Day 15: Cartoons
Have you guys seen any cartoons lately? If not, good golly gosh, you are missing out. Honestly, and this may sound silly, but some of the most creative, innovative, engaging and philosophically profound television being produced and consumed by the masses right now is within the animated medium.
I hear my fellow TV fans poo-poo on "cartoons" for various reasons. In the first place there's the deep-seated assumption in our culture that we must leave such childish things behind in childhood. Those who believe as much dismiss the whole genre without giving certain recommended shows even a passing glance.
Which is stupid.
Then there are those who have such a fixed opinion of what type of entertainment is "sophisticated" enough for their viewing that even if they sit down to watch an exceptional animated show, their refusal to engage results in their missing all the beautiful, nuanced storytelling before them. They simply can't look past the bright colors and "juvenile" aesthetic to how mature and profound the narratives are in some of these shows.
Which is dumb.
Then there are those who might partake in these shows from time to time, but do not take them seriously enough to give them a real, deep, critical appraisal. They like the colors, the slapstick comedy, even the general tone of adventure or whimsy. But in failing to take these shows seriously, even these viewers miss out.
Which is, whatever.
The best remedy for these sour attitudes is to actually sit down and watch some of these shows. Indeed, each of these stubborn groups (save perhaps the latter group which may have become inoculated by its persistently shallow approach) can benefit from just stripping away all expectations and preconceived notions, and watching. Like a kid. But not just like a kid.
Like a kid in that these viewers are willing to allow for, or even enjoy the "goofy" narrative conceits and animated stylings, to accept the show on its terms and enter into its world willingly and enthusiastically. But also not at all like a kid in that viewers need not leave their brains at the door. They may even appreciate the shows more by implementing their critical faculties, their eyes for detail, their knowledge of storycraft.
The best shows will survive the scrutiny.
And in case you need a primer, or some sense of direction, here are some of the best shows on TV right now (or within the last few years):
The Legend of Korra - This show ended a little over a year ago, and was itself a sequel to the critically lauded, widely adored Avatar: The Last Airbender. Korra, or the fan-christened LOK picks up a generation after the events of TLA, focusing on the new incarnation of the world's spiritual guru (Avatar), a young woman named Korra. The show treads new ground compared to its predecessor, tackling more mature themes, utilizing darker aesthetics and generally going deeper in its storytelling.
Young Justice - Oh how this show grieves me. It ended a couple years back after only two seasons, but both are on Netflix and if you enjoy superheroes but weary of how poorly superhero stories tend to translate into episodic television, Young Justice is calling your name. Like equally watchable Teens Titans before it, Young Justice follows a team of DC Comics sidekicks as they form an auxiliary hero squad and attempt to be taken seriously by their senior counterparts.
Gravity Falls - A rare gem on the Disney Channel (a network which has experienced something of a programming drought of late), Gravity Falls follows twins Digger and Mabel, who spend the summer with their great uncle (Grunkle) Stan, who owns and operates a roadside novelty attraction (The Mystery Shack). This show traffics in genuine, sophisticated humor and long, slow-burning story arcs. Its voice cast is also remarkable and makes for relatable characters in whom you as a viewer can really invest.
Over the Garden Wall - Brainchild of Adventure Time alum Patrick McHale, this Cartoon Network miniseries aired last year around Halloweentime to critical acclaim and audience delight. The show follows two brothers, lost in the woods, trying to find their way home, a simple conceit the writers and animators mined for riches of narrative possibilities. Rather than dragging on to eventual superfluity like many shows, OTGW condenses its narrative into ten tight episodes, yet still manages to cram them with humor, delightful characters (particularly the younger brother Greg), anime and fairy tale influences, and a chilling, philosophically rich narrative arc. This show is my litmus test for who I am willing to spend time with.
Adventure Time - Few shows have touched me like this one. Not only is it my favorite cartoon, it's one of my favorite pieces of media ever produced by human persons. Honestly there's not much I can say about it. It's sweet, it's smart, it's sad. It's complex (almost impossibly so), it's weird, it's upsetting and affirming. It captures the horrors and delights of childhood and adolescence. It's... just... the best. Please do yourself a favor and give it a chance.
Additionally worth your time are shows often branded "adult cartoons". Seminal in the genre are shows like the Simpsons and South Park, but newer to the scene are equally excellent (or perhaps even superior) shows like Bob's Burgers or Rick and Morty. While viewers may not object to these for the same reasons as more "puerile" "kiddie" shows, I still know a few crotchety TV watchers who dismiss them for their animation styles. But DON'T! Bob's Burgers is earnest, heartfelt and frequently gut-bustingly funny, while Rick and Morty is clever to the point of genius and offers social critiques which border on prescience.
All in all, these shows bring to the table what live action programs simply cannot. They are limited only by imagination, not by effects budgets or laws of physics. They hyperbolically explore essential elements of human nature and what it means to live in the world.
Also, you get the occasional fart joke. So that's a plus.