Thursday, January 5, 2017

Things That Made My 2016

Way back in 2010, I did a post on this blog about who I felt were the five breakout pop culture stars of the year for various reasons (which, among other things, got noticed by Ethan Nicolle, creator of one of the characters on that list, Axe Cop, who joked around about it on a podcast). I planned on making this an annual thing, but not surprisingly I forgot all about it.

This year I've decided to pick it back up, but approach it from a different angle inspired by my Twitter pal Steve and instead talk about some of the pop culture of 2016, but from a more personal standpoint. This is a look at the year that was through stuff I did; both some entertaining pop culture and other things that occupied my year.


Something Rotten!

Via Playbill. PLAYBILL® is a registered trademark.

My mother and I are really big Broadway buffs, and this is probably one of the best shows both of us have seen. Much in the same tradition as The Producers and the like, this is the sort of Broadway show I like best - very broad comedy with ribald jokes, silly songs, and pop culture satire. In this case, the subject is Broadway itself, as well as Shakespearean drama.

The premise of the show: in olde-timey England, two brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom, are incensed that their plays are being overshadowed by the work of the great William Shakespeare, who is depicted here as an egotistical rock star who gets all the women and fancy parties. Nick decides to use what little money he has to go see Nostradamus - no, not THAT Nostradamus, but his little-known and much less reliable relative Thomas Nostradamus - to see into the future and foretell what the next big trend in theater will be. The answer, naturally - Broadway musicals! The brothers soon get to work on a musical about the most important event ever to happen in the history of the world: the bubonic plague. ("What's that comin' down the Silk Road out of China?/The Black Death! Black Death, whoo!/What's that crawlin' 'round your pee-pee and your vagina?/The Black Death! Black Death, whoo!") Naturally, this doesn't work, so Nick returns to Nostradamus (again, Thomas, not the more famous one) to try and figure out what Shakespeare's most famous play will be. His - naturally mangled - answer: Omelette. The whole thing culminates in a very silly sequence where the characters put on an egg-based version of Hamlet with pastiches of musicals such as The Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story, Dreamgirls, and pretty much every other famous Broadway musical you can think of, including a kickline of dancers in egg costumes and Shakespeare himself in disguise trying to steal back the play he hasn't written yet from the people who stole it from him by looking into the future when he has written it.

As you can probably tell by the description, it's intentionally a very silly show (the writers, themselves brothers, wrote a number of Disney movies as well as the Aardman feature Chicken Run). But everything works - the jokes are funny, the songs are silly and catchy, the parodies are memorable, and the actors...we saw this with the original cast, all of whom were fantastic. My mother was interested in this show at first due to the fact that the main cast members - Brian D'Arcy James, who played Nick; and Christian Borle, who played Shakespeare (and won a Tony for it), were both on one of her favorite shows, NBC's Smash, about a group of New Yorkers brought together by their involvement in a Broadway musical about the live of Marilyn Monroe. (James originated the role of King George III in Hamilton while it was still being developed; he fell in love with this show and decided to join it, long before Hamilton would end up winning Every Award Ever and become such a draw that you have to mortgage your house in order to afford a ticket.) Borle was hilariously hammy, and other breakouts of the cast included Brad Oscar as Nostradamus (Oscar was Nathan Lane's replacement in The Producers by the time we saw it, and he sounds a lot like Lane, which adds a lot to his performance here) and Brooks Ashmanskas as Brother Jeremiah, a Puritan whose daughter falls in love with Nigel, causing an extra layer of chaos. Ashmanskas was probably the biggest scene-stealer, with incredibly subtle facial expressions and effeminate line readings and behavior subtly implying that perhaps he himself is not the "straight" arrow he's cracked up to be. We saw this show twice; the second time around Ashmanskas had already left the cast and his replacement wasn't nearly as memorable. James, Borle, and the rest of the cast would eventually leave as well; the show closed on January 1 after nearly a year and a half on Broadway. It had a great run and I'm glad I got to see it with its original cast.


Christian Borle and Bryan D'Arcy James perform the Act I closing number "Bottom's Gonna Be On Top" on ABC's The View.


