When Cartoons Go Wrong: Bad Episodes of Great Animated Shows

As a longtime fan of quality animation, I’ve watched and loved a great deal of cartoon TV shows. Several of my all-time favorite shows are animated, and I usually fit at least one or two cartoon picks in my annual “Best TV of the Year” lists. Despite its enduring (and unfair) reputation as “kiddie material,” animation is more appealing to adult audiences than ever, and the more recognition it receives for its achievements, the better.

However, my time in studying and analyzing TV has taught me that no series is flawless, and animated series are no exception. Even the best of these shows will produce a clunker now and then. And though I like to praise the best, it also seems prudent to – once in a while – acknowledge the worst.

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West Wing 7×08: Undecideds

[Writer: Debora Cahn | Director: Christopher Misiano | Aired: 12/04/2005]

When rewatching West Wing episodes – as with any old TV show or film – it is sometimes best to consider the time period in which it was made. Not every aspect has dated well. Not every reference holds up. The series is still largely entertaining and worthwhile, but certain parts of it are distinctly of their era. And this is especially true with the Wells years, which often insisted on being up-to-the-minute on real American and global issues. The way those issues were viewed and addressed then are not always the manner in which they are seen today.

And there are few examples of this as awkward as “Undecideds.” To be clear, this was not a good episode of television when it aired in 2005. But reflecting on it over fifteen years later, it’s a mess.

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“Mitchells vs. the Machines” is Another Sony Success

If you’re an avid follower of animated cinema, you may have noticed a recurring mantra popping us across the Internet in recent weeks. It goes something like: “Sony has finally done it! They’re finally making good movies. Took them long enough eyeroll emoji etc.”

And it’s a nice sentiment. Certainly it’s great whenever an animation studio hits its stride, comes into its own, and starts making films worthy of adulation. I don’t doubt the sincerity of people who espouse it.

The only problem is that it’s total bull-plop.

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Oscars 2021: Who Will Win? (And Who Will Watch?)

It’s become almost a cliché to state that the Oscars don’t matter. Every year, the Academy declares their picks of the best and brightest, and the Internet typically responds with scoffing and snark. We mock the bait that gets nominated every year, while bemoaning the snub of worthier films. And the ceremonies themselves are ripe for mockery, with cloying acceptance speeches and unfunny, time-padding skits.

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And to Think You Won’t See It on Mulberry Street

It happened one day, historians know,
Back in the Thirties, some time quite ago.
A fellow called Seuss (not a doctor by trade)
Wrote all about a fantastic parade.

A book aimed at children, those learning to read
And it was a successful venture indeed!
It sold many copies, drew plenty of praise;
Such imaginative books weren’t made in those days.

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WandaVision and the Future of the MCU

The following article does not contain WandaVision spoilers.

As I’m writing this, it has been nearly two years since the last installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe hit theaters. Spider-Man: Far From Home debuted just before Independence Day 2019, intending to serve as a coda to Phase Three of the MCU (which climaxed in the globally dominant Avengers: Endgame).

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“The Muppet Show” is Timeless Variety Television

The point isn’t raised very often, but TV comedy as we know it likely wouldn’t exist without the advent of the variety show. It came to prominence in the late 1940s and dominated the small screen during the ’50s, hosted by such talents as Jackie Gleason, Dinah Shore, and Red Skelton. Your Show of Shows – arguably the first great program ever created for television – utilized the format of weekly installments and commercial breaks to experiment with humorous and innovative sketches that set the medium apart from its big-screen competition. Many of the writers who would lay the groundwork for the modern sitcom cut their teeth on variety programming, including Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, and Bud Yorkin.

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West Wing 7×07: The Debate

[Writer: Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr. | Director: Alex Graves | Aired: 11/06/2005]

“Okay, let’s have a real debate.” – Santos

The story behind why “The Debate” exists is an interesting one. Far more interesting, in fact, than “The Debate” itself.

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West Wing 7×06: The Al Smith Dinner

[Writer: Eli Attie | Director: Leslie Linka Glatter | Aired: 10/30/2005]

“It’ll look better after you win.” – Sheila

During the Sorkin years, policy debates on The West Wing tended to be intraparty rather than interparty. Sorkin unquestionably favored the blue over the red, assumed (correctly, by Nielsen metrics) that most of his viewers did the same, and focused on disputes between the establishment liberals and the far left.

