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Review: “Sanjay and Craig” (UK) – Comedy with Crossover Appeal

by on November 20, 2013

Sanjay and Craig UKThere’s a lot of crossover with older viewers for action animation but often less so with comedy cartoons. Maybe Nick’s new show Sanjay and Craig can change that.

As the quick and catchy opening song explains, the series focuses on an Indian-American boy named Sanjay who finds a talking snake named Craig in the local pet store. Craig’s ability to talk is paired with the uncanny ability to pass himself off as any number of human aliases, which he uses to help himself and Sanjay through various wild adventures. That basic premise has been explored by various other cartoons and kids shows in the past but there’s something fresh about this take.

For one the pair are a true double act. Usually ‘magical secret friend’ kids shows have said secret friend as an inconsiderate typhoon who gets their human friend in trouble by selfish ignorance. Although certain situations are initially caused by Craig not looking before he leaps, this really isn’t the focus. Instead, the two are near-completely on the same wavelength when it comes to seeking out fun. That said, the pair aren’t quite guilty of the frequent complaint against modern cartoon leads of being moronic, which I think leads to the aforementioned lack of older viewer interest. The show is quite rightly aimed at kids but the scripts show enough care and understanding of comedy to hold appeal to an older viewer like myself.

This understanding of good comedy was expressed in each of the episodes we received. The opener, ‘Brett Venom, MD’, focuses on Sanjay and Craig sneaking into the local hospital to witness the historic first ever butt transplant. You might have read that and decided here and now this show isn’t for you but the way the episode plays out is actually fairly amusing. There’s moments of immaturity (hee hee hee, BUTT transplant!) but not as many as you might expect.

Part of the success may lie in the fact creators Jay Howell, Jim Dirschberger and Andreas Trolf themselves grew up watching many of the shows 20-somethings will remember from the Nickelodeon of the 1990s such as The Adventures of Pete & Pete and Ren & Stimpy. In turn Pete & Pete alumni Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi count amongst the series’ writers. One staff member whose creativity I definitely felt was supervising producer Thurop Van Orman, who many will remember as the creator of Cartoon Network’s The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. Van Orman’s influence seems to have brought in some of the wonderful creative flair seen in that show, including announcing new plot developments with an ethereal chorus and bizarrely humorous visuals/sight gags that no one could predict. All in all there’s a very strong and experienced team here working to create a great kids cartoon without trapping themselves in such a narrow guideline.

Sanjay and Craig UKOther episodes introduce further characters, such as ‘Laugh Quake’ in which Sanjay and Craig discover they both have horrible laughs and try to find a way to remedy this, and ‘Maximum Dennis’ where the pair assume a hybrid identity to defend their honour at the local arcade. Frequent antagonist Mr Noodman is an amusingly surreal foil for the pair, a grouchy snake-hating single neighbour who is obsessed with his ‘bloobies’ (blueberry crop) and seems to be the way he is due to childhood trauma in the vein of Denzel Crocker and Dr Doofenshmirtz. Sanjay’s parents (an Asian father and Caucasian mother) allow some jokes aimed more directly at parents watching the show. Older girl Belle Pepper is Sanjay’s unrequited crush (a situation any boy or girl faces at least once) and Remington Tufflips is an amusing send up of seen-better-days 80s icons like Mr. T and Jean Claude Van Damme who somehow retain their place as icons of manliness. There’s also a few bonkers recurring minor characters who are too amusing for me to spoil here.

Howell’s art design for the show is simplistic but effective. There’s a lot of criticism of art direction in current cartoons, with many complaining of lack of effort or detail. It’s a complaint I don’t fully disagree with, but at the same time I think the complainers are selling short the creative composition of shows like this. All the episodes of Sanjay and Craig that I watched kept my focus on the screen with some amusing visuals and storyboarding. Plus didn’t ‘real’ art have this mistaken argument already when the impressionists emerged? Let’s learn from that, people!

Sanjay and Craig is off to a good start. In a time where some kids cartoons have locked into an autopilot of obnoxious repetition, this one is trying to be surreal and legitimately creative/amusing. Kids will rightfully enjoy its amusing stories and loveable characters but older viewers or parents shouldn’t be afraid to give it a watch too. It’s sure to be in the Best Cartoons Hall of Fame.

There is no Best Cartoons Hall of Fame.

I made it up.

Sanjay and Craig airs daily on Nicktoons UK (Sky channel 606, Virgin Media channel 717)

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