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TeeVee Awards '04: Best Animated Show/Most Unjust Cancellation

Gather ‘round, children — you’re about to witness history. Because this might be the first time in the annals of recorded time that someone bemoans the end of a show that got its start on UPN. Well, someone without Vulcan ears stapled to their head, at any rate.

OK, to be fair, it’s been a good, long while since Home Movies aired on broadcast television’s most inept network — 1999 to be exact. In the ensuing five years, the show was discarded by UPN, sat on the shelf for a year and a half, got picked by the Cartoon Network, ran for four seasons and 52 episodes, and picked up a not-nearly-as-coveted-as-we’d-like-to-think TeeVee Award for Best Animated Show. Oh, and earlier this year, the Cartoon Network opted not to pick up Home Movies for another season, meaning we’ve seen the last original episode of this sharp, inventive series. And that makes us more than a little sad.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before we tell you why we think Home Movies had more stories to tell, we should probably talk a little bit about how well it told those stories in the first place. Because that’s the reason, Home Movie is taking home another Best Animated Show award.

There’s the dialogue, of course. Even in its UPN days, Home Movies has had a natural, unforced feel to it. The words coming out of the character’s mouths didn’t sound as if they had been polished by a gaggle of writers until every last bit of spontaneity had been buffed out. And that gave the characters on the show the richness and depth of real people — an especially impressive trick in that these aren’t really people at al,l but Flash-generated squiggles on someone’s computer screen. Even better, the show’s vocal talents — series co-creator Brendon Small, H. Jon Benjamin, Melissa Bardin Galsky, Janine Ditullio, and a cadre of supporting players — clearly get a better grasp on the characters they were voicing with each passing episode. By this season, you got the sense that the actors completely inhabited their Home Movies counterparts — something you rarely see even for flesh-and-blood characters.

Home Movies always delivered laughs; this year, it provided something a little more difficult for episodic television to pull off — season-long thematic continuity. From the get-go, one of the central elements to the show has been the on-the-cheap movies Brendon and his pals make in the basement of his home. The movies, whether rock operas based on Franz Kafka or sci-fi spectaculars in which spacemen battle arch-villain George Washington, have always come fairly easily to the grade-school-aged characters. But this season, making the movies became increasingly difficult. Unreceptive audiences, discouraging feedback, a dearth of good ideas—all of that conspired against Brendon and his cohorts. It’s a theme that should resonate with anyone who’s ever woken up to the sudden realization that they are not touched with a unique brand of genius — i.e., pretty much everyone in the room right now, unless we have a few Nobel laureates on our mailing list that we don’t know about. Only Home Movies managed to make this recurring theme funny instead of just one more excuse for us to sob openly into our bourbon.

The last episode of the season — of the entire series, as it turns out — featured Brendon and his two collaborators, Jason and Melissa, concluding that their movies should never be watched by anyone, anywhere. And Home Movies came to an end with Brendon accidentally dropping his video camera and breaking it. It’s not exactly Prospero snapping his wand in two, but it’s still much headier stuff than you see on Teen Titans or Yu-Gi-Oh.

OK, so at least Home Movies ended on a high note and with a degree of closure not normally afforded TV shows. But that didn’t mean it needed to end. If anything, the show was as solid as ever, with the show’s creators finding new directions in which to take stories. For that reason, Home Movies is a double winner this year, taking home the dubious distinction of Most Unjust Cancellation.  

Usually, competition for that piece of hardware is fast and fierce, with martyred shows lined up three deep to testify to the callow foolishness of TV executives. But 2004 wasn’t exactly a banner year for unjust cancellations. That’s not the ringing endorsement of this year’s TV offerings that it probably sounds like. Just as many TV shows got potted this year as in season’s past — only this time around, most of the programs deserved their permanent dirt nap.

You could maybe make a case that Wonderfalls got a raw deal, what with its unique premise, clever writing, and sassy heroine. Then again, you could also make the case that unique doesn’t excuse dull and meandering, that one man’s clever writing is another man’s pretentious twaddle, and that it’s hard to appreciate sass when you’re too busy looking for something to knock that sneer off the heroine’s face. Also, at some point, somebody other than the cast, the crew and the half-dozen so Tim Minear cultists still living outside captivity, needs to tune in to watch a show. It’s not like that’s some rule Fox invented on the fly just to make sure 63 people would have nothing to watch on Friday nights.

Angel, too, might have been called home before its time. Then again, the normally feckless WB did give the show enough time to get its affairs in order instead of treating it to the tried and true method for disposing of unwanted programming (snatching it away in the dead of night so that no one can hear its muffled screams). Besides, better to go away too soon than too late — isn’t that right, Buffy?

Finally, there was Karen Sisco, a fairly well-reviewed program treated to a half-hearted promotion and a problematic time slot before ABC yanked it off the airwaves for “retooling.” The show never made it back to the Mouse House, but if the few, supposedly improved Karen Sisco episodes that made it to basic cable are any indication, maybe an early cancellation that leaves our happy memories of the show’s pilot intact is all for the best.

Which leaves Home Movies and its untimely cancellation as the most galling departure of the year. Sure, we’re grateful Brendon Small and company had the foresight to end what turned out to be the final season without any loose ends or unresolved stories. But we just have the nagging sense that they still had more stories to tell. And the fact they won’t get a chance to do so deserves some recognition, even if it is a meaningless award and a sad shake of the head from us.

Ah well — we’ve still got the reruns, airing on the Cartoon Network in the dead of Monday mornings. And the upcoming DVD release. And the peculiar realization that at least one thing that got its start on UPN actually leaves us with pleasant memories.

Additional contributions to this article by: Philip Michaels.


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