Cartoons Step-By-Step: Fillmore! Episode 1

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Plot: When the brand new high-tech bathroom stalls are riddled with graffiti by someone calling themselves ‘Stainless’, Fillmore and Ingrid have to enter the world of artists and taggers to find out who the culprit is.

Breakdown: I absolutely love procedural dramas. NCIS, CSI, Castle, Criminal Minds, Bones etc etc etc., and I can thank Fillmore! For spawning that love.

Fillmore first aired on ABC’s One Saturday Morning as a school-themed parody of old 1970’s cop shows with the safety patrol replacing the cops. Think Recess if it was at a slightly higher age range and was a procedural drama. It was sadly canceled after a mere two seasons due to low ratings, even though the 26 episode run is essentially one season. Rumor also has it that the tone was a bit too serious and ‘dark’ for the ABC cartoon lineup. Pfft. What could possibly be dark about a show created by Scott Gimple?…….the executive producer of The Walking Dead……

Jokes aside, this show serious? Have they never heard of parodies? Yes, the subject matter they’re parodying is kinda mature, but they’re adapting it towards a tween audience. The stuff they cover in the series is ridiculous kid and school stuff presented in a serious manner; one of the main reasons why it’s funny.

I loved the hell out of Fillmore! And couldn’t have been sadder when it was canceled. It’s even worse considering that the show isn’t even available on VHS or DVD. Everything about it was just so cool and funny. I loved how over exaggerated and film-noir-ish it was. The characters were great, the setting was great, the theme song was one of the best cartoon theme songs ever, and the writing was spot-on with only some minor cheese here and there. Well, now that I’m older and analyzing the show thoroughly, how does it really stand up?

Here’s the thing; before Fillmore! I had never really watched many police shows or movies. I was a tweenage girl at the time this came out. I was more preoccupied with anime, drawing, cartoons and boy bands. Even then, I still loved this show. Now that I have plenty of police and forensic shows and movies under my belt, I actually find this even more entertaining because I can tell what they’re spoofing at pretty much every corner. I can’t tell all the references, but I can definitely play ‘spot the trope spoof’

For instance, the crime itself is kinda played off like finding a murder scene where the murderer, who coins his own name through his signature, writes on the walls in blood….err, red marker.

In order to solve this crime, Fillmore and Ingrid recruit a master tagger and artist who is basically one big serial killer spoof. He’s kept under total detention lockdown every day after he went on a tagging spree. He’s held in solitary confinement with all writing instruments taken away from him, which must make his schoolwork a nightmare. He’s incredibly knowledgeable on his craft and loves teasing Fillmore and Ingrid with answers that he knows but refuses to share since that would just be no fun.

Fillmore and Ingrid are even police drama tropes. Fillmore is a former juvenile delinquent who became the safety patrol’s top investigator. He sips hot chocolate, makes witty one-liners, has incredible insight and is sometimes a ‘loose cannon’ who struggles with his past.

Ingrid is a new kid in school, new as Fillmore’s partner too, who is also a genius with a photographic memory, making her a fantastic researcher and sleuth. She has a goth look about her, but they don’t do anything with it. Unlike a lot of veteran cop/rookie pairings, Ingrid and Fillmore actually get along very well, which is more of a play on how procedural dramas are now with ‘tension’ between the leads a la Bones, CSI, NCIS, Law and Order SVU.

Of course, you also have to have the boss of the whole operation, in this case the Jr. Safety Commissioner Vellejo, who is usually there to scold Fillmore and Ingrid for any damage they cause while trying to catch perps and to put a fire under their asses to get the case solved quicker.

You even have the ‘politician’ or ‘District Attorney’ trope in Ms. Folsom, who is usually constantly stressing about the cases in order to keep up appearances and maintain the safety and integrity of the school. She’s also on the safety patrol’s asses to get the cases wrapped up quickly and cleanly.

We’ve got red herrings, evidence analysis, slight hints here and there throughout the episode as to who the perp really is. It is a bit easy to figure out who the culprit is if you pay attention, but it is a tween show.

