TV Review – Animaniacs 2020

Animaniacs 2020 (Hulu)
Written by a lot of people
Directed by many more people

I was 12 years ago when Animaniacs originally debuted in 1993, and from the first episode, they had me hooked. I did not have cable growing up; we lived in a rural area where Comcast wouldn’t expend the resources to lay the line. Other options just weren’t there yet. This means I didn’t get to see formative 1990s animated comedies like Ren & Stimpy or Rocko’s Modern Life. Those were viewed when I visited my grandparents and had access for a few hours to cable television. So, a show like Animaniacs was a straight injection of zany meta-commentary that I hadn’t really been exposed to in my youth. So, what chance does a revival of Animaniacs over twenty years later of being successful?

Yakko, Wakko, and Dot have come out of hibernation since they went back to the water tower in 1998. The world has changed a lot in the interim, and they are ready to lampoon everything in sight. Social media, Trump, identity politics, gun control, even man-spreading all get touched upon, as well as stories that are timeless and just silly exercises. The Warner Siblings are tossed into scenarios that have them playing a role in Homer’s Odyssey and even a very well made venture where they ambush the musical scoring session for one of their own cartoons. Joining them in almost every episode are Pinky & the Brain in their own co-feature that has them embarking on their never-ending quest to take over the world. Absent except for a brief cameo in a particular story is every other co-feature from the original run.

As the new showrunner, we have Wellesley Wild, a writer from Family Guy & Gabe Swarr, with a long history on numerous 2000s animated series, serves the role of executive producer. This signals that there would be a slight tonal shift, and thankfully, these episodes end up feeling pretty much like the original show. There are definitely moments that harp on specific topics a little more than necessary, but it truly felt like a return to a classic. I think the Warners might be more snarky than presented initially but not to the degree that it made them unlikable. They are just a bit more quippy.

Missing from this revival is more lampooning of popular media. With Hulu being owned by Disney, you think an agreement could have been made to be more direct in their mocking of Star Wars, the MCU, and other films and television series that have sprung up in the decades passed. Bravo has content on Hulu, and the Real Housewives is rife for mockery by the Warners. Instead, they focus on politics a little more but definitely don’t give into both sides-ism. It’s clear the writers are not a fan of Trump or conservatism, but they are still liberals who don’t land in an agreeable point of view for me either. The mockery of Trump is left at a very surface level instead of skewering his character or racism.

The strongest point of the series is the Pinky & The Brain shorts. They feel aligned with the originals but also sharpening the humor a bit more. Brain gets a ton of character development and becomes a more complex character by the season’s end. Maurice LaMarche, who voices Brain, doesn’t miss a beat and reminds us why the shorts were so popular they got their own long-running spin-off. The last short from the duo in the season has them trapped in a driverless car with an infinite battery, and we get to see Brain’s psyche shatter in a very surprising and enjoyable way that adds more dimensions for the character.

I think since Animaniacs’ heyday, animation for both children & adults has improved immensely. You look at everything from Gravity Falls to Adventure Time to Bojack Horseman. For the show to be doing what it did well less and not really improving upon that means it ends up feeling satisfying but not exciting. By the time you get to the middle of the season, it’s clear there is a formula, and the show is sticking to it. They try to mix things up with a few pilot shorts of new concepts, but all of them feel out of place, a little half-baked. I think the Animaniacs revival is definitely worth watching for old fans, and I am interested in how kids now react to the Warners. It’s a comfortable old friend but nothing that pushes the ideas forward into new territory.

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