Hey gang of four! Anyone worth a salt knows that I really don’t watch a lot of TV shows. Well I’ll amend that statement. I don’t watch a lot of live action TV shows. Truthfully, I watch maybe one TV show at a time, often not starting another until I have finished the season or whatever. This is especially true for modern day shows with the emphasis on serialized storytelling.
I just can’t switch narrative gears as well as I used to. It’s the same reason I only read one book or comic run or play one video game at a time. I want to give that particular story and the characters within my full attention, and not let some other series start competing for my time. Plus, it lets me be very single minded when it comes to my reviews of that series or story as I haven’t had other thoughts pollute my impressions of what I’m seeing or reading.
But like everything, there are exceptions to the rules. And these exceptions usually involve games, comics, or shows that can’t really pollute my main story line experience because they are built to be singular and disposable in nature. Like it’s okay to play rounds of Donkey Kong while trying to beat the latest RPG, because Kong is a singular episodic experience. You either set the high score or you die trying. Same thing with reading random back issues of The Hulk from the 70s while finishing a comic book run. Silver and Bronze age books are meant by their very nature to be picked up, read, and put back down. Sure, there are some continuing subplots, but for the most part they are one shots.
Same thing used to go for cartoons, which is why I ended up watching so many of them. They are self contained, episodic, and for the most part mindless fun so I often watch them just a distraction. Whether it’s He-man, GI Joe, Thundercats, Darkwing Duck, Venture Brothers, Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad, Futurama, Adventure Time, or any number of the Marvel animated series, yep, I can’t get enough of them.
However, if you notice, what I said was “used” to because, I’ve been noticing a trend in recent years that more and more animated series are also using serialized storytelling as their overall narrative plan. Some of those shows I already mentioned like Futurama, Venture Brothers and Adventure Time that originally had more of an episodic scope eventually adopted the serialized format in order to spend more time in the world building aspects of their show as more fans became engrossed in the continuity of those universes.
Other cartoons like Star Wars: Rebels or the current batch of Marvel cartoons made it clear from the outset that they were going to have multi episode arcs within their seasons and that the more episodic shows were almost going to be the “filler” shows there to only meet a season quota.
Still other cartoons almost pretended to be episodic in nature only to sneak in serialized story lines into a large majority of their shows thus providing a season long hook for viewers with an eventual payoff in a season finale. The current new series of Ducktales immediately springs to mind in this regard.
Finally, there’s that new batch of cartoons which say the heck with all that subterfuge and simply state what they are from the outset: a serialized cartoon epic. As recently finishing Matt Groening’s new “Simpsons meets Game of Thrones” show on Netflix, Disenchantment, I can definitely say that particular show made no qualms about stating what it was and hoping that the audience would stick around for the entire ride. Now I will say that it definitely was a perfect show to do something like that with given it was in the fantasy genre so people automatically think long epics ala LotR, and plus it was on Netflix, so that binge streaming season mentality is already ingrained in the consciousness.
Let’s not front however. The Adventures of Princess Tiabeanie Mariabeanie De La Rochambeaux Drunkowitz, aka “Bean” on Disenchantment is not the first time cartoons have taken a serialized approach to storytelling. Hell, every single Japanese Anime uses this as the main focal point of their show, and if you are about to say “I’ve never watched an Anime”, then I’m about to call bullsh*t as I’m sure at one point you watched an episode of Pokemon, Dragonball Z, or even Voltron in the ’80s.
Even some of our beloved shows from that “Saturday morning cartoon” era used the serialized storytelling to a certain degree. I’m sure we can all remember those week long epics they used to have on TMNT or Transformers or GI Joe, which would almost become “must see” TV for kids in the 1980s as they would race home to catch the next chapter in the unfolding story about how Cobra was building Serpentor out of stolen DNA from Genghis Khan’s tomb.
As a side note, I do believe GI Joe was the absolute master of the 5 episode arc, with so many quality stories coming out of this simple concept. Revenge of Cobra is my personal favorite just because it’s got this bad ass fight between Duke and Snake Eyes with laser weapons while Destro and Cobra Commander controlled their every moment with pimped out Atari controllers. Man, I had the below episode on video tape and I must have wrecked it by watching this sequence over and over again.
Now many of you might think that with everything I’m saying about this new trend in America cartoons being serialized, that I’m against it. That the whole point of this article is decry the practice as destroying this bastion of episodic mindless enjoyment I used to have as a kid. That’s not exactly my point. I’m actually a big fan of this trend, given that I love the cartoon medium and it often gives me something more substantial to bite into than a fleeting taste of “Fruit Stripes” gum like single episode cartoons. Plus if you haven’t noticed, this trend hasn’t really permeated the true cartoons that are only for kids yet. Things like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood or Paw Patrol for the real little ones still play by the old rules in that they want their episodes to self contained.
It’s only those shows that have cross appeal for adults that bring this notion to full bear on the audience, and again they probably do it on purpose knowing full well they have to deliver something more meaningful to their adult fans in order to keep them coming back for more week after week.
Plus given recent changes in the way we watch our shows, in these season long binges, most shows have adopted the serialized storytelling as their mode of choice, so why should cartoon shows be any different?
At the end of the day, though, despite liking this narrative trend in animation, I will say that there are three things that are lost in this move to serialized cartooning for me:
- First is any sense of comedy for the most part. Whether that’s Futurama, Venture Brothers, Adventure Time, even this new Disenchantment, they plug these shows as being satires or comedies for the most part, but I get so sucked into the unfolding plot that I find these shows’ use of comedy to actually either move the story along in terms of further exposition, or its just distracting and I ignore it. So if your show is there to have me yuck it up over your jokes, it’s not gonna happen. I appreciate the attempt but the moment you moved to serialization, you lost that opportunity, sir. I truly think the exception to that has been Rick & Morty, as I still piss my pants regularly to that show with laughter. Still though plot heavy episodes like “The Ricklantis Mixup” still prove my point as I think I laughed once during that entire episode. Yep, it was the Cowboy Morty part at the Creepy Morty Bar. You guessed it.
- Any sense that I can share this series with anyone that hasn’t already started watching it from the beginning. That’s always the kicker with serialization in any of its forms. It’s wonderful for those that are already knee deep in the proceedings. But for those on the outside looking in, it can be a daunting proposition to get started. And it gets worse the more episodes the series goes. I mentioned in a previous post that I love Venture Brothers and desperately want my fellow podcast cohosts, Stew & Chad, to watch the show as well. But man, at this point, that show is too far down the rabbit hole to be approachable. You need to watch it from the start so you might as well not start until it’s completely over at this point.
- There’s no chance I’ll probably ever watch the cartoon again once it’s over. Yep, just like the fact that I normally don’t watch the same movie twice, or reread a book, once a serialized TV show has run it’s course, I barely ever watch it again. Why? Because I already know how it starts and ends. It’s done. It’s complete. Time to move on to the next story and see what that has to tell me. There are so many books and movies and shows to watch that to spend time watching the same one over and over again, is absurd. There are obvious exceptions like the Star Wars movies, but for the most part, if you are done telling your story, no matter how great it was, then you are done telling your story. I don’t really have time for you to tell it to me again. Especially TV shows that can be several seasons long. Who has that kind of time? To watch the entire run of “Lost” again? All those episodes? All at an hour a piece? Forget that! Yeah, sorry Adventure Time. Even at 10 minutes a pop for an episode, once you are done, you’ll be done for me.
So what do you think about serialized cartooning? What are some of your favorites?
Leave me some comments and let me know your thoughts!!