When I was a boy I watched my share of cartoons and child-oriented television programming. I loved Underdog and Captain Kangaroo and Popeye (“I’m strong to the finish ‘cause I eats me spinach”). I remember begging my mother to purchase some canned spinach and then forcing the disgusting green goo down my gullet, Popeye style. I stared at my scrawny-even-when-flexed biceps for minutes, expecting battleship guns to emerge and fire magically as they regularly did in the cartoon. Oh, the bitter disappointment!
Flash forward a few decades and consider the daily fare offered by the likes of Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network. Spongebob Squarepants? Rabbid Invasion? Uncle Grandpa? Annoying Orange? I like to think I have a decent vocabulary, but the most articulate thing I can write or say in response to that lineup is “Yuck”. And for the record, Annoying Orange consistently rises to a level far in excess of merely “annoying”. Moreover, many of today’s cartoons are gratuitously violent, cacophonous, and mean-spirited. Sure, the iconic sailor man engaged in regular fisticuffs with Brutus, et al., but the violence and discord depicted was, well, cartoonish and quaint by today’s standards.
As the amigos will confirm, however, I reserve my harshest criticism for the animated piece of mind-numbing garbage entitled “The Amazing World of Gumball” (or “TAWG”, for short). TAWG assaults the senses constantly and from its first moments. There is no discernible plot, no interesting or sympathetic characters, no laughs, no point or theme. It has no redeeming qualities. None. The show’s website will tell you that “Twelve-year-old Gumball has an epic flair for misadventure. But no matter how his dumb schemes turn out, Gumball never seems to learn his lesson.” That’s a lie wrapped in a syntactic mess shrouded in a non sequitur. What the show really entails is a mish-mash of characters doing completely nonsensical things, all while screeching at each other for 24 minutes. To my mind it’s epic only insofar as watching it may, at a petty level, constitute the 21st century’s version of Dante’s third concentric circle of Hell. If you want me to give up state secrets just lock me in a room with an endless loop of TAWG playing in the background. I’ll tell you anything you want to know, do anything you want me to do. TAWG is so horrible it’s one of the few things I’ve actually forbidden the amigos to watch.
To be fair, though, the kids do watch a couple of cartoons I actually enjoy. One is the fanciful and creative “The Regular Show”, which revolves around two friends—a blue jay named Mordecai and his best friend, Rigby, a raccoon—good-natured slackers who serve as groundskeepers at a local park. The episodes usually center on their attempts to shirk their work responsibilities and the consequences of such activities, and involve an interesting menagerie of friends. The characters include Benson, their irascible boss (and, ahem, a gumball machine); Pops, genteel and easy going, who has a lollipop for a head and serves as Benson’s boss; Muscle Man, an overweight green dude who lives in a trailer and also serves as a park groundskeeper; and Skips, a wise, even-keeled yeti. Yes, there is some mildly crude language and violence depicted from time to time, but on the whole it’s funny and creative and suffused with an air of kind-heartedness.
Some months ago we were watching an episode which focused on Benson, the gumball machine boss who is constantly incensed by Mordecai’s and Rigby’s laziness and incompetence. He’d been warned by Pops that he’d be fired if he didn’t stop yelling at his two underlings. Mordecai and Rigby continue to screw up and Benson’s pent up anger accumulates, causing him to defy the laws of physics (I think) and float upward, encased in a pulsating yellow ball of heat and fury, an orb of anger so intense it creates a vortex whose gravity sucks up trees, cars, acre-sized patches of land—indeed, threatening the entire park—into its black hole of indignation. At the edge of obliteration, Mordecai and Rigby convince Pops that he must allow Benson to let go verbally, releasing his repressed anger in order to save the park and its inhabitants. Pops agrees and Benson’s tirade flows forth from his mouth like a fast-moving stream of lava, ultimately exploding and creating a crater where Mordecai and Rigby writhe, deaf and confused. The amigos found it comical, and I confess I did too. Then Abby weighed in and brought me crashing to earth.
“Hey, dad—that’s just like you. You’re Benson. We’re Mordecai and Rigby! That’s hilarious.”
“Yeah!” Luke agreed. “Exactly!”
“Seriously?” I asked, hoping they’d back-pedal a bit. “Am I that bad? Really?”
“Oh, yeah. Totally,” Daniel said without removing his gaze from the television. “Except you don’t float in the sky or anything, so I guess you’re a little different.”
It aired again a couple of nights ago and Luke called me to the den. “Dad, your favorite ‘Regular Show’ episode is on! Wanna watch?”
“OK,” I replied a bit glumly, hating the prospect of another unflattering, animated portraiture.
“Hey, it’s alright dad. It’ll be even funnier now.”
“Because you’re not like Benson that much anymore. You’re a lot calmer now.”
Thank God. Literally.
“Yeah,” Daniel concurred. “And you never had an angry river come out of your mouth.”
“Thanks, Daniel!” I replied.
“Not a yellow one, any way.”
Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at email@example.com. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.