Spotlight
Clerks: The Animated Series
Reege and Millionaire proved to be Clerks' undoing
It was a marriage that was doomed to failure from the start. Initially, however, Smith claims that the network was excited about the show his team was putting together. This team included Smith and his longtime producer Scott Mosier, David Mandel, animators Chris Bailey and Steve Loter, writers Paul Dini and Brian Kelley and, of course, the entire cast of the original film. Many hours went into adapting the Clerks characters—and their decidedly non-network humor—for a prime time cartoon show. In the end, working under the constraints of the network system actually forced the filmmakers to write funnier scripts, with no crude safety net to fall back on for easy laughs. The designs and animatics were sent off to animation studios in Korea for inexpensive finishing, the project was officially trailered to the public during the January 2000 Super Bowl, and Smith's team had no reason to expect what was to happen next.

A large corporation is like a very tall man—if he stubs his toe, it takes some time for the event to travel all the way up his body to finally make it to the brain. It seems something resembling this process happened to Clerks: The Animated Series, as the energy sent up the chain of command by middle management came back down again as indifference and distaste. By the time Clerks was to air, ABC had surged to ratings leader, thanks to the unexpected success of their transplanted British game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Smith learned from reading Daily Variety that his show, initially targeted as a March mid-season replacement, wouldn't premiere until that summer, the television equivalent of being banished to Siberia. Frustrated and angry, Smith and his team watched helplessly as only two of the six episodes they had completed were aired, out of their intended order and barely promoted, and promptly sank without a trace. The show was cancelled, and most of the series wouldn't be publicly seen until released on video and special edition DVD in 2001.
None of this political catastrophe reflects on the quality of the six episodes that were eventually completed. In fact, one is left with the overwhelming impression of a smart, dedicated underdog pushing the envelope of what a prime time cartoon could be, and discovering a wealth of comedy in the process. The scripts are tight and funny, loaded to the brim with cultural references, satire and the kind of inspired absurdity that makes the best comedies stand out from the pack. The characters have evolved slightly from the original feature: Dante (voiced by Brian O'Halloran) is still the sad-sack straight man, and Randal (Jeff Anderson) is still King Slacker, but with a new mischievous, bullheaded edge that might have been inspired by Mandel's tenure on Seinfeld. Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith himself), unable to carry on their career as weed peddlers in prime time (and on a Disney network, no less), become merry pranksters, radiating a new, endearing innocence in place of their former sidewalk smuttiness. A new lead character unique to the cartoon is the hilarious Leonardo Leonardo (Alec Baldwin), evil billionaire and sworn arch-enemy to our clerks (who have no reason to suspect they have an arch-enemy in the first place).

Featuring guest spots from a number of celebrities (some, as the disclaimer before each show states, completely impersonated) and other characters from the "Askewniverse" (named after Smith's production company, View Askew), the shows are filled with lively activity and sharp banter. Appropriate for this self-aware, post-modern age, Smith and his team are well-versed in the conventions that make up our culture's narratives, and frame their episodes around the fact that they know their audience is equally well-versed in them.
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