Okay, so now that MADtv is dead and buried, I guess someone at Warner Bros. figured they might as well hammer out another TV show based on Mad magazine, only this one would...y'know, actually kinda have something to do with Mad magazine. Premiering on Cartoon Network last Fall, Mad piles together pop culture mashups, fake ads, PSA spoofs, and the sorts of demented two-or-three-panel gags you remember from the mag back when you were in junior high. Mad screams ahead at a pretty breakneck pace, with the movie mashups pretty much always riffing on sixteen or seventeen completely different things and the slews of other shorts running just a few seconds a pop. It moves way too quickly to ever get boring, and with each episode only clocking in at eleven minutes or so, the end credits are rolling before you can ever get sick of it. This first DVD set of Mad piles on the first thirteen episodes of the show, running right at two and a half hours if you're feeling up for a marathon or whatever.
So, this is me copying the episode guide from the back of the box. There's a whole lot more to these eps than just the movie and TV mashups listed in the titles, but...yeah, those parodies do gobble up a lot of the screentime. I'm kind of hoping you don't really need me to spell out what's being skewered here:
1. Avaturd / CSiCarly
2. TransBoreMores / Groan Wars
3. 2012 Dalmations / Greys in Anime
4. Star Bleech / Uglee
5. Pirates of the Caribbean 4: Journey to Neverland / The Batman Family Feud
6. Wall-E-Nator / Extreme Renovation: House Edition - Superman's Fortress of Solitude
7. Big Time Rushmore / Clifford-field
8. Fantastic Megan Fox / Mad vs. Wild
9. I Love You, Iron Man / Ben 10 Franklin
10. Class of the Titans / Zeke and Lex Luthor
11. S'up / Mouse MD
12. DaGrinchy Code / Duck
13. Snot Pilgrim / Malcolm in the Middle Earth
I'm pretty sure the way it works is that the best years of Mad magazine kicked off whenever you scored your first issue. If you started thumbing through Mad in 1977, then that was the golden era, and everything that came out after that was eye-rollingly bleech. If your older brother snuck you your first issue in 1986, then...no, wait, that was when the mag was at its peak, and it was all downhill once you gave it up. Plug in whatever year you want. I think I was seven or eight when I first started reading the mag, and it was kind of one of those epochal my-life-will-never-be-the-same-after-this types of moments. Mad back then felt to me like a kind of adult thing, and I'd somehow managed to sneak in the back door to giggle at all the hysterical stuff the cooler, older kids were doing. It was subversive, dumb, and clever all at the same time, and there was a real sense of wit and artistry behind it all that I was too young to completely get but still somehow knew I was looking at something kind of amazing anyway. If this animated version of Mad was around back when I was in middle school, I'd have been totally obsessed with it. Well, if I were in middle school now, I mean, seeing as how I grew up in those dark days before Twilight and keyboard cat memes, and I think I started reading my first issues of Mad before Lady Gaga had squirted out of her mom's nether regions.
This show, the same as the mag that inspired it, isn't something you can really pin down into a few words. There's no house style, for one. You might get a collage of movie star heads plowing their way through a parody of Avatar or Iron Man, then you'll get some kind of elaborate stop motion animation, that'll be followed by something straight out of the Don Martin playbook, and it'll all close out with some squiggly Flash animation. Mad skews towards a lot of stuff junior high schoolers would be into: Twilight, Justin Bieber, the tween brigade on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, and some childish stuff far enough in the rear view mirror for them to wanna mock, like Dora the Explorer, Blue's Clues, and Clifford the Big Red Dog. The show doesn't really pander, though. I mean, there's an extended riff on The Fantastic Mr. Fox, a movie not a whole helluva lot of twelve year olds have seen. The inane, completely arbitrary, wait-why-didn't-they-just-fly-in-the-guy-who-can-turn-into-a-jet plots of the Transformers movies get skewered in a way that does Mad magazine proud, and even though the junior set will probably crack up at it, it'll take someone a little older to really appreciate the satire there. The impressions of Tom Hanks and Nic Cage in The DaGrinchy Code are so howlingly dead-on that I feel like I should write a fan letter or something. ...and how many middle schoolers religiously watch Chuck or grew up with Super Friends and Mega Man II? Not many, but...hey, I did, so that's kinda great for me. So, you get smart, inspired parodies on one end, and then you get lotsa gags about vomit and snot and farting on the other. It's fun for the whole family!
