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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dr. Bitz Ranks Every Television Series Ever...Sorta (Part 9)

It's the the top 20! Huzzah! We're getting to some quality shows and one that can definitely be labeled a classic. Not much more of an intro in this post, but, as always, the rules to my list are here:

20. Todd McFarlane's Spawn: Al Simmons made a deal with the devil and it went about as well as...actually it went a little better than most deals with the devil. Not to say there weren't Catch 22s but he did get super powers. You don't want to know what I'd do to get super powers.

Spawn was an animated HBO show based on the Image comic book of the same name. It is dark, gritty and filled with adult situations. And not just Skinemax adult situations. This is a series that dealt with some heavy and disturbing stuff. But watching a man battle evil demons and protect a family that believes him dead and has moved on is interesting. It's too bad that this series ended after the third season right when an apocalyptic war between heaven and hell was promised.

19. Star Trek:
If you don't know Star Trek then you've been living under a rock. The swashbuckling Captain James Tiberius Kirk, highly logical Mr. Spock, snarky Dr. Bones McCoy and a host of other characters are all aboard the Starship Enterprise searching the galaxy for adventure and green women to bone.
Star Trek famously used science fiction as way to explore current social issues (usually with a leftist slant...60s leftist). Not only would it use alien worlds as allegories for our own problems but it also presented Gene Rodenberry's ideal future. A time where Russians were no longer feared enemies and a black woman can have a strong, influential presence. It's easy to see why this show would be one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s favorites. Everyone was equal...more or less.
But, historical significance aside (and ignoring the now dated special effect), this show was simply good. It's clear I like my action but I still appreciate a show that stimulates the mind. So even the non-action episodes managed to keep my interest.

With the way this show has become a part of the modern zeitgeist and considering the fervent fan following it created it always amazes me that it only lasted three seasons.
18. El Hazard: Three high school students and their degenerate history teacher end up being teleported to a fantasy world on the brink of war between human tribes and a race of bugs. Also, the teleportation process gives all the humans different super powers because...er...well...because super powers can only make things more awesome!

El Hazard is light hearted fun. My favorite part of this series is the history teacher. He's a chain smoking alcoholic who gets the most powerful ability of all the teleported humans: super human strength and athleticism. The catch? Nicotine and alcohol inhibit his powers. But he likes his booze and alcohol too much to give them up. It's all dealt with tongue-in-cheek but the idea of a person with super powers addicted to substances that take those powers away has always intrigued me.
17. Batman: The Animated Series:
Hot off the heels of Tim Burton's Batman movie Fox created Batman: The Animated Series to suck children in and cash in. Luckily, they ended up churning out a quality program.
Although toned down to be accessible to children this show still took its material seriously. At times its children’s cartoon nature would show through. Odd, impractical or downright zany scenarios would occur. But most of the time this show was Batman at its best: smart, serious at times, fun at other times and a good amount of action mixed in.
I've recently been watching some old episodes and one thing jumped out at me about this series that I never thought about before. Despite Batman having one of the largest array of well-known villains a surprising amount of episodes feature none of his usual rogues. There were episodes with a machine trying to replace humans with robots, man-bats, rival mob bosses, an evil mining facility owner, a ninja from Bruce Wayne's past and I could go on.

It would have been easy to just cycle through all the well known villains but they didn't. I'm not exactly sure what that means. Maybe it means that this show was less worried about cookie cutter episodes meant to pacify kids for a half hour and instead focused on simply telling good stories. Or maybe I'm just seeing what I want to see.

16. Record of Lodoss War:
A knight, wizard, thief, elf, dwarf and cleric travel a land of magic to destroy an evil Queen and prevent a giant war from ravaging the island of Lodoss. Alright, so it sounds like a pretty formulaic fantasy series. But let's face it, formulas are formulas for a reason. When done right they work really well. Also, to be fair, some things happen in the second half that kind of shake things up.
In reading up on this series it turns out that it's based off an entire Japanese fantasy franchise consisting of novels, manga, RPGs and anime. There have been a few anime series and the one I'm referring to is the first one: Record of Lodoss War.
Obviously, from my description above, you pretty much know what you're getting into when you watch this series. The only thing I can add is to say that Record of Lodoss War is done very well.

I remember watching this series on DVD and I'd watch three or four episodes at a time. Then I'd go weeks before watching more of it. Every time I started watching again I kept wondering what took me so long. This show was just fun and engrossing.

Up next time: An American cartoon, a Japanese one (of course), another classic, a very surprising entry and the absolute hardest show to rank of any of these series.

4 comments:

  1. I never saw Spawn, but I've heard good things about it. Better things than the comic, frankly.

    I never realized you'd watched that much of the original Star Trek. I've actually seen woefully little of it (mainly just the highlights).

    Everyone was equal...more or less.

    Unless your shirt was red...

    because super powers can only make things more awesome!

    True statement.

    Both El Hazard and Record of Lodos War sound kind of awesome. I might have to check them out. Am I correct in assuming they follow the typical finite/relatively short episode run of Japanese animation?

