Dec 2, 2012

TV Rewind: Freakazoid - "Normadeus"

*REMINDER: Just because the recaps are over doesn't mean the coverage is. Tune in next week when I will be wrapping up my Freakazoid coverage with a two part recap detailing the 15 best and 15 worst things about this brilliant show.

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.


We did it. We made it all the way to the final episode of Freakazoid. It almost feels right that the show knew this was the end, because it feels like they pulled out all the stops and created one of the most over the top episodes in the show's history, including another brilliant meta moment that ends the episode. "Normadeus" is an episode that has a show reflecting on what made it great and reminding us that it may be over, but it doesn't mean you cannot cry. In fact, some could argue the fact that it made it this far is a revelation. The credits, after all, do feature the line "So stay tuned to this station/If not we'll be unemployed." I also just love that the show decided to take some cues from Amadeus (though no more than the first three minutes).
The episode begins with the Lobe's (David Warner) bodyguards (Larry Cedar) walking up to his office at the top of a rickety staircase. He is cursing and making loud noises. They are unsure what he is doing, so they barge in. He is watching an episode of a carpenter show hosted by Norm Abram. The Lobe is trying to build something that can only be made out of wood, but does a miserable job about it. The bodyguards throw him in a mental ward called Conundrum Home for Villains. There he is diagnosed with carpenteria, or a disability of not being good at carpentry. This is when the Lobe reveals his plans and suggests that he is using his invention to finally destroy Freakazoid.
Meanwhile, Norm Abrams is having a signing at a local lumber store. Freakazoid (Paul Rugg) and Cosgrove (Ed Asner) are very excited to see him. However, they also notice that they don't have any wood for him to sign. Cosgrove gets the great idea to have him sign their safety glasses. After a bunch of people, including the Narrator (Joe Leahy) get their turns, the two stand a distance, freaking out that they are meeting Norm Abrams. This eventually gets to the point that Freakazoid fondles Abrams' head and makes a big deal out of it. He eventually signs their safety glasses and they are on their way.
That is, until Abrams mysteriously disappears. A screaming woman points it out because she is scared. Cosgrove and Freakazoid go on the mission to find him. In the next scene, a bunch of people are sitting around in a fancy room in fancy clothes talking about who murdered a person named Sir Jeffrey. Freakazoid is sitting adjacent and spends a good time listening to the exposition before he realizes that he is on the wrong show. The Narrator eventually comes along and fixes everything back to the main story.
When Freakazoid makes it back to his Freakalair, Cosgrove is there with Professor Jones (Jonathan Harris). They begin talking about plans on how to get Abrams back. They only have one idea, but it isn't a very good one. Jones eventually suggests that Abrams was kidnapped by some pixies that lived underground, which is immediately written off as a dumb idea. They pull together a sketch compositor that looks like stick figures: 

They send it out to every police station in the world with hopes of finding him. They eventually get a call back from Scotland Yard, and they have found villains that look exactly like the above picture.
Meanwhile, the Lobe is in his hideout warehouse with Abrams explaining his plan to build a big horn that will shoot Freakazoid into oblivion. Abrams doesn't go along with it, until he sees a big block of wood. Still, he says that he took an oath to only use carpentry for good. However, he savors it, even tapping his foot erratically. The Lobe puts a chainsaw to it before Abrams finally goes along with the plan. He builds this big horn shaped thing that could only be made out of wood. He is eventually tied back up after the horn's completion.
This is before all of the Lobe's friends show up, which is actually the entire cast of bad guys: Gutierrez (Ricardo Montalban), Cobra Queen (Tress MacNeille), Cave Guy (Jeff Bennett), Candlejack (Bennett), Invisibo (Corey Burton), Longhorn (Maurice LaMarche), and Jeepers (Bennett). He gives them all party hats and tickets for a big party that will happen when Freakazoid arrives. When he gets closer, the Lobe has everyone hide and turns off the lights.
Freakazoid is in a trap dangling with his feet tied in front of the big horn. The Lobe springs his plan of raffling off the person who gets to blow the horn and destroy Freakazoid. Gutierrez wins, and takes great joy as he is about to start blowing. However, Abrams has somehow freed himself and saves the day, stopping everyone from going through with it.
He pulls out a blade, and in a great fake out, throws it up to the string that Freakazoid is dangling from and frees him. Together, the two begin fighting off the villains, often back to back. It is very comical, as the carpenter is often bouncing off the walls and the onomatopoeia begins showing in typical Batman fashion (though I argue the general setup shares more with the Green Hornet, as most episodes often ended with a warehouse fight).
After Abrams and Freakazoid win, they walk forward, almost as if they are looking directly into the camera. A curtain falls behind and a crowd's applause can be heard. Freakazoid basically says his farewells and thanks the audience for their support. He welcomes up all of the villains, Cosgrove, the Narrator, his girlfriend Steff (Tracey Rowe), his family Douglas (John P. McCann), Duncan (Googy Gress), and Debbie (MacNeille), Roddy MacStew (Craig Ferguson), Steven Spielberg. The Narrator gets the biggest applause, and even gets a round of "Joe, Joe, Joe!" chants from the crowd.
As they wind down, they go into a version of Ross Parker's "We'll Meet Again." As this is happening, occasional characters can be seen running off in fits of tears. The group says goodbye as the camera pulls out to show the auditorium that they are performing in from afar.