Since I'm, um, more than twice as old as the crowd that Mad is really aimed at, I'll totally admit that I really didn't laugh much at these thirteen episodes at all. Justin Bieber and Kristen Stewart and Jersey Shore and "there's a crap for that" ::squishy fart sound:: aren't really my things so much. I also don't get why a show aimed at...well, anyone would be spoofing Malcolm in the Middle and The Lord of the Rings in this day and age. Take that, 2002! Whatever. Still, the pop culture mashups are frequently really inspired even if I didn't find 'em all that funny myself. One of the biggest standouts for me is Snot Pilgrim, a head-on collision of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The art style is a pitch-perfect take on Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novels, and as someone who's more than a little bit obsessed with those books, there's an infectious love and fanboydom that just bleeds out of that short. I also really, really dug Greys in Anime, with all the speed lines, ridiculous posing, incomprehensible trading card rules, upskirt shots, and...why not?...a pedobear that you'd expect out of an anime spoof and then some. Mad may not be aimed at me so much, but would I buy this DVD for my kid brother now that he's the same age I was when I was obsessively reading the mag? Yup. And yeah, I'd kick back and watch it with him too. You're definitely better off taking a look at some snippets from the show first if you've never seen it, and Cartoon Network has plenty of 'em on their website. So, yeah: not for me so much, but there's enough of a twelve year old left in here somewhere that I can still see everything Mad is doing right.
This first volume of Mad is served up in non-anamorphic widescreen, and...wait, is that still a thing? I thought all the DVD studios out there gave that up in, like, 1999 or whatever. Anyway, that means that if you're watching Mad on an HDTV -- and of course you are -- there are black bars on all four sides of the screen. Even though Mad generally sticks to a very clean, very simplistic visual style, they're still chucking out a third of the available resolution by doing things this outmoded way. That's kind of a big "other than that", but...um, yeah, other than that, this DVD looks pretty solid. The linework in the animation is clean and clear. The stop-motion stuff can get really elaborate and shows off some pretty solid detail. There are a couple of quick shots where I'd notice a bit of distortion or some banding in the background, but it's nothing worth getting all that riled up about. Would've snagged a pretty high score if not for the whole non-anamorphic thing.
Not too much for me to ramble on about this Dolby Digital stereo (192kbps) track. The gags all come through cleanly and clearly. The low-end is pretty punchy even without a discrete LFE channel to lean on. Totally fine. I guess I need to type more than that, though. Oooh! I know! No dubs this time around, as if you were keeping your fingers crossed and eating all your vegetables or whatever to hear Avaturd in Dutch. Subtitles are dished out in English (SDH) and Spanish.
Nothing. Well, there are promos for a few other Cartoon Network shows if you wanna count that.
This first volume of Mad all fits on a single, shiny DVD. The set comes packaged in a thin slipcover thingie too.
The Final Word
Mad plays pretty much exactly like an animated version of Mad, which...I guess is good 'cause that's the title and everything. The series has a really Gatling gun sense of humor, shifting gears into something completely different every ten or fifteen seconds. It's gleefully chaotic just the way it oughtta be. I definitely love how eclectic the visual style is too, steamrolling from Don Martin's distinctive art style to Sergio Aragones' to Flash animation to stop-motion to photo collages, all in the space of eleven minutes. As for the funny...? Um, would've loved the holy hell out of it when I was eleven. Well, if I were eleven now, at least, seeing as how Mad, like the mag, likes to wade kneedeep in pop culture. I'm kind of...old and way outside the target demographic for a show like this, so no, I really wasn't laughing all that much myself, but even though I'm bitter and jaded and dead inside, I can still pick up on how clever a lot of these spoofs really are. But, hey! Why am I writing this review anyway? Clips from these thirteen episodes are all over the Interwebz, so tear into a few of 'em, and if you like what you see, go ahead and grab this DVD.