While 2009 was an exceptional year for movies, the same couldn’t be said for TV.
We’re suffering from too much of a good thing. With the introduction of Internet-based channels such as Hulu, the number of outlets expanded to the point where it’s now fragmenting. Finding good content has become, well, “cloudy.” It’s out there, but it’s getting harder to sort the wheat from the chaff.
All the while, the TV industry is in a panic. The move to digital has become nothing more than a shallow grift to kill off free TV. Did you invest $20 or so (not counting the government-sponsored discount) for those digital converters? The benefit of those new micro-channels is tantamount to a snipe hunt.
At the same time, just about every TV network is griping about the lack of the all mighty advertising dollar. Yes, part of it is economy. Yet with the steady number of places for marketers to place their relatively limited advertising dollars growing exponentially, ad bucks are being stretched so far.
For the first time in over 30 years, certain keystone advertisers aren’t doing the Super Bowl. More apocryphal, as the ball goes down in New York City’s Time Square, the Big Apple’s Warner Bros. cable network could very well stop carrying all Fox-owned programming? Why? Rupert Murdoch wants to increase what he charges the cable giant for his content.
The result? Inside sources report major studios can have as few as three people toiling away in their formerly packed bullpens.
So what do the suits do in such a situation? Why they unleash the bean counters from Hell. Successful projects are being slashed, outsourced or just plain killed. New content is oft-times regurgitated grist of past glories, based on “surefire” hit video games/kids books/movies or worse.
And here’s something else, I’m hardly turning the boob tube on anymore. The 21” flat screen atop my desktop has rapidly become my preferable destination. For starters, there’s a lot less commercials. Also, I choose the time I want to watch my show, not some out-of-touch programmer. I know my wallet is appreciating it, too.
Not that there isn’t good programming out there. With so many networks at the touch of a keyboard, it ain’t that hard to lock into 20 or so solid half-hours of animated entertainment a week. If you don’t believe, read on.
One last thing, the dividing line between kid’s cartoons and adult animation is also becoming more pronounced. As such, the first list is devoted to shows for an audience that should be off to bed by 9:00 p.m., no argument. The second is for us big kids.
Let the arguments commence.
10) Kid vs. Kat (Disney XD)
As cat fanciers know, the feline race can be diabolical if it feels like. Creator Rob Pelletier pushed the envelope to extreme with a furless purple mutant mouser who specializes in torturing one particular young boy, Coop. A truly tormented and twisted little toon.
9) The Penguins of Madagascar (Dreamworks/Nick)
The Penguins were always the best part of the Madagascar movies to begin with. So a half-hour every day devoted to Skipper, Rico, Kowalski and Private is A-OK in my book. Solid jokes in spite of King Julian marks Dreamworks TV’s first hit.
8) Jane & the Dragon (Qubo)
This girl-oriented program continues to please. It proves girls like more than rainbow bright little ponies, fairies with personality disorders, supposedly fashionable (and badly drawn) walking wardrobe malfunctions and the dumbest magical girls from the other side of the Pacific. They want shows with intelligence, too.
7) Secret Saturdays (Cartoon Network)
A rip-roaring throwback to the days of Jonny Quest, this show also contains one of my favorite kid-friendly villains in the form of VV Argost. Bust out more cryptids, please!
6) Ben 10: Alien Force (Cartoon Network)
This show continues to evolve, thanks in large part to the incredible talents of Dwayne McDuffie and Glen Murakami. Most important, these two have injected leads Ben, Gwen and Kevin with enough sympathetic values that you can’t end up but care for them. It ought to be interesting when the next incarnation, Evolution, comes about in 2010.
5) Wolverine & The X-Men (Marvel/Nicktoons)
The best of the Marvel pack, this series doesn’t let the melodrama that can oft mar an X-Men extravaganza interfere with the actual drama. It sure has shown just how human everyone’s favorite mutants can be. Apparently a second season, focusing on Age of Apocalypse, is now in post-production. Excelsior!
4) Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Lucasfilm/Cartoon Network)
Yes, the CGI still looks like everything was rendered with a wood chipper, but this series has provided the most fun the Lucas-verse has proffered since the days of Return of the Jedi. The introduction of Cad Bane in particular has put this series into hyperdrive.
3) Batman: The Brave & The Bold (Warner Bros/Cartoon Network)
Every time you think creators James Tucker and Mike Jelenic can have taken their particular formula as far as they can, they turn around and top themselves. Bat-Mite, the Music Meister, Equinox were all incredible fun, and the upcoming introduction of Starro should prove they are a dynamic duo, indeed.
2) Chowder (Cartoon Network)
One of the two most original and entertaining comedies last season, the word is this series has been completely shut down and creator CH Greenblatt has now moved on to Disney XD. This is especially criminal since each new episode Greenblatt has managed to infuse this series with one more incredible animated delicacy. Shame on you, Cartoon Network.
1) Phineas & Ferb (Disney XD)
Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh has provided the show that delivers everything for a second year in a row. Smart scripting, a super-inventive formula that is constantly twisted but never broken, and some incredibly good pop songs every episode insures this series should hopefully go on for years to come. If the TV industry provided more shows like the adventures of these two half-brothers, the execs will have nothing to ever worry about.
10) InuYasha: The Final Act (Viz/Hulu)
Could it be? Can legendary anime master Rumiko Takahashi actually end a project? It looks that way. Better still, this magical tale of a girl who travels from modern to feudal Japan to fight demons with her doggy boyfriend is as compelling as ever. It only took Takahashi a decade to do it, but domo arigato.
9) The Cleveland Show (Fox)
This comparatively low-key effort from animation’s $10 million man, Seth MacFarlane, finds the former Family Guy mainstay has a sort of Bob Newhart kind of appeal. Surrounding him with a proper dose of Seth-inspired maniacs, including Adrianna Huffington and MacFarlane as bears, don’t hurt either.
8) Monster (Viz/Syfy/Hulu)
A surgeon decides to save the life of a child instead of a prominent politician, and his decision not only destroys his career, but nearly a decade later unleashed a sociopathic serial killer. An unflinching psychodrama for those who like their anime seriously dark and disturbing.
7) Naruto: Shippuden (Viz/Disney XD/Hulu)
That knuckleheaded ninja is back on this side of the Pacific, three years older, slightly more mature and as compelling as ever. His badass best friend Sasuske is now a force to consider as well. Most important, while the melodrama can still be laid a little thick, the action and humor hasn’t lost its touch.
6) South Park (Comedy Central)
Amazing to think this controversial series continues to stab at the soft white underbelly of cultural values and still come up with the laughs a decade-plus since its launch. As Cartman would say, sweet. Maybe the punch isn’t what it used to be, but South Park still packs a whollop.
5) Titan Maximum (Adult Swim)
This new endeavor from Mssrs. Seth Green, Matt Senreich and Root does its best to whomp on Voltron and all other super-mecha shows, and we viewers benefit from it. Just for the creation of Leon alone this series deserves immediate renewal.
4) The Venture Brothers (Adult Swim)
The Venture’s fourth season has seen a little slippage, but that’s only because we’re only halfway through it. The good news is Samson’s back, Hatred has turned into the surprise of the year and Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer’s crucifying of pop culture values continues to amaze.
3) Metalocalypse (Adult Swim)
Brandon Small’s mix of illuminati and metal maintains is brutal beat-down on our viewing senses. The CD rocks too. What more can you ask for?
2) Robot Chicken (Adult Swim)
Speaking of skewering cultural and pop values, how those boys with too many toys continue to amaze. Stop motion madness at its mature best.
1) The Simpsons (Fox)
21 years and we still tune in every Sunday for the latest adventures from those fine citizens of Springfield, USA. For that alone this show deserves its #1 slot. Homer Simpson as one of the most recognized Americans in the world? Lisa as snarky as ever? This level of consistent adult humor is truly unheard of in the entertainment world. Here’s to another 21.