TV Draft Round 10 – Pick 4 – Liam Selects – BoJack Horseman

Welcome to the Hanspostcard TV Draft. I hope you will enjoy it! Today’s post was written by Liam at https://othemts.wordpress.com/

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BoJack Horseman (2014-2020) – Netflix

BoJack Horseman is a comedy series that satirizes the vapidity of Hollywood (or “Hollywoo” as it is known in one of the show’s running gags) and the Southern California lifestyle.  But it also is a deeply human show that realistically deals with depression, substance abuse, generational trauma, and other human vulnerabilities.  Oh, and it’s also an animated series about a talking horse.

Raphael Bob-Waksberg created the show and served as showrunner (as well as a writer and voice actor) while illustrator/cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt was the show’s production designer. BoJack Horseman ran for 6 seasons with 77 episodes on Netflix and was later syndicated on Comedy Central and MTV2. Every episode opens with a fantastic title sequence set to a groovy jazz funk tune.

Let’s meet the main characters!

Main Characters

bojack

BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) – an anthropomorphic horse, BoJack became famous and wealthy starring in a 1990s sitcom about a horse who raises three human orphan children called Horsin’ Around.  As the series begins, BoJack is living on his past success while trying to revive his career.  He suffers from depression and alcoholism and his deep bitterness has made him cantankerous. I’ll be perfectly clear here that BoJack does some despicable things and it’s a testament to the show that he still manages to be a sympathetic character.

diane

Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie) – a human writer of Vietnamese origin but raised by an adoptive Irish American family in Boston. As the show begins, Diane is hired to be a ghostwriter for BoJack’s memoir.  Despite her introversion and repulsion at BoJack’s womanizing, they become close friends. They share a bond of suffering from depression and a neglectful upbringing.  A running gag in the show is that Diane’s ringtone is the voice of various public radio personalities.

mr-peanutbutter

Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) – an optimistic and outgoing Labrador retriever who starred in a 90s sitcom that was a knockoff of Horsin’ Around. He believes this makes him BoJack’s peer and never understands why BoJack resents him.  Mr. Peanutbutter is introduced as Diane’s fiancé and they eventually marry.  His character began as kind of one-note joke of the type of person who would irritate BoJack but evolved over the course of the show into a more complex character.

todd

Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul) – a human young man who has been living as houseguest on BoJack’s couch for several years before the show begins. BoJack verbally berates Todd but secretly considers him a close friend. Todd has a quirky personality and frequently comes up with various wacky ideas (often working with Mr. Peanutbutter), and a penchant for “failing up” when these ideas succeed.  He’s also something of the conscience of the show having a way of confronting BoJack in the most disarming way. In season 3 he comes out as asexual and over the rest of the series learns what asexuality means for him.

princess-carolyn

Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) – a Persian cat who is BoJack’s agent and a former girlfriend.  Princess Carolyn represents the struggle for women to “have it all” working hard to eventually start her own agency and adopt a child.  Sedaris’ voice work is particularly notable on the show especially when she’s frequently given tongue twisters in her dialogue.

Supporting Characters

sarah-lynn

Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal) – a human actress who portrayed the youngest child on Horsin’ Around.  Sarah Lynn falls into the former child actor trope of seeking pop music stardom and engaging self-destructive behavior.  It’s revealed that she looked to BoJack as a father figure and was traumatized by his antisocial behavior.  When they reunite when Sarah Lynn is an adult it unfortunately leads to a codependent relationship and a downward spiral to the worst thing that BoJack does in the entire show.

herb

Herb Kazzaz (Stanley Tucci) – a human who served as the initial producer for Horsin’ Around and a friend of BoJack’s.  When Herb’s homosexuality becomes public, BoJack does not support him when the network removes Herb from his job. At the beginning of the series, Herb is dying of cancer and is reunited with BoJack and they have to deal with their troubled past.

hollyhock

Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla) – a teenage horse who believes she is BoJack’s illegitimate child and comes to Hollywoo to have BoJack help find her mother.  BoJack grows attached to Hollyhock as one of his few living relatives but as often happens in this show, there’s trouble in their relationship.

beatrice

Beatrice Horseman (Wendie Malick) – a horse who is BoJack’s verbally abusive mother. A lot of the trauma that BoJack deals with is traced to the cruel parenting from Beatrice and his father Butterscotch (also voiced by Will Arnett).  The show depicts BoJack and Beatrice’s hostile relationship in her final years with several flashbacks to BoJack’s childhood and even to Beatrice’s life before BoJack was born.

margo-martindale

Character Actress Margo Martindale (Margo Martindale) – a real life human actor voices a criminally insane version of herself who gets involved in absurd schemes with the main characters.

