Dec 1, 2012

TV Rewind: Freakazoid - "Freak-A-Panel/Tomb of Invisibo"


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.


Freak-A-Panel

From my memory, this is the last episode to feature multiple segments, and it doesn't get more meta than "Freak-A-Panel." The episode begins with Freakazoid (Paul Rugg) and Cave Guy (Jeff Bennett) fighting aboard a pirate ship. Without delay, the Narrator (Joe Leahy) steps in to say that this segment was created because the episode ran short. This annoys Freakazoid, and forces them to start a foot chase into a Sci-Fi Anacon building.
Freakazoid thinks that it will be easy to track him down in there. However, he ends up finding people dressed up as Cave Guy instead of the real thing. Eventually he lands near someone who forces him onto a stage at a WB Fall Programs panel. Nobody is cheerful to see him and instead ask him questions about Superman and if Superman could beat Barney Rubble. Freakazoid gets frustrated and tells them to just talk to Paul Dini, but nobody listens. Instead he asks only Freakazoid fans to stay behind. There is one patron left, who simply states that the show is popular in his mental ward. 
Upon leaving the room, he sees Cave Guy and decides to dress up as a Klingon from Star Trek. He freaks Cave Guy out by giving him an English translation of Klingon (which he believes is bizarre). He eventually hops into the back of a police car to get away from him. Before Freakazoid leaves, he runs into Fanboy, Mo-Ron (or Bo-Ron, we're not sure), Lord Bravery (Jeff Bennett), and the Huntsman (Bennett) wonder why they haven't been present for most of the second season. Turns out they missed a memo. Using his cunning skills, Freakazoid has them wash his Freakmobile and says "At least they're still on the payroll."
In many ways, this segment nicely ties up the loose ends that I didn't know that I want answered. Besides the brilliant foreshadowing of the show's demise by playing to an empty room, the idea of telling us that his supporting cast was fired was a nice comical touch. At very least, there is a sense that they care about these characters, even if they were just used as a two minute joke. Still, it is sad to think that now we know that we'll never see Lord Bravery again. 


Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Tomb of Invisibo

The episode begins with some back story. A archaeologist is digging in Egypt. When he discovers the passageway to an underground tomb, he begins exploring it, only to let loose an invisible demon called Invisibo (Corey Burton). The story transfers to a tale of the Douglases going to an Egyptian artifacts museum, and in normal fashion, Dexter (David Kaufman) is fighting with Duncan (Googy Gress) and Douglas (John P. McCann) is telling them to stop, or he'll pull the car over (force of habit). Debbie (Tress MacNeille) is also there to try and calm them down.
As they come across a casket, Duncan and Dexter get into a serious fight that causes them to knock open the casket. This unleashes the scepter that the invisible demon is holding. The Narrator takes a moment to warn us that the show has a low budget, so just believe that a scepter hanging from ropes is scary. Back in the episode, the Douglases continue to freak out until they are seen running down the street from a laser-shooting scepter. 
Freakazoid appears later on to fight it, but is unable to beat it. He is pondering why this is with very little luck. He consults Cosgrove (Ed Asner) for advice. This detours into a conversation about why he doesn't get married. He just loves meat too much and didn't know he could have that and a wife. The episode cuts to a song by three lovely female singers (Elizabeth Lamers) which is done in a doo-wop style and sounds like "Where did he go, that Invisibo?"
As Invisibo runs amok in the city, stealing electricity from everything including the movie theaters, Freakazoid thinks of where to strike next. The Narrator suggests going to the electric plant, but Freakazoid anally ignores it. He doesn't want the Narrator's help because he ruins the pacing of the show. This turns into Freakazoid threatening him that he can be replaced with the lovely female singers, which pipes down the Narrator.
They eventually take his advice and go down to the electric plant. Freakazoid seems down because he doesn't know how to take down an invisible demon. Cosgrove suggests that it is like a moral that he learned from the Stockard Channing Show. However, since Freakazoid hasn't seen it, he doesn't share it. When Invisibo shows up, they manage to see his footprints on the floor.
Still, it is no use. Freakazoid is being tossed around like a rag doll. There is also a punch-clock that becomes broken and keeps shooting out punch cards. This runs in the background for the entire scene, and is a nice sight gag. Eventually, after not being able to stop Invisibo with physical force, Cosgrove tosses the sawdust onto the scepter and Invisibo becomes seen. Freakazoid quickly kicks him into a nearby fountain and he electrocutes himself into a coma.
Invisibo is seem being arrested in the casket that he started off in at the beginning of the episode. The other Douglases are still running around in fear of the scepter. However, Freakazoid and Cosgrove end the episode by reading some E-Mails, which appear out of thin air. The biggest one happens to be about a fan's suggestion to have Pearl Jam on the show (also, do they have fish gills?). Freakazoid bluntly says that they will not because they will want money. However, he suggests that they enjoy the musical styling of the female singers, who play the same song again to close out the episode.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5


