"The Looney Tunes Show": Bedlam in the ‘Burbs
First, for those who don’t know, let me start by saying that I’m a huge, HUGE fan of Warner Brothers animation, especially the Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the gang were a quintessential part of my childhood. Since I’ve always felt like I’m half-human, half-cartoon anyway, I enjoyed and could identify with most of them (especially Daffy Duck, whom I consider to be my alter ego), and the Warner Bros. shorts helped shape me into the delightfully twisted individual that I am today.
Not only did I enjoy the original WB shorts, but I was also into the latter-day cartoon shows from the ’90’s which were inspired by the greatness of the Looney Tunes shorts, such as Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs and Freakazoid! (Pinky & the Brain, not so much; those characters were OK in small doses, but I never thought they deserved their own show. Now a Slappy Squirrel spinoff, on the other hand….)
In recent years, however, we haven’t seen much of Bugs and company. There have been the occasional single character shows like Taz-Mania and Duck Dodgers and the odd knockoff show like Baby Looney Tunes (an uninspired and unfunny babyfication that recalled the babyfication shows of the 80’s and 90’s, though it came out during the ’00’s) and 1 or 2 movies like Space Jam and Looney Tunes: Back in Action, but other than that, not much of anything at all for nearly a decade. The shorts even disappeared from Cartoon Network and Boomerang, not due to lack of popularity, but rather due to an extreme lack of corporate synergy between CN’s parents, Turner and Warner Bros. (I’ll spare you the details of why; the basic rub is that WB wanted Turner to pay them a royalty for the rights to air the shorts and Turner basically said “We can’t go for that. No now, no can do”, hence a years long standoff between those 2 stubborn Zax.) Had WB forgotten about us? Where are the Looney Tunes now? What have they been up to? Just where are they??
Enter The Looney Tunes Show.
First, a little history. The Looney Tunes Show project was first launched about 2 and a half years ago. It was originally conceived as a sketch comedy show entitled Laff Riot, and since went through a number of twists and turns (at one stage, it was even considered to make the gang younger, like teenagers. Please, no. It’s not the late 80’s to early 90’s anymore; the days of babyfication/kiddification/teenifications are over, and thank the Cathode Gods for that), until finally the idea of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck sharing a house was tossed around, leading to what the show is today.
Here’s the overview: Bugs Bunny has moved out of his hole in the ground and has settled into a house in a suburban neighborhood known as Royal Oaks Glen Oaks Oakwood Oaks in the suburbs of California. Along for the ride is Daffy Duck, who has apparently fallen upon hard times and is currently crashing in Bugs’ pad temporarily until he gets back on his feet…which hasn’t happened yet in 5 years and counting. In addition to this oddest of odd couples, the wascally wabbit and the little black duck have a score of Looney Tunes favorites as their eccentric colorful wacky neighbors:
- Porky Pig has the George Costanza role of the lovable loser, the awkward square hanger-on who’s still eager and willing to hang with Daffy and Bugs; he’s just happy to be included.
- Yosemite Sam is the resident grouchy, overly aggressive neighbor from hell who’s always got something shady going on. he’s a liar, a cheat and sore loser, but at least he’s consistent.
- Granny lives next door to Bugs and Daffy, and is once again the owner of Tweety and Sylvester. T&S are still pets on TLTS, so Bugs, Daffy and the other anthros never talk directly to them. Otherwise, it would look weird how some animals who are owned are livng alongside other animals who live independently of humans.
- Foghorn Leghorn is a self-made billionaire and adventurer, but still an oblivious blowhard.
- Speedy Gonzalez (here voiced by Saturday Night Live regular Fred Armisen) runs the local diner, when he’s not residing within the bowels of Bugs and Daffy’s home.
- Mac and Tosh, aka the Goofy Gophers, run an antique and curio shop (among other occupations; the 2 seem to be the commentators of every staged event on the show), but are still exceptionally polite to one another.
- Elmer Fudd is a newsreader who puts a pleasant, simple-minded spin on even the worst reports.
