In 10 Words or Less
The animated adventures of hipsters in the city
Loves: Cartoons, original art styles
Likes: Mission Hill
Dislikes: The WB
"Mission Hill" is another member of the cult cartoon genre that developed when quickly canceled UPN/WB series connected with viewers as a part of Cartoon Network's [adult swim] line-up. Centered around 24-year-old Andy French, a slacker cartoonist living in a rundown, yet hip New York city neighborhood, the show was the brainchild of two former producers of "The Simpsons," yet was truly nothing like that sitcom.
When his parents move from the suburbs, Andy is forced to take in his younger, nerdy brother Kevin, which does nothing but cramp his style, and that of his roomates Jim and Posey. The show tells the story of Andy's misadventures as an aimless young man who doesn't want to work, alongside Kevin's adjustment to life as a high-schooler in the city, without parents. There's plenty of focus placed on the other denizens of the neighborhood, but at heart, the four roomies are the key to the series.
Andy's inability to find something to define himself renders him unable to do much of anything, as his cartoons don't sell and he hates his job, and he can't connect with women, thanks to his self-importance. He's essentially an anti-hero, as it's hard to root for him. It's no easier to cheer for Kevin, who is one of the biggest losers to grace TV screens. It's almost schadenfreude to watch them suffer in their lives.
The supporting cast is much more diverse and more enjoyable, starting with Jim and Posey. Jim, voiced in a laconic style by "Mr. Show"'s Brian Posehn, is even lazier than Andy, but he understands what being an adult is, and plays by those rules, even if he makes them work in his favor. Posey, on the other hand, is a complete hippie, speaking in a breathy, halting voice that hid a darker, angrier personality underneath. Quite often, they get to deliver some of the funniest lines in the show.
Plenty of Mission Hill residents are introduced in the course of the show, including Kevin's geek pals Toby and George and the mixed-culture family of Natalie Leibowitz-Hernandez and Carlos Hernandez-Leibowitz. But no neighbors were more unique or entertaining than Gus and Wally, a gay couple in their 60s, who live next to the Frenches.
A loving, but realistically combative couple, they are certainly opposites, with Gus being a muscle-headed ex-Navy man who runs a diner, while Wally is a former filmmaker who now runs a projection booth at a revival house. They shared TV's first gay male kiss, and were the center of one of the funniest visual gags in the series, when Gus refused to have a knife removed from the top of his head. Unique characters like Gus and Wally were one of the biggest reasons to tune in to the show.
Designed to look like the alternative comic-book work of artists like Peter Bagge and Dan Clowes, the show looks like nothing that's aired on network TV, with thick black outlines, color that bleeds outside the lines and palettes that eschew the traditional cartoon styles. The closest thing to it would be "Ren and Stimpy," but even that didn't match the comic-book come to life that "Mission Hill" is. Just about every episode tries to push the limits in terms of the art, and as a result, they are loaded with eye candy for the animation fan.
In the end, the series died a quick death, not unlike the slacker trend that helped give birth to the characters on the show. When dealing with a group of characters that lack motivation, it's hard to find a way to keep momentum, without it feeling forced and becoming "wacky." That's one of the things I admire about British television, where limited series are a regular concept. 13 episodes of "Mission Hill" might have been all the world needed, as the series never fell from its highs.
The 13 episodes of "Mission Hill" are spread across two DVDs, with seven on the first disc and the remainder on the second. The discs are packaged in a slipcased two-tray digipak with nice artwork on the outside, and episode descriptions and titles on the inside. The main menus are animated and anamorphic widescreen, with options to watch all the episodes, select individual ones, view the special features and adjust languages. The episode-selection menus are text lists of titles, while the language options include English, French and Spanish subtitles.
For the most part, these full-frame transfers look excellent, reproducing the show's unique, brightly-colored look well. The thick black outlines that make up the show's style don't suffer from pixilation as much as animation with thinner lines, but there are still some seriously jagged edges at times, especially when special effects like 3-D depth are attempted.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track does a nice job delivering the sound of the series, which, while not being too powerful or complex, is nicely done, with some well-mixed music and sound effects. It's not noted on the box, but according to Bill Oakley, one of the creators, several songs were replaced for the DVD release, due to licensing costs, but unless you were a hardcore fan you are unlikely to notice, except for a joke in episode four, which is based on an R.E.M. song that had been played earlier in the episode. Thankfully though, the excellent theme song by Cake is still in place.
Four episode-length audio commentaries are included, on what the box describes as "key episodes." Creators Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein are joined by designer Lauren MacMullan, and cast members Scott Menville and Wally Langham on the pilot and "Andy and Kevin Make a Friend". Menville is swapped for writer Aaron Ehasz during the commentary for "Unemployment Part 1", while cast member Nick Jameson takes his place on "Plan 9 from Mission Hill."
The commentaries are pretty lively, as they talk about the creation of the show, the characters and the episodes themselves, sharing plenty of trivia from the series. There seems to have been some editing done to the tracks, as spaces of silence are followed by disconnected topics, and one story about an actor who auditioned for the show is missing his name, though they obviously mentioned it.
The second disc also has an interactive map of Mission Hill, which works likes the comic book on the Batman Begins deluxe DVD. Flipping through the anamorphic widescreen pages provides access to 11 short featurettes, hosted by Oakley, Weinstein and MacMullan. Inside the menus are animation tests, art development examples and even info about the colors used in the show (which is actually quite interesting.)
It had been reported that an unproduced episode would be included on this set in the form of animatics and a table read, but apparently there were issues with royalties that prevented them from being included.
The Bottom Line
This series' audience was never going to be home to watch prime-time TV on Friday nights. In fact, anyone into "Mission Hill" probably doesn't watch much network TV at all. It's not that the show was exceptionally smart, but it was very creative and unique in its subject matter, as no one else was doing Generation X in a "real" way, in a real setting. But lost in the WB shuffle, it ended after 13 episodes. The DVDs present the show with a nice level of quality, and a few extras that will interest fans. If you've never caught the show, and enjoy "The Simpsons," it's worth checking out, while the faithful can pick this up without worries.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.