Wednesday, October 01, 2008

DVD Review: Freakazoid! Season 1

Of all the WB/Steven Spielberg cartoons of the 1990's, Freakazoid! is the most unusual and probably the most cultish. Originally pitched as a semi-serious superhero show, Freakazoid! instead became a full-on comedy. Now, the show finally makes its way to DVD in a season one set. While this show was supposedly made for kids, it's really perfect for the adult who's a kid at heart.

Freakazoid! is about a geeky teenager named Dexter Douglas. After activating a flaw in a computer chip, he gets zapped into the Internet and emerges as Freakazoid, a madcap and supremely nutty hero. He's essentially a big man-child, someone who runs with his hands in the air instead of flying and can get distracted at a moment's notice to go get a mint with his friend, Officer Cosgrove. Freakazoid fights an almost as silly array of villains from The Lobe, a man with a large brain for a head, to Longhorn, a guy who made himself look like a bull and is an aspiring country singer.

Freakazoid! also has its share of side characters. They include The Huntsman, a gruff hero who never gets a chance to fight crime, Lord Bravery, a British superhero clearly inspired by John Cleese, Toby Danger, a hilarious pre-Venture Brothers parody of Jonny Quest, and the Lawn Gnomes, a not-so-hilarious parody of Disney's Gargoyles. The show also has a top-notch vocal cast whose regulars and guest stars included Ed Asner, Ricardo Montalban, Stephen Furst, Stan Freberg, Kenneth Mars, David Warner, Craig Ferguson, and even the late Jack Valenti.

What elevates Freakazoid! above a typical kids' cartoon comedy, however, is its style of humor. It's closer to Monty Python in style than the Looney Tunes. It throws typical comedy conventions of timing and storytelling right out the window. A Freakazoid cartoon could be "interrupted" at just about any time for any reason including the aforementioned Jack Valenti explaining the MPAA ratings system, Freakazoid praising the actors in the cartoon, or "Paul Harvey" telling us "the rest of the backstory." Gags often go on longer than expected (the episode "Handman"). The show combines utter silliness with sly (and sometimes obscure) pop-culture references that go far over the heads of the supposed target audience. One moment there might be a joke about "poo gas" and the next moment there might be one about Marty Ingalls.

The first season's 14 episodes (technically 13 episodes since one episode is made up of content from other episodes) are spread over two discs with the second disc being a flipper. The video quality is on par with the other WB/Spielberg shows meaning that it will look good on a standard connection and not-so-good on a computer or HD connection.

The extras on this set are a bit better than on previous WB/Spielberg DVD sets. "Freakazoid: The Original Freak" tells about the making of the show from its semi-serious origins to the silly reality. Three episodes receive audio commentary with producer Tom Ruegger, writer (and voice of Freakazoid) Paul Rugg, and writer John McCann. These commentaries are great fun to listen to as the trio crack jokes, reveal some of the more obscure references, and talk about how some of the most memorable gags came about. The final extra is a series of bizarre promos made to promote the show. They are parodies of a series of popular-at-the-time cruise ship ads and don't feature any footage from the show.

More so than Animaniacs, Tiny Toon Adventures, or Pinky & The Brain, Freakazoid! is a show that you will either love or hate. It's unabashedly silly and sometimes quite childish but at the same time, its sensibilities are more appealing to older audiences. This show somewhat anticipates the type of humor that would later become popular on Adult Swim and shows like Family Guy. While some of the jokes are a little dated, most of this show holds up quite well. So, sit back, watch "Candle Jack" and enjoy the hilarity of Frea

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