Invisibo is by no means that clever of a villain. All he is is an invisible demon who manages to collect electricity. However, I like the tinge of Vincent Price in his voice and the very idea that he was such a hard bad guy to take down. The only problem is that as the series comes towards an end, there is some hope that they would have had the familiar villains coming back around for some final battles. We get that with Cave Guy, though even that is momentary and not the main arc of the segment. Also, Invisibo lacks the comedic touch that would have made the segment great. I will admit to being a fan of Boris Karloff in the Mummy (not to be mistaken with the Brendan Fraser one) and it was a nice subtle reference, but Invisibo was just a lackluster villain, considering that all he could do was shoot electricity.
However, it did continue to add moral dilemmas to Freakazoid's story, and that is always a plus. One of the great running themes of season two is Freakazoid discovering what his powers and weaknesses are. They may not be the dominant theme, but discovering telepathy and flying airplanes all reflect a superhero in training. Here, he learns to take down an invisible demon in a very interesting fashion. Also, it does continue the riff between the cast and the Narrator. I don't know how to feel about that, as I worry it will become stale by season three, but this is mostly because this is the second episode in a row that has referenced the plot spoiling nuisance. Though i am sure the writers would have found a way around this issue later on.
The "Freak-A-Panel" segment was brilliant for many reasons. Where they used to have Fanboy as the prime connection to geek culture, they finally address the Freakazoid audience from the perspective of a Comic Con knock-off. Nobody cares about the show, and instead wonders how many times Superman has been on the show. This, in a nutshell, is the show. Freakazoid could never get the audience of Superman, and what little audience he has was mentally ill. This is not to call his fans dumb, but more a reflection on how minuscule and odd his fans could be.
It was also nice to see the Douglases one last time getting together. I enjoyed that Douglas had a set routine of threatening to pull the car over. In many ways, they have been underused in the entire series, but I don't feel like that is a problem. As great as the animosity can be among them, they do have all of the tropes of a normal TV family and therefore stand a chance of being the normal annoying family. I'm sure if Duncan appeared in every episode, we'd be a little bit more sick of his bullying. 
This wasn't a particularly bad episode, but it is one of season two's weaker ones. Considering that last season saw me grade very low, this should be taken as a compliment. It is silly in all of the right ways and the satire clicks more than fails. However, it is the final gag with e-mails that almost makes the show simultaneously amazing and dates. Along with a joke about a camera flash, this episode feels distinctly 90's. Cosgrove may not be the best character in the episode this time, but he still provides plenty of laughs and helps us to better understand the emotional complexity that is Freakazoid. 
Now imagine if we could get that for another season. We would have one of the weirdest, most meta cartoons in the history of animation. Sadly, tomorrow's recap is the end of the road. Right as the show found itself, it had to say goodbye. At least the show knew about it and manages to make fun of its short existence. While "Normadeus" will be the last episode, fear not. I will be back for one more week to highlight the show in two separate entries detailing the 15 best and 15 worst things about the short run of Freakazoid

Hope to see you then.


Also check out more of my work at http://nerdseyeviewpodcast.blogspot.com/ where I have a podcast called Nerd's Eye View.

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