Rating: 5 out of 5

I cannot think of a better way for the show to go out than singing a song that basically goes, "We'll meet again/Don't know where/Don't know when." There is some optimism to it, even though the audience will know that this is it. The occasional person crying is a nice comical touch, but in many ways reflects the audience who is now left at the height of Freakazoid with nothing. As a firm defender of the show, I believe that it has a rocky first season, and the second was on its way to becoming one of the best cartoons of the 90's. 
It is also a nice touch that in the conclusion, they have managed to fit in all of the characters that mattered. While we'll never see the demise of the Lawn Gnomes or Boy Blubber, I am thankful that those characters are long forgotten and are not used to destroy the show's legacy. Instead, we get the gang back together, most of them only a few episodes away since "The Island of Dr. Mystico." There is a sense that these characters have gotten their fair share of recognition and in many ways, the ending feels like a respectful commemoration of their achievements.
Of course, probably the most brilliant aspect of this episode has to be Norm Abrams. Before research, I thought that Abrams was supposed to be a play on F. Murray Abraham in some bizarre way. But like Leonard Maltin before him, the cameo is pretty brilliant. The warehouse fight scene alone almost makes him one of the unsuspecting greatest cameos on this show and continues to prove why Freakazoid was an expert at offbeat guests. Even the subtle joke about there being a Bob Villa/Dean Johnson conspiracy is a great nod to those who know the celebrities of the carpentry world. Still, I enjoy that they made the most down to earth guest star into the most over the top. In many ways, that is one of the show's strengths.
I am also glad that we got one last great kooky story from Jones about Abrams being abducted by pixies. He was such an unrealized character, as even the simple line reading had an infectious delirium to it. We didn't get any of my desired Cosgrove/Jones fighting in this episode, but at least Jones continues to prove that at very least, he could have been the next Cosgrove if season three happened.
There is a lot that I love about this show, and I have covered most of it over the course of these episodes. While I was left wanting more episodes with Longhorn (IMDb credits him to  four episodes), I guess that is better than too much. In many ways, I worry that the consistent use of Gutierrez and the Lobe made me dislike them, even if it was just in the "can't someone else do it?" type of way. I also miss when the episodes featured a balance of Dexter and Freakazoid, but the family did feel a little stocky at times, so I'll forgive that.
Overall, there is a lot that I love of this show and it has been a pleasure covering it twice a week. I have rediscovered a lot of things that I love about the show, and I come away with a desire to see more Joe Leahy projects. This show's meta nature almost predates Community, and the nerd culture may have been a little stereotypical on the show, but also almost felt like a unique experience that understood its audience. It also featured an almost entire catalog of references to the Justice League (minus Wonder Woman and the Flash) and a strong distaste for Marvel Comics, which may be because of the Bruce Timm animation style. While Animaniacs was more successful, I do believe that Freakazoid is more offbeat and fun. At very least, Cosgrove is one of the most endearing characters to come out of the 90's Kid's WB movement with his blunt statements.
I will be back next week to recap some things that I loved about this show, and I hope to see you then. I don't know what show I will cover next for TV Rewind, though it may be the Green Hornet sometime in early 2013. Stay tuned for updates. Also, if anyone has any connection to getting copies of the infamous Pinky, Elmyra, and the Brain series, I would love to cover that weird piece of animation.

Also check out more of my work at where I have a podcast called Nerd's Eye View.

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