Saturday, February 28, 2009

Home Movies

Ten years ago, I wasn't sure what to make of Home Movies. As I recall, the show was on UPN on Saturday mornings, and the big selling point was Squigglevision. Squigglevision was a computer-generated animation technique where the lines around all the characters perpetually squiggled and squirmed. The result was three or four of the ugliest shows ever broadcast.

Beyond the awful look of the show, it was very confusing as a Saturday morning cartoon. Aside from the outlines, there was little movement in the show; just characters standing around and talking, and the subjects of their conversations weren't the types of things you'd get out of Bugs Bunny or the Ninja Turtles. The first episode, for example, is about a recently divorced mom going on a date with her eight-year-old son's soccer coach. The fact that the characters casually swore once in a while made it clear that this show probably wasn't in the right time slot. Not surprisingly, the show went off the air after six episodes.

I was ten at the time and, like I said, I didn't get it. I doubt I stuck with the show for more than an episode or two. Then, last summer, during a bit of late-night channel surfing, there it was. The Squigglevision was gone, but I knew the show immediately. I watched the rest of the episode and I was hooked.

Apparently, Cartoon Network picked up the show a little after the end of its network TV run, trading in the weird squiggles for three more seasons. The animation's still terrible, but the show, I've discovered, is great either way.

The basics: Brendon Small is an eight-year-old who likes to make movies after school with his friends Jason and Melissa. He lives with his mom, Paula, and adopted sister, Josie. His soccer coach, John McGuirk, serves as a sort of surly mentor. Other kids from the school show up on occasion: bratty Fenton, polite bully Shannon, hyper-affectionate Walter and Perry, and guitarist Dwayne.

As mentioned, the show is light on action and heavy on dialogue, so it's a good thing that the dialogue is fantastic. As far as I can tell, each episode has a few general scene set-ups, but most of the speech is improvised. It gives the show a very unusual rhythm and tone, another contributor to the poor success of Home Movies as a Saturday morning cartoon, but it has an interesting energy that few other shows, if any, match.

And the characters... the acting... they're fantastic. Most of the kids are eight, but they're all voiced by adults. The result is pretty much the type of kids you find on TV - mostly adult, but childlike when convenient. Check out a few minutes into the "Brendon Gets Rabies" episode, when Melissa holds the puppy. It has to be one of the most finely observed eight-year-old impressions I've ever heard. There may be some indecision over whether to make the characters kids or adults, but the characters mostly work for the show. Jason is one of the best "weird friends" on any show - I think everybody knew this guy in elementary school.

The adults are all just as good. John McGuirk is one of televisions great oafs. I don't think it's any stretch to say that Paula Small is the most honest, believable mom in television history.

Anyway, that's enough rambling from me. This is a terrific show and you should watch it, and thanks to the loose ethics of the Internet, you can! That's right, every episode - all four seasons - can easily be found on YouTube. Give it a try (and here's an episode list if you'd like to go in order, which you should, though it's easy enough to catch up if you jump into the middle).

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