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"The Looney Tunes Show": Who Is Responsible for This Outrage?!

by on May 3, 2011

The Looney Tunes Show is an incredible disappointment, a veritable slap in the face to everyone who has watched, studied, and loved the original Looney Tunes. It left me wanting to stand up and demand to know who is responsible for this outrage (a la a certain duck). I feel like sending copies of the various Looney Tunes Golden Collections to the guilty parties and not letting them out until they understand what they did wrong.

But I wouldn’t want to be caught “not letting the show stand on its own merits”. So let’s pretend, for a while, that The Looney Tunes Show exists in a vacuum—that it has no relation to anything else. That works for me; I’d rather pretend the two aren’t related anyway. So how does it hold up then?

So, there’s a rabbit and a duck. They live together! The rabbit is a snarky straight man, the duck is a complete zany. The duck will do something dumb, and the rabbit will roll his (or her; this rabbit is purple, see, so it’s kind of hard to tell) eyes and make a one-liner. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the straight man/zany archetype; it might be the most tried and true formula in the history of comedy. But something seems off about these two. The rabbit is sarcastic and the duck is silly, but that’s it. There are literally no other facets to these characters’ personalities. They barely even seem to change moods.

Well, a show with flat characters is obviously at a disadvantage to a (hypothetical!) one with compelling characters, but it can still work if the dialogue or gags are clever. But there always seems to be a discrepancy, here, between what the jokes demand of the characters and what they are able to deliver. For instance, in the second of the two episodes I viewed, the straight-man (woman?) rabbit dresses up in drag. Why would it do that? It’s jarring—nothing about the show suggests that that would be something it would do. The overall effect is rather as if our mystery culprit had seen one of those hypothetical interesting characters I mentioned before doing this kind of thing, and had their character do exactly the same thing, but in the most superficial, dumbed-down way possible. Though obviously intended to be three-dimensional, the characters wind up painfully flat.

And the dialogue? Occasionally, there is a funny line. But an unfortunate amount of dialogue is wasted on maneuvering awful faux-sitcom “plots”, which means many of the jokes depend on the situation itself to be funny, and it rarely is, unless you are unduly entertained by the mere existence of a purple rabbit. It’s all the same standard sitcom plotsthat we’ve seen a hundred times before. You then have a few genuine gags, but when you consider that a majority of them simply don’t work because of the aforementioned discrepancies between joke and character or just because the gag isn’t funny, you get maybe, oh, one chuckle per episode.

You’d hope some humor could at least be squeezed out of the visuals or voice work, but nope! Both are tragically over-simplified. The character designs don’t look bad while stationary, but they are stilted and boring when in motion. Once again I get the feeling that something better—by which I mean designs suited for a different, more fluid style of animation—have been roughly and superficially copied. Because of this even the worst of the current flat/thickly outlined wave of character designs—even Total Drama Island or 6Teen—looks better than this show, because those characters were designed with that style in mind. (Also, the rabbits in those shows were the appropriate colors, instead of purple.) Although the characters move unconvincingly, it’s the faces that come off the worst: what I assume would have been extremely functional, expressive faces are now incapable of looking anything other than broad or vague. The backgrounds can be sort of pretty, but they’re often sparse, though the interior of the duck and rabbit’s house is so lovingly detailed that the characters themselves seem out of resonance with their surroundings.

The voices are monotonous. The duck’s is better than the rabbit’s possibly because the duck, as the zany, gets the “better” lines, but both characters have trouble actually emoting, despite the fact that the VA they share, Jeff Bergman, has voiced similar characters in the past. Yet again, the sense of superficially copying something originally much more multi-faceted is quite strong. And decades after the introduction of Speedy Gonzales, when we are supposed to have made strides in fighting racial stereotyping, Fred Armisen manages to turn in a more offensive fake Mexican accent than anything Mel Blanc did in the 50s.

Oh, hey, I broke my own rule.

Well, as long as it’s broken, there are some other Looney Tunes characters involved in the main plots too. Lola Bunny has been reimagined as a ditzy stalker, which I actually prefer to her original characterization. The performance by Kristen Wiig is momentarily jarring (a character that’s not voiced by someone poorly imitating better actors!?) but is ultimately the best in the first two episodes. Inexplicably, the Goofy Gophers have a major role in the first episode. They too have been simplified, with more of a focus on their daintiness and less on their Chip N’ Dale-esque antics, but they are funny by being both absurd and almost creepily good-natured, and provide the first episode’s sole chuckle. But Pepe Le Pew, who shows up for a laughably small cameo in the third act of the second episode as a wedding planner (shouldn’t the gophers have gotten that role?), is completely misunderstood as a concept and misused as a character. He has almost nothing of his Looney Tunes persona, which is a pretty major problem when the only reason he’s there is to tickle the fans with a cameo.

In case you haven’t got it yet, this is worse than anything the Looney Tunes cast has gone through before. Baby Looney Tunes and Loonatics Unleashed were not good shows, but they were at least their own and didn’t constantly try but fail to borrow from their source material, resulting in a completely mis-matched show.

Need one final shred of evidence? Listen to the theme song, a horrifying modern version of “Merry Go Round Broke Down”. It represents most of what is wrong with the show by sloppily bring the past into the present with catastrophic results.

Oh wait, speaking of music, I’m not done! There are vignettes that separate the main portions of the show that simply cannot go uncommented on. The first are called Merrie Melodies but, instead of being stories in their own right, they simply feature characters singing a song. In the first one Elmer Fudd apparently sings about having sex with a sandwich (the expressions here are the most interesting throughout the two episodes, for all the wrong reasons) and in the second one we get to see up Marvin the Martian’s skirt. The second episode also contains a CGI Roadrunner cartoon. Unfortunately, the CGI isn’t featureless and smooth enough to resemble cheap claymation (which is pretty) but just smooth enough to look like cheap CGI (which is ugly). The cartoon is centered around a gag that would have lasted a few seconds in an older cartoon and should have lasted a few seconds here.

There are talented people behind this show. I have no idea what they are thinking. The thought of more of these—a whole season’s worth!—fills me with a bilious fascination.

And oh, one more thing:


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