Tuesday, 3 May 2011
Drawn Together (seasons 1+2)
‘Does American animation always have to be funny?’ asked a viewer of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. ‘Of Course it doesn’t,’ came the answer. ‘Just look at Drawn Together.’ A case of rival companies’ cheap jabs, yes, but it has to be said that as a comedy, Drawn Together does fall short.
I thought the premise was a sound one: take the format of a reality TV show, in which a group of people are made to live together and occasionally set challenges for rewards, but base it around various animated clichés. Thus we get a muscle-bound superhero; a Disney-style princess; a rather feminine video game protagonist; a 20s Betty Boop lookalike; a creature with more than a passing resemblance to Pikachu from Pokémon; a black, crime-fighting, ass-whoopin’ detective girl; a crude flash animation pig; and a goofy creature in the vein of Spongebob Squarepants trying to cohabit. Establish the humour as distinctly adult and we have the opportunity for some clever parody and intelligent social commentary.
The writers take a good stab at this, I’ll give them that. Princess Clara and Foxxy Love feud because Clara has been brought up to be a bigot who thinks the black girl must be her servant. Xandir is outed as gay so revels in his stereotype. Ling-Ling speaks mock-Japanese and becomes a send-up of all Asian stereotypes. Toot is soon revealed as the stereotyped past-it bitchy ex-star. You may be able to tell that the humour revolves very much around stereotypes. Not necessarily a bad thing – a lot of Python humour is stereotype-based – but you need to have good jokes to back it up.
Thing is, Drawn Together has an air of desperation to it. One episode revolves around a real-life bad review the show got. Driving through South Park in one of the pastiches, a character remarks, ‘I bet more people would watch us if we lived here.’ The jokes get milked and milked endlessly. Yes, okay, Toot is fat and cuts herself, Xandir is gay enough to wear pink thongs, Captain Hero is a horrible pervert and Foxxy is black. We get it. Now give us some good jokes!
While occasionally the show does hit gold – the musical numbers are all spot-on parodies of such institutions as Disney ballads and 70s band cartoons, Foxxy’s send-up of black stereotypes (‘I’m so mad I’ve been stuck like this for three hours’ was a great line) is well-balanced with her position as ‘the level-headed one’, and the show can be dangerously close to the wire (slave auction scene?) – plus some of the briefer allusions were very funny (He-Man and Panthro from Thundercats shooting up in Popeye’s steroids den), but when there are one or two laughs in half an hour of brain-dead, repetitive, outrageous-for-outrageousness’s-sake guff, it doesn’t work. And having an episode subplot about how fart jokes ARE funny after all doesn’t make them funny.
I was also quite disturbed when they met a fat lesbian who cuts and conforms to many of the other stereotypes mocked in the show and said, ‘You’re not exactly our target audience’. I was laughing at the bigots, at how stupid it was to be so backward, and that made me wonder if I’d got it all wrong. Ah, well.
In two seasons, only one episode was actually really good, the penultimate one in which the housemates enact at great length what might happen when Xandir comes out to them, sending up the usual drama-laden stories of struggling against repression, with most of the cast playing against type. There they hit the nail on the head, because in changing the characters’ personalities for a while, the writers hit on what makes really good satire: rather than having a cast made up of flat and unlikeable characters, make us sympathetic to them first, and THEN horribly abuse them.
There’s apparently more in the works. I’ll watch it, but all the while, I’ll be hoping it’s going to improve.
(originally written 31.7.06)