- Witch Hazel is now called Witch Lezah (Hazel backwards; perhaps a relative, acquaintance or doppelganger?) and is here voiced by actress Roz Ryan (regular viewers of Cartoon Network will probably know Ryan best as the voice of Bubbie the whale on The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack), though June Foray is still around to voice Granny. ‘Lezah’ is another neighbor and a practicing witch who acts as a single mother to Gossamer (the hulking, orange-haired, big finger-nailed, sneaker-wearing monster from Chuck Jones’ Hair-Raising Hare).
- The Tasmanian Devil, aka Taz, like Sylvester and Tweety, is a pet on TLTS. (He’s Bugs’ dog, to be exact.) This may seem odd, but considering the last time that WB tried to portray Taz as an ‘intelligent’ animal a la Bugs, Daffy and Porky, he was met with criticism by a pressure group for allegedly making fun of teenagers with Down’s Syndrome (I am not making this up), so I’m guessing the show’s writers felt that making Taz a pet was just safer.
- Pepe Le Pew is a Lothario of a wedding planner with 7 ex-wives.
- Lola Bunny (introduced in Space Jam) is also back for more, though she’s nothing like her SJ self. Voice by another SNL cast member, Kristen Wiig, Lola here is considerably bubblier, goofier and crazier, and just a little clingy. Did I say a little?
- A single new character makes her debut on TLTS: Tina Russo Duck, a female counterpart for Daffy. She works at a copy shop and tries to make a decent man out of the out-of-control mallard because she “likes a project”.
Each episode of The Looney Tunes Show consists of a single 22-minute installment with such plots as: Bugs and Daffy go on a game show for best friends, but Daffy is so self-absorbed and oblivious to everything around him that isn’t Daffy related that he muffs every question, including naming Bugs’ famous catch phrase (“Um….I don’t do Mondays!”) and even the rabbit’s last name; the duo going to prison and Bugs discovering to his delight that he can insult whomever he wants and not receive any physical punishment for it (“It’s a smart-aleck’s paradise!”); and the guys having to room with Sam (and briefly his Russian mail-order bride) after Sam’s plans to go off the grid are defeated by an extended rainstorm. In between the acts of the story are filler segments: “Merrie Melodies”, little musical interludes featuring various characters sending up various musical genres, such as Elmer crooning a smooth, sensual ballad about coming home to his beloved grilled cheese sandwich, Marvin the Martian doing a club-techno style number about how he just wants to be friends–unless you cross him, in which case it’s laser time; and a rap number by Sam about how he can’t help but blow his stack–accompanied by a trio of high-thighed female backup singers who seem to be bent on getting him to do just that. There are also dialogue-less shorts starring the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote (the only 2 characters who weren’t transplanted to the suburban cul-de-sac) rendered in CGI (my guess is that the RR shorts are done in CG so as to emphasize that they take place in a different setting than the rest of the show, but that’s just a guess).
Now you’d think that the first major Looney Tunes TV show in nearly 10 years would be greeted with open arms by the Looney Tunes faithful, right?
Well, yes and no.
While many folks are taking to The Looney Tunes Show, several more are not. Upon seeing the clips which are posted on CN’s website as well as the premiere episode, I was exposed to bile and hate-rants that I never would have expected to hear directed towards something Looney Tunes-related. One brain surgeon declared TLTS “a ruination of the Looney Tunes franchise” and the “WORST. SHOW. EVER.”
I realize that not everybody would be won over by TLTS, but the worst show ever? Seriously? You think that THIS is the worst thing WB has ever done with the LT franchise? Have we really forgotten about this???
Geez, was 4 years really that long ago? Have we all honestly forgotten what a steaming pile of suck Loonatics Unleashed was?? I can understand some people not taking to The Looney Tunes Show, but to imply that it’s anywhere near the level of utter badness of Loonatics Unleashed? Dude, what are you smokin’??!?
As I see it, the biggest problem that The Looney Tunes Show faces is that, well, it’s Looney Tunes. LT is such an iconic brand that any new adaptation of the franchise is automatically going to have ridiculously high expectations attached to it, and so any new version of Looney Tunes is going to be a disappointment to some.
