Sep 2, 2012

TV Rewind: Freakazoid: "Candlejack/Toby Danger in Doomsday Bet/The Lobe"


Hello and welcome to TV Rewind, a series that will explore the shows of yesteryear and dissect them one episode at a time. My goal is to explore lesser known programs that you may not be aware existed. For my first series, I have chosen Freakazoid!, a beloved cartoon that ran on the WB from 1995-1997 and made for some weird, Animaniacs-style parodies of the superhero genre. I will attempt to give you the goods every weekend, just like the actual show. While I may not do it every week, make sure to look out for double headers in which I review episodes on Saturday and Sunday.


Candlejack

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The episode opens like any other episode. Freakazoid (Paul Rugg) is a Camp Wenamigunnagohome (say it phonetically) with a bunch of children telling ghost stories. When it gets to his turn to tell a spooky tale, he states that the scariest thing in the world is not the air turning into wood, but Sinbad getting another TV show. This scares all of the kids into their cabins.
Oscar (Taylor Nix) and Buzz (James Cronin) are trying to get over this shocking thought. In order to do so, they tell a story about a villain named Candlejack (Jeff Bennett). They claim that if you say his name, he will come and kidnap you. Since both of them had said his name, they both manage to get kidnapped by him. Candlejack is a goblin who kidnaps kids with a long rope, ties them up and takes them somewhere.
It manages to capture everyone, who stumble their way into saying his name. Even Steff (Tracey Rowe), Freakazoid's girlfriend, is captured. Meanwhile, Freakazoid has left the camp with Cosgrove (Ed Asner) to attend a Honey Festival. After eating a lot of honey, Cosgrove insights Freakazoid that Kathy and the kids are kidnapped by Candlejack and that he probably should save them, though that's just what he would do. He doesn't, but it causes Freakazoid to run back to do that.
When he gets there, he is told not to say Candlejack's name. However, he cannot resist. He claims that he saw it in an episode of F-Troop in which someone ended up wearing a dress after refusing to. After showing the clip, Freakazoid ends up tied up with everyone else. However, Candlejack leaves to find more rope since he never has kidnapped that many people before.
Freakazoid takes this opportunity to unhinge the rope like a latch and talk directly to the camera. This is probably the most meta that the show has gotten to date. He talks about how excited everyone was to film this episode and goes around thanking the cast, including Ed Asner, Jeff Bennett, and the announcer (Joe Leahy). No reason other than to say how great it was working with these people.
The segment cuts to Paul Harvey (Rugg), who sums up the rest of the story by saying that Freakazoid managed to get free, build a steel cage with a pie inside. This lured Candlejack into the cage, which kidnapped him, and made Freakazoid the hero. It ends with Steff thanking him for being so heroic.


Rating: 5 out of 5


Toby Danger in Doomsday Bet

This is the first introduction to the supporting segments in the Freakazoid world. Toby Danger (Scott Menville) and the family are basically a parody of Hannah Barbera's Johnny Quest cartoons. It can also be seen as a foreshadow to the Venture Brothers, which was still a substantial amount of time away. The opening credits give off the impression that this show is just that anyways, except with different animation and a more serious tone than everything that has come on Freakazoid prior to this.
The episode is about something going wrong at the Danger Semiconductor Lab. A semiconductor (Jim Cummings) has caused the largest Semiconductor robot to go loose. Well, a faceless intern does by pulling the wrong switch and bringing the creation to life. This causes it to run amok in Las Vegas, burning up every building. The faceless intern turns out to be dastardly villain Doctor (Cummings), who is wishing to create a path of destruction.
It is up to the Dangers to save the day by going to Ring-a-Ding Bummer Casino and getting to the core of the problem. With a little help from sister Sandra (Mary Scheer), they manage to get into the hotel and do their job. Eventually "Dash" O' Pepper (Granville Van Dusen) throws a barrel at the semiconductor robot and knocks it unconscious enough to get close to it. The Doctor is on board the robot, whom Dash fights until the robot discombobulates. The team cheers, and Dash calls Dr. Danger's (Don Messick) new invention a flaming success.
The episode ends with everyone laughing and having a good time, even though all of Las Vegas is now in flames and the electricity at a nearby Ray Charles concert (Cummings) has been shut off (though Charles didn't notice).


Rating: 3 out of 5


The Lobe

In the final segment, the Lobe (David Warner) is about to give Freakazoid a lobotomy. With the assistance of Steff, he takes a rusty blade and begins his job. However, Freakazoid doesn't accept the anesthetics and knocks himself out with a mallet, which annoys Steff that her big moment in the scene was taken away.
As the Lobe opens Freakazoid's mind, he states that he wonders what makes him tick. After sawing his head open, he reaches into the brain only to pull out a bundled pack of dynamite. This turns out to be a layer in which the real Freakazoid was hiding under. He delivers the punchline that the Lobe wanted to know what made him tick.
Just like that, the episode ends with the Lobe getting blown up. This is the second time in the series (after "Hand Man") in which he has gotten blown up. However, you cannot help but wonder if it was, as he said, the waiting that killed him.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5


This episode is a problematic one, and it would be a big issue for most of the season. I'm not talking about the character of Freakazoid, but the whole segment thing. Where the first episode managed to do it in a clever and fun way, it feels disjointed here. It is mostly because of the "Toby Danger in Doomsday Bet" segment, which may be making fun of Johnny Quest, but it feels too serious to earn such moments as when Dash dives off of the robot and lands face first into the pavement, expecting to land in a nearby pool. The tone just shifts so rapidly from "Candlejack" that it just doesn't feel right. Sure, it is satire, but more of a loving version of it in which the jokes are far and few between. However, I did really enjoy the flying island and flying sidewalk slabs joke.
Even "the Lobe" bit felt a little tacked on. Sure, the joke was simple and was probably thrown in because the show was running a few minutes short. However, the joke was still pretty obvious and while the mislead was clever, it felt familiar enough that the effects were missing, especially after the Lobe got blown up last week in a far more clever way. However, the kidnapping of Freakazoid was a clever way to open the bit.
Then there is the part that throws this for a loop. "Candlejack" is a strong example of where the show will go in due time. It has the ridiculous villain and the a myth about itself that feels legit enough to make the satire work. With Freakazoid dropping reluctant one liners, we get a solid premise. However, Cosgrove hasn't really come into his own just yet. He still is great telling Freakazoid to take a break, but we don't get enough time with him to make the entire joke of his character (notably the nonsensical rants) to make sense.
What makes Freakazoid really good is the ability to be meta and talk directly to the camera. In this episode, we see that a ton in the "Candlejack" segment. While we're used to just the Narrator giving his opinion, we get so much more here. The Scream-O-Vision concept of forcing people to scream is a clever start that builds up to a Paul Harvey parody that sums up the most ridiculous parts of the story. It is also impressive that the show took time out to recognize the actors, which seems rather bold for a children's cartoon. It is a great joke that manages to break the fourth wall and reveal the true joys of making movies.
I will be honest that while I love the show, it is more in certain segments. While "Candlejack" is one of the show's classic bits, there is some nonsense around it that kept Freakazoid from being as beloved as Animaniacs in their ability to have a gallery of equally entertaining characters. However, whenever Freakazoid gets to shine, you are in for a treat.



Check out more of my work at www.nevpodcast.com where I post every Wednesday and have a podcast called Nerd's Eye View.

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