Opinion | A few filthy cartoons
With The Simpsons' 30th season, a pick of the animated shows not meant for kids
On 30 September The Simpsons began its 30th season. We’ve watched Homer Simpson and the butter-coloured residents of Springfield for three decades, while the show revolutionized both the way we satirize and the way we consume satire. What long-standing audacity. Seasons 4 through 14, for example, are so golden that Mr Burns would hoard them.
Bart Simpson changed television by saying, “Eat my shorts." Animated shows weren’t just for children anymore. The Simpsons explored mature themes from philosophy to avant-garde cinema, but was rarely—if ever—too risqué for children. Today, adult cartoons would make Bart blush. With a second season of Big Mouth dropping on 5 October, I recommend a few animated Netflix shows children should surely not be watching.
Big Mouth: Imagine a truly dirty version of Wonder Years. Created by Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg, this show is about middle-schoolers coming to grips with puberty, represented by giant hairy monsters. Despite the grossness on display—one boy ends up impregnating a pillow he regularly pleasures himself with—this is an affectionate show treating its clueless 13-year-old characters with genuine empathy. The storytelling is compelling enough to binge in one spurt. Oh, and Maya Rudolph breathily voices the Hormone Monstress. Mega.
Disenchantment: A new show from Simpsons creator Matt Groening, this starts out like a series of Monty Python-esque sketches about a boozy, buck-toothed princess in a medieval kingdom. Hark back, though, to the way Groening’s proudly nerdy Futurama had initially felt like Douglas Adams fan-fiction. This gets better with each episode.
Princess Teabeanie, aka Bean, doesn’t want a husband, choosing instead to seduce Vikings in castle-parties she throws while the king is away, but shadowy games are afoot. With demons, elves, and nudge-nudge gags reminiscent of Mel Brooks, Disenchantment grows on you while its odd heroine gradually raises herself to her full height.
Paradise PD: This is not a good show. It’s dirty for the sake of shock, a juvenile show about a police department made of the worst possible cops. The sniffer dog Bullet, for instance, enthusiastically snorts all the cocaine in the evidence room. Yet I must confess I laughed hard at this show by Brickleberry creators Waco O’Guin and Roger Black. I suspect it may have been the Soylent Green like storyline that claimed American seafood chain Red Lobster actually serves the meat of old humans. So, so wrong.
Castlevania: In the mood for a show both gory and gorgeous? Dive into this breathtaking video-game adaptation written by comic-book legend Warren Ellis. A sufficiently hardcore anime about the hunting of a vampire, Castlevania has cinematic flair, solid drama and an incredible take on Dracula. The infamous Vlad Dracula Tepes is as fascinating as he is fearsome, and the show’s exploration of his character is—unlike his bite—not skin-deep. Season 2 arrives at the end of this month, just in time for Halloween.
BoJack Horseman: Often called the most depressing comedy on television, Rafael Bob-Waksberg’s show is a cripplingly profound meditation on the fleeting nature of fame and the way it tornadoes through everyone around it. Centred around a once-famous television actor now beached in mediocrity, the show tackles subjects like regret and dementia so squarely that, quite honestly, we may not have been equipped to handle it if not for the blessed visual puns.
BoJack is a remarkable achievement. Not for how effectively it elicits empathy for its abhorrent leading man, or the way it makes us cheer for complexity, but because it allows one little boy to climb on another’s shoulders, hide in a trench coat and pretend to be a fully functioning grown-up. Honestly, we are all Vincent Adultman. On good days we don’t get caught.
Archer: At the beginning, creator Adam Reed set this spy comedy around one (phenomenal) idea: What if James Bond’s boss, M, was also his mom? Sterling Archer is a hard-drinking, luxury-obsessed secret agent who reports to his harder-drinking mother, and the show riffs on this Freudian core while creating brilliant supporting characters—like an affluent secretary who really wants someone to choke her hard enough.
Then, a hiccup. The show’s fictional agency, the International Secret Intelligence Service, had its initials stolen by a real-world terrorist outfit you may have heard of. Reed used this incursion to take the gang into many a zigzagged direction, from Miami Vice like madness (Season 5) to film noir (Season 8), allowing Reed—and his phenomenal voice cast—to boldly flip genres like no show had done before. The wordplay is electric, the literary references are insanely elitist, and Archer features the sexiest women on television, crowned by the way they keep taking charge.
Go on, watch a dirty cartoon. To paraphrase what Jessica Rabbit, the most famously sexy of cartoons, once said about herself: They’re not bad, they’re just drawn that way.
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather.
He tweets at @rajasen