Okay, I have a feeling that the description of the characters makes the show sound kind of like a bummer.  But it is also wildly funny with clever dialogue and endless sight gags.  And the characters who are animals frequently exhibit their animal characteristics in creative ways. The show also pushes the boundaries with what an animated show can do.  Some of the standout episodes include:

  • “Hank After Dark” (Series 2, episode 7) – a thinly-veiled take on Bill Cosby that involves the way that media and the entertainment industry collude to protect sexual predators.
  • “Fish Out of Water” (series 3, episode 4) – a brilliant experimental episode where BoJack attends a film festival under the ocean that is done almost entirely in pantomime with fantastic visuals.
  • “The Old Sugarman Place” (Series 4, episode 2) – BoJack visits his mother’s dilapidated family vacation home and flashbacks of Beatrice’s childhood trauma are shown.
  • “Stupid Piece of Sh*t” (Series 4, episode 6) – We hear BoJack’s inner monologue as he goes about his daily activities offering insight into his depression and self-destructive behavior.  This episode hit me hard.
  • “Free Churro” (Series 5, episode 6) – the entire episode is BoJack delivering a rambling eulogy at his mother’s funeral, and it’s powerful.
  • “A Quick One, While He’s Away” (Series 6, episode 8) – none of the main characters appear in this episode where an investigative reporter unearths BoJack’s hidden secrets by talking to various ancillary characters.
  • “The View From Halfway Down” (Series 6, episode 15) – BoJack has a near-death experience which results in a surreal, nightmare vision of meeting with several deceased family members and friends.

One more thing I have to point out is that an incredible amount of talented people who lent their voices to this show. A selection of celebrities who provided voices to one-time or recurring characters:

Patton Oswalt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Matthew Broderick, Jane Krakowski, Olivia Wilde, Ilana Glazer, J.K. Simmons, Aisha Tyler,  Maria Bamford, Adam Conover, Keith Olbermann, Wyatt Cenac, Kristin Chenoweth, Cedric Yarbrough, Ken Jeong, Keegan-Michael Key, Jason Beghe, Brandon T. Jackson, Lisa Kudrow, Abbi Jacobson, Ben Schwartz, Philip Baker Hall, Lake Bell, Andre Braugher, Angela Bassett, Stephanie Beatriz, LaKeith Stanfield, Hilary Swank, Stephen Colbert, Anjelica Huston, Chris Parnell, Fred Savage, Amy Schumer, Tatiana Maslany, Garry Marshall, Ali Wong, Liev Schreiber, Ricky Gervais, Jeffrey Wright, Mara Wilson, Lorraine Bracco, Candice Bergen, “Weird Al” Yankovic, RuPaul,  Kristen Bell, Whoopi Goldberg, Randall Park, John Leguizamo, Eva Longoria, David Sedaris, Daveed Diggs, Issa Rae, Wanda Sykes, Audra McDonald, Gabe Kaplan, Richard Lewis, Stephen Root, Samantha Bee, and Alan Arkin.

Some celebrities who provided voices to animated versions of themselves:

Naomi Watts, Wallace Shawn, Henry Winkler, Paul McCartney, Scott Wolf, Daniel Radcliffe, Lance Bass, Jessica Biel, Leonard Maltin, Zach Braff, Felicity Huffman, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and Laura Linney.

If you’re interested in reading more about BoJack Horseman, I wrote a review of each season at the time they were released.