Falsettos

Via Playbill. PLAYBILL® is a registered trademark.
This is the musical Christian Borle left Something Rotten! for, as well as its complete opposite tonally. A revival of a two-part off-Broadway musical, this tells the story of an unusual family over the course of 10 years. The first act is pretty much a comedy of errors; a man leaves his wife after he falls in love with another man named Whizzer. The wife, Trina, is forced to raise her son on her own but ends up falling in love with the therapist she hired. Things only escalate from there. This unusual group is brought together by a tragedy in the second act: AIDS has just been discovered and Whizzer has come down with it. The rest of the show is this group of characters in the hospital during Whizzer's final days, being brought together as an unlikely family due to the event.

This was originally performed as two different one-act musicals set 20 years apart, and I can only imagine what audiences must have thought, since the first is pure comedy through and through and the second is much more emotional. Together, they work very well: first you get to know these characters and laugh at how wacky the situations that brought them all together are, but then you really start to feel for them once you've learned their quirks and Whizzer's diagnosis changes the tone of the show. Very few shows I can think of go for both comedy and tragedy and pull it off, but this one did.

One very interesting aspect of the show I enjoyed is that there is no spoken dialogue. It is sung through entirely. This is by no means the first show to do this (Les Miserables is probably the most famous example), but it keeps it from being dull. The minimalist set design is also very effective: in the first act, rather than constructed sets, the action is all set on a bunch of grey props that the actors position to set each scene. Once reality and tragedy sets in, the props are real, as Whizzer spends his final days in a real hospital bed.

We saw the show in previews; the writer and director came out to explain a particular situation that apparently had never occurred in Broadway history: the actress who played Trina fell ill, so her understudy had to step in. However, the understudy also fell ill, so Trina's understudy's understudy was playing the part. Since it was still previews and the actress had so little experience in the role, she carried her script with her at all times in case she needed to refer to it. However, she still managed to do a wonderful job and you immediately ignored the fact she was holding a piece of paper because you were so immersed in the world of these characters. Trina also had a hilarious number where she's preparing dinner as her world falls apart around her and basically says "screw it, this is the way things are now" while frantically chopping vegetables to get out her aggression. Trina's understudy's understudy did great with this number - and, it should be noted, did not need to use her script for it.

The cast of Falsettos is very small, probably around seven actors (two of whom only appear in the second act). The entire cast save for Borle came out to the stage door after the show and it's pretty clear that working on this show made them a close-knit family. They were very sweet and talked about their experiences to the audience outside. Just as events outside their control made a family out of the characters they played, working together made a family out of these actors. Falsettos will be airing on PBS's Live from Lincoln Center later this year; if it sounds appealing to you I definitely suggest you check it out.


The Loud House


Via Viacom press release
What can I say about this that hasn't already been said? Not only did I make an entire blog post about it (which I plan on doing a follow-up to sometime soon), but the show has done enormously well and has made headlines as a result.

For those who are somehow not familiar with it, I'll try to keep my explanation brief (though it's admittedly a challenge): The Loud House is a cartoon on Nickelodeon created by Chris Savino, who has worked on practically every cartoon you can think of over the past 25 years. It's centered around an 11-year-old boy named Lincoln and his 10 colorful sisters: Lori (the oldest), Leni (the not-so-bright one), Luna (the would-be rock star), Luan (the comedienne and resident punslinger), Lynn (the athlete), Lucy (the dark one), Lola (the bratty pageant queen), Lana (the tomboy and Lola's identical twin - which naturally leads to a lot of conflict since that's the only thing about them that's identical), Lisa (the genius), and Lily (the baby). Each episode usually involves Lincoln wanting or trying to do something - have a sleepover, get ready for school, etc. - with the fear in the back of his mind that his sisters will interfere. Lincoln is sort of a Charlie Brown type, so his own dumb luck usually ends up foiling his plans - if his irrational worrying that his sisters will get in the way hasn't already caused them to do so already. In the end though, things (usually) work out well for everyone and there's a little lesson about living life and getting along with a family - immediately followed by another joke lest things get too sappy.


The unique personalities of the cast of The Loud House take center stage in this promotional short.