This episode has always been one of my favorites because of how they portray Randall Julian, the ‘serial killer tagger’ who helps Fillmore and Ingrid, the fact that art is the main theme here and how well it sets up the series as a whole, all the while emerging you quite well in the fun world they have set up, distracting you from how silly it actually is and making it seem very cool…

Seriously, take yourself out of the show for a minute andsoak in the story; they’re hunting down someone who is drawing on bathroom stalls with a marker while getting help from a sociopathic macaroni artist turned tagger with the ‘street name’ of Flava Sava with their prime suspects being a guy who likes to draw toilets and pour paint on himself, a guy whose newest masterpiece is coloring in a black dot with 1000 layers of ink and a hippie girl who poops outside because she hates unnatural things.

Also, I won’t spoil who the culprit is, but let’s just say that the actual perp is even weirder that these three.

The action is also usually creative and fun, but there’s one thing you have to keep in mind when the culprit is revealed. It doesn’t matter how far or fast they run; they’re at school. They can’t leave school grounds and even if they don’t catch them, you can just as easily contact their parents. Really the only reason Fillmore and Ingrid need to catch the perps themselves is because Folsom is too fed up with the lack of progress in the case and threatens to shut down the safety patrol nearly every episode if they don’t have the perp by the final bell or within a day or so.

The final standoff between Fillmore and Randall Julian was also great. Hell, it was better than his confrontation with the actual perp. To be honest, the entire thing with Randall was better than the actual plot. As a bonus, Randall is voiced by Josh Peck. And yes, it is trippy.

While we’re on the topic of the voice work, which is great, Fillmore is voiced by Orlando Brown, who does a great job bringing that classic attitude and coolness to the character. Ingrid is voiced by Tara Strong, who I don’t believe needs an introduction. And Anza, one of the background safety patrollers, is voiced by Danny Tamberelli, and if you recognize that name, you get an Internet hug.

All in all, this episode was really great and I loved every minute of it. It’s just subtle enough to be a slight challenge to viewers to figure out what’s really going on while not being so complicated or even unfair in its storytelling that the viewer would have difficulty following along. The characters are all very likable, even most of the suspects and perps, and this series really did just get even better to me after I watched those procedural dramas.

Here’s to another 25 episodes, but is there a rat within this lost gem?

Rating: 9.5/10

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Cartoon Step-By-Step: Xiaolin Showdown Episode 1

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Plot: Many years ago, the forces of good and evil battled against each other over the shen gong wu, numerous powerful artifacts with the collective ability to conquer the world in the wrong hands. Dashi, a noble warrior with the power of the shen gong wu fought fiercely against the Heylin witch Wuya and came out triumphantly, sealing her in a box. In and effort to prevent the power of the shen gong wu from ending up in the hands of evil, Dashi hid them and scattered them across the globe.

Centuries later, a monk named Omi, the dragon of water, learns that three new students will be joining him under the guide of Master Fung; Raymundo from Brazil, Kimiko from Japan and Clay from America. While they’re very rough around the edges, particularly to Omi, they have to quickly get their act together when Wu Ya is revived and sent to partner up with the self-proclaimed evil genius bent on world domination, Jack Spicer. Since Wuya has no corporeal body of her her own, she decides to use to him to gather the shen gong wu and get a real body as well as allow him to conquer the world.

Omi, Raymundo, Kimiko and Clay set out after the shen gong wu with the sensing capabilities of Dashi’s old friend, a small transformable dragon named Dojo. They continue to clash with their personality and culture differences, causing them to lose the Mantis Flip Coin, a magical coin allowing you to easily flip and leap, but they manage to get the Two-Ton-Tunic, Dashi’s old armor that is seemingly impenetrable but weighs a lot.