TV Draft UPDATE

Tomorrow morning we will kick off our last TV draft round! We have 8 more TV Shows coming…we all want to thank you… the readers who have made this possible and a fun experience. I also want to thank the bloggers who have reviewed all of these shows and we have covered every decade from the 1950s until now. Below are the picks that began in January and will end on July 3. Thank you… Paula, Lisa, Dave, John, Keith, Mike, Liam, Vic, Hanspostcard (who started it), and Kirk for all of the reviews below.
Round 1 TV Show Who Posted Home Site
1. Doctor Who Vic https://cosmic-observation.com/blog-posts/
2. The Sopranos Mike https://musiccitymike.net
3. Bozo’s Circus John https://thesoundofonehandtyping.com 
4. Barney Miller Max https://powerpop.blog
5. The Wire Kirk https://slicethelife.com/
6. Police Squad Keith https://nostalgicitalian.com/
7. Only Murders in the Building (OMITB) Paula http://paulalight.com
Round 2
1. The Odd Couple Mike https://musiccitymike.net
2. Cartoon Town John https://thesoundofonehandtyping.com 
3. Fawlty Towers Max https://powerpop.blog
4. Rockford Files Kirk https://slicethelife.com/
5. Mission Impossible Keith https://nostalgicitalian.com/
6. Firefly Vic https://cosmic-observation.com/blog-posts/
Round 3 TV Show Who Posted Home Site
1 Hogan’s Heroes John https://thesoundofonehandtyping.com 
2 Seinfeld Mike https://musiccitymike.net
3 Starsky & Hutch Vic https://cosmic-observation.com/blog-posts/
4 Perry Mason Keith https://nostalgicitalian.com/
5 Upload Paula http://paulalight.com
6 Lovecraft Country Lisa https://tao-talk.com/
7 King Of The Hill Dave https://soundday.wordpress.com/
8 Adam 12 Max https://powerpop.blog
Round 4 TV Show Who Posted Home Site
1 Breaking Bad Mike https://musiccitymike.net
2 The X-Files Vic https://cosmic-observation.com/blog-posts/
3 Columbo Keith https://nostalgicitalian.com/
4 Six Feet Under Paula http://paulalight.com
5 Shameless Lisa https://tao-talk.com/
6 Friends Dave https://soundday.wordpress.com/
7 Monkees Max https://powerpop.blog
8 JAG John https://thesoundofonehandtyping.com 
Round 5 TV Show Who Posted Home Site
1 Sisters Vic https://cosmic-observation.com/blog-posts/
2 30 Rock Keith https://nostalgicitalian.com/
3 One Day At A Time Paula http://paulalight.com
4 Ray Donovan Lisa https://tao-talk.com/
5 Emergency Dave https://soundday.wordpress.com/
6 The Andy Griffith Show Max https://powerpop.blog
7 CSI: Miami John https://thesoundofonehandtyping.com 
8 Mad Men Mike https://musiccitymike.net
Round 6 TV Show Who Posted Home Site
1 The Twilight Zone Max https://powerpop.blog
2 Tell Me Your Secrets Paula http://paulalight.com
3 My Name Is Earl Lisa https://tao-talk.com/
4 Ed Dave https://soundday.wordpress.com/
5 Get Smart Keith https://nostalgicitalian.com/
6 The Unicorn John https://thesoundofonehandtyping.com 
7 The West Wing Mike https://musiccitymike.net
8 The Gong Show Max https://powerpop.blog
Round 7 TV Show Who Posted Home Site
1 All In The Family Paula http://paulalight.com
2 Trailer Park Boys Lisa https://tao-talk.com/
3 Downton Abbey Dave https://soundday.wordpress.com/
4 Life On Mars Max https://powerpop.blog
5 Burn Notice John https://thesoundofonehandtyping.com 
6 Friday Night Lights Mike https://musiccitymike.net
7 The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show Liam https://othemts.wordpress.com/
8 The Honeymooners Keith https://nostalgicitalian.com/
Round 8 TV Show Who Posted Home Site
1 New Tricks Lisa https://tao-talk.com/
2 SCTV Dave https://soundday.wordpress.com/
3 WKRP In Cincinnati Max https://powerpop.blog
4 The Two Ronnies John https://thesoundofonehandtyping.com 
5 Star Trek: Voyager Mike https://musiccitymike.net
6 Siskel & Ebert Liam https://othemts.wordpress.com/
7 Sherlock Keith https://nostalgicitalian.com/
8 Curb Your Enthusiasm Paula http://paulalight.com
Round 9 TV Show Who Posted Home Site
1 Jeopardy Dave https://soundday.wordpress.com/
2 Saturday Night Live Max https://powerpop.blog
3 Riverboat John https://thesoundofonehandtyping.com
4 Suits Mike https://musiccitymike.net
5 The Kids In The Hall Liam https://othemts.wordpress.com/
6 Arrested Development Keith https://nostalgicitalian.com/
7 L.A. Law Paula http://paulalight.com
8 Resident Alien Lisa https://tao-talk.com/
Round 10 TV Show Who Posted Home Site
1 Max https://powerpop.blog
2 John https://thesoundofonehandtyping.com
3 Mike https://musiccitymike.net
4 Liam https://othemts.wordpress.com/
5 Keith https://nostalgicitalian.com/
6 Paula http://paulalight.com
7 Lisa https://tao-talk.com/
8 Dave https://soundday.wordpress.com/

