Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy Is Nothing To Write Home About!

The Good: Occasional moments of satire
The Bad: Generally homophobic, gross and dumb humor, Light on DVD extras.
The Basics: Much more hit-or-miss than his sycophants will admit, Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy is surprisingly lacking in humor or value-oriented DVD features!

On the DVD bonus features to the Kevin Smith film Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back there is a moment when long-time Smith collaborator Scott Mosier admits of a deleted scene that he was glad that it did not make the final cut. Mosier uses the opportunity of introducing a deleted scene to deride the scene as pretty much the filthiest thing the pair had done and express his general pleasure with the fact that it was only a deleted scene and from Kevin Smith's surprised look, it is pretty clear this was news to him at the time. I mention this at the outset of my review of the straight-to-DVD animated extravaganza Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy because it seems MacFarlane has surrounded himself with such a pack of sycophants and self-absorbed personalities that none of his peers will stand up to say anything similar to MacFarlane.

I am a fan of MacFarlane's work, Family Guy. I have enjoyed the satire of American Dad! as it combated the ridiculously blase and monolithic ideal of Bush-era "patriotism." MacFarlane has a keen mind for comedy and a generally sharp wit. I buy MacFarlane's DVDs, like his new Family Guy: Partial Terms Of Endearment (click here for that review!) or the vastly superior Family Guy Volume 8 (click here for that review!) largely because I like what I see and I have faith that MacFarlane and his team will make me laugh. But, as one outside the circle of people who MacFarlane knows, respects or even cares about the opinion from, it's time someone says "Enough with the incest jokes already!" This past season on Family Guy and now on Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy, MacFarlane seems obsessed with making jokes about incest and he seems to have crossed a line between funny and not (not even good taste and beyond here, but simply funny and not funny) wherein MacFarlane does not consider his audience. Sure, jokes like "Sex with a Redneck" where the phrase "Who's your daddy?" is turned into a cheap joke on incest has an initial potential smile to it, but does no one at MacFarlane's office or even Fox sit up and ask, "Hey, Seth, this is at least the third incest/molestation joke we've done in the past month, do you think there's really a lot of humor to be mined here?" Of course, if that was brought up, one suspects MacFarlane would just ask, "What kind of market share is there for Family Guy and Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy among the victim/survivor demographic?" To which, one suspects the returning lines would be, "Probably less than one percent," with MacFarlane probably responding "Fuck them!"

Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy is a straight-to-DVD release that, to turn a joke from The Stewie Griffin Story, is best waited for the discount bin at your local gas station. With only fifty-two minutes of alleged comedy, this bears a disproportionately high price tag for the content. Uncensored and unrefined, this is a series of vignettes featuring an animation style similar to Family Guy and American Dad but without any recognizable characters. Anyone looking for cameos from Family Guy or American Dad can pass this right by! At best, there are familiar Seth MacFarlane voice-over actors and actresses who participate in this shindig.

The format of Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy is remarkably simple and direct: each sketch begins with a black title placard with white writing (think Frasier or Clerks) then the execution of whatever setup is advertised beforehand. So, for example, there are sketches titled "Sex With Dick Cheney," "The Wizard Of Oz Adjusted To Reality," "Fat Jesus," and "Two Ducks Watching Meet The Parents." There are two recurring bits, a Scotsman who talks over movies he is watching wherein a Scotsman on a couch basically berates characters on his television screen for doing things he thinks are stupid (like going aboard Khan's ship in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan or going into the shower in the prison in The Shawshank Redemption) and "Sex with . . ." bits.

The real problem with Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy is twofold. The first is that the setups make the entire DVD feel like a night (or fifty minutes) of being told "knock knock" jokes. Unlike something more cohesive that tells a story, like an episode of Family Guy or American Dad, this DVD tells far more than it shows. The result is that one feels frequently like they are being told jokes and that becomes tiresome quickly, especially in the repetitive strings of similar jokes.

The second big problem is that the jokes tend to be either monolithic or just not funny. More than being raunchy because of their uncensored nature, many of them just are not funny. Lacking in subtlety, insight or anything recognizable as humor, jokes fall flatter more often than not on this set. So, for example, "Sex With Mr. Sulu" implies two men having sex while Seth MacFarlane does his George Takei voice. The entire bit here is predicated on the idea that George Takei is homosexual (and by correlation his character, Mr. Sulu, is). Okay, so the joke here is . . . gay sex? There is no punchline to this bit, there is no commentary, no wit. The joke is simply supposed to be . . . two men having sex. One expects something better from Seth MacFarlane.

Similarly, the homophobia on Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy is more demeaning to the audience than anyone else. MacFarlane pounds the same joke over and over again where he reinforces the same stupid, effeminate stereotype of male homosexuality (a gay knight and a homosexual brought on for Dorothy to beat in the "Oz" sketch are virtually identical in their jokes) which is obvious, dated and banal. But more than anything else, it's not funny.

Homosexuals are not the only target of jokes that fall flat, though. There are jokes about AIDS victims, fat people and women that are dull and mediocre humor. Arguably the most offensive joke comes through the simple repetition of two bits using essentially the same punchline. In one sketch, a dog plays on the $25,000 Pyramid opposite a humor and it is revealed that he can speak after simply barking through the clues. That revelation is almost identical to the one with the two Persians in a sportscar who are trying to pick up women while using heavy accents. The implication here is racist at worst, flat-out dumb at best. Either way, the similarities in punchlines are intellectually bored and largely this DVD suffers from anything approaching wit.

This is not to say that the disc is without humor. The irony here is that the DVD succeeds most on the infrequent times when it is smart. The two ducks watching Meet The Parents actually made me smile because their view pretty much mirrored my review of that film! Similarly, the commentary on religion in the "Two Monkeys Talk About Religion" sketch is actually laugh-out-loud funny, as is the bit involving "Things You Never Hear" involving West Virginia.

Still, these moments are few and far between and the DVD is not beefed up with MacFarlane's usual amount of DVD bonus features. After previews for two very much unrelated films, the main menu offers few options. In fact, there is no commentary track, only a series of sketches of the different "characters" (they do not develop, so they are more like "deliverers of lines") and a self-congratulatory red carpet featurette wherein people who participated in the making of this DVD talk about it and laugh at their own bits in front of others who are drinking . . . a lot to get through it.

In other words, this is shallow value for the price and what might have worked as cutaways in Family Guy falls flat on its own, especially at this price!

For other animated works, please check out my reviews of:
Toy Story 3
The Clone Wars Season 1
Despicable Me


For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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