In the five years since I watched the first season of Gumball, it got a lot more popular. Clips from the show occasionally pop up on Facebook, going a little viral. It’s fully incorporated into Cartoon Network promotional material like its 25th anniversary clip. It’s won a number of awards and generally entered into public consciousness to a much greater degree. I’m pretty sure it will be remembered nostalgically in a decade just like Powerpuff Girls and Fairly Odd Parents are remembered today.
I actually watched a fair chunk of season 2 before I stopped for a few years. Back then it was hard to find anywhere to watch the show. But I absolutely loved the episode The Job, where the show’s love of mixing animation styles is taken to extremes. It’s a beautiful, fun episode with a whole lot of weirdness going on, and one of the most inventive episodes of a show animation-wise that can ever have aired on TV.
Broadly, though, the show continues in the same way as the first season. Short, exuberant 10-minute episodes cover things like Gumball feuding with Banana Joe over a chewed pen, going to see the simple life of a rather Armish-esque potato or getting embarrassed over a stupid video of Gumball going viral.
The Watterson parents get more fleshed out here. Richard becomes a little less irritating and more sympathetic, even doing stupid things like getting into petty quarrels with his neighbour or being too wet to kick out the partiers who take over his house. We also get an insight into how he became the way he is, with an appearance from his overbearing mother. As for Nicole, that tough-love competitive spirit of hers reaches extremes, first in how far she pushes Gumball in a paintball game, and later in her own refusal to lose, which develops into her being some incredibly strong beast more or less unbeatable in the established world.
Other characters get more exploration too. Hector becomes more than just some feet and shins. Carrie shows more of a dark side. Insane new girl Sarah gets her introduction, though only seems a little obsessive in this season – and brings with her a very amusing set of friends from another school who look and move like 70s cartoons. Another human introduced is Santa, played with aplomb by Brian Blessed, national treasure.
Then there’s Gumball and Darwin, who were pretty well-developed from the start. They remain two of the most joyful characters to watch in any cartoon – impulsive, selfish and fun-loving Gumball paired with cute, sweet-natured, caring Darwin. In one episode they explore their dynamic, Darwin wanting to take the lead instead of following as the straight guy, and it’s an interesting examination of their dynamic. They’re still totally adorable, and their relationship is still very often homoerotic and has no qualms subverting gender expectations – the boys are quite happy to dress up as girls for their fake TV show (adorably rendered in anime style by Mike Inel online), hyperventilate into one another’s mouths or comfort each other by hugging and stroking. It’s totally adorable.
And on that note, this season pushes more boundaries than ever before. What this show gets away with is considerably more surprising than Adventure Time’s ‘Get in his pants’ joke. Of course everything is only implied – double entendres like “Did you see what he did to that guy’s cherry”, or visual boundary-pushing like Gumball and the balloon boy Alan meeting in the boys’ bathroom and Gumball having to reinflate him by, well, blowing him up. And then coming out of the bathroom looking decidedly disturbed. It pushes at what’s permissible and that’s one of its strengths.
Of all the cartoons currently airing targeted at kids, it’s the one that appeals the most to me. As an animation fan, in terms of humour, in the cuteness of the characters, in the unpredictability of the episodes and in terms of subverting expectations. The last two episodes in particular poke fun at the ideas of a whole world being made of living things and how horrific that would be, and the idea of cartoons resetting after each episode without consequences.
Funny, easy to watch, cute, likeable and inventive, I’ll definitely carry on watching Gumball.