TV Draft Round 9 – Pick 5 – Liam Selects – The Kids In The Hall

Welcome to the Hanspostcard TV Draft. I hope you will enjoy it! Today’s post was written by Liam at https://othemts.wordpress.com/

The Kids in the Hall

CBC Television (1988-1995)

HBO (1988-1992)

CBS (1993-1995)

Amazon Prime Video (2022)

The Kids in the Hall are a sketch comedy troupe based out of Toronto, Canada.  You could say they are the Canadian Monty Python.  Or perhaps, the Canadian Saturday Night Live? Like Monty Python, they are an all-male group of 5 writer/performers (the Pythons had six) who create edgy sketch comedy often bordering on the absurdist, and frequently don wigs and dresses to portray female characters.  Like Saturday Night Live, their show was produced by Lorne Michaels and performed in front of a live audience (albeit, it was not broadcast live).  But at the heart of things, The Kids in the Hall are their own thing, creators of something outside the mainstream of comedy of the 1980s and 1990s and capturing the ethos of Generation X, paralleling the rise of alternative rock at the same time. A recently released documentary about the Kids calls them Comedy Punks.

Let’s meet the Kids!

Dave Foley (b. 1963) is the member of the troupe who feels most mainstream in his comedy approach, but that is on a relative scale.  His boyish good looks were often contrasted with antisocial behavior, such as a surgeon who kills all his patients or an axe murderer, both of whom get away with it because of their charm.  He was also considered the “hottest” of the Kids when dressed as woman. Not surprisingly, later in his career he starred in the American sitcom NewsRadio, and provided voices for the Pixar movies A Bug’s Life and Monsters University.

Bruce McCulloch (b. 1961) is probably the weirdest of the Kids in his comedy approach.  Inspired by art movies, his surreal monologues and filmed pieces evoked a mood of absurdity rather than just telling jokes.  Outside of the Kids in the Hall he has recorded music and directed several movies and tv shows.

Kevin McDonald (b. 1961) is probably a lovely person in real life, but has a talent for playing really annoying characters.  A lot of his self-deprecating humor contains a dark undercurrent of the volatility of his childhood growing up with an alcoholic father.  McDonald has provided his voice for the Disney movie Lilo & Stitch and its spinoffs and had a recurring role on That 70s Show.

Mark McKinney (b. 1959) specialized in creating characters and is probably the Kid most similar in comedy style to Saturday Night Live (and he did in fact join the cast of SNL from 1995 to 1997).  His most notable characters include Mr. Tyzik the Headcrusher and the Chicken Lady. Outside of his work with the Kids he’s appeared in numerous movies and tv shows, the strangest of which is Guy Maddin’s The Saddest Music in the World.

Scott Thompson (b. 1959) performs comedy informed by his gay identity with a definite emphasis on using comedy to advance LGBTQ equality, which was very bold in the 1980s and 1990s.  Most notably, he reclaimed the effeminate gay man stereotype through his character Buddy Cole who delivered hilarious monologues.  He also frequently portrayed Queen Elizabeth II, one of the rare celebrity impersonations on The Kids in the Hall.  His other work includes appearances in many movies and tv shows, including a regular role on The Larry Sanders Show.

Foley and McDonald met in the early 1980s in the Toronto comedy scene and became a writing and performing team.  Their partnership is the strongest among all the Kids and has remained so throughout the troupe’s history.  Meanwhile, McCulloch and McKinney met in Calgary where they performed with a group called The Audience.  Moving to Toronto to expand their opportunities, McCulloch and McKinney met Foley and McDonald and in 1984 they formed The Kids in the Hall.  The name came from an old Sid Caesar gag blaming bad jokes on the young writers who hung around the studio. Their shows in Toronto’s comedy clubs became a big attraction.  Thompson saw them perform and pretty much willed himself into a spot in the group. Early sketches like “Reg” showcased their humor style at its most sick and twisted.

Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels saw the Kids perform in 1985 and hired McKinney and McCulloch to come to New York to be writers.  Eventually, Michaels determined that it would be better to keep the Kids together as a group and worked to get them their own show.  The pilot for The Kids in the Hall broadcast on CBC Television in Canada and on HBO in the United States in 1988, followed by a full series of 20 episodes in 1989-1990.  Enhancing the Gen X zeitgeist, the Toronto alternative rock band Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet provided the theme song, “Having an Average Weekend,” as well as the music to interstitials between sketches and performing live for the studio audience.  The band’s music is described as instrumental surf rock, however since the Shadowy Men recorded a track called “We’re Not a F*****g Surf Band,” so we’ll have discover a new genre for them.

The Kids and the Hall had several recurring characters, but carefully avoided the SNL habit of overexposing them to please the fans.  Characters appeared when they had a very good and very funny reason to be there.  A number of sketches revolved around the company A.T. & Love with characters ranging from an incompetent boss (Foley), hard-pressed businessman Danny Husk (Thompson), and the secretaries Kathie (McCulloch) and Cathy (Thompson). These characters had the versatility to appear in sketches together, on their own, or with a completely different group of characters. Another series of sketches focused on rebellious Gen X teen Bobby Terrance (McCulloh), his more conservative parents (McKinney and Foley), and his best friend, the stoner Bauer (Thompson).

While Thompson was the only gay member of the troupe, sketches with LGBTQ characters were common, including scenes of men kissing men when that was taboo on American TV (one of the many things that got edited between CBC and CBS transmissions).  The recurring sketch “Steps” featured three gay men discussing the issues of the day where the audience was laughing with them not at them. Despite the Kids being all men, they never saw dressing up in wigs and dresses as funny in of itself, unlike say Milton Berle. Instead they did their best to portray women as fully-formed characters and offer an honest female perspective.  Dave Foley even has a good attitude toward menstruation.

After five seasons and 101 episodes, the Kids were ready to pack it in, physically exhausted and drained of ideas. The final episode broadcast on April 15, 1995 showed them being buried alive in a shared grave.  The next step naturally appeared to be making movies, and in April 1996 they released Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy. The making of the film was a miserable experience for everyone involved and tensions ran high, especially toward Foley who everyone resented for signing a contract to star in NewsRadio while they were working on the film. The movie bombed although some fans consider it a cult classic (I am not one of them).  The Kids went their own ways for a few years but with reruns of the show in constant rotation on Comedy Central, the troupe’s fan base grew bigger than ever.

By 2000, tensions had eased enough to bring the Kids back together, this time returning to the stage for a North American Tour.  Performing in front of live audiences again energized the Kids creatively, and they were able to resume their close personal relationships as well.  The Kids went on the road for more tours, introducing new sketches.  In 2010, they returned to TV, stepping beyond sketch comedy for the first time in the darkly comic 8-part miniseries Death Comes to Town which aired on CBC.  I hadn’t heard of this series until recently so I haven’t watched it yet but I hear it’s good.  Just this May, seemingly out of nowhere, the Kids in the Hall TV series returned for season 6, with 8-episodes streaming on Amazon Prime.  While the Kids have physically aged, they haven’t lost a step and the new episodes are as funny as ever.  The final episode ends with the Kids getting buried again, but I think we’ll see the Kids in the Hall again soon! Until then, here’s one of my favorite sketches, “The Night of the Cow”

TV Draft Round 8 – Pick 6 – Liam Selects – Siskel & Ebert

Welcome to the Hanspostcard TV Draft. I hope you will enjoy it! Today’s post was written by Liam at https://othemts.wordpress.com/

  • Opening Soon at a Theater Near You (1975–1977) – WTTW, Chicago
  • Sneak Previews (1977–1982) – PBS
  • At the Movies (1982–1986) – Syndication
  • Siskel & Ebert & the Movies (1986–1999) – Syndication

In 1975, WTTW-TV (the local PBS outlet for Chicago) brought together two film critics, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert for a movie review show called Opening Soon at a Theater Near You. Siskel wrote film reviews for the Chicago Tribune starting in 1969 while Ebert began his career as a film critic at the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967.  In 1975, Ebert became the first film critic to receive a Pulitzer Prize.  This was a time when there was a heated rivalry between the two Chicago newspapers, and members of the small field of film criticism, there was a professional rivalry between Siskel and Ebert as well, bordering on animosity.