When they get to a third shen gong wu, the Eye of Dashi, Spicer and Omi get to it at the same time, causing them to fight over it and triggering a Xiaolin Showdown; a contest between two beings set in an alternate dimension where the winner gains the right to own the shen gong wu. Unfortunately, it’s a race across several extremely tall pillars, giving Jack a major advantage with his Mantis Flip Coin and leaving Omi in the dust with his Two-Ton Tunic. Utilizing some lessons he’s learned from his new friends throughout their journey, Omi overcomes the Jack Bots that Spicer sends to attack him and manages to come out victorious. Later, at the temple, Master Fun reveals that he new students were meant to teach him as much as he was meant to teach them as they are actually dragons themselves; Raymundo, the dragon of the wind, Kimiko, the dragon of fire and Clay the dragon of earth.

Breakdown: Xiaolin Showdown is a show that I watched as a kid, but I didn’t keep up with it very closely. It kept my attention and I enjoyed it perfectly fine, but I never got around to sitting down and watching every episode.

First episode wise, this is a very good way to kick off the series, even if there are some very convenient aspects such as all of the dragons being assembled right before Wuya gets released from her box and somehow being able to utilize every minor thing Omi has learned from Raymundo, Kimiko and Clay. Like the ‘using your weight to your advantage’ thing works perfectly here, but the Jack Bots actually had huge on-off switches and Jack was so slow that he not only let Omi catch up to him, but he also let him pull down his pants?

We learn a fair amount about each character. Omi is a very serious, almost too serious, Xiaolin monk who treasures perfection and hard work, but also has a huge ego on him and is a bit headstrong. I do have to wonder if his character design could be construed as a bit racist though. I mean, I’m not sure why Omi was designed like that, but he’s a Chinese kid with bright yellow skin………..

He’s also voiced by Tara Strong.

Raymundo’s lazy and a bit of an ass, but I assume that will get better later. He’s voiced by Tom Kenny. Give the guy credit for range – I never would’ve guessed that.

Kimiko’s a bit too into technology with none of it being useful at all (even that Pac-man-like game. Who plays a game by poking one button over and over? And is it really playing a game if the little guy keeps eating even if you’re not touching anything, he doesn’t move, the food doesn’t move and there seems to be nothing to avoid?) but she’s kinda sweet in how protective she is of Omi. She’s voiced by Grey DeLisle who doesn’t seem to be sporting a voice that is very similar to any of the voices I know her as such as Sam from Danny Phantom and Vicky and Tootie from Fairly Odd Parents. She seems to have pretty good range.

Clay’s pretty cool and he seems to do the most outside of Omi. Plus, like I mentioned, his was the best advice. He was voiced by Jeff Bennet.

Master Fung also has a nice balance of traditional Xiaolin master and contrasting humor.

Jack Spicer still stands out to me as both a really good and a fairly stupid villain. All of the pieces are there, but he needs the opportunity to prove himself to me a bit more. Though, who cares? He’s voiced by Danny Cooksey and that’s all that matters.

The only one I didn’t much care for was Dojo. He’s a comic relief talking animal sidekick and that’s all you really need to know. He’s like a less-funny and less-energetic Mushu from Mulan….and I don’t even like Mushu. At least Dojo can turn into a huge dragon, though. Also, he’s voiced by Wayne Knight. Make of that what you will.

The story is, admittedly, on the ‘been there, done that’ spectrum with the forces of good and evil battling for items that hold great power, but the fact that all of these items have their own unique powers and not just some generic ‘power’ is a breath of fresh air. The main characters also having the power of the elements isn’t that clever either, but I will say that it’s nice that the main-main characters (Omi and later Raymundo) don’t have the power of fire. It’s also nice that the lone girl in the group wasn’t given the power of love or flowers or some crap.

The art is pretty stylized and nice, with only some things looking a bit ugly. The animation’s not fantastic, but it’s reasonably fluid and works to bring the characters and action to life.

The music’s also very fitting and nice to listen to.

This episode had quite a bit to plow through, and I think it did a pretty good job. It’s a bit fast-paced, but nothing overwhelming.

Rating: 8/10

Next episode, Clay gets some spotlight when he’s mocked for his slow and steady method of combat. He’s left on his own to get a shen gong wu when his friends get trapped by Jack Spicer.

