"Squirrel Boy": TV to Hibernate to
One might question the creativity of the mastermind of a show called Duckman, but since many iconic and complex characters such Batman, Spider-man, and Hamlet-man share the same nomenclature I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. However, when that person’s next magnum opus turns out to be Squirrel Boy, well, one begins to wonder… What color spandex would Hamlet-man wear, and does the ghost get all the funny lines?
In all fairness, Everett Peck’s Duckman was an entertaining show, although I don’t know whether that was primarily due to Peck or the formidable vocal talent of one George Costanza (Jason Alexander). Either way, whatever made that show special didn’t carry over to Squirrel Boy, which is as bland and derivative as the name would suggest. Peck and story editor Chris Painter (Jimmy Neutron) state that they patterned the “humor” after Looney Tunes, but the effect is more like a watered down and unamusing Spongebob.
Squirrel Boy chronicles the misadventures of the meek and gullible suburban kid Andy (Pamela Adlon – King of the Hill) and his best friend/pet the zany, wisecracking squirrel Rodney (Richard Horvitz – Invader Zim). Typically, the latter gets the former into some sort of mild pickle, from which they must extricate themselves without Andy’s supportive but concerned father Mr. J (Kurtwood Smith – That 70s Show) finding out.
The premiere episode begins with “A Line in the Sandwich,” in which Andy and Rodney set up a sandwich stand to earn money for the hottest new toy. So much for dissuading kids from conspicuous consumption. The duo has a falling out when Rodney mysteriously insists that it is his goofy Napoleonesque hat and not Andy’s sensational secret sauce that is responsible for their explosive sales. Clearly they’re going for some off the wall humor here, but since Rodney is established as being fairly clever it makes no sense. It’s the kind of idiot thing Spongebob’s halfwit friend Patrick would do.
Next Andy’s toy rocket gets stuck in the top of an unearthly tall tree known as the “Widowmaker” and it’s up to Rodney to get it down in “Tree for Two.” Meanwhile Mr. J is dismayed that Andy, preoccupied with helping Rodney, reluctantly declines his invitations to hang out. The interaction between Andy and his father is almost touching in its representation of the difficulty today’s ever-busy parents and children have spending quality time together. Or maybe I’m just going soft.
The episode concludes with the first credits epilogue I’ve ever seen in an animated show, so kudos for that. However much like Friends and other sitcoms it’s a very halfhearted gag.
Although well voiced, none of the characters is terribly interesting. Andy is a typical sidekick in the mold of Jimmy Neutron‘s Carl, and Rodney is completely derivative: part Spongebob, part Bugs Bunny, part Duckman, and not particularly enthusiastic about any of them.
Mr. J surprisingly turns out to be the most intriguing character. A loving father, he’s behind his son in every way, except that he doesn’t think much of his best friend being a squirrel. As Mr. J is loathe to upset his son he merely voices mild displeasure in front of him, but in private he freely gives Rodney a piece of his mind. Perhaps the series is intended as a parable about unconventional relationships.
For this show to really go anywhere I think they’re going to have to take Rodney’s gloves off. Make him a full-blown manic nutcase à la Spongebob or Bugs or a cynical jerk like Duckman.
Frankly the only thing that even made me smile was the black and white 40s style newsreel that cautions tourists about the Widowmaker. It shows an impossibly happy squirrel make an attempt to climb the tree only to end up crippled and in intensive care, where he strains to grin and give a bandaged thumbs up.
Lest the reader think I’ve nothing nice to say I did really enjoy the animation. The character design is vaguely Duckmanesque, but the animation is much smoother, crisper, and more colorful. It’s very attractive and a clear cut above the average for recent comedic fare.
I can’t say the same for the lifeless and forgettable theme “song” which is merely the repetition of “Rodney” in various voices while someone lazily plinks here and there on a keyboard. It sound like something I’d come up with if they were foolish enough to hire my total lack of musical ability.
One of Squirrel Boy‘s writers previously worked on Arthur, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the show were taking cues from that series. Bright and colorful with pleasant characters and good morals, it should appeal strongly to kindergartners. The total lack of humor will keep anyone older away though. I’d even rather watch Coconut Fred, and I can’t do that without Tylenol. If you’re going to steal from Spongebob, you might as well be criminally blatant about it. Why stop at just the initials?