    There were episodes with a machine trying to replace humans with robots, man-bats, rival mob bosses, an evil mining facility owner, a ninja from Bruce Wayne's past and I could go on.

    FWIW The Man-Bats were established parts of Rogues Gallery the show adapted, and I'm pretty sure at least a few of the mob bosses were carried over from the comics. But your point still stands.

    You also forgot to mention the Sewer King guy...

    Maybe it means that this show was less worried about cookie cutter episodes meant to pacify kids for a half hour and instead focused on simply telling good stories.

    I definitely think there was a clear desire to tell good stories on the part of the creative team. And it's not like they didn't utilize the more well known Rogues, they just weren't afraid to put them on the shelf occasionally, which is indeed somewhat gutsy.

    and the absolute hardest show to rank of any of these series.

    I think I know what that show is...

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  2. The original run of Batman: The Animated Series is, in my opinion, the single best superhero comic-to-TV/movie translation ever. It got just about everything right, and very little wrong.

    I recently read pretty much the entire run of Batman and Detective Comics from the 70's, and I was surprised to learn that B:TAS seemed to take a lot of cues from that era. The Batman of the 70's worked mostly alone with only occasional guest appearances from Robin (as in TAS), most of the stories were stand-alone with little continuity between them (as in TAS), and the traditional supervillains were set aside in favor of mobsters, one-shot villains, and new antagonists (TAS certainly used the Joker, etc. more than the Batman comics of the 70's, but the sentiment was there).

    TAS even made heavy use of Rupert Thorne, the gangster (originall a corrupt city councilman in the comics) who first appeared during Steve Englehart's acclaimed run writing Detective in the late 70's. Thorne hadn't been seen in the comics in close to a decade by the time TAS started, but Bruce Timm and the others remembered him and brought him back.

    Anyway, I love this show. It's not only my favorite cartoon ever, it's one of my favorite TV shows ever.

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  3. @Teebore: "I never saw Spawn, but I've heard good things about it. Better things than the comic, frankly."

    I've read the first 20 or so issues of Spawn. I thought they were good. But it definitely fell into the trap of asking questions you knew they weren't going to answer until the end of comic's run. It already felt like they were running around in circles, so I can't imagine how it felt 100 issues in.

    "I never realized you'd watched that much of the original Star Trek. I've actually seen woefully little of it (mainly just the highlights)."

    My dad loved the original. We'd watch it in syndication over dinner and he'd try to impress us kids by being able to tell us the name of the episode within the first minute. Ummmm....yeah....

    "Am I correct in assuming they follow the typical finite/relatively short episode run of Japanese animation?"

    Yes, both are finite.

    "FWIW The Man-Bats were established parts of Rogues Gallery the show adapted, and I'm pretty sure at least a few of the mob bosses were carried over from the comics. But your point still stands. "

    Yes, I should clarify that I'm not saying the lesser known villains are original to series, only that they're lesser known. Which got me thinking about the greater known Batman villains and how many are actually "greater known" to me because of the animated series?

    Obviously, Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman and Mr. Freeze were popularized by the 60's TV show (if not elsewhere). But I wonder if I would be as familiar with Poison Ivy, Two Face, Scarecrow, The Mad Hatter or Killer Croc (whom I all consider "greater known") without the animated series?

    I know for certain that the animated series introduced Ra's al Ghul to me. But he always seemed "lesser known" to me (he probably was fairly prominent in the comics, but I didn't read them). He's certainly not lesser known anymore, thanks to Christopher Nolan.

    I also find it impressive that Batman: The Animated Series created Harley Quinn considering she now has a firm place in the Batman universe.

    @Matt: "Anyway, I love this show. It's not only my favorite cartoon ever, it's one of my favorite TV shows ever."

    I hope my appreciation and respect for the show is reflected in my ranking. In fact, I wouldn't begrudge anyone ranking it higher. I didn't simply because I have an affinity for ongoing stories and overarching narratives. As you said, all the episodes are pretty much self-contained.

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  4. @Matt: TAS even made heavy use of Rupert Thorne, the gangster (originall a corrupt city councilman in the comics)

    Ah, that's who I was thinking of. I knew one of the recurring gangsters came from the comic.

    @Dr. Bitz: We'd watch it in syndication over dinner and he'd try to impress us kids by being able to tell us the name of the episode within the first minute. Ummmm....yeah....

    I've said it before, but your dad is awesome. I'm totally going to do that to my kids w/Simpsons some day...

    I wonder if I would be as familiar with Poison Ivy, Two Face, Scarecrow, The Mad Hatter or Killer Croc (whom I all consider "greater known") without the animated series?

    Hmm, I hadn't thought of that before, but you could be onto something. I'm pretty sure my first exposure to a good chunk of those characters was the animated series as well.

    I also find it impressive that Batman: The Animated Series created Harley Quinn considering she now has a firm place in the Batman universe.

    Yeah, Harley Quinn is probably the most successful TV-to-comics transitional character, isn't she?

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