The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Just a Quickie

Dread, over at the Super Hero Hype is watching "Gargoyles" for the first time and reviewing it, episode-by-episode. At the conclusion of his review for "The Mirror", he made a point that I had to stand up and applaud.

I may as well use this episode to address something which has occasionally come up not only in online discussion circles with us audience members but also occasionally on radio shows involving actual production or higher up people within Marvel Entertainment. Obviously, Greg Weisman and his production/writing staff on this and subsequent productions see great inspiration in classics such as Shakespeare. "A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM" in particular would be used to frame several episodes of "SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN" and some within Marvel brass would even go on to dismiss it as appealing to adults which such fare.
The way I see it, references to culture and other works of fiction are common in TV shows, comics, and films, but ESPECIALLY so in animation. Naturally this means that such references often play a role in dialogue and framing of episodes, and even on inspiration and the impression that such new works leave. The easy thing to do is to pander, to offer pop culture references of the lowest denominator for an easy smirk or attempt at one - "FAMILY GUY" in particular does this. Unfortunately, this can often date the show poorly and offer little new or of substance to the audience. I remember a line of narration in the original KICK-ASS which read to the effect of, "I started out as 'HEROES' season one, and now? I'm season freaking two". That may have sounded awfully hip then, but read it now and all you think is, "Gosh, this was totally written in 2007". 
While "GARGOYLES" or other Weisman productions are willing to reference films or TV shows as they go (such as horror movies of the golden age or even "CAGNEY & LACEY"), they seek to offer a glimpse at some more classical material. Many children don't grasp them because of how they're presented in schools to them, often as reading chores. Instead episodes such as this inspire the imagination and get to the root of the work beyond just memorizing lines for a test or report. I'm hardly a Shakespeare buff but I do appreciate an attempt to use a classic not just to try to teach me something, but to use it to present the show I am watching in a new light.

The bottom line is a show can choose to reference and even adapt something which has stood the test of time for over 400 years, or it can choose to reference video games or soap operas as "ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN" does. I also feel it helps give a sense of importance to the actors, as many of them trained on the classics and thus it may feel like coming home again for some of them. Kevin Conroy always gets props for comparing Batman to "HAMLET" at his initial audition, after all. Shows which pander to the lowest common denominator may score some cheap laughs or nods, but shows which aspire for something greater usually wind up standing the test of time. I barely even notice that in "GARGOYLES", I am watching a show which debuted during Bill Clinton's first term in office. Will "ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN" be able to claim the same? It is better to inspire greatness than expect mediocrity, especially when it can be done so elegantly and in such an entertaining manner as this.

THANK YOU!!! I have nothing to add, I agree with every word of this. I would take it a step further and say this, although it predates it by five years, "GARGOYLES" is the Anti-Family Guy. It doesn't pander in it's references, but encourages it's audience to take a look at the classics. And while "FAMILY GUY" may be the "adult" cartoon, "GARGOYLES" is easily the more mature one. Also, while "GARGOYLES" was a drama, when it was funny (as this episode was), it was hilarious.

Okay, I'll be back with my next post... a review of "Pulp Fiction." I promised Tarantino summer, and I will deliver!


  1. Agreed; I also felt Gargoyles did a great job in never feeling like it was talking down to me or preaching to me either. "Deadly Force", and "A Lighthouse In A Sea of Time" are great examples of this. In the later, it gets across the sense of wonder that Broadway was missing out on when he chose not to give reading a try; but at the same time it doesn't vilify him in any way for how he first felt.

  2. Brilliant! Simply brilliant! Those words pretty much described what makes "Gargoyles" and "Spectacular Spider-Man" great animated shows and why they are great. They are able to make references to works of fiction and not pander to the lowest common denominator. They are also using those references in various interesting, fun and creative ways, instead of throwing them just to appear cool. Family Guy's logic is this: "If we throw as many references to pop culture as possible, we will be cool". If the show is reference-heavy, then those references should be done with heart and with intention of encouraging people to take a look of the works which are referenced to instead of trying to appear cool. "Ultimate Spider-Man", while more watchable than "Family Guy", also suffers from similar problem, using references as a means to throw as much nonsense as possible instead of paying a tribute to fiction works.

    1. In conclusion, I want to say that references should be used to give a show life, energy and attract more fans instead of using them just for the sake of using them, like "Family Guy" and "Ultimate Spider-Man"