The show started off roughly as each critic attempted to assert their personality and get one over on their opponent (not to mention that neither one had much experience in front of a camera).  Over time they gradually eased up and started having more of a conversation about the movies.   Working together proved to be more effective inspiring one another with insights.  Siskel and Ebert started to become friends in real life as well. Despite all of this, some of the best TV drama came when they disagreed and argued about a movie, but always with respect for their opponent as an individual.

After two seasons on WTTW, the show was retooled as Sneak Previews and broadcast nationally on PBS.  The pair left PBS in 1982 for a syndicated show produced by Tribune Entertainment called At the Movies.  In 1986, after a contract dispute, they created another syndicated show called Siskel & Ebert & the Movies (later shortened to Siskel & Ebert) produced by Walt Disney television. All the shows shared some common characteristics, reviewing a handful of new releases in each episode, with special episodes focusing on the Oscars, Siskel & Ebert’s best movies of the year, and a deep focus on the work of an individual artists.  The shows ended with a roundup of the movies discussed with Siskel & Ebert each giving a thumbs up or thumbs down for each movie.  “Two thumbs up” became a coveted phrase for movie promoters to include in their advertisements.

It’s unfortunate that the whole thumbs up/thumbs down thing became such a cultural touchstone, because Siskel & Ebert offered a much deeper appraisal of movies than that shorthand could ever offer.  I found a website called Siskel & Ebert Movie Reviews where full episodes of the show have been uploaded.  Watching some shows reminds me how deep they would go into their discussion of the films as well as sharing extended clips of the movies.  It seems a foreign concept today when everyone is so worried about “spoilers,” but I remember going to the movies back in the 1980s knowing a whole lot about what I was going to see thanks to Siskel & Ebert, and it helped me enjoy the movies more.

Siskel & Ebert essentially democratized film criticism.  When the show started in the 1970s, it was a time when foreign films were getting screened regularly in the U.S. for the first time, and older American movies were getting rereleased.  Siskel & Ebert loved “highbrow” art movies, and promoted them on their show but never in a snooty manner.  Instead they made these films more accessible to wider audiences.  In the 1980s, home video made even more movies more widely available and the always included home media releases in their shows as well.  The duo could also find great entertainment in “lowbrow” Hollywood movies and weren’t afraid to say what they liked and why they were still great movies.  Of course, they also didn’t hold back on bad movies, and covered them in features like “Dog of the Week” with Spot the Wonder Dog barking an introduction.

Gene Siskel died of a brain tumor in 1999.  A private man he did not share the extent of his illness outside his family so his sudden death took his partner Roger Ebert off guard.  Ebert continued the show with rotating guest hosts for a time before partnering up with Richard Roeper from 2000 to 2008.  Ebert was struck with cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands in 2002 and in 2006 had his lower jaw surgically removed.  Always contrary to Siskel, Ebert was open to sharing his health problems with the public, particularly in the intimate documentary movie Life Itself.  Unable to speak, Ebert continued to review movies in print, publishing them on his website RogerEbert.com until his death in 2013.

TV Draft Round 7 – Pick 7 – Liam Selects – The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show

Welcome to the Hanspostcard TV Draft. I hope you will enjoy it! Today’s post was written by Liam at https://othemts.wordpress.com/

The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show

(1959 – 1964)

When you have an animated series featuring talking animals, the natural inclination is to file it under “Children’s Entertainment.”  And yet The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show featured witty wordplay, spoofs of popular culture, self-referential humor, and political satire (particularly regarding the Cold War). You can tell that network execs were confused by the fact that they sometimes aired the show in prime time and sometimes on Saturday morning.  During the show’s five season run from 1959 to 1964 it also switched networks.  For the first two seasons it was on ABC and called Rocky and His Friends. Then it moved to NBC and became The Bullwinkle Show.  CBS never gave it a shot but the show lived on in syndication under the names The Rocky Show, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and The Adventures of Bullwinkle and Rocky. Whew!

