This Sunday night, Fox will preview two animated series, Axe Cop and High School USA!, that, starting the following week, will anchor a whole new Saturday late-night programming block for the network. Animation Domination High-Def is intended to be Fox’s very own Adult Swim, an hour and a half of raunchy, surreal, mature-audiences-only content, as well as a farm system for its prime-time Sunday cartoon lineup and counterprogramming to Saturday Night Live. It is also intended for an audience under the influence, the likely state of its target demographic at midnight on a weekend—or at least I hope so, because it is almost unbearable sober. If I have to watch a cartoon featuring a bad guy made of zombie poop named Dr. Doodoo 16 years after South Park debuted Mr. Hankey, the Christmas poo, I need to have whatever the dudes from Yo Gabba Gabba! are on.
High-Def expects to find its audience as much on the Internet as on the television: The episodes clock in at under a quarter of an hour and will all be available on a website that is tricked out with viral-friendly options, including a GIF maker, so viewers can legally turn any beat from the show into a GIF. (A sample GIF on the site right now is of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev winking from the pages of Tiger Beet.) A New York Times piece about the programming block, which will add two new series in January, quoted the executive overseeing it, Nick Weidenfeld, who previously worked on Adult Swim, as saying he tried “not to hire anyone who’d ever paid to consume television.” All the better to understand the viewing habits of a generation of cord-cutting TV watchers who only get cable at their parents’ house.
High-Def’s pursuit of youth is such that its first show, Axe Cop, is based on a Web comic created by a 5-year-old and his older brother. The series follows the adventures of a square-jawed, mustachioed, deadpan crime fighter voiced by Nick Offerman who was “a cop who found the perfect axe, so he became Axe Cop.” If a 5-year-old boy were sitting in front of you and relating the events that take place in Axe Cop, you would be impressed with his imagination. But once made into an actual TV show you’re expected to watch, the limitations of even the most febrile 5-year-old’s fantasies become clear: 5-year-olds are not great on plot or one-liners and are pretty squarely still in the anal stage.
In one episode, Axe Cop helps rescue Warthog Man’s friends from the most horrible bad guy in the world with the help of a fellow with a diamond head and a battle-hardened Chihuahua, both of whom are veterans of a brutal war with Chicken Head. To complete the rescue, Axe Man calls dinosaurs from another planet into the ear of that most horrible bad guy, while escaping with his team through the bad guy’s butthole. (“We’re going out the butthole,” says Axe Cop.) In the second episode, Hitler has sent a genius scientist off to “Zombie Island in space”—forget animation, someone should get this kid to spit high-concept koans to a studio exec—where he is eaten by a zombie who poops out the aforementioned Dr. Doodoo, a bad guy with an evil plan to marry the queen of England, make everyone poop themselves to death, and then take over the world with his “doodoo soldiers.” Axe Cop, who never poops, ultimately triumphs—and sends all the fecal matter in the world up into space.
High School USA!, created by Dino Stamatopoulos, best known as Community’s Star-Burns, is both more cleanly plotted and more problematic. Charmingly animated like an Archie comic and voiced by the likes of Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser, New Girl’s Jake Johnson, and Mandy Moore, the show is about the millennial high-school experience, following a clique of sunny, well-meaning students. There is nothing, as the press release puts it, this group “can’t put a positive spin on, from cyber-bullying to Adderall addiction to embarrassing sexting incidents.” But the first episode is an extended, incoherent metaphor about bullying gay students, in which bullies themselves stand in for shunned gay kids.
In the episode, mean-spirited jock Brad is taken by an older cyberbully to a bathhouse where “Bullies can be bullies in the most exclusive private settings.” Brad is filmed beating up another guy in a toilet stall while saying, “This feels good! I am seeing myself for the first time!” The video goes viral and Brad, outed as a bully, is ostracized by his classmates. It’s a totally confused message of tolerance: Being mean to bullies is as wrong-headed as being mean to gay kids? Bullies deserve exactly as much sympathy and acceptance as the gay kids they bully? Any way you look at it, it doesn’t quite scan—which is the point, probably. The show’s not meant to be dissected; it’s meant to be watched as the makers intended: more than half-blazed. The High-Def series won’t be joining The Simpsons and Family Guy anytime soon, but keeping semisentient dudes entertained late on a Saturday night? That’s a bar low enough for even them to clear.
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