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"Wild Grinders": Amateur Hour

I’ve just finished watching Wild Grinders, the new Nicktoons series about skateboarders, and I now hereby withdraw all the mean things I ever said about Disney’s Kick Buttowski. There is nothing like awful amateurishness to make one appreciate dull professionalism.

Image Wild Grinders comes from pro skateboarder Rob Dyrdek, who executive produces and provides the voice of his juvenile alter-ego, “Lil Rob,” and it’s about the adventures of Lil Rob, his talking bulldog, and his skateboarding friends. If that description sounds impoverished, at least it entirely captures the poverty of this show.

Each episode consists of two shorts (though they are not nearly short enough) whose only purpose, as near as I can tell, is to glorify the title characters. Take, for instance, “Going Hollyweird.” In that one, Lil Rob’s videophile friend captures his antics on camera and puts them online, whereupon they instantly garner so many hits they “break the internet.” Based on that, Track Hucksterball (a sleazy recurring character) signs Lil Rob to star in a movie. After some weird but very perfunctory comedic drama (Lil Rob’s friend gets hired as director, but lets it go to his head after leaked movie footage is praised as the work of a great cinematic genius), it ends with the crew strutting to their red carpet premiere–and, per contractual agreement, literally stepping on the back of their producer, who humiliatingly splays himself face down on the red carpet so they can walk all over him.

The other three shorts given out for advance review are more or less the same. Some vaguely satirical storyline is cooked up that will give Lil Rob an excuse to grind through impossible environments; everyone will praise him as just the coolest and most amazing person around; there will be a dog-fart or dog-drool joke; people will flash hand gestures and use urban slang non-ironically; and anyone who got, however briefly, in Lil Rob’s way will be crushed and humiliated.

All this gloating self-regard would be insufferable if the show weren’t so badly executed. Lil Rob’s preening is entirely undone by his bland personality; he not only lacks charisma, he actually exudes anti-charisma. His crew may all look like miniature gangbangers and street ninjas, but their dialogue is so flaccid and lazy that you can only giggle at how lame they come off. The designs are chunky and ugly and their movements have no energy. The action set pieces–which are the show’s reason for being, but the budget is so small there are only one or two per story–are so bland that they’re hardly more exciting than the scenes of characters talking.

Image And yet, somehow, it’s not a malicious show, and there are spots where you recognize its makers and backers are doing nothing worse than sharing their passion for the many things they love. Fans of Chuck Jones, for instance, may face palm when Lil Rob and his arch-enemy re-enact some Roadrunner-Coyote gags, but you can tell they’re not mocking or exploiting the originals. It seems pretty clear they love those cartoons, and delighted at the chance to try their hand at making one of their own. (That won’t stop you from cringing at them, though because like everything else in Wild Grinders, they are entirely inept.)

And this, unfortunately, is the best I can say about Wild Grinders: It is a guileless show, and an innocent one. Innocent, that is, of anything except feebleness and amateurishness. When it raises its characters up and fetes them like the Sun King, it feels like fan fiction, like an unironical exercise in Mary Sue-dom.

I have watched some bad series in my time, and I have watched series that I absolutely loathed. But Wild Grinders was a new experience for me. It’s the first time I’ve felt acute embarrassment on behalf of everyone and anyone connected with a TV series. It’s like watching the Star Wars Kid or some other bit of self-revealed idiocy on YouTube. The people who made this show clearly think they are very cool and very funny. And maybe they are very cool and very funny in real life. But their translation to TV (and to animation in particular) is so bungled in execution that it leaves them looking and sounding like the silliest kind of posers.

Wild Grinders premieres on Friday, April 27, at 7:00pm on Nicktoons.

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