Within the last few decades animated television shows have become wildly popular the world over. Classically only shown on commercial television channels, these days the broadcast possibilities seems endless (Netflix, Youtube, Cable, straight-to-DVD) and growing technological improvements have made them fairly effortless and cheap to produce. More animated television shows are being produced and shown than ever before. Everybody knows and loves some classic examples of hugely popular long-running shows such as The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park, Adventure Time, but some people may not realize the breadth of animated shows that are actually available to watch. This list is dedicated to some lesser-known series that may not have found the same level of popularity or notoriety but are still smart, entertaining, funny and even disturbing – but all definitely worth your time.
Superjail! (2007 -)
Creators: Ben Gruber, Christy Karacas, Steve Warbrick.
Synopsis: This wonderfully trippy series is set in a maximum security prison and follows the absurd, highly gruesome and often nightmarish adventures of ‘The Warden’ and his eccentric crew of staff – Alice, Jared and JailBot, as they all try to keep their felonious inmates at bay. Superjail’s psychedelic animation style and zany chaotic storylines make you ask ‘what were the writers smoking when they made this?’ Although there is no set structure to the show, most episodes include a mass riot scene in which most, if not all of the prisoners succumb to a brutally painful death. These deaths occur in all manner of grisly ways; whether it’s the prisoners disemboweling, skinning or burning each other alive or being devoured or squashed by some kind of enormous alien monster. Very dark and offensive in its humor and wildly politically incorrect, the show revels in its lampooning of such topics as drug and alcohol addiction, homosexuality, sex, rape, cancer and the handicapped.
Why you should watch it: Superjail! is unlike any other animated series, in terms of its high levels of hyper-violence, cruelty and gruesome death scenes and is a must for gore hounds and those who are ‘not easily offended’. Just make sure the kids are out of the room if you decide to check out this wonderful exercise in animated debauchery. You’re in for a hell of a trip!
The Oblongs (2001 – 2002)
Creators: Angus Oblong and Jace Richdale.
Synopsis: This short-lived animated sitcom follows the everyday lives of a deformed family, The Oblongs – who live in a contaminated community called ‘The Valley’, which is nestled within a toxic waste dump. The polluted Valley neighbourhood is a dumping ground for the nearby wealthy community ‘The Hills’, whose residents economically dominate those in the Valley and have no regard for their safety or well-being. Each episode follows the wacky antics of this mutated family, trying to survive within their less-than-ideal surroundings. The Oblong family includes dad, Bob, who despite having no limbs, is constantly chipper and optimistic; and mother Pickles, a former resident of the rich Hills neighborhood but now copes with her newfound lifestyle (and baldness) with alcohol and cigarette addiction. The Oblongs children – Milo, a troubled young child with ADD, rowdy teenage conjoined twin brothers, Biff and Chip and Beth, a sweet young girl with a phallic growth on the top of her head. The show also features great storylines including regular side characters – Milo’s band of misfit friends as well as the conceited and vacuous Hills residents.
Why you should watch it: The show’s witty, tongue-in-cheek writing is a wonderful social commentary on the ever-growing class divide and social stratification in the USA, as well as being an great observation on traditional American families. Although some viewers have found the show’s subject matter of disabled and mutated characters in bad taste, the comedy is not overtly mean spirited and the importance of the American nuclear family is always present.
Rick and Morty (2013 -)
Creators: Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland
Synopsis: This wacky series follows the lives of sociopathic, alcoholic scientist Rick and his suggestible, dimwitted grandson Morty as they both deal with the pressures of domestic family life while also embarking on outlandish intergalactic time travelling misadventures. After Rick moves back into his daughter Beth’s family home, along with husband Jerry and daughter, Summer; he immediately becomes a bad influence on the whole family with his lazy attitude and all-round destructive behaviour – but none more so than Morty. Each episode features Rick and Morty’s daring quests to alternate universes to battle monsters, aliens, robots or other trans-dimensional beings – often to fix grievous mishaps caused by Rick’s wacky inventions. Rick has no qualms about putting his own grandson in dangerous, embarrassing or unsavory situations, or being a constant source of stress for his family.
