Nov 3, 2012

TV Rewind: Freakazoid - "Virtual Freak"

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.

Virtual Freak

I have been excited to revisit this episode the most when partaking in this TV Rewind venture. It has been the one episode that has stood out to me for many reasons. The most notable is that it features a journey into virtual reality and features a flying dinosaur. Most of all, it features a buffed up role for my favorite character, Cosgrove (Ed Asner), which I have long been championing for.
The episode begins with a short segment in which the Narrator (Joe Leahy) shares his own story. This one involves the familiar panels of a city landscape with a Freakazoid sign flashing across the screen. As this happens, the Narrator is telling a gruesome tale about how things have gotten messed up and everything is covered in graffiti and the town is in madness. The Network Censor (Paul Rugg) interferes and tells him to reedit the story to be more friendly. He sarcastically says the story over the same landscape, though cleaner. He is bored with it and eventually just introduces the episode. Simple in and out that is only made better by the return of the Network Censor, who has been oddly vacant the past few episodes.
The rest of the episode opens up with a trip to the Pleasant Hills Mall where Freakazoid (Rugg), Cosgrove, and Steff (Tracey Rowe) are shopping for Steff's father's birthday. As usual, Freakazoid is not into this. When he notices a nearby arcade center called Arcade De Triumph, he immediately heads over to see what new games have been installed. The most recent game is Virtual Tussle, which was installed by two men named Bob, who both want to date Scully from the X-Files
When this captures Freakazoid's attention, he promises Steff that he'll only play one game. The game is a virtual reality game where they play as Portho and Mel: two surviving members sent to kill each other off. As Steff is standing around, she provides a few insults that gets the Manager (Jeff Bennett) all weirded out, sensing bad vibes. Freakazoid and Cogrove, who is fresh off eating yogurt covered in bacon bits, decide to play the game.
Meanwhile, the Lobe (David Warner) is buying a new hat from a special store. What is not known is that during this time, the Lobe has plotted a way to put Freakazoid and Cosgrove into the virtual reality and free Portho and Mel to reek havoc on an unsuspecting mall. The plan goes off without a hitch and suddenly our heroes are stuck trying to figure out how to get out. They consistently try jumping around and singing songs, but this is foiled by a flying Dinosaur (Frank Welker), who keeps dropping Freakazoid from extremely high places (which is later revealed to be for comical effect, even if the Lobe disagrees). 
Steff decides to get into action to free her friends. During this time, Portho and Mel are trying to kill each other, only to realize that the worst that they can do is reform after being crushed. Somehow Steff manages to let the Dinosaur out of the game, which only makes things worse. In the game, Freakazoid and Cosgrove are still trying to figure things out, though have managed to almost fall over the chess board that makes up the game's platform. During this time, Cosgrove manages to tell the Dinosaur to "Cut it out" as he tries to harass him.
Right as things look to be for the worst, Steff figures out the trick to get them out. This effectively takes their computer players and transports them back into the computer. Soon only the Dinosaur is floating around. Freakazoid goes after the Lobe and decides to have a face off. All is going well, until Freakazoid forgets how the story ends. Not trusting the Lobe, he decides to take five and talk to Steff and Cosgrove. We also see the Lobe and the Dinosaur take this time to talk about other show auditions. Another great joke implanted here is that the Dinosaur is now wearing sunglasses for the rest of the episode.
Once Freakazoid learns the rest of the episode, he returns to chasing the Lobe while Steff figures out how to transport the Dinosaur back into the game. She twists a knob and connects two cables, which vary in results, but never does what she wants. Suddenly, the Dinosaur picks up the Lobe and Freakazoid only to drop them right next to the virtual reality game. Somehow the Dinosaur and the Lobe get tangled up, causing them to transport into the virtual reality together.
Freakazoid is happy with himself and expects someone to say something positive. Steff notes that he still needs to help her shop. However, this is quickly debunked when Cosgrove recommends seeing a movie called Babeheart, which is about a cute pig that slaughters the English. The episode ends with the three in a movie theater watching the pig (Tress MacNeille) slaughtering the English. The violence is too much, but Cosgrove cannot get over how cute the pig is.Freakazoid even suggests that the pig should receive a cute pig award.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This isn't necessarily a bad episode, but the premise is a little underwhelming. All that has to be done is put two cables together, and it switches everything. There isn't any complexity to it, and we end up having to see Portho and Mel fight each other in the real world while Cosgrove quips about the lame virtual reality. There are a lot of great jokes, but the setup is the least appealing part of this episode.
While I have nothing against the Lobe, I dislike him becoming the resident villain. He may be the mastermind criminal, but we haven't spent too much time with Cave Guy or Longhorn. We get a nice call back to the "Relax-O-Vision" segment when Steff talks about the Lobe strapping her to a rocket, but that is the only real substantial reason for the Lobe being the central villain this week. However, the joke of him buying a ridiculously over-sized hat was pretty funny and was only made funnier by the childish nagging of Freakazoid later in the episode.
I also enjoyed that Cosgrove really stood out in this week's episode. From his first joke about bacon bits on yogurt, to his disinterest in virtual reality, it was great seeing him have more than a few choice lines. He has been getting bigger parts, but this may be his biggest to date. Also, another great use of "Cut it out." Cannot think of too many other people who could pull it off. His monotone insults always work, and his commentary on technology was great.
I also enjoyed the Dinosaur, who sounds like Welker's version of Abu from Aladdin, which is unintentional, I'm sure. When the Lobe and him talk during the take five moments, it is really funny because he makes no sense. Still, the execution of his character was a little mediocre and only served one purpose: drop people from really high. This episode was nothing but recurring gags, and while most were great, it left room for a bigger episode. However, the one advantage is that this is the first non-parody high concept episode that we've seen in awhile, which proves that the show still has some smarts left in them.
I wasn't wild about the Portho and Mel fight scenes. They were very much the quiet "Spy vs. Spy" type that featured them trying to one up each other, only to realize that they're evenly matched in some ways. They served their purpose in this episode, though their lack of conflict with Freakazoid and Cosgrove (who were never in the same realm of reality) really made the episode lack momentum. The concept is great, but there is a lot of half baked concepts that pad out the episode.
However, I love the Babeheart clip. Tress MacNeille nailed it perfectly as she said "You dumb heads better get out of Scotland." It is also a nice touch, as both were Academy Award nominees for Best Picture that year. The hybrid just keeps getting more delicious. I could watch that clip all day. I also just like Cosgrove's insistence on going to the movies. It can become the new foreign language lesson gag that ran through season one. 
Another nice note is that 16 years to yesterday, this episode premiered on the Kid's WB. At the very least, it is an interesting progression of how technology has influenced our lives. Even if Freakazoid talks about seeing things on the internet, he couldn't possibly be talking about what we see today. While the virtual reality phase was short lived and in many ways makes this episode particularly dated, this is a nice capsule to a time when arcades were still the rave and Playstation was still winning over the households. An amazing thing that 16 years can make you forget about.

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