What’s Eating Johnny Test?

In the fall of 2005, Kids’ WB debuted a Canadian/American co-produced animated series titled Johnny Test. Described as little more than a gender swapped version of Dexter’s Laboratory by it’s anti-fans, Test is all about an 11-year-old boy who is a living test subject for the experiments of his teenage genius twin sisters, Susan & Mary. Along for the ride is Johnny’s pet dog Dukey, who thanks to being experimented on by Mary & Susan, possesses human intelligence, the ability to speak and exceptional martial arts skills. Rounding things out at the Test’s home are the kids’ parents; their anal, uptight but still likable stay-at-home dad Hugh and their loving but busy business woman mom Lila.

When I saw the premiere of Johnny Test, my initial thought was “This is the stupidest show that I’ve ever seen!” and I ignored it for most of it’s run on WB. Test didn’t set the world on fire, but it did well enough in the ratings to secure another 3 seasons on Kids’ WB. Shortly after Test‘s stint on WB ended, the reruns were acquired by Turner and began airing on Cartoon Network. Surprisingly, this acquisition scored big ratings points among viewers (some of which were seeing the series for the very 1st time), and is presently one of Toon biggest (and most overplayed) shows. I began watching some of the episodes that I missed when Test was airing on WB, and to my surprise, I didn’t hate episodes as much as I did when Test was running on Saturday mornings on Kids WB. Some of the stories I actually found to be amusing. So, even though I no longer hate Johnny Test, why is Test still never listed among my favorite programs? I’ll tell you why.

This is why:

Yes, that’s right. The main thing/element that I dislike about Johnny Test is the title character of Johnny Test himself. I like his sisters. I like Dukey the dog. I like the parents (in fact, I think that the idea of the parents having reversed roles–Mom works while Dad stays home as opposed to the opposite–is a funny and interesting idea). I even like some of the shows’ recurring characters, most notably the pudgy, wanna be hip infinitely rich teenager Eugene,aka “Bling-Bling Boy”, but I don’t like Johnny. Sorry, but I just don’t. Believe me, I have tired. I’ve watched several episodes and have really made a conscious effort to try to like Johnny, but I just can’t. Johnny is weak link of his own series for a number of reasons:

-First, he’s annoying and horribly generic. Everything about Johnny screams “Generic ‘Kids rule!’ preteen hero. He has all of the requisite pre-teen boy habits (playing video games, loafing, avoiding working hard, etc), and he has all of the cliched supporting characters in his life. Most notably, the neighborhood girl who treats the main character like the scum you scrape off of tomato soup, but who secretly has a crush on the boy (Sissy), as well as the resident school bully (Bumper) who exists for no other purpose than to torment Johnny, even though he has no reason to actually hate him. All of the worst elements of Johnny Test can be traced to either Johnny or the characters whom are directly associated with Johnny. it’s hard to like a show when you find it’s most important character annoying.

-Second, Johnny isn’t very likable. i guess that we (the viewers) are supposed to see the character as being delightfully anarchic, a la the early Bart Simpson, but just comes off as irritating. In one short, Johnny uses his sisters’ tech to bring fossilized dinosaurs to life on a filed trip to the museum, putting his entire class in serious danger for no other reason than he’s bored. What a jerk!

-Third, Johnny has no talent. Mary, Susan and Dukey are much more interesting characters with much more interesting traits: Susan & Mary are super geniuses who can make virtually anything in their own impossibly high tech lab which is stored within their otherwise ordinary suburban home. Dukey is a dog who can talk, is smarter than most people and has mad martial arts skills, but Johnny brings absolutely nothing to the table. He’s not particularly bright. His grades stink. He doesn’t excel at anything. Johnny has no talent other than his uncanny ability to annoy people. Sure, he’s got interesting hair, but in the long run, that’s not much of an asset.

Why is it that on Dexter’s Laboratory, the boy genius Dexter is the central character in the direct center of the series and his annoying non-genius older sister Dee-Dee is only a prominent supporting player, yet on Johnny Test, it is the non genius annoying sibling Johnny who is in front, while the much more interesting characters of the Test Twins are merely supporting players? It almost seems as though Test‘s producers were afraid that networks wouldn’t be interested in buying a series starring a pair of girls, and so they instead put the über annoying Johnny in the center under the belief that “girls are icky!”. Let’s face it, folks, Susan & Mary are the real stars of the show. Test would be boring and horribly generic without them. Without Mary and Susan, there’d be no lab, no crazy inventions/experiments and no Dukey (at least not the intelligent talking version of Dukey). One only has to see the episode “The Quantum of Johnny” to see how badly the show would suck if the Test Twins weren’t there. If the Test Twins were the stars of the show and the supporting cast were their supporting cast, then it could be a great show. I’d much rather see a series centering on Mary & Susan and their lives with no Johnny character present at all. I guess that network executives don’t believe that people would prefer a series about a pair of smarty pants girls instead of a wanna be cool anarchic goof of a boy like Johnny. Well, believe it, suits!

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