Comedy Central (2004), Paramount Home Video (October 4, 2005), 2 discs, 152 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0, Rated TV-MA, Retail: $26.98
Reality television takes its most bizarre turn as a group of animated characters attempts to live together with the cameras rolling.
The Sweatbox Review:
So it has come to this. With the “reality” craze taking over TV land ever since Survivor became a smash hit, networks have been tripping over themselves to come up with the next big true-life series. Of course, calling these shows “reality TV” is a misnomer, since most of these series are just prime-time game shows with novel twists. Nevertheless, the past few years saw a pile of good, decent, and truly awful “reality” shows come to the small screen. And maybe, just maybe, the public has begun to tire of all the gimmicks. Thank goodness that the pendulum of public opinion has swung towards dramas recently, although seeing a great, breakout comedy would be nice too.
With the reality craze beginning to plateau, it must have seemed like the right time to debut a spoof of these shows. October of 2004 saw the debut of Comedy Central’s Drawn Together, a twisted send-up of reality shows like Big Brother (or its predecessor, The Real World). Crammed into one house are eight cartoon archetypes, each given a devious reinvention to match the cynical sensibilities of the typical Comedy Central audience. One look at any promotional art for this show makes the fun of the premise obvious, but how does it come off?
First of all, let’s look at our cast of characters…
Princess Clara is definitely intended to evoke a “Disney Princess”. She is wholesome and uncomfortably naïve, and is forever advancing the plot by breaking out into song.
Foxxy Love is basically a reincarnation of Val from Josie And The Pussycats, but with a ghetto vocabulary and non-preferential libido.
Captain Hero is a prototypical superhero, but a bit on the vain and indulgent side.
Wooldoor Sockbat is a zany “whatchamacallit” that is more “Spongebob” than anything else. In the first season, he is the least-developed character.
Ling-Ling is like Pokemon, but angrier. He is a sociopath, but as he always speaks in Japanese, no one realizes it.
Toot Braunstein is essentially Betty Boop, who realizes that her figure, while voluptuous by 1920s standards, makes her look fat in today’s world of lean-bodied supermodels. This makes her a wee bit cranky and vindictive.
Spanky Hamm is a pig who represents crass, vulgar Internet cartoon characters. Spanky is very crass and vulgar. Disgusting, really.
Xandir is a fey videogame hero who is “on an eternal quest to save my girlfriend”.
One key to selling this as a “reality show” is that scenes are intercut with asides from the characters, away from the action, where they comment on the happenings in the household. It’s a very effective means of carrying the parody.
Paramount’s 2-disc DVD set contains all seven episodes from the first season of the show. An eighth episode, Terms Of Endearment, was held back for airing during the second season, as it contained subject matter that was inappropriate in light of the death of Christopher Reeve. The discs each open with a written warning that these cartoons are NOT for kids. Pay attention! They’re not kidding! In addition, the episodes on the DVD are uncensored, restoring all the cursing and nudity that was bleeped or hidden in the broadcast versions. The packaging also states that these are all extended versions of the episodes.
Episodes – Disc One
Hot Tub – This is the premiere episode, and as such it has an extended opening sequence that introduces all of the characters and the premise of the show. Right off the bat, these varied personalities find conflict, when Princess Clara mistakes Foxxy for a servant girl. After the ensuing melee, Foxxy buys booze for the other houseguests to show she’s not just a hotheaded black girl. The highlight of the resulting party turns out to be Foxxy planting a big wet one on Princess Clara. The duet sung during their kiss is actually a pretty funny parody of Alan Menken-style Disney songs. Meanwhile, Toot decides that if she can’t be a sex symbol, she’ll have to settle for being the house’s “rhymes with witch”. Spanky marks his territory by peeing all over everything. Bad Spanky!
The episode ends with a tantalizing preview for the rest of the season.
Clara’s Dirty Little Secret – Whatever you might think Clara’s secret is, you don’t know what it is. Really. You couldn’t guess… unless you are as deranged as the show’s writers… in which case, you need some serious help.
Toot convinces Clara that Foxxy made her pregnant, leading to a series of events that includes the big reveal of Princess Clara’s secret. On the way, Foxxy gives the household a very graphic sex education class. After the secret comes out, a madcap chase sequence takes place as everyone concurrently plays musical instruments, in a nod to both The Archies and Scooby Doo. Then, the next reality show to get spoofed is The Bachelorette.
Gay Bash – Xandir is made to realize that he is actually gay, which comes as a great disappointment to him. To cheer him up, the rest of the houseguests throw him a party. (That’s where the “bash” comes in, see?) Many— just— wrong— things happen, including questionable cameos by some classic cartoon (and video game) characters. The “Bizarro Captain Hero” stuff was funny, though. Also: Spanky Hamm turns Ling Ling into a one-man sweatshop.
Requiem For A Reality Show – Two teams compete for food. The winners binge, the losers starve. Desperate for sustenance, Captain Hero discovers a need for humiliation, via S & M. (Are you starting to see how this isn’t a show for kids yet?)
The Other Cousin – A family member is allowed to visit (like on Survivor), and the lucky new houseguest is the cousin of Princess Clara, “Bleh”. Clara is a bit ashamed of her mentally challenged relative, but the boys appreciate the fact that she’s really hot. Meanwhile, Ling Ling’s hallucinogenic properties are discovered and enjoyed by some of the other houseguests.
