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The 5 Best Cartoons You’re Probably Not Watching

By / Posted on 08 April 2011

It wasn’t too long ago that, in order to find the best cartoons on television, one needed to wake up early on Saturday mornings and be prepared for a marathon of excitement. Sadly, this is no longer the case, as Saturday morning seems more and more to be where children’s programming goes to die (ABC has been showing reruns of the same tired Hannah Montanas since 2008, CBS has toddler-toons like Richard Scarry’s Busytown, CW features cheap animes Yu-Gi-Oh! and Sonic X while NBC airs older educational cartoons Babar and the Magic School Bus. Fox has abandoned the format entirely). That’s not to say there aren’t excellent cartoons still on TV.

Thanks to the rise of specialized programming on cable networks, a whole new generation of edgy, ground-breaking animation is experiencing a mini-Renaissance. Just this past week, Cartoon Network premiered Problem Solvers, the surrealist new situational comedy from avant-garde art collective Paper Rad, and debuted the second season of the quirky indie adult-comedy Superjail!. The Venture Bros has been picked up for two more seasons and anticipation is high for the new Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon for Disney XD being developed by Man of Action (Ben 10, Generator Rex) and Paul Dini (Batman: the Animated Series).

Sym-Bionic Titan

Sym-Bionic TitanGenndy Tartakovsky has a first-class pedigree in American animation. The short he made in college was transformed into Cartoon Network’s very first original series, Dexter’s Laboratory. After closing the Laboratory‘s doors, Genndy created the painterly action epic Samurai Jack, won an Emmy for Star Wars: Clone Wars (not the new CGI one), and storyboarded Iron Man 2 (director Jon Favreau seeked Genndy out, hoping for action sequences as bombastic as those in Samurai Jack). His newest series, Sym-Bionic Titan, is a masterfully crafted love letter to the 1980s pop culture Tartakovsky grew up on. Referencing classic anime like Akira and Voltron in the trappings of a John Hughes suburban America, Sym-Bionic Titan is full of mystery, romance, conspiracy, and over-the-top action.


Choice scene: When Lance joins a band, the entire school comes out to see their concert (because Lance is the brooding cool kid, the James Dean or My So-Called Life‘s Jordan Catalano character). The monster that Lance, Ilana and Octus fought the previous day won’t stay dead, though, so Ilana and Octus must destroy it without attracting the attention of the military task force sent to capture them. The next day, Lance is kicked out of the band for drawing “the wrong kind of crowd.” Also, their band is pretty awesome, with a Joy Division sort of vibe going on.

Bob’s Burgers

Bob's BurgersIgnore the fact that this show is on Fox’s Sunday night lineup, sent to die under the infallible might of legacy hits the Simpsons and Family Guy. All you need to know is that Bob’s Burgers is created by Loren Bouchard, co-creator of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and Home Movies, two brilliant cartoons that specialized in letting comedians be funny rather than focusing on outrageous storyline and flashy animation. Like those shows, the cast is composed of a veritable who’s who of alternative comedians, including H. Jon Benjamin, Eugene Mirman, Kristen Schall, Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman, Todd Barry and Oscar Nuñez.


Choice scene: After being hounded by a guerilla documentarian for two days about how meat is murder, Bob has a heart-to-heart with the cow in his subconscious. The scene goes from tender and introspective to oddly homoerotic completely out of nowhere (Bob had noted earlier in the episode that beef comes from steer, which are male cows).

Young Justice

Young JusticeThe teenage superhero archetype is old hat. Worn out. Done to death. Boring. Superheroes are ridiculously powerful and their sidekicks are bright, colorful and silly. It only makes sense that when teen superhero protégés get together, they would be wacky and colorful together, no? No! Because when Batman puts them together, these teenage superheroes-in-training are a black ops stealth squad sent to do the missions real superheroes couldn’t do for fear of getting their hands dirty. Bad. Ass.


Choice scene: A super villain terrorist causes the entire team to have their memories of the past six months erased. Without knowledge of how they got together or who their teammates are, most of the teens are lost and untrusting. Superboy, though, as a genetically-engineered clone who didn’t even exist six months prior, is reduced to base animalistic urges. Not the most ideal mindset for a hormone-fueled beast that can leap tall buildings and rip through solid steel like tissue paper.

Adventure Time with Finn & Jake

Adventure Time with Finn & JakeThere are two types of people in the world: people with love and wonder in their hearts, and people who don’t watch Adventure Time. This joyous romp from Pendleton Ward and Fred Siebert is the manifestation of every imaginative playtime adventure children have ever had. There are beautiful princesses, mischievous wizards, daring quests, and one brave boy who refuses to grow up. Everything is possible in the Land of Ooo, and everything is simultaneously charming, hilarious, and inspirational.


Choice scene: When Marceline the Vampire Queen kicks Finn and Jake out of their house, our heroes go off in search of a new place to live. The montage is brilliantly set to one of the show’s excessively catchy musical numbers that highlights the boys’ aimless naiveté, childish stubbornness, and undying friendship.

Archer

ArcherHave you ever watched a sexed-up glamorous spy movie and thought “my word, this format is just rife with potential for black comedy”? Adam Reed sure did. Having already stunned audiences searching for animated comedies in which “mature” didn’t just mean sex and violence with Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo, Reed’s newest series ups the ante with… and robust characters. It certainly doesn’t hurt that those engaging personalities are imbued with life by recognizable actors and comedians like Jessica Walter, Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell, Judy Greer, Jeffrey Tambor, and the aforementioned H. Jon Benjamin once again taking the title role. Sharp wit and rapid pacing keep each episode fresh and exciting while ongoing stories and repeated callback jokes reward return viewers.


Choice scene: When self-involved super secret agent Sterling Archer is diagnosed with breast cancer and discovers that the chemo he’s been taking is little more than sugar and Zima, there is only one course of action: rampage. His partner Lana documents the whole thing as a dangerously unhinged Archer takes up the personal mission of going after the Irish mob to find answers about the fake drugs. Nothing can stand in his way… until the real chemo therapy makes him too sick do anything but pass out in his own vomit.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.