Cartoons Step-By-Step: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Episode 1 -Things Change

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Plot: Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo are four turtles that have been mutated into anthropomorphic beings by strange ooze. Throughout their lives, they have been trained in the art of the ninja by their master, Splinter, an anthropomorphic rat and ninja master.

When their sewer home is infiltrated and destroyed by mouser robots, the turtles are separated from their master. They’re able to contact Splinter via shell phone to confirm that he is alright, but they still have the task of finding out who sent the mouser robots, finding a new place to live and reuniting with Splinter.

Trapped, with the integrity of the tunnel compromised, the boys decide to hit the surface world for another route the sewers. Raphael is forced to dash and hide all over the street to avoid being seen by other people while in search of another manhole cover to reenter the sewers in. They manage to find another manhole, but it’s being blocked by huge truck that some gang members are currently using to perform a robbery.

While Raph tries to move the truck, they hear the gang members start to return, so Raph quickly hides in the truck, only to be locked in as the gangsters leave. As Leo, Mikey and Donny try to follow Raph, Splinter gets cornered by mousers in the sewer.

Once they catch back up with the truck, Donny manages to open the electronic lock and free Raph, but their reunion is shortlived when the gang members return and face off against the turtles. However, the boys easily defeat the entire crew and the gangsters run off. Just as they celebrate their victory, they find themselves surrounded again; this time by a mysterious group of ninjas. While the turtles struggle to take down the ninjas, Splinter manages to defeat the mouser robots.

However, the damage done by the robots causes the floor to crumble beneath him, leading him to an unexplored area of the sewers.

The turtles take the truck, escape from the ninjas and return the stolen money to the cops as they get back to the sewer and reunite with Splinter. He leads the boys to a huge chamber that they’ll be calling their home from now on since their previous one was destroyed.

Meanwhile, a mysterious man meets with the gang leader from earlier as he relays the information about the lost truck and money. He’s not with mercy from his master, and screams ring out from within the temple.

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I love Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, past and present. They have such a ridiculously goofy premise that works so well that it has managed to stay not only relevant but very popular throughout many different incarnations.

The 2003 version, co-produced by ew4Kids is known as one of the darker versions, though still not touching the original comic’s darkness. When this first aired, I watched it fairly closely but I won’t deny that I was a bigger fan of the 80’s version.

So what does episode one bring to the table? Well, first, there’s no explaining the backstory of the turtles at all, which is odd because the theme song, unlike the 80s version, doesn’t talk about it at all. Yes, TMNT is so popular and well-known that most people already know of the backstory, but considering how silly the concept is, you’d think they’d take the opportunity to explain to the younger folks in the audience as to why everything is as it is.

That being said, they do a great job of not only keeping the turtles loyal to their specific personalities, but they also update them a little to appeal to a more current audience. Mikey and Raph in particular had some great moments and lines, some even earning legitimate laugh out loud moments.

The story is solid enough; the turtles are forced above ground and meet up with some thugs in an effort to get back home and things aren’t quite as they seem. They run into even more trouble with a more viable threat and regroup back home with Master Splinter. Nothing groundbreaking, but a decent amount of action, suspense and little tidbits for the more seasoned TMNT viewer such as poking at Shredder and interrupting Mikey before he can fully say ‘Cowabunga’.

I honestly didn’t remember that the Purple Dragon gang worked for Shredder, but it makes a lot of sense.

A few things were left up in the air though, like who sent the mouser robots and why. Shredder didn’t seem to as he doesn’t seem to know of the turtles at this point and the gang leader didn’t mention anything about them.

Also minor and expected, but for an episode that spent a decent chunk of time teaching the turtles that they need to be as hidden as possible, even during an attack, they sure did give mixed signals in one scene. Mikey does what he does and decides to stand out in broad daylight right in front of a thug for like ten seconds making a joke before attacking the guy. This wouldn’t be a big deal if Leo didn’t praise him for it. Yes, he did knock out the thug, but he just broke the main rule of both ninjas and their family to make a joke.