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West Wing 7×05: Here Today

[Writer: Peter Noah | Director: Alex Graves | Aired: 10/23/2005]

“Is it possible to be astonished and at the same time not surprised?” – Bartlet

“Here Today” has had an unusual journey among West Wing fans – a journey which, as I’m writing this, is perhaps not yet complete. When it first aired in 2005, it was roundly hated by the show’s fans. A few critics praised it, but most of the show’s publicity had dried up by then.

Over fifteen years later, “Here Today” still isn’t one of the show’s most beloved episodes, and hardly comes up in discussions of the show’s best hours. But it is earning more respect from many West Wing fans (including many who, like myself, came to the series years after it concluded).

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West Wing 7×04: Mr. Frost

[Writer: Alex Graves | Director: Andrew Bernstein | Aired: 10/16/2005]

“We stay on message, we stay in control.” – Josh

Before sitting down to rewatch this episode for review, I had to subconsciously remind myself of the title. It was “Mr. Frost.” It was not, as my mind kept urging me to believe “Mr. Snow.” (Nor was it “Mr. Plow”; that title is reserved for an episode of an entirely different show and an accompanying, inexplicably catchy jingle.)

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West Wing 7×03: Message of the Week

[Writer: Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr. | Director: Christopher Misiano | Aired: 10/09/2005]

“He’s what’s wrong with the party. He’s the problem, not me!” – Vinick

The West Wing was never designed to be timeless, but it also wasn’t intended to affix itself to a specific point in American political history. Produced in the waning days of the twentieth century and the early years of the twenty-first, it certainly drew inspiration from the news of its era, but for much of its early seasons, it kept a safe distance from the world outside our TV sets. Under Sorkin’s tenure, key names and places were fictionalized, the better to avoid controversies and to keep the stories from aging too poorly.

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West Wing 7×02: The Mommy Problem

[Writer: Eli Attie | Director: Alex Graves | Aired: 10/02/2005]

“I need to hear it all.” – Santos

At a time when many serialized dramas (The Sopranos, The Wire, Buffy) were being meticulously mapped out for seasons in advance, The West Wing was largely written on the fly. Sorkin famously spun Bartlet’s MS into an episode simply as a detail; it was only during the break between the first two seasons that he began considering its implications in the larger framework of the series. Plenty of other arcs were introduced as the need allowed, even as some of them built off events and even lines of dialogue from seasons past.

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“Soul” is Pixar’s Most Mature Film, and One of Its Best

For years, Pixar earned a reputation for the unique way it spun its animated stories – they were adult films masquerading as children’s entertainment. Start with a cute, child-friendly concept (toys come to life; monsters in the closet; a family of superheroes) and then use it as a platform to explore deep and thoughtful questions about life, relationships, and maturity. These films lured audiences in with the promise of a fun day at the movies, but gave so much more than they advertised.

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West Wing 7×01: The Ticket

[Writer: Debora Cahn | Director: Christopher Misiano | Aired: 09/25/2005]

“Yeah, but I won.” – Josh

It begins unlike any season before. Not in the present, or the past, but the near future – three years hence, when a now ex-President Jed Bartlet reunites with his former staffers at the opening of his own Presidential library.

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The Ten Best TV Shows of 2020

If you’re wondering how long the year we’ve just experienced was, use the 77th Annual Golden Globes as a yardstick. The ceremony, hosted by Ricky Gervais, aired back in the first week of January. That’s right – Gervais’ controversial monologue, Bong Joon-Ho lecturing us about subtitles, Ramy Youssef explaining that people don’t know who he is – that all happened this year.

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The Ten Best Films of 2020

There are many words that historians will use to describe 2020, most of which are unprintable on this website. But in my continued quest to focus on the positive (last week’s snarky deviation notwithstanding), let’s turn to the pop-culture that kept us going through these rough times.

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The Ten Worst Films of 2020

There was much to hate about the past year, which featured too many awful, destructive, and just plain stupid events to cover within the scope of this website. One area that does fall under my jurisdiction, however, is the world of cinema, which was unlike any previous year in the medium’s history. As theaters across the nation shuttered in response to the pandemic, Hollywood was caught flatfooted, as hopes of a blockbuster year at the movies almost instantly evaporated.

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How “The Queen’s Gambit” Became 2020 Comfort Food

It’s… been quite a year, hasn’t it?