Why you should watch it: Rick and Morty is a great amalgamation of family sitcom tropes and sci-fi antics, all done with fresh and clever writing. It’s Back to the Future meets Futurama with some crude, zany and offensive humor thrown in for good measure – Wubba Lubba Dub Dub!
The Critic (1993-1994)
Creators: Al Jean and Mike Reiss
Synopsis: The Critic follows the life of middle-aged New York film critic, Jay Sherman as he tries to juggle his career, love life and family relationships. Jay hosts a television movie review show called ‘Coming Attractions’ which parodies current movies, television shows and popular culture. Despite his seemingly glamorous job, lives a fairly miserable existence – joking that “film critic is the most despised profession in the world, after pre-operative groin shaver”. Jay is a film elitist and whenever he comes across a cheesy film or performance, he retorts with his now infamous catchphrase, “It stinks!” Jay is a single father to well-meaning but underachieving son Marty and includes many jokes about divorce and the difficulty of relationships. The show also features the often wacky interactions with his adoptive rich and eccentric parents Franklin and Eleanor and his half-sister, Margot. The Critic uses satirical and witty humor mixed with clever spoofs, homages and parodies of popular movies and television shows, as well as great caricatures of famous movie stars/directors like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Orson Welles, William Shatner and Woody Allen.
Why you should watch it: Created by writers from The Simpsons, the show’s comedy is in the same vein and like The Simpsons itself is a brilliant mockery of celebrity and Hollywood culture and not-so-glamorous entertainment industry. This show is definitely one to watch, especially if you’re a film buff.
Bravest Warriors (2012 – )
Creators: Pendleton Ward
Synopsis: This short animated web series is set in the year 3085 and follows four teenage ‘superheroes’ Chris, Beth, Wallow and Daniel as they travel the universe helping alien creatures in need , using their superpowers but also their powers of emotions. With their parents being held captive in the ‘See-Through Zone.’, it is up to this team of friends to band together and use their friendship to save the day. Each character has a ‘sticker-pet’; an animal which holds the secret to their superpowers, transforming from a cute creature to a pain inducing weapon, in times of strife. With colourful characters, wild settings, and bizarre storylines, Bravest Warriors is a testament to how short animations can still be entertaining and endearing.
Why you should watch it: Created by Pendleton Ward of Adventure Time fame, the whimsical design and screwball humor are very similar, only taken in a more sci-fi direction. Pendleton Ward seems to have a knack for creating shows which simultaneously entertain adults and children. This is an enjoyable bite-sized series that you can watch on Youtube at your leisure.
Monkey Dust (2003 – 2005)
Creators: Harry Thompson and Shaun Pye.
Synopsis: Monkey Dust is a vignette-style British sardonic comedy series that isn’t afraid to push the boundaries. The show’s highly original format is an animated sketch show with recurring characters and sketches which are all linked by recurring themes or jokes. Some notably disturbing regulars include Nazi Grandfather, Ivan Dobsky the Meat-Safe Murderer, the Chat Room Pervert and Omar, Abdul and Shafiq – the incomplete terrorists. The humour is cynical, off-colour and completely un-politically correct and the language is foul and offensive, but the show is a brilliant dark satire of the increasing commercialism, capitalism and corruption of modern Britain. The show tackles every sickening issue one can think of – pedophilia, rape, bestiality, drugs, politics, Nazism, racism, incest, suicide and murder.
Why you should watch it: It is rare but also refreshing to see a show with such scandalous and taboo subject matter being broadcast on a commercial network (BBC3). Although some viewers may find it morally disturbing, the jokes and satire is genuinely clever and entertaining. You can’t help feeling a little bit dirty after watching this show – so uptight moralistic types need not apply.
Mission Hill (1999 – 2002)
Creators: Josh Weinstein and Bill Oakley.
Synopsis: The series follows Andy French, a wannabe cartoonist who lives in the trendy cosmopolitan neighbourhood of Mission Hill with his two roommates – new age spiritualist Posey and computer nerd Jim. His lazy mid-twenties lifestyle is rudely interrupted however, when his parents force his nerdy kid brother Kevin and his demented dog Stogie to live with them. Andy must now face his responsibilities to be a good role model for his annoying, innocuous little brother who always manages to get himself into mischief. The show features witty humor and lewd jokes about everything a twenty-something would find relatable and funny – sex, relationships, masturbation, etc. It is not only the regulars of Mission Hill that are great but also the secondary characters including Kevin’s geeky high school friends, Toby and George and Andy’s middle-aged, bickering gay neighbors, Wally and Gus.