Ok, but beyond this rocky (pun intended) broadcast history, what was the show about?  Jay Ward created the show to be an ongoing adventure serial about a moose and a squirrel. Animator Alex Anderson created many of the characters but declined to work on the show itself.  Ward hired Bill Scott as head writer and co-producer of the show, as well as writers Chris Hayward and Allan Burns. General Mills came on board as the show’s main sponsor. The ongoing serial featured four main characters, two heroes and two villains:

  • Rocket J. Squirrel (a.k.a. Rocky the Flying Squirrel), voiced by June Foray, is a noble all-American kid in squirrel form who serves as the straight man to his partner Bullwinkle’s antics. His catchphrase is “Hokey smokes!”
  • Bullwinkle J. Moose, voiced by Bill Scott, is a good-hearted and optimistic, but very dimwitted moose. He and Rocky are roommates in the fictional town of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota.  He attended Wossamotta U. on a football scholarship.
  • Boris Badenov, voiced by Paul Frees, is a spy from the fictional nation of Pottsylvania (a thinly disguised amalgamation of countries behind the Iron Curtain.). He is constantly up to no good and scheming on a plan given to him by his Fearless Leader or concocting his own criminal conspiracy. He proudly introduces himself as the “world’s greatest no-goodnik.”
  • Natasha Fatale, voiced by June Foray, is another Pottsylvania spy and Boris’ partner in crime. The design of Boris and Natasha are inspired by Charles Addams’ characters Gomez and Morticia Addams.

Over five seasons and 163 episodes, Rocky & Bullwinkle and Boris & Natasha appeared in 28 different serialized story arcs. The shortest serial had only 4 chapters while the longest had 40!  And this was in the days before DVD box sets and streaming video made binge watching possible, so the creators of the show put a lot of faith in the audience remembering what happened earlier in the story.

A typical 23-minute episode would have two segments of a Rocky & Bullwinkle serial, each ending on a cliffhanger (and a bad pun).  Additionally, the show would have a couple of supporting features drawn from the following:

  • Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties – In a parody of silent film melodramas, the brave but dumber-than-Bullwinkle mounted policeman Dudley Do-Right (Bill Scott) attempts to foil the plots of the villainous Snidley Whiplash (Hans Conried). This usually requires rescuing Nell Fenwick (June Foray), whom Dudley loves, but she in return is only fond of his horse.
  • Aesop and Son – Old fables are retold in a comical way by Aesop (Charles Ruggles) and his son, Junior (Daws Butler).
  • Fractured Fairy Tales – Edward Everett Horton narrates fairy tales updated with modern themes and a lot of puns.
  • Peabody’s Improbable History – Mister Peabody (Bill Scott), a genius talking dog, adopts a boy named Sherman (Walter Tetley). Since the boy needs exercise, Peabody invents a time machine called the WABAC. They travel to various historical events to see what “really” happened.
  • Bullwinkle’s Corner – Bullwinkle attempts to be cultured by reading poetry with comical results.
  • Know-it All – Bullwinkle, who we have already noted is quite dim, attempts to be the authority of various topics while Boris Badenov undermines his efforts.

The one great flaw of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show is its animation style.  Television animation of the 50s and 60s relied on the practices of limited animation such as reusing simple backgrounds and the stilted motions of the characters to save money.  But even by the standards of limited animation, The Rocky and Bulwinkle Show’s animation was choppy and full of visible flaws.  General Mills insisted on outsourcing the animation to the Mexican studio Gamma Productions S.A. de C.V, and Ward was never happy with the quality.  But ultimately, the witty scripts and terrific voice acting made the poor quality animation irrelevant to the show becoming a classic.

The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show legacy lives on in syndicated reruns.  Despite never being a morning person, I went through a phase as a teenager in the late 1980s where I would get up to watch it at 6am before school!  The show has also been released in various home media formats.  Attempts to revive the show in the 1970s and 80s failed but it eventually found its way to the big screen.  Boris and Natasha: The Movie (1992) and Dudley Do-Right (1999) were live-action adaptations that both bombed. A live-action/animated hybrid movie The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000) was also poorly received.  Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014) from DreamWorks Animation got much better reviews and spun off a Netflix series (2015-2017).  DreamWorks Animation Television followed up with a reboot series of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2018-2019) on Amazon Prime Video.  I have not watched any of these having remained loyal to the original work of Jay Ward and company.