I know there’s a running gag to refer to each new year as “the worst one ever,” but in retrospect, it feels like we were tempting fate. We’ve never experienced a calendar year like 2020, and I think I speak for everyone when I say that after we rip our calendars to shreds, burn them to ash, and salt the earth upon which they were cremated, I hope we never, ever experience one like it again.

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The “Animaniacs” Reboot Swings and Misses

The best scene in Hulu’s new Animaniacs reboot occurs right in the opening of the first episode. Parodying Jurassic Park, the scene features Steven Spielberg as a Professor Hammond stand-in, revealing to a group of slack-jawed scientists that he has “reanimated” the Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister!) for the first time since the late 1990s. As the show’s version of Alan Grant notes the characters’ “clean, vectored outlines,” a nearby Hulu executive gloats that they’re going to “make a fortune” from these new characters.

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10 “Animaniacs” Episodes that Were Zany to the Max

It never fails.

I’ve heard the theme song well over a hundred times. I know every lyric by heart (and can decisively state the original line is “pay-or-play contracts”). But it doesn’t matter. Every time I get to the final verse – “We’re Animan-y… totally insane-y…” – the penultimate line always catches me off-guard. It could be common standby of “Here’s the show’s name-y,” but the writers could just as sneakily sub in “Chicken Chow Mein-y,” “Dana Delany,” “Citizen Kane-y,” or any number of other rhyming or quasi-rhyming phrases. Anything goes.

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“Teenage Bounty Hunters” Deserves a Second Chance

At some point in the last few years, the phrase “cancelled too soon” began to feel like a TV anachronism. We’d seen many TV shows get cut before their time in a hyper-competitive television environment, but as cable and streaming services began to broaden the horizons and increase the hunger for market-friendly content, the medium became a breeding ground for TV resurrections.

So it was that when FOX cancelled Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it was picked up by NBC; The Expanse went from SyFy to Amazon; Designated Survivor from ABC to Netflix; and One Day at a Time from Netflix to PopTV. We seem to have finally reached an age where TV shows only need a niche audience to guarantee their continued endurance for as long as the creators and cast are willing.

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What Will Happen in the 2020 Election?

It’s that time again. Once every four years, Americans put their differences aside and come together to do the one thing that ensures we keep our differences – voting! Technically, it’s not just a four-year commitment – a lot of people do this every two years. And believe it or not, there are some pedantic folks who actually cast their vote every year, sometimes in two different months. (Do not let these people near your home.)

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Movie Roundup: Chicago 7, Social Dilemma, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

While indexing all my film reviews into a comprehensive archive last month, I came to a perturbing realization – my penchant for film reviews had taken a hit. The last movie I gave a full review to was Onward back in early April – and even that was partly motivated by the need to continue my trend of reviewing each new Disney/Pixar film as it’s released.

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“The Boys” is a Sharp Superhero Satire

The words “satire” and “parody” are often used interchangeably these days, but they shouldn’t be. A satire offers humorous commentary on the world using a popular or familiar creative work as its vehicle. A parody, however, lampoons the creative work itself, with social or cultural commentary rarely a focal point of humor. Put simply, a satire is a critique that features comedy; a parody is a comedy with specific critique. (This being October, it may be apt to draw examples from horror films: Scream = satire, Scary Movie = parody.)

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Emmys 2020: Which Shows Will Win?

There was the time that Alan Alda cartwheeled his way to the stage. There was the time Helen Mirren dropped an uncensored expletive on live TV. There was the time when Joan Rivers and Eddie Murphy cohosted and delivered a rather non-politically correct opening monologue.

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Will Peacock Take a Quick Bite of Apple?

Peacock Apple

It was only a few short years ago that the number of major streaming services could be counted on one hand. Yes, back in the halcyon days of the mid-2010s, people began buzzing about the possibility that Netflix and its few competitors would mean the end of traditional TV. After all, who needs a cumbersome and expensive cable bundle when you can get thousands of hours of entertainment with just two or three online services?

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The Rise of the Video Game Movie

Sonic

I don’t know the exact number of Sega or Nintendo games I’ve played in my life, though the combined number is likely situated somewhere in the single digits. (Most definitely the low single digits once you rule out the games that star Italian plumbers.) That may not come as a surprise to many longtime readers; though I’ve written extensively about TV and film over the last several years, I’ve never once had cause to post a piece about the gaming world.

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