Millennials grew up in an interesting era for cartoons. Many of us remember the “What a Cartoon!” show and “Nicktoons,” which produced the most iconic cartoons of the 90’s and early 2000s. With shows like “Rugrats,” “The Ren and Stimpy Show,” “Spongebob Squarepants,” “Dexter’s Laboratory,” “Courage the Cowardly Dog” and “Ed, Edd n Eddy,” it was considered a golden age for TV animation.
But like many good things in life, nothing lasts forever. Around 2008 the quality of cartoons began to deteriorate. They weren’t as funny or original as they once were, and whether it was due to executives cancelling a series in favor of a new series or because cartoons were beginning to be created for a kids-only audience, the quality of cartoons took a nosedive.
My personal favorite, Cartoon Network, was notorious for needlessly cancelling series, like “Teen Titans” and “Megas XLR,” which were two of the best action cartoons made in recent history.
These cancellations and CN’s failure to produce original and funny replacements for them and other shows that were ending, like “Codename: Kids Next Door” and “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” led to a decrease in quality, and dedicated fans of CN began to move on and give way to awful shows like “Johnny Test” and “Almost Naked Animals,” which make me cringe just to think about.
Thankfully, cartoons have gone through a renaissance in the past few years with Disney, Cartoon Network, and (more recently) Nickelodeon producing series that capture the hearts of not only kids, but adults alike.
The iconic “Adventure Time,” the inadvertent stoner comedy “Regular Show,” the beautifully animated and original “Gravity Falls” and the quirky and adorable “Harvey Beaks” are a few examples of the wave of cartoons that appeal to kids but are also widely enjoyed by older audiences, myself included.
But another trend is the success of adult-oriented cartoons that pander to older demographics. Perhaps the age of CN’s late-night lineup Adult Swim spearheaded a newfound interest in raunchy cartoons has come about.
This has been a huge benefit for the highly acclaimed and utterly hilarious show “Archer,” whose creator Adam Reed got his start on early Adult Swim shows like “Sealab 2021,” which is the spiritual predecessor of “Archer,” and “12 oz. Mouse,” one of Adult Swim’s earliest productions.
But it’s not just “Archer” that sparked the renaissance of adult animation. If anything it was the instantly classic sci-fi cartoon “Rick and Morty,” the creation of Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, that brought about a newfound interest in making shows that appeal to adults who grew up with 90’s cartoons.
The success of “Rick and Morty,” which has often been called the best show on TV, has inspired not only hope in older audiences for better cartoons, it has also peaked an interest in mainstream media who have created shows in the wake of the show’s success, trying to get a slice of the cake.
Unfortunately this has led to half-baked productions seemingly created to pander to fans of “Rick and Morty” and “Archer.” “Bordertown,” “Moonbeam City,” and “Pacific Heat” are a few examples of networks trying to appeal to older audiences to boost ratings and viewership.
All these shows failed miserably and only lasted one season, proving that a good animated series can’t be treated like a sitcom — that is, the same tried (trite) and true character tropes placed in new packaging.
Animation is a medium that needs to be original in order for a show to be successful. It’s a genre that has endless potential. Anything can be done with animation, with its only limits being what the creator can imagine.
Animation is the embodiment of imagination, which means that the most original ideas produced with the most passion succeed. This in turn means that a ripoff is more obvious, because its resemblance to the show it’s copying is more noticeable.
Animation is a medium that has more potential that it is given credit for. It’s not just a medium for kids; it’s a medium that can produce the most original ideas and affordably take viewers to places which would be impossible or extremely expensive in live action. Don’t believe me? Check out “Rick and Morty” and see for yourself. You won’t regret it.
Fin Martinez is the culture editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @FinMartinez.