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MANUSCRIPTS BURN

"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Friday, March 9, 2018

Re-Animated #15: Space Ghost Coast to Coast/The Brak Show

Welcome back, friend-os!

The year (chronologically, according to our ongoing timeline) is 2001.  After "The Simpsons" brought the idea of primetime, adult-oriented animation into the mainstream, there were a few clones, some failures, some successes, but nonetheless cancelled ("The Critic," "Duckman") and some had managed to weather the storm and become Sunday-night staples ("King of the Hill," "Futurama," "Family Guy.")

Then, after "Rejected" opened the door, came the experiments.  Weirdo-beardo experimental adult animation litters the airwaves today, but at the beginning of the millennium, they were pretty much all concentrated on [adult swim].  In the last entry in this series, I went over what Cartoon Network was doing and why, which boils down to trying to find new ways to repurpose the newly acquired Hanna-Barbera cartoons of yesteryear.

Now, likely some of you have been yelling at me for a while about not including "Space Ghost Coast to Coast," which debuted in 1994, in this blog series.  Well, the truth is, I was waiting for this entry to hit it.  Unfortunately, chronological order is not always perfect, but we do what we can.

Space Ghost, Moltar, and Zorak sit around a coffee table

"Space Ghost Coast to Coast" was one of the earlier experiments Cartoon Network did with repurposing the Hanna Barbera back catalog.  Space Ghost was one of the lesser-remembered characters of '60s animation, and one of the more batshit ones, which is saying something in the era of Adam "Bat Octopus Repellant" West. 

Space Ghost himself was a serious-minded character, but he flew around space with a pair of twins and a pet monkey fighting villains.  In a way, his less-than-stellar history made Space Ghost a prime candidate for repurposing in a way that, say, Superman would not.  You can imagine the jeers and proto-internet anger around someone's beloved childhood superhero being made an object of derision.  In Space Ghost's case, there were mostly crickets.

And so "Space Ghost Coast to Coast" came to be.  It is, in a lot of ways, a prototype for what would become [adult swim].  Using pre-existing characters allowed the writers to eschew normal origin stories, and the fiscal limitations of the whole product led to an unusual, surreal brand of comedy.  You can imagine, I suppose, this process. 

"Let's dub the character's mouth movements.  Nothing quite fits.  Eh, fuck it, let's just say some nonsense."

"We have a little clip of the characters doing something from the original show.  If we use it, we'll save on the animation budget.  Let's write a way in for them to go running off on a different planet or something."

And so forth.  But SGCTC followed a pretty simple format that allowed for these weird asides.  The concept was that Space Ghost, who took himself ridiculously seriously, was now a talk show host.  His former enemies, lava monster Moltar, the cat-like Brak, and space mantis Zorak, had now been shanghaied into being his producer, Ed McMahon-style sidekick, and bandleader, respectively.

Mostly the characters would bicker, their old statuses as enemies having never quite been forgotten.  Space Ghost, as a talk show host, would have guests on, who appeared in live action on a television screen within the animated studio.  In an early version of what would evolve into Tim and Eric-esque anti-humor, Space Ghost would either bicker with his guest, ignore him altogether, or force him to play the straight man.  We'd also see this concept by-and-large revisited in the later-era, live-action talk show "The Colbert Show."  The guests, depending on how game they were, would either become irritated or play along, in any case allowing for some amusing shenanigans.

I haven't revisited SGCTC in many years, but that's pretty much for the same reason I haven't revisited '90s era Conan O'Brien shows or even something I loved more recently like "The Daily Show."  And the simple reason is because talk shows don't age well.  Unless something someone was slumming it back then and went on to become a major celebrity or if there's some kind of universal, age-proof sketch, talk shows are disposable media of their era, and best left to it.  I imagine there are still diamonds from the SGCTC era, but I shall leave the business of sifting them from the rough to you, dear readers.

The Brak Show.png

Now, with that as preface, we can talk about SGCTC's spinoff (well...or whatever) "The Brak Show."  "Brak" aired alongside "Sealab 2021," "Harvey Birdman," and "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" in the original [adult swim] lineup.  Even amongst such scintillating stoner comedy companion pieces, "Brak" easily won the race for most sophomoric.

Which is not to say that I dislike "Brak."  I enjoyed the show a great deal, and think it has been somewhat forgotten in the scrum of people saying which [adult swim] shows they liked best.  But "Brak" was, most likely deliberately, the "dumb" show.  Brak himself was exceedingly dumb.  Zorak also made the jump over from SGCTC, this time as Brak's cruel and exploitative neighbor.

His villain days long behind him, Brak mostly worried about being nice to people (usually while failing miserably and fucking things up) and singing jaunty tunes.  His father is an out-of-place normal-sized human surrounded by giant monsters, and a vaguely wise, vaguely psychotic figure with a Latino accent.  Think Desi Arnaz by way of Donald Trump.  His mother is possibly whatever feline race Brak is, originally with an American accent, then later with a British accent when the voice actress was replaced.  In keeping with the general ethos, the change was often mentioned but never explained.

And, aside from Brak's many anthropomorphized stuffed animals, rounding out the cast was perhaps "The Brak Show's" greatest creation, Mr. Thundercleese.  Thundercleese is a giant, world-saving robot with a soft side, often fussing about his goldfish and whatnot, but never in anything less than an insane, auto-tuned bravado. 

"Brak" was the first of the original [as] shows to be cancelled, after four seasons.  So, in a way, it feels like it made less of an impact than it did.  But for setting up the network's ongoing ethos, it's at least a quarter responsible.  So, if you've never seen it, it's worth a re-watch. 

On the next two installments of "Re-Animated," we'll be rounding out the rest of the original [adult swim] lineup.  Hope to see you there!

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