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"CatDog: Season One Part One": An Odd Creature

I enjoyed watching CatDog. It’s a fun show that does a lot with a premise that sounds like the kind of wacky-animal-sitcom someone making fun of TV cartoons would come up with. At the same time, I’m just not sure who I should recommend it to. It’s competently made, but there’s nothing really special about it, no artistic vision or drive behind it. It feels more like a combination of TV animation clichés from the 90s than a great show setting its own standard: a sort of Stimpy/Rocko/Rugrats hybrid that brings nothing new to the table. Maybe it gets better later on, but as far as the ten episodes on this set goes, there’s not much that stands out.

Everything just seems to be going at 70%. Take the visuals, for instance. CatDog itself is a marvelous cartoon creation. The two are able to function more or less normally through a variety of quick and clever gags–they stretch, they hand-stand, they drag, they contort–and they do all this while maintaining distinct personalities on each side of the body, with Dog being hyper-active and bouncy while Cat is more suave and delicate. Occasionally they are written into situations where their body is forced into positions it can’t logically handle even with this repartee, but these (cheerfully waved aside) moments just function as the exceptions that prove the rule, and the end result is that the figure has a sort of cartoonish consistency and can be very fun to watch. Finally, while there are a few predictable jokes–a few “tying-themselves-into-a-knot” and “running-off-in-different-directions” scenes–the show is usually happier to get delightfully weird. In “CatDogPig” the two strap an increasingly ridiculous number of animals onto themselves; in “Flea or Die” Cat has a nightmare in which Dog’s place is taken by a humongous flea; in “Pumped” Dog becomes a huge, muscle-bound figure and Cat juts out of him like a pimple. And those are just some of the ones that can be adequately described in print; others, like Dog’s ride on an underground rollercoaster with Cat hanging off the side in “Party Animal,” have to be seen to be believed. There just seems to be no end to the truly funny ways the show is willing to play with its protagonists unusual figure.

However, nowhere else does the show display that level of thought. The supporting cast has pretty bland designs (which look even blander next to CatDog) and there’s nowhere near the kind of animated acting that the two main characters are given, either. The backgrounds sometimes remind me a bit of the deliberately out-of-proportion settings in Rugrats, but they’re not as well put together and, anyway, this series isn’t being viewed from the POV of an infant. Furthermore, while the show’s individual gags–especially pertaining to CatDog’s body–can be very funny, the writing as far as the actual plots go is really weak. Of the ten episodes on this set there’s only one–”The Island”–that’s clever at a conceptual level. The other nine all start with really trite sitcom plots and expect the animation and jokes and the whole “being enacted by a weird cartoon animal” aspect to make up for it. This might not be that big a problem if the show’s execution was more anarchic, but the descent into pure cartoon lunacy never gets that far. The result is a group of cartoons with some moments of clever business but no real staying power.

The same goes for the voice-acting. There’s a lot of amazing talent on this show. Jim Cummings voices Cat, and Tom Kenny voices Dog and one other supporting character. Carlos Alazraqui voices two characters, and Billy West gets three (though only two of them appear on this set). It’s a great cast and they all do very well, but it’s not any of their best performances. Kenny and Cummings don’t really click the way you’d hope–the performances are fine, but the chemistry is lacking. Alazraqui gives Winslow, CatDog’s befuddling neighbor/friend/enemy/back-up character, a thick accent and harsh laugh that’s memorable, but not really multi-faceted–he always seems to be in the same mood. And West’s characters don’t get nearly enough lines.

I think the real problem here is one of competition. This CatDog set may intrigue those who remember watching it as a kid, or those who are collecting the Nicktoons DVD sets. But to someone just looking for a good cartoon, there are too many other shows that do this same kind of shtick better for me to recommend it.

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