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"Planet Sheen": In Space, Everyone Can Hear You Scream

by on October 1, 2010

Planet Sheen starts off smartly and efficiently (if predictably) with a simple gag. The title character breaks into his buddy’s lab, ignores all the pointed warnings to not look under sheets, to not get into rockets, and most definitely to not push any launch buttons, and gets shot off into space. Perhaps unintentionally, the gag suggest that the unseen Jimmy Neutron—who knows his friend well—is actually trying to get rid of the irksome pest. Viewers may sympathize.

This new Jimmy Neutron spin-off comes from Nickelodeon Productions and Omation, but its first few episodes, at least, tread heavily and lamely in the DreamWorks tradition of moldy jokes, broad mugging, and unlikable characters. Its intended audiences may not care—DreamWorks makes money, after all—but Sheen also isn’t a marquee property, and there isn’t much to Planet Sheen to suggests it will become one.

The series’ first, extended episode drops Sheen, who played a cheerful, gangly, but dizzingly stupid sidekick to Jimmy Neutron, onto an alien planet. There, he gets a joyful welcome from the shrimpy but good-natured emperor, who treats his every nonsensical utterance as a brilliant insight. But he gets a rather more hostile reception from the grand vizier, Dorkus, who in the premiere and follow up episodes plots to get rid of him, preferably through lethal means. (I am regularly amazed at the casual way kid comedy cartoons will invoke death as a plot point.) There are of course the wacky supporting characters, such as Dorkus’ one-eyed flying henchman; the emperor’s daughter (who literally has two faces); and Nesmith, a hyper-intelligent monkey who is trying to work with Sheen to repair his spaceship. These pop in and pop out as the plot requires from moment to moment.

As a comedy show there isn’t much to say about it, or in favor of it. Sheen himself is adenoidal and grating, so that you want to slap him for his stupidity rather than laugh at it. Dorkus is the dankly unpleasant victim of insults and explosions. The emperor and the princess are just mad, capricious things without dimension, shape, character or motivation, and only exist to say things that are convenient or faux-funny. People say things and then they say other things, and nothing connects or builds on anything else.

I will say that Planet Sheen offers occasional fun with its alien creatures and settings. Some are comical: I liked one creature that described its father’s job routine, which combined the excitement of fighting off monsters with the drudgery of data entry. Character designers have also done a very good job at coming up with lots of distinctive creatures for this planet: unlike Planet 51 or Space Chimps, it doesn’t just offer variations on a single design. Too often, though, the joke is just in their appearance, like the alien with multiple butts. The animation is also solid, even though not much is done with it.

At best, Planet Sheen is just formula: formula characters, formula setting, formula gags. This isn’t enough to make it bad, per se, but it’s not enough to make it worth seeking out.

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