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"The Replacements": Out With the Old, In With the Fleemco

by on September 8, 2006
 

All television shows, cartoons or otherwise, are eventually replaced. It is often sad to see the old shows go, but if that didn’t happen we would never obtain any new shows. Is The Replacements a worthy addition to the ever-changing cartoon landscape or is it destined to itself be replaced after only a short run?

The Replacements is executive produced by Jack Thomas, who most recently worked on The Fairly Oddparents and received a writing credit for over a third of the series’ episodes. It’s hard not to notice some basic similarities between the two shows, as the trouble of the day rears its head and the kids use their special plot device to turn the tables, often leading to unintended consequences. This shouldn’t be dwelled upon though. As long as cartoons have existed there have been shorts and series about kids finding ways to deal with life’s challenges. The basic plot structure is ultimately unimportant. The real issues are how well it is used, the dynamics of the characters involved and, most of all, whether it is funny.

Thankfully, what could have turned out to be a Fairly Oddparents clone establishes its own identity rather quickly, largely thanks to the differing character dynamics. Our leads are the brainiac, softball player, older sister Riley (Grey DeLisle, Danny Phantom) and the average, younger brother Todd (Nancy Cartwright, The Simpsons). During their orphanage days they came across an ad in the back of a comic book and, unlike the X-Ray Glasses and Secret Decoder Rings now lining the landfill of our younger days, the Fleemco Company actually came through. Riley and Todd not only received new parents, as promised in the ad, but also a device that allows them to contact Fleemco whenever they need a Replacement for an adult.

Fleemco isn’t some run of the mill temp agency though; they prefer their own unique version of personnel placement. Riley and Todd’s father is Dick Daring (Daran Norris, The Fairly Oddparents), a somewhat former stuntman who these days seems to have more in common with Super Dave Osborne than Evel Kneivel. Of the series’ supporting characters, he was the most used in the two episodes I received for review. He’s basically a big kid that never grew up, a man who will attach a rocket to anything (something my bathtub is definitely lacking). Thankfully, he just comes across as fairly silly as opposed to falling into the “dumb father” role that seems to appear in many other cartoons.

Also arriving as part of this mail order family is Riley and Todd’s mother (Kath Soucie, Gargoyles), Agent K (no relation to the Men in Black) a British super spy, and a talking car named C.A.R.T.E.R. (David McCallum, Team Knight Rider). These characters only appeared briefly in the two episodes I viewed, however I did find Agent K’s over the top spy lingo rather humorous. I haven’t seen enough of the car to really give an impression. Hopefully it won’t become a throw away character and instead the show will put it to good use.

Rounding out the cast are Riley and Todd’s classmates. While the press materials for the series indicate there may be more to some of them than meets the eye, not much can be said based on their short appearances in the first two episodes. Of note is Jeff Bennett’s (Gargoyles) performance as resident nerd Shelton which seems to be channeling Jerry Lewis. While I did find it amusing in these episodes, I could see it quickly wearing thin unless the character grows a few notes in future episodes. Finally, Mr. Conrad Fleem himself is supposed to factor into the series, although his role has yet to be seen.

The Replacements definitely has a lot of characters at its disposal, but how well does it use them? Viewers should be forewarned that the first half of the first episode, “CindeRiley” is made up of a fairly generic “I like this guy/girl, but I’m not one of the popular kids” plot. However, viewers should also know that this isn’t representative of the series and it doesn’t look like we are going to be stuck with a bunch of “I wish I was cool, part of the in social group, etc.” plots that other series have done to death. More importantly, despite the generic plot, there were still a number of funny bits, including some that perhaps only adults would catch.

The second half of the first episode, “Skate-Gate,” finds a better blend of plot and humors. It manages to be downright silly at times while also throwing jabs at the corruption in politics. Also notable in this short (and the other episodes viewed so far) is the lack of bathroom humor. While I certainly don’t mind the occasional fart joke, it is also refreshing to see a series that avoids relying on such humor. The punch lines may not be as pungent, but by being forced to create other gags the series better establishes itself creatively.

As with the first half of the first episode, there is a moral to be learned in “Skate-Gate,” but that’s OK as long as we aren’t beaten over the head with it. I had enough fun enjoying the antics of the characters that I didn’t really mind. Just make sure and hide your tacos. The first half of the second episode, “The Insecurity Guard,” already starts to make fun of the message of the day with Todd thinking he’s learned an important lesson about robots (something kids just don’t learn enough about in school these days). The episode also features some nice camera angles and shading where appropriate. Much of these first two episodes are not all that ambitious yet when it comes to setting up the shots, but the potential definitely exists.

In the end, potential is all you can really look for in the first episodes of a series. Few cartoons hit it out of the park right off the bat and The Replacements is no exception. However, it already does make me laugh. There are some great lines sprinkled around and the show can be quite silly at times. There hasn’t been much seen from many of the characters yet, and this does create some question marks, but because of the large cast there should plenty of material for the show to play with. As long as these other characters are developed and used well once given more screen time, there shouldn’t be much of a problem with keeping the plot formula fresh.

Based on the first two episodes, The Replacements is a worthy new addition to the cartoon landscape. Only time will tell if the show puts to good use the many characters the creators have placed at their disposal. As long as they follow through, this show is one thing for which Fleemco won’t have to provide a replacement.

The Replacements premieres Friday, September 8th at 9:00 p.m. on The Disney Channel. On Saturday, September 9th the show moves into its regular weekly 8:00 p.m. time slot.

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