Sit Down Shut Up

This is a loveable little show that flies under the radar. When it disappeared from the Fox Animation Domination line-up after only a few episodes, I thought it been canceled for good, but then it turned up at midnight on Saturdays. Guess it was too offensive for prime time viewing. I don’t see how it’s any worse than Family Guy and American Dad; in fact it skips the cheap fart jokes and goes for the more nuanced vulgarities.

Before you even watch an episode, you can expect great things based on the cast; Kristin Chenoweth, Jason Bateman, Kenan Thompson, and Will Forte, for starters. If the cast isn’t enough to grab you, the animation should be. The show uses hand drawn animation against live action backdrops. It messes with your head a little at first, and almost allows you to forget you’re watching an animated show.

So the pilot opens with a road sign telling the audience this is Knob Haven, FL, population 9,334. It is, the sign says, “As pretty as a picture except for the people.” And below that, “You get used to it.” Okay, I had to pause the video to read all that, but that’s the kind of little joke that is buried throughout for those willing to look.

Within seconds we have a nutsack joke—although English teacher Ennis Hoftard is referring to an actual sack of nuts. Ennis wears a bicycle helmet all day. Each of the eccentric teachers at Knob Haven High School is introduced by his or her yearbook entry, with name, subject, and catchphrase. Each is a loser of the highest order, in his or her own colorful way. There is simply too much wackiness flying out of this show to keep up in one viewing. Watch it at least twice.

There is a new principal (Kenan Thompson) at KNHS, a no-nonsense African American woman who—like most of the other characters—isn’t in it for the love of the kids. Her catchphrase is “No.” She announces to the teachers that heads are about to roll. The budget is being cut since the school performed badly on No Child Left Behind standards. The lone ray of sunshine in a bunch of perfectly miserable people is Miracle Grohe (Kristin Chenoweth), a neo-hippie/creationist single mother on whom the sun always seems to shine. Natch, one of the other characters, the P.E. teacher, Larry “I don’t like to say my last name” Littlejunk (Jason Bateman), has a mad crush on her.

There is a drug scandal, in which some unidentified pills are confiscated from a student’s locker. Miracle, the science teacher, asks God to tell her what kind of pills they are. Sue figures, if they should happen to be steroids, she can use them to enhance the skill of the football team and therefore, alumni donations. Only they’re not steroids, the vice principal, Stuart “I need a catch phrase” Proszakian, takes them, and, well… things go awry.

It is refreshing to see high school life viewed through the eyes of the adults. This has been attempted here and there, as with the canceled Miss Guided, and on Glee, but I have never seen it done with such joyful irreverence. (Actually, if Sue Sylvester finally gets fired from William McKinley High she should take the first bus to Knob Haven.)

In addition to being ROTFL ridiculous, the show delivers a bit of social commentary, with its references to public school funding and a joke about the current U.S. political climate. Where it really pushes the envelope is with its near constant references—with varying degrees of subtlety—to student/teacher sex.

Larry: “I always ending up blowing it, like the stupid P.E. teacher that I am.”

Stuart: “I could never even get my P.E. teacher to do that.”

Is it wrong that that’s funny? Maybe, but Sit Down Shut Up doesn’t give you enough time to dwell on it, since it’s on to the next bit in the time it takes to slam a kid’s head in his locker door.

Favorite teacher catchphrase:  Willard Deutschebog (Henry Winkler) – “If I believed in reincarnation I’d kill myself tonight.”

Clone High

I’ve realized that, although I love animation, I have yet to write about any animated series on this blog (except for a couple of mentions in this entry on my favorite pilots).

I started thinking about why this is. There are a couple of characteristics that make animated series a little different from other series in the pilot department. Animated series tend to have more emphasis on the plot-per-episode than on a longer story arc. In other words, nothing much changes episode to episode. Bart Simpson has been in fourth grade for 20 years, for chrissake. So the pilot is not necessarily distinguishable from later episodes.

Also, animated series are often based on existing properties, like comic book or film characters, who don’t need a lot of introduction. There are some obvious exceptions to this, like Seth MacFarlane’s brain candy or earlier, Futurama (great pilot).

I couldn’t decide what animated series to start with, but then I happily discovered a little show from the creator of Scrubs, Bill Lawrence, called Clone High. There were 13 episodes, which aired during the 2002-03 season on MTV, and it still airs in Canada, according to www.clone-high.com.

It’s the first day back at a high school where all of the students are young, contemporary versions of historical figures. There’s Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte), Joan of Arc (Christa Miller, Mahatma Ghandi, John F. Kennedy (Chris Miller), Cleopatra (Nicole Sullivan), and—you gotta love this—two Elvises, one young/thin and the other old/fat. Already you know by the wackiness of the premise this show is going to be different, as well as irreverent. In the first moments we get a crude sexual joke from JFK, and a drug use bit from old/fat Elvis, and learn that Ghandi is a lech. The animation looks a bit like Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends with the sharp angles and bold outlines.

Each character falls into a high school social category. JFK is a handsome jock, Abe Lincoln is a gangly nerd, Joan of Arc is a down to earth do-gooder, Cleo is the popular chick, etc. There’s a love triangle: Joan likes Abe, who likes Cleopatra. (Who wouldn’t, right?)

The principal, Dr. Scudworth is pulling the strings. He is visited by someone from the military and we learn, in case it wasn’t obvious from the title, that the students are clones. They were created by the government, though we’re not yet told why. The pricipals office comes equipped with test tubes and other mad scientist paraphernalia. And he’s nuts.

There are lots of whimsical little details, like the diner where they hang out is called the Grassy Knoll. Van Gogh calls the school suicide hotline.

The episode plot has to do with Abe supplying a keg of non-alcoholic beer for the Big Party, but it appears the real story will be the aforementioned love triangle. We’re also told that Marilyn Manson will make an appearance next week. If the pilot is any indication, this show is funny, edgy, and has plenty of room for political commentary. I’m hooked, and can’t wait to watch the remaining episodes.

Memorable line: “Hey man, Ghandi’s anti-violence, not anti-comedy.”