The animated world of a young amateur filmmaker
For a short while, there was an amazing rush to add animated shows to prime-time television, resulting in some of the least-watched series ever. From "Mission Hill" and "The Oblongs" to "Gary and Mike" and "The PJs," network TV just didn't know what to do with these shows, so they quickly left the airwaves, only to find their audience on cable. Among them was one of the biggest reclamation projects TV had seen: "Home Movies."
First produced for UPN in 1999, "Home Movies" only ran for six episodes on network television. That's probably for the best, since the show was too subversive and intelligent to mix with the bottom-rung mess that was UPN's schedule. After its short network life, Cartoon Network picked it up and continued production for four seasons, as part of their [adult swim] line-up. Shown often, the series earned a loyal fan base, and became a staple for the late-night programming block.
Brendon Small (voiced by series creator...Brendon Small) is a kid with a vision to become a filmmaker, and the intellect of a 30-year-old. Actually, he already considers himself a filmmaker, shooting awful short movies with his friends Jason (H. Jon Benjamin, "Dr. Katz") and Melissa (producer Melissa Bardin Galsky). Brendon has got a bit of Calvin (as in "Calvin and Hobbes") in him, as he focuses on his imaginary film world, but there are plenty of adults around to keep him anchored to reality. First and foremost is his mom Paula (voiced by Paula Poundstone for the first five episodes, then Janine Ditullio ("Late Night with Conan O'Brien")), who is raising Brendon by herself, while trying to get her own life together.
The show does follow something of a sitcom formula in terms of plot and pacing, but at the same time, it is completely different. This is all comedy, all the time. No one on this show takes life very seriously. In fact, the kids may be more mature than the adults. Paula flits from interest to interest and job to job, while Brendon's soccer coach, John McGuirk (Benjamin, again), a drunken man-child, is the worst role model a child could ask for. Often the plots are kick-started because Brendon and his pals get caught up in some zany scheme by one of the grown-ups. "Dr. Katz" fans will recognize plenty of the voices, especially Jonathan Katz himself, playing Melissa's dad, Erik. Watching him here makes me long for "Dr. Katz" DVDs. (Listening, Shout! Factory?)
While the writing and voice work are excellent, there's one aspect of the show that literally drives people away from watching, and that's the animation. "Home Movies" is produced in Squigglevision, a technique unique to Soup2Nuts productions ("Dr. Katz," "Science Court") that involves using vibrating lines to create the illusion of additional animation, thus lowering production costs. The resulting look has been known to give some people headaches or nausea, but, to be truthful, it never bothered me. In fact, I feel it gives the show a low-budget charm that standard animation lacks. Only the first season used this technique, as the show switched to cheaper Flash animation the next year, though the look changed only slightly. The animation definitely improves as the season progresses, as you can see by comparing the two frames in this article.
Among the best episodes in the first season are "Law & Boarder," when Paula's college friend visits, causing trouble when it definitely wasn't needed, "Director's Cut," which shows Brendon directing a rock opera based on a Kafka novel and "School Nurse," which pits Jason against McGuirk for the affection of the new school nurse. Also, after the fifth episode, Paula Poundstone is replaced as Paula, and the character comes alive making for more enjoyable episodes. It definitely feels like Poundstone's slow delivery dragged down the show when she was on-screen.
Here are the episodes:
In addition to the four commentaries, the first DVD has an interview with Bouchard (24 minutes). He goes into good depth about how he got started in animation, "Dr. Katz" and the origins of "Home Movies." Less informative, but just as entertaining is a short film by (the real) Brendon Small, titled The Thor Von Clemson Advanced Fast Hand Finger Wizard Master Class. It's pretty silly, but fits well with the show's sense of humor. An animation gallery and a pair of fun easter eggs fill out the disc. One, in particular, is an inspired game.
An animation gallery and animatics for "Director's Cut" are available, along with a short film by Benjamin, Baby Pranks. A parody of hidden camera shows, it's not up to the level of "Home Movies," but cute anyway. It's definitely an interesting inclusion. As on disc one, there's an unusual easter egg included.
A pair of interviews are presented here, one with Benjamin going solo (20 minutes), and one with the three principals, Bouchard, Benjamin and Small (16 minutes). Much like Small, Benjamin BS's his way through this chat, presenting a very funny faux biography. While the trio plays off each other like old friends, this interview is somewhat straightforward, covering much of the development of the show and the thought process behind it. Anyone looking for a making-of piece should be satisfied with this in-depth featurette. The same animatics for "School Nurse" are a choice along with an animation gallery. These are interesting, but not worth many looks, unless you're an artist. Again, an easter egg is available on this disc, this time featuring an interview gone wrong, while some of the nicest DVD credits I've seen are included as well.
The Bottom Line