Review: "Breadwinners" Doesn't Deliver Outside Its Demographic Zone
It is difficult for me to describe Breadwinners and exactly what it means to me. Originally intended as as a one-off to entertain fellow animators, the creators, Gary Di Raffele and Steve Borst, were surprisingly contacted by Nickelodeon after they posted their short to YouTube. It is also relevant to mention that Di Raffele and Borst pitched Breadwinners to the 2012 Nickelodeon Animated Shorts Program, but the show wasn’t originally picked up for pilot development.
Di Raffele’s and Borst’s brainchild has a lot of expectations. Nickelodeon needs a breadwinner, pardon the pun. The network has been struggling on and off since a stunning ratings freefall in 2012 that allowed Disney Channel to surpass Nickelodeon and allow Cartoon Network, the perennial third place, to beat Nick on some nights. Nickelodeon is changing their approach to try to catch the attention of millennial kids, but if Breadwinners is an indicator of the new direction, it is difficult to see how this will succeed in the dramatic fashion Nickelodeon wants.
My biggest problem with Breadwinners was that it was completely, utterly devoid of anything I found even the slightest bit amusing. It is not even a pale shadow of Regular Show, which it so desperately wants to be. The four 11-minute stories presented in the two screened episodes, “Thug Life”, “Mine All Mine”, “Frog Day Afternoon”, and “Stank Breath”, are clearly meant for a demographic much, much younger than the 26-year-old I am. Apparently the test audience of extremely young boys loved this show, but for someone like me, who’s old enough to be the father of a child in said target audience, both episodes were a chore to sit through. Breadwinners has all of the surrealism of Adventure Time and Regular Show, plus the mixture of live-action stills with animated characters offered in The Amazing Adventures of Gumball. At the same time, there’s none of the appeal for an older demographic that the former two shows have, or the sense of fun that Gumball provides. It’s too gross, and too calculated in its gross-ness, for me to find much appeal in the show.
Our protagonists are SwaySway (Robbie Daymond) and Buhdeuce (Eric Bauza), whose schtick is SpongeBob SquarePants on the road. Their lives center around their delivery truck, which delivers bread to anyone who orders it; like SpongeBob, misadventures happen left and right, whether it has anything to do with a delivery or not. SwaySway is loud and enthusiastic resembling a slightly smarter SpongeBob, while Buhdeuce is a more competent Patrick and the little kid stand-in, complete with the gross tendencies you would expect from one. It was hard for me to see the appeal of these characters, beyond the fact that they’re more idealistic than usual for this type of humor.
Toilet humor is my least favorite kind of humor, so I found the prevalence of it in Breadwinners, especially in “Stank Breath,” to be eye-roll-inducing. The show is obsessed with butts. Without any hesitation or regrets, the show will go out of its way to showcase a butt, be it of SwaySway or Buhdeuce (especially Buhdeuce), or a three-butt “Mama Monster” in “Frog Day Afternoon,” among myriad examples. The constant shoving of butts in my face (exposed butts at that) of deformed ducks and monsters was a distraction at best and a show derailment at worst.
The animation has improved from the original pilot, running as smoothly as a typical Spongebob episode, and integrates the live-action stills with as much skill as Gumball does. My biggest praise must go to Tommy Sica’s soundtrack. The music drives the show, utilizing everything from traditional orchestration to dubstep, to control the show’s pacing. It is noticeable, and more importantly integral, in a way seen in few Western animated productions. However, the obnoxious opening and closing theme songs (which will likely be omitted from the TV broadcast anyway) belong in the dank sewer system seen in “Stank Breath.”
The voiceovers are stellar. Daymond and Bauza are perfect for their characters — perhaps too perfect. DiRaffele and Borst did the voice directing themselves, and they do a good job by my account. If any fault is to be found in the performances (which soon begins including such talent as Fred Tatasciore, Vanessa Marshall, and Cree Summer), it is to be blamed solely on the writing, which eschews subtlety no matter what the cost.
At the same time, despite all of my misgivings and criticisms, I am not the target demographic, and that blunts a lot of my viewpoint. Boys 6-11 are the target. Breadwinners panders to them, and lovingly encourages and supports the short attention spans many boys have. I have no doubt on my mind that boys in the 6-11 age range will enjoy this unless their sense of humor has already become too sophisticated for what Breadwinners has to offer. Parents, however, will probably feel uncomfortable watching this show with their children as there is precious little available for them here, and the type of humor Breadwinners embraces will likely not make many parents happy.
In its pandering gross-out humor aimed at 6-11 year old boys, Breadwinners is eschewing any chance it has to obtain a larger audience or to attract boys who aren’t necessarily thrilled by toilet and gross-out humor. I believe this will turn out to be a minor hit, but it won’t be the SpongeBob SquarePants-esque “breadwinner” that Nickelodeon wants and needs. It should be able to attract enough of the audience it wants to give Spongebob a decently-performing supporting act for three or four years.
Not recommended for anyone outside of the 6-11 boy demographic. If you have a child who fits the profile, they will probably enjoy it, but I would make sure that this is something you’re comfortable in letting them watch first.
Breadwinners premieres on Nickelodeon on Monday, February 17, 2014, at 7:30 PM (ET/PT). Visit the Breadwinners web site for clips and more information.