Though the genre of cartoon sitcoms began in 1960 with the debut of The Flintstones, it wasn’t until the 90s that the genre really exploded in popularity. In this week’s Top 10 Tuesday we look at cartoon sitcoms.
10. Family Guy
Family Guy made history when it came back to TV a year and a half after its cancellation. Since then it has became the cornerstone of series creator Seth MacFarlane’s cartoon empire, which includes another show on this list. Family Guy’s iconic cut aways have been criticized by fans and critics of TV, for their complete lack of context within the story of the episodes they are in. Love it or hate it, nobody can deny the importance of Family Guy to the genre’s current popularity.
In 1994, USA Network revealed Duckman. The Private Dick sitcom revolved around Eric T. Duckman, an obnoxious widow with children and a live in annoying sister in law. Duckman is brought to life by the voice of Jason Alexander, and based on the comic by Everett Peck. Though Duckman is long gone and mostly forgotten, it is a series worth rediscovering, Unfortunately, Duckman is unavailable to stream.
This Beavis and Butthead spin-off was able to completely shift tonally away from Beavis and Butthead to the extent that it doesn’t even seem the 2 could exist in the same universe. As a series about artistic outcasts in our world of conformity, Daria spoke to me, and many others, who felt at odds with society. Daria worked largely because of the characters friendship with Jane, and her estranged relationship with her popular sister Quinn.
07. American Dad
As a spin-off (of sorts) of Family Guy, American Dad eschewed my gripes about Family Guy in favor of better constructed stories. They also introduced their crazy mascot, an alien named Roger, who has outlasted Family Guy’s Stewie as an intriguing character that takes the show in surreal directions. While I do not actively watch American dad, I constantly watch reruns (which are often new to me) on TBS, Cartoon Network, and any of the other countless channels that play the show in syndication. I am rarely bored.
So I admit it, I am a metal-head, and I am not ashamed. That being said, Metalocalypse stands on its own. The basic concept of super wealthy and powerful public figures that involve themselves in shenanigans that result in countless atrocities, while greater conspiracies swell in the background, could have easily worked with a series about a monarchy or dictatorship. That being said, the metal influence expands the series into further greatness. With cameos by the unsung kings of the music genre including members of Emperor, Cannibal Corpse, and even Mike Patton of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle, Metalocalypse has a legitimacy that most heavy metal referencing shows and movies could never achieve. It is this combination of legitimate love for the genre on the part of the shows creators, and the ridiculous power the band wields that makes the show so good.
05. Beavis & Butthead
Uh Huh Huh Uh Huh Huh. Beavis and Butthead inappropriately laugh their way into our top 5 cartoon sitcoms. Revolutionary in their day, Beavis and Butthead wrote the book on stupid misbehavior comedy. The series started out as a series of shorts, including the infamous Frog Baseball, on MTV’s animated clip show Liquid Television. In 1993 the duo got their own series. the typical format of the series involved 2 short episodes with intermixed music videos with commentary from the 2 protagonists. Beavis and Butthead was the debut of Mike Judge, who later went on to make King of the Hill, Office Space, Idiocracy, and most recently, HBO’s brilliant new comedy series, Silicon Valley. But Judge will likely forever be best known as the 2 misbehaving high school delinquents Beavis and Butthead. After all, who doesn’t need TP for their bunghole?
04. King of the Hill
Also from Mike Judge, the creator of Beavis and Butthead, and Office Space, came King of the Hill. The long running Fox sitcom featured an honest but prudish Texas propane salesman, his family, and the odd characters surrounding them. King of the Hill was a bit ahead of its time, not achieving the cultural praise its network brother The Simpsons did until after the series was coming to an end. Suddenly propane jokes and memes were all the rage, and have remained so since. King of the Hill’s syndicated run on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block, along with expressed nostalgia from meme trendsetters on the internet, lead to a sudden explosion of acceptance and love for the little series about a propane salesman in Texas with a narrow urethra, a wife with humongous feet, a son with a knack for prop comedy, a bible thumping niece who is often confused, and a father who lost his shins fighting the Japanese in World War 2.
From Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, came Futurama. Debuting in 1999, amid Y2K panic, Futurama told the story of Philip J. Fry, a New York pizza delivery boy who, on New Year Eve 1999, is, by accident, cryogenically frozen until the year 3000. Waking up in the year 3000, Fry is initially delighted by the prospects of the future before it all gives way to monotony, a common story trend of the series. Fry encounters a narcissistic robot, Bender, in a suicide booth and quickly befriends him. Together with a female cyclops named Leela, Fry and Bender find Fry’s only living family member, an old scientist named Professor Farnsworth, and join his delivery company, Planet Express. Like with The Simpsons, the cast of characters expands exponentially with various aliens, mutants, and even real life figures, whose heads survive beyond their death in jars. Futurama has been cancelled and come back multiple times, and there is STILL talk of a potential comeback for the currently cancelled series. Futurama will best be remembered for its smart comedy, and bittersweet tear inducing moments spread throughout the comedy. “I’m walking on sunshine, whooa oh oh.”
02. The Simpsons
The most famous cartoon in history, and perhaps the most beloved, The Simpsons, might even earn me death threats for not topping this top 10 list. So if I acknowledge it as the most influential, famous, and important cartoon sitcom ever (and I do), why didn’t it take the top spot? Well as famous as The Simpsons is, so is its steep decline in quality in recent years. The phrase “shell of its former self” has never been put to better use than in describing The Simpsons. Sadly, The Simpsons has been in this sad state for about as long, if not longer, than the shows run of good episodes. But lets stop remembering the bad, and rather eulogize the good. The Simpsons started as a series of shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987, its success lead to a still beloved Christmas TV special in 1989 which acted as a pilot episode for the series. The Simpsons set many of the standards still used in cartoon sitcoms, from the blank dumb stares of those not talking, to the very structure of a cartoon sitcom’s town and the archetypes of its characters. An argument could be made that every animated sitcom is nothing but a rip-off of The Simpsons, and it has been made, by those other sitcoms, including the brilliant South Park episode The Simpsons Already Did it. My favorite memories of the series involve their amazing Halloween episodes The Treehouse of Horror.
01. South Park
So what could top the untoppable? How about the most consistently cultural relevant animated program of all time. South Park had modest roots as a stop motion animated Christmas card called The Spirit of Christmas, the now classic short was bootlegged all around Hollywood, where it became a cult short film. Comedy Central was quick to approach the shorts creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker with a series deal. The result of this deal was South Park, a stop motion animated sitcom about foul mouthed 3rd graders. Though the true brilliance of South Park was that it wasn’t limited to the stupid foul mouthed comedy it initially presented itself as. South Park has been referenced in law schools, and heavily in politics. It didn’t take long for the series to transition into more directly culturally relevant topics. After the South Park movie, Matt Stone and Trey Parker invested in computer systems to speed and improve the quality of their animation process. Soon after, they set the series into a hyper production schedule that allowed them to complete episodes in a single week. By doing so, South Park has managed to be remarkably topical, even able to do an episode about Obama becoming the President of the United States 1 day after he was elected, including excerpts from his election night speech. Now South Park is experimenting again, this time with seasonally serialized elements, such as the Lorde references as Randy’s secret job. South Park has been consistently relevant for 18 seasons, and shows no signs of stopping.
Okay, Okay, calm down, put away the torches and pitchforks, this is just my own personal top 10. If you agree or disagree you can tell us in the comments and continue the discussion. Stay tuned to TVEnthusiast for more coverage of all of your favorite shows, animated or not.