Dirty Pranking Number 2 – Princess Clara (obviously a favorite of the writers), yearns for something more, just as princesses are prone to do. She finds her niche helping Foxxy and Spanky pull gross pranks on a poor pizza delivery guy. Clara’s father, the King, disapproves of her new relationship with Spanky. There’s way too much poo in this episode for my liking. Also, Xandir regrets that he isn’t a better buddy with Captain Hero.
The One Wherein There Is A Big Twist – The houseguests get on each others nerves, and they rebel against the producers, trying to force them to offer a prize already. A “Richie Rich”- modeled character shows up and this turns into a parody of The Apprentice. It all ends with a big cliffhanger.
Make no mistake: This is for adults only. Correction: This is only for adults who are not easily offended. If you might be offended by strong language, drug use, full frontal (cartoon) nudity, on-camera defecation, self-mutilation, religious sacrilege, cartoon character sacrilege, gay jokes, gay kissing, or incest, you may not like this show. If, however, you thought that Team America was too wimpy in its content, you just might enjoy Drawn Together. For myself, I found the first couple of shows pretty funny, but the end of the seventh show I had been worn down with the relentless focus on bathroom humor and the insistence that “gay” equals “funny”. Genuine laughs are to be found, but you have to sludge through some pretty cheap jokes in order to get to the jewels.
The show is most enjoyable when it just sticks to the premise that it is a send-up of reality shows, using cartoon archetypes. The clash of personalities already has great potential, and it should not have been necessary to go for all the gross-out and “shock” gags. It just makes the show cheaper than it needs to be. I would have been more satisfied if Drawn Together played up the satire and character humor, and kept the juvenile stuff to a minimum. Still, I believe I enjoyed myself overall, only becoming bored during the Pranking episode and its over-reliance on poo to get laughs.
Any cartoon fan can at least get a kick out of seeing visual and verbal references to a host of favorite shows and characters, like The Flintstones and The Jetsons, Charlie Brown, Natasha Fatale, Fat Albert, Smurfs, Snagglepuss, Looney Tunes, Droopy, and numerous Disney musicals. Movie buffs will also catch homages to such films as Return Of The Jedi and Return Of The King.
One thing I was surprised by was the quality of animation. I was expecting a bargain-quality look, but instead I was pleased to see that the show is actually quite well animated (by Rough Draft). The character designs are very good, if perhaps a bit too close to their inspirations. Backgrounds are detailed, too. In all, the writing came off much cheaper than the animation. Maybe the second season will have a better balance, but I am doubtful.
Is This Thing Loaded?
First of all, I’ll note that the episodes do have chapter stops! I wish more half-hour shows on DVD would include these.
The first disc opens with DVD Previews, including ones for South Park Season 6, Patton Oswalt: No Reason To Complain, Beavis And Butthead: The Mike Judge Collection, and Ren & Stimpy sets. These are also selectable from the Main Menu. Disc One also has Comedy Central Quickies, short clips from South Park, Reno 911, and Patton Oswalt.
Both discs have Audio Commentaries, four altogether, selectable from the Episode Menus. They start out pretty good, but by the last one the producers and voice artists have run out of meaningful things to say, as evidenced by their drafting a poor schmuck named Carlos (who they met at Home Depot) to participate. In the first few commentaries, however, you get some good dirt on which celebrity mom had a Drawn Together billboard removed, the origin of Cousin Bleh’s name (think Facts Of Life), and discussion about alleged racism and homophobia on the show, as well as numerous anecdotes.
Disc Two houses a few more Extras. Deleted Scenes (5:11) include a longer Intro to the first episode, and a couple of extended scenes from the season finale, including more Jell-O wrestling. The Censored/Uncensored Game offers about 20 examples of dialog from the show, and you have to guess whether or not each line was censored in the original broadcast version. It is interesting to see what did and did not get past the censors. If you get through the game, you unlock a bonus audio extra. Previously On Drawn Together Segments (1:19) has four humorous interstitials. Karaoke Sing Along gives you the opportunity to sing to the music, with or without vocals, to five songs from the series.
Pretty slick job here, with a die-cut slipcase going over top two individual slimcases, with fronts and backs of the slims showcasing iconic images from the show. This allows the purchaser of the set to display whichever image he or she chooses. (Disc Two’s images are racier.) The disc cases are clear, allowing the disc contents to be displayed inside.
Ink And Paint:
As a new show, the prints are quite pristine. The only complaint is that there is regular shimmering seen on outlines during zooms or pans, which ruins the impression of perfection. Overall, however, the 4:3 picture is bright and clear, and free of other physical or compression artifacts.
The 2.0 sound makes a good impression, offering as much ambience as one could expect from a television animated comedy. There are many instances of directional effects that, similar to the animation, makes the product just a little classier. The vocal performances are uniformly good, especially Cree Summer’s Foxxy, and Tara Strong’s performances as both Clara and Toot.
Note: The DVD package does warn that some music had to be replaced for the DVD release, likely due to clearance/cost issues. Apparently, there was only one song affected.
There is only an English language track, and no subtitles.
There’s no doubt that this show has great potential for comedy. I found myself laughing despite myself during the first couple of outrageous episodes, but by the end of Season One I was tiring of the juvenile humor that took over the show. However, only one episode (Dirty Pranking) was a big turn-off all-around, as each show otherwise had its moments. As a long-time cartoon fan, I also enjoyed all of the homages and parodies in these episodes, even if I couldn’t help being a little shocked too. By this point, you probably know if you are the target audience for this show. Paramount has done a nice job packaging the shows into a handsome two-disc set with a healthy dose of extras, so if you think the show has appeal, you have no reason to not give it a try.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?