The art and animation are actually pretty nice. I should be clear and say 4Kids only had a hand in this series’ production. It was co-produced by Mirage studios with the art and animation being done by Dong Woo Animation. I’ve seen some people criticize the 2003 art for being a bit too muscular and craggy, but I actually like it quite a bit. It fits in well with the environment that’s been created, and it suits the darker and more serious tone better than the curvy cartoony 80s version.

The music is also pretty well done. I don’t know if 4Kids made the theme song, but I wouldn’t be surprised as it’s an earworm with some kinda cheesy lyrics. The BG music fits well with the series, and it does a good job at amping up some action while also not interfering with the more lighthearted moments.

Overall, this is a pretty good episode. Not anything epic or even great, but it was still enjoyable the whole time through with some great jokes and action.

Rating: 8/10

Cartoons Step-By-Step: American Dragon Jake Long S01 Ep01

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Plot Synopsis: The world is filled with mythical beasts who try to live normal lives among humans who aren’t aware of their existence. Each part of the world is protected by a dragon who is tasked with protecting these creatures and maintaining their secrecy. Jake Long, a reckless but determined teenager, is a dragon in training with New York City, and ultimately the United States as his main domain. His grandfather, the previous American Dragon, is getting too old to do the job, and is training Jake to pass on his title and responsibilities to him. However, Jake seems to want all of the fun and action with as little work as possible.

Jake comes from a long line of dragons, but it is purely on his mother’s side. His mother does not possess the ability to transform into a dragon, but his little sister, Haley, does. She, however, is not tasked with protecting the country/city. She merely has to keep her powers a secret. Speaking of which, Jake’s father is completely unaware that he married into a family of dragons, so they have to keep their secret even when they’re in the house.

As Jake is out training with his grandpa and his magical talking gruff bulldog, Fu, they find signs that the Huntsman, a man that leads a group of hunters who target mythological beings, specifically dragons, has been in the area. His target tonight? Unicorns.

Grandpa sends Jake out to fight the Huntsman on his own, and while Jake screws up his first attack, he does succeed in scaring the Unicorns into running away. The Huntsman targets Jake, who is only half transformed at the time, and as he manages to transform entirely, he’s knocked out by the Huntsman’s protege, Huntsgirl. As the Huntsman calls for Huntsgirl to finish Jake off, Grandpa intercedes and rescues him, prompting both Huntsman and Huntsgirl to retreat. Seeing his extreme difficulty in even keeping up his transformation in battle and his previous failures in battle, Grandpa decides to amp up Jake’s training.

After school the next day, Jake is forced to blow off skateboarding with his friends, Trixie and Spud, to go train. Grandpa’s training for the day turns out to be a lot of chores that incorporate certain aspects of Jake’s dragon-ness such as grasping a toilet brush with his dragon tongue to clean the toilet and sweeping with his tail.

After getting fed up with Grandpa’s weird training, Jake decides to skip training for the day and go with his friends to the new skate park. As Grandpa and Fu wait for Jake, the Huntsman and Huntsgirl show up to capture Grandpa. He tries to fend them off, but ends up falling into a trap.

Fu witnesses this and runs off to find Jake. After Fu finds him, he tries to convince him to find help, but Jake insists that he save Grandpa on his own since it was his fault that he was captured in the first place. Jake arrives and starts fighting the two, and he finally sees the benefit in his odd dragon training when Grandpa directs him to fight using actions that he learned in his chores. Jake and a freed Grandpa cause Huntsman and Huntsgirl to retreat yet again and Jake apologizes to Grandpa for blowing off training and putting him in danger. As they return home, Jake promises to take his dragon training more seriously from now on.

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– Dragons can fart fire. I didn’t need to know that.

– Apparently Grandpa sounds like a lion when he uses his dragon breath.

– This isn’t really relevant enough to include in the plot synopsis, but Jake also has a teacher, Mr. Rotwood, who is obsessed with magical creatures and teaches mythology class….Yeah apparently there’s Mythology class in high school now. If anyone has been lucky enough to have mythology class in high school, I hate you.

