Cartoon-as-adult-comedy is not a new format — The Simpsons has been doing it successfully for 24 seasons, inspiring spin-offs such as Family Guy, South Park, the now-defunct King of the Hill, and spinoff-of-a-spinoff, The Cleveland Show, focusing on that character from Seth MacFarlane’s Fox comedy. Clearly the concept has been influential: in 2001, Cartoon Network, previously a child-targeting channel, introduced Adult Swim, a lineup of cartoon and claymation comedies intended for young men and women (but especially men) looking for edgier cable programming. Bizarro comedies such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force, a cartoon featuring interactions between Food-opomporphic beings (a milkshake and a bearded french fry container) and humans became wildly popular for their adult edge and cartoonish wackiness.
Discovery’s HUB network, launched in 2010 in cooperation with game-maker Hasbro, has provided cable viewers with the latest unique spinoff of the theme. The network is a blend of cult comedy, nostalgia, and cornball humor that blurs the line between kids programming and content for an older demographic. Shows such as My Little Pony are clearly written for young audiences, but have since caught the interest of a few unexpected groups, including frat boys (see Urban Dictionary entry). Live action content, such as The Aquabats Super Show, which follows a troupe of dimwitted heroes/bandmates in bad moustaches, is fun for kids because it is ridiculous, and relatable to any guy-in-a-middleaged-garageband. (The Aquabats are also a band in real life, singing legit rock songs that are marginally funny.) And who can foget the hour-long ’90s Man of Steel dramedy, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures?
But the best part of HUB’s lineup is the nostalgia factor. Classics such as Animaniacs, which tirelessly drops ’90s pop-culture references to Bill Clinton* and the Lakers, is zany and fun for the kids, and harkens back to the early internet age, when now-adults were still using computers primarily to play Oregon Trail. Likewise, Batman: The Animated Series, which aired from 1992-1995, has a base of now-25-30-year-olds who watched it as children, and can now possibly watch it with their children. R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour, the name of the serial children’s horror writer popular in the ’90s, a clear call-out to nostalgia from that era. In rebooting retro TV, HUB has found harmony in catering as much to the kid as to the kid at heart.
Missing from HUB’s lineup — the gross-out factor. Where South Park relies on gore and poop-jokes for much of its humor, and even the relatively tame Simpsons refers frequently to beer and drug humor, the HUB remains admirably wholesome, using tongue-in-cheek humor and culture-savvy themes to stir up entertainment. Even Dan Vs., a show about a 20-something malcontent and his various beefs, possibly HUB’s most blatantly adult-oriented show, rarely descends into gutter humor. It is heart that makes HUB shows what they are, and what makes them irreplaceable even in the copy-and-paste market of adult-targeted cartoons. Best of all, VITAC’s Offline Department captions them all!
*It is a proven fact that in Canada, the Animaniacs theme song substitutes “And Bill Clinton plays the sax” with “We pay lots of sales tax.” So culturally aware!