Why you should watch it: With sharp writing and likeable characters, and filled with pop-culture references and ‘slacker humor’, the show is a great satire of the trials and tribulations of modern day young adults, adult relationships, and trying to find ones place in the world.
Dr Katz: Professional Therapist (1995 – 2002)
Creators: Jonathan Katz and Tom Snyder.
Synopsis: The series follows the professional and personal life of psychotherapist, Dr. Jonathan Katz as he deals with his neurotic patients and tries to help them with their never ending list of issues. Animated in ‘Squigglevision’, Dr Katz: Professional Therapist focuses on the emotionally crippling and embarrassing stories revealed in Dr. Katz’ therapy sessions as well as the relationship between Dr. Katz and his family and colleagues. A big part of the humor and relatability of the show was watching the awkward relationship between Dr. Katz and his 24 year old man-child of a son, Ben. The series featured many guest starring comedians as patients, as a self-deprecating dig at themselves alluding to the fact that they were all mentally ill. Some guest stars of note include Ray Romano, Louis CK, David Cross and Joan Rivers. These comedian guests often also contributed to the show’s writing. Much of the dialogue was also improvised. The series features subtle and dry humor and witty writing that is both smart and satirical and was very original at the time of its conception.
Why you should watch it: Once you get past the trippy and somewhat distracting animation style, Dr. Katz is a smart show for ‘smart audiences’. Aimed at a more intellectual, adult audience, the show is worth tuning into for its numerous appearances’ from some (now) very well-known and established comedians during the early days of their careers. Book yourself in for an appointment with Dr Katz today!
God, The Devil and Bob (2000 – 2011)
Creators: Matthew Carlson
Synopsis: After centuries of being disappointed in humanity God makes a deal with the Devil and decides to obliterate the world and start from scratch. However God decides to give humanity one last chance if he can find at least ‘one decent human being left’. That person is unfortunately Bob Allman, a Detroit car assembler with a less than holy demeanor – he drinks, gambles and goes to strip clubs. Despite Bob’s questionable morals, he loves for his wife Donna, rebellious teenage daughter, Megan and young son, Andy. Each episode God sets Bob a series of ‘assignments’ tasks to help bring out his Christian values and prove to the almighty that the world is worth saving. The show’s humor is a light spoof on religion and a subtle commentary on society’s shift away from good old ‘Christian values’. Despite the theological humor, some viewers got up in arms feeling the show was ‘too blasphemous’ and offensive, and was therefore cancelled after only 4 episodes. The entire season of 13 episodes were later released on DVD.
Why you should watch it: We have become accustomed to animated shows including humor aimed at religion (The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, etc.) God, the Devil and Bob however have used this concept to base an entire series around. It is a great reminder that although we may all stray from the ‘holy’ path now and again, deep down we all have some good in us.
Ugly Americans (2010 – 2012)
Creators: Devin Clark.
Synopsis: Ugly Americans is set in a hellish alternate version of New York City where by a wide variety of illegal monstrous, alien, and demonic beings have inhabited Manhattan. Upbeat social worker, Mark Lilly gets a job at the Department of Integration and tries his best to help these ‘beastly’ immigrants assimilate with the human population so that human and creatures can live in a more harmonious society. The show follows the wacky misadventures of Mark and his zombie roommate Randall, his supervisor/love interest Callie who is a succubus (and also the daughter of Satan), his demonic boss Twayne and his wizard co-worker Leonard – not to mention the myriad of dysfunctional, gross and downright weird creatures Mark is assigned to support. Ugly Americans has an outlandish premise, cynical crude humor (think Futurama on steroids) and is filled with violent and gross-out animation. This black comedy explores the real life issues of illegal immigrants and racism within the United States.
Why you should watch it: Ugly Americans is an original show with colorful comic-book style animation, satirical humor and wonderful character design. Many of the comedy comes from ‘fish out of water’ Mark trying to do his best and make a difference in a city literally ‘infested’ with bizarre creatures – something I’m sure we can all relate to.