Getting back to Rotwood, though, he’s basically a less crazy Mr. Crocker (Fairly Oddparents). He believes that these mythological creatures exist, and he’s right, but everyone thinks he’s nuts for having such a strong belief in them. Unlike Crocker, though, I don’t believe he’s ever made out to be a real threat. For the most part, his scenes are relegated to either harassing Jake in class and going on tangents about mythological creatures to eventually trying to out Jake as a dragon.

– Another thing I couldn’t really squeak into the plot synopsis was Rose’s role. Jake has a crush on a girl named Rose, who is seemingly perfect in every way. She is secretly the Huntsgirl, though this secret is not kept a secret from the audience due to the dragon birthmark connection. Jake’s relationship with Rose and the big secret that Jake is the American Dragon while Rose is Huntsgirl is a big overarching part of the series.

– Who exactly screamed when Jake shot off that fireball in the house? Haley? His mom? No matter who it was, burning someone with fire kinda warrants an apology, Jake.

– I find it a little stupid that Grandpa fell for Huntsgirl’s trick. I mean, as a serpentine dragon, surely enemies have tried to force him into tangling himself up before. If he’s such an experienced master, why would he have fallen for something so obvious?

– Huntsman and Huntsgirl know grandpa’s human form and that he’s a dragon. Isn’t that….really bad? I mean, surely the Hunts Clan is knowledgeable enough in dragons to know that the trait is carried through blood. If they know who grandpa is, it’d be incredibly easy to hunt down his family members, Jake included, and capture them. At the very least, Huntsgirl/Rose would know from the start that Jake is Lao Shi’s (Grandpa) grandson.

– While I’m no stranger to transformation sequences, the one for ADJL is a little…cringy? Especially the awkwardly placed 360 shot of CGI Dragon!Jake.

– Grandpa knew the exact move for blocking the magical net. Why didn’t he use it in his fight with the Huntsman? He was tangled up not completely immobile.

– Another dragon fire fart….sigh.

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I did follow American Dragon Jake Long in its entirety when it was on Disney Channel back in the day, but I can’t say I followed it too strongly. While I liked the stories and loved the premise, Jake and Trixie’s mannerisms and the rap got on my nerves on more than one occasion.

As a first episode, this does its job quite well. It explains the world that they live in, the main character’s role and many of his powers just fine. It also does a good job of establishing his family dynamic and the villains. Rose’s dragon birthmark is not the most subtle way of showing that she was Huntsgirl and personally I would’ve preferred that they waited a while before revealing who she was, but it’s not that big of a deal. I suppose it was meant to create some early drama in allowing the audience to know something that the main character doesn’t.

While they also establish Jake’s friends, Trixie and Spud, just fine as well, I really never got into Trixie. I mean, at the very least, she’s not made out as an obvious love interest for the main character like most female best friend characters, but she basically acts exactly like Jake with much fewer instances of responsibility and character development. In essence, she’s annoying most of the time. Her voice is annoying in itself, but giving her gangsta speech just makes it grating.

Spud can be funny on occasion but for the most part he’s also exactly like his friends, just stupid. His slow and dimwitted manner of speech coupled with his gangsta-isms can also get annoying, but he’s the most tolerable of the group in that regard.

I’ve always had a bit of love/hate with Fu dog. On one hand, he can be really funny and he’s arguably the most unique character in the series. On the other hand, he can be really unfunny and annoying. He’s voiced by John DiMaggio, so I guess I have to side with liking him. :X

Jake as a character can seem really one note. He’s a ‘gangsta’ teen who is egotistical and wants to do everything cool without putting up with a lot of work and responsibility. However, when he’s actually serious, he becomes a pretty cool character. He has plenty of flaws, but he always seems willing to accept when he’s wrong and do his best to protect others.

The story of this episode as a whole, however, is very predictable. Absolutely anyone who’s seen The Karate Kid can predict how this episode will go once they see Jake doing those chores. The episode seems to take more time in establishing necessary things about the series than the actual story of the episode….and that’s fine I guess. There is a lot to go through in first episodes, and trying to work all of it into an original pilot is very difficult. Points are still taken for going the predictable route, but still.

Rating: 6.5/10