So once again, afternoon television is saved, thanks to…
To celebrate the birthday of one of our country’s greatest civil rights leaders, Cartoon Network naturally turned to a show about three upper-middle class white girls. Coincidentally, it also happened to be the ten-year anniversary of the show (allegedly, anyway–according to Wikipedia it premiered back in 1998), and apparently that was enough for CN to devote a day’s worth of programming to one of their first and biggest original successes. It’s almost hard to think back to the Girls’ original run, since that was in the prehistoric days before Adult Swim, the now pre-eminent block of the channel’s more experimental fare. But back around the turn of the decade, if you wanted to see cartoon fare that was somewhat more involving than Tom and Jerry, you had to watch in the middle of the afternoon, when Dexter’s Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls were on. And back in the days when my TV watching was still mostly oriented around music and movies, it was some of the only original TV programming that I actually made a point to watch–at least until I ran out of reruns that I hadn’t seen before and lost interest in the diminishing returns of the new episodes.
Nonetheless, it was a very enjoyable show. The animation style was boundlessly energetic and creative, the show’s overtly cute, innocent tone impressively managed to avoid being either precious or patronizing, and the humor, while often slapsticky and simplistic, packed enough wink-wink references and subtle little genre twists that you never really felt stupid while watching. It was an undeniable sugar rush of a TV show, perhaps best in limited doses, but a safer bet than just about anything else out there to put a smile on your face for the duration. Unsurprisingly (and at the time, very annoyingly), the show was eventually co-opted by rave culture (or whatever the closest thing in America to rave culture was), who pointed to the characters’ beady eyes, relentless supply of energy and endless amounts of unadulterated positivity as evidence of the creators’ ecstasy use. Fair enough, and creator Craig McCracken has even stated that he was surprised anyone besides ravers and college students got into the show, but I never thought the show needed a subversive subtext to sell it to teens and young adults–sometimes, you just want to watch a show that doesn’t make you afraid to go outside.
Of course, I’d be lying if I said the show hadn’t aged much for me since I was first into it–somewhat inevitable for a show with a Bis theme song, I suppose. The episodes I used to think were riotous (like the great Meat the Beat-Alls, which packed about twenty-five Beatles references a minute but only made about a third of ’em make any sense) are now merely amusing, the episodes I thought were amusing are now merely interesting. But if nothing else, you’ve still gotta love a show with a cast of baddies like this one had–from classmates like bully Mitch (and his classic “MITCH ROCKS” T-shirt) and spoiled supervillain Princess (who actually looks a lot like Maeby from Arrested Development) to town terrorizers like monkey mastermindMojo Jojo (the one character whose presence automatically signalled a great episode) and femininely devilish Him (with that high-pitched voice, still one of the most legitimately unsettling characters in cartoon history). I’d even forgotten about the existence of the Rowdyruff Boys, the Him creations that gave the girls their evil male counterparts (and whose fights with the girls entire gender relations classes could probably be devoted to). The show could coast for a couple seasons just on the strength of that rotating supporting cast.
It’ll be interesting to see what Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Venture Brothers will look like in another five years. Guess we’ll see on MLK’s birthday in 2014.