Mar 8, 2014

TV Rewind: Pinky, Elmyra & The Brain - "The Icky Mouse Club/The Man From Washington"

Welcome to TV Rewind with the doomed crossover series Pinky, Emlyra & The Brain in which two flagship series join forces for a short-lived, ill conceived show. Over the course of this series, we will look at all of the episodes as presented on the DVD set and analyze if the show was really that bad and if it does any justice for the beloved 90's output between Warner Brothers and Steven Spielberg, who parted ways afterwards. Check back every Saturday for a look at the latest and make sure to check out my other recaps as well.

"The Icky Mouse Club"

When word gets out that Old Crickety Joe doesn't want kids swimming in his swimming hole, Brain (Maurice LaMarche) decides to start up a club. One that is free of these rules where kids are allowed to do what they want. Brain calls upon Pinky (Rob Paulsen) to help round up the kids and start up Club Brain. They even have a catchy song. During their first meeting, things go awry and Brain ends up getting hurt with a gavel every time he says "Order." Old Crickety Joe becomes aware of it and tries to shut it down. This time, he goes too far and the police arrest him, causing the kids to return to the swimming hole and leaving Club Brain a pile of wood in Elmyra's (Cree Summer) backyard.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

"The Man From Washington"

In the midst of Brain building a new ray, Rudy (Nancy Cartwright) becomes aware and decides to try and put the talking mice to rest. He calls up his friend in Washington, who is Wally Faust (Jeff Bennett). His goal is to destroy Brain as well as take away his ray, which uses audio frequencies to control people psychologically. The only issue is that it never has been properly tested thanks to Pinky and Elmyra shouting "Audio-ooo-hoo!" real loud and upsetting the experiments.
When Wally finds Brain, he offers him a ride in an air conditioned car. Brain is starting to believe that Rudy is behind it all and does what he can to use the ray against him. By this point, Wally is also trying to get a hold of the Ray and use it for his own advantage. Luckily, Brain gets it to work in time, leaving to Elmyra's house. The only issue is that Elmyra decides to throw it against the wall, thus destroying all of his hard work.

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

It is strange to try and understand the constructs of this show. One week, the segments are contrived and lazy, the next they are sort of brilliant. I am not entirely sure what the formula is for a good episode of Pinky, Elmyra & The Brain, but I think it has a little to do with the writing. Maybe it is because it is a familiar Kid's WB formula, but using music has always been an effective way of making the moments shine. In "The Icky Mouse Club," we get probably the show's best use of song to date with an extended montage of Brain performing a song and having children follow him to a clubhouse. It is gleefully campy, but there is a sincerity to it that makes the overall impact hard to ignore. It is downright likable. Unless you are current against the show, it is the centerpiece to an otherwise really solid episode.
I think it helps that the premise isn't based solely around Elmyra abusing her pets. It is about the community trying to solve their problem, albeit one as simple as a place to hang out. It may not quite stick to taking over the world, but it does allow for the show to set aside cynicism and creatively look at the joys of life. Even Old Crickety Joe, who is the segment's villain, is somehow endearing, if just because of his running gag involving the dissection of why certain things changed.
In fact, the only real issue is that the references are occasionally dated. While there is an expected Jaws parody that fronts the episode, the real strange moment comes from when Pinky wants to know about Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I am not expecting the cartoon to be timeless, but it is one of the many specific ways that this incarnation is dated. It tries to appeal to a very specific crowd of late 90's kids and even if the jokes are decent, they seem awkward otherwise. Brain was never a hip character and to hear him talk about a puppetry cat is a little odd. It isn't quite A Clockwork Orange strange, but it still has some creaky moments.
Then there is the obligatory Christopher Walken parody. I would love to one day compile a list of the times that Kid's WB has parodied Walken. This is largely because I am not entirely sure how he appealed to children. He wasn't exactly a children's performer. He has a comical presence, but he seems to be the strangest unifying factor over all TV series. Here, it isn't "Walken" necessarily, but we get Wally Faust, who is essentially "Walken" with a different persona. He talks like him and acts like him. He is essentially "Walken."
This isn't to say that it is a bad thing. I like the reversal of Rudy being the villain in this segment, as it allows Elmyra to take a break. In fact, what makes this sort of ingenious is the structure almost entirely being high concept. Along with very strange music cues, "The Man From Washington" has an espionage thriller vibe, and one that Elmyra's simplicity wouldn't have allowed. We get to see Brain try and survive against the government, a staple of his original show but here a welcomed surprise. In fact, it is the closest that the show has come to a sense of clarity.
Overall, this episode reflects the show at its best, which isn't as great as Pinky & The Brain, but it does have plenty of inspired moments. In general, the concepts are kooky enough that they can withstand the occasional lowbrow joke. Elmyra's abusive nature is replaced with inquisitive in a way that doesn't sideline her, but gets her involved in intriguing fashion. Most of all, there is a sense of empathy. The characters feel whole, and even if they are doing shtick here, it's what kid's cartoons do best. They have fun and play a wonderful form of escapism with the audience.

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