The 3 biggest complaints I’ve been hearing about The Looney Tunes Show are:
- “It’s not the shorts”, as another rocket scientist emoted.
- The suburban setting and the sitcom-style format, and
- The new stylized character designs.
Allow me to give my takes on each:
Regarding points #1 and #2: Well duh, Einstein, WB never claimed that TLTS would be a 100% reiteration of the old shorts. There’s no way it could be as Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, Robert McKimson, Bob Clampett, Arthur Davis, Milt Franklin and Mel Blanc are all no longer with us, and unless someone at Warner’s knows black magic or voodoo, they can’t be brought back. Nor do I think that it should be; if WB just wanted to rehash the old shorts format and formulas, they could just re-air the original shorts on Cartoon Network (which they’re doing right now in order to promote TLTS, making a shorts rehash even less necessary.)
If I wanted to see the exact same take on the characters and the exact same situations as the original shorts with absolutely NO changes made to them, then there’d be no point in Warner Bros. making anything new at all. Which is not to say that there shouldn’t be any consistency to the characters, but the “changes” made to the characters and situations aren’t really that different or beyond what we’ve come to expect (these characters have been portrayed as living in suburban homes and/or holding down jobs in quite a number of shorts), so complaining about the cosmetic changes the producers have applied on this show is, well, kind of stupid. The fact of the matter is that these characters have been re-interpreted time and again several times over the years by Termite Terrace’s various directors, so which interpretation are TLTS’ producers supposed to be faithful to? Very few things about the Looney Tunes are actually set in stone. Saying, “It HAS to be THIS way” is just limiting creating freedom and potential. Of course, that can go both ways. If they are forced to make things new just for the sake of being new, it can be bad as well. But I don’t see TLTS as being an example of the latter; I see it as merely being a modern-day take on the characters set in a fixed locale that’s familiar with its’ intended audience.
Regarding point #3: forgive my bluntness, but the people complaining about the new designs should get over it. The fact of the matter is that the Looney Tunes characters’ designs have changed each time that a different director took over for said character in the shorts: Tex Avery’s Bugs Bunny looked different from Bob Clampett’s Bugs, who looked different from Robert McKimson’s Bugs, who looked different from Chuck Jones’ Bugs, etc. despite this, Bugs was always still recognizable as Bugs, despite how each director had his own physical take on the character. What’s happening here on The Looney Tunes Show is no different.
As far as I’m concerned, TLTS came around at just the right time. The Looney Tunes have been off of TV proper for a considerable while now; we’re coming into a generation of kids who either don’t know or barely know who Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes are. Some kids who regularly watch CN might know them as those characters from Space Jam or Back in Action, but not intimately, and that thought both frightens and repulses me. Disney has managed to keep their shorts stars in the limelight for the past 10 years, granted they’ve mainly been using them as babysitters for wee tots, bit they’re still using them, so why can’t or shouldn’t WB do the same for their shorts stars?
Which is not to say that The Looney Tunes Show is all rainbows and lollipops. It’s not perfect. There are a few things that I’d like to see changed about the show. Minor nitpicks, but nitpicks nonetheless:
- I don’t think that every story needs to be one 22-minute episode; some of them are just 11-minute or 7-minute plots. I’d like to see some short length stories with only the occasional 22-minute episode. Sometimes the strain to keep the stories going is very noticeable.
- On this regard, I agree with the show’s naysayers: the lack of constant background music on the show is somewhat awkward. Maybe I’m just spoiled by the shorts and the Silver Age shows, but I would like to see that changed.
- Another valid point the detractors have is that there should be a little more slapstick on the show. there’s nothing wrong with the verbal humor, but this is Looney Tunes. The odd falling anvil, comical explosion or pie in the face couldn’t hurt.
So overall, I give The Looney Tunes Show a B+. Is it the best thing ever? No, but a total abomination on the LT franchise? Not by a long shot. The show’s ratings have been solid so far, so as a fan, I say more power to ’em. To all who aren’t fans, hey, it’s fine if this show isn’t your cup of tea, but I urge you to………