a big deal for creator Brad Bird that Family Dog didn’t do too well in the ratings department. Bird has enjoyed a fantastic career with work on The Simpsons, King of the Hill, The Iron Giant, Up, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. He’s even dipped into live-action as the director of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Tomorrowland.
1. Todd McFarlane’s Spawn
Many of us remember Spawn. He was probably the single biggest comic book character of the 1990s. A live-action film based on the comic book garnered mostly negative reviews, but the film was a moderate box office success. While the film was only a slight success, the more adult oriented animated series from HBO was an award winning accomplishment.
The series ran for three seasons and managed to bring home an Emmy Award in 1999 for Outstanding Animation Program. It’s been released in a number of different collector’s formats. It’s even seen PG-13 edits so younger fans could finally get a chance to see the series without sneaking around their parent’s backs.
Another Spawn animated project has been buzzed about since 2009, much like the buzz surrounding a new live-action movie. If you’re a fan you probably shouldn’t hold your breath for either of these Spawn stories.
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