The show has done surprisingly well - in June, only one month after it premiered, it made headlines by doing the unthinkable and dethroning SpongeBob in viewership ratings. The Loud House became so successful that it was quickly renewed for a second and third season. And it definitely deserved that success - besides being generally positive, upbeat, and reinforcing the importance of friendship and family (things that are definitely needed at this time), the jokes are funny and the art style is distinct and memorable. The visual look of the show is admittedly based on old comic strips, and those touches can be seen everywhere. Characters have stars come out of their heads when they get hit or fall down and emit puffs of smoke when they run. Whenever the Loud siblings get into a fight - which, being siblings, is often - it's always a cartoon fight cloud with arms and legs popping out (which is probably one of my favorite comic running gags on the show).

Via Nickelodeon on Giphy
In an interview with comics journal Hogan's Alley, Savino touched on some of his influences - the visual style is mainly based on a cartoonist named Cliff Sterrett (who I want to learn more about as a result), but the writing, pacing, and characterization come from Peanuts. As you probably know, Charles Schulz is my biggest creative inspiration and my own personal hero, so it's probably this link that drew me to the show - much like Charles Schulz's repertory company or the colorful and large cast of characters that populate The Simpsons's Springfield, every character is immediately recognizable because of their character trait or quirk but aren't defined by it. The characters are kept from being one-dimensional and all of them work well off of each other and even better as a group. Episodes where all 11 of the Loud siblings are playing off of each other are always the most fun, but occasionally an episode will focus on one or two of them in-depth and these are always enjoyable to watch too. Working together must create a special bond - much like the cast of Falsettos, the voice cast of The Loud House has become a family in itself. Based on posts I've seen on social media, they enjoy spending time with each other as if they were real siblings. The official Nickelodeon Animation podcast did a very fun episode with the voice cast, proving not only how much like a real family the Loud voices act, but also in many cases how much they act and sound like their characters in real life!

In a shoutout to one of The Loud House's influences, Lincoln learns the hard way not to practice football with someone named "Lucy". Screencapture via The Loud House Wiki.
The show is also well-promoted on social media, which is very important for promotion in this day and age since most kids - and people in general - consume their entertainment by online streaming rather than traditional over-the-air TV; The Loud House has official presences on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram. The staff of the show even wrote and drew an interactive comic strip in the Choose Your Own Adventure style taking advantage of the Instagram format. It's a clever idea I'm surprised no one has ever done before and definitely worth checking out.

The Loud House has encouraged me to write and draw again for fun in a way no animated series has since Phineas and Ferb (and since I talked about that show a lot on this blog, given the current success I have a feeling the kids from Royal Woods will pretty much have permanent resident status here too). This summer, I wrote a fan letter to the Loud House crew in Burbank (with some help from an old high school friend who introduced me to the show in the first place) explaining why I liked the show so much and why it's inspired me to be creative again as well as thanking them for doing so. Inspired by a friend on Twitter who I saw sent cartoonists fan drawings of their drawings to be signed by them, I sent along a drawing of the Loud House cast in the hopes that it would be signed by Chris Savino. I was humbled and honored to not only receive his signature, but also that of the entire writing and storyboard crew, whom I have become fans of as well. I wish the entire team continued success and hope that they continue not only to inspire others with their work but also get to showcase their own awesome talents with projects of their own someday. (Even Savino himself isn't resting on his laurels - he recently started posting samples online of a Rocky and Bullwinkle homage he's had in the back of his head for years called Bigfoot and Gray he's just started to work on again.)




Watch one of my favorite Loud House storyboard artists, Jordan Rosato, draw the cast of the show and discuss her career (including designing the anime-style versions of the characters seen in the short earlier in this article!)



Milo Murphy's Law

Via Nerdist. ©Disney Enterprises Inc.
After nearly a decade on the air, Phineas and Ferb - which, as I mentioned (and as you probably know), is another cartoon I talked about a lot - ended a successful run in 2015. Creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh immediately began work on a new series which debuted this year. Milo Murphy (voiced by "Weird Al" Yankovic) is a normal kid - well, normal in the same sense that Phineas and Ferb are normal. Milo is the walking embodiment of Murphy's Law (officially he's a direct descendant of its namesake and inherited the condition hereditarily, but that's never actually mentioned on the show itself). Fires, explosions, property damage - you name it, if Milo's in the area it's probably going to happen. Yet Milo himself is never aware of it, nor does it ever affect or faze him. Milo is naively optimistic, and feels that his bad luck only makes his life an adventure, carrying a survival kit around in a backpack just in case. The episodes usually revolve around Milo and how his unusual luck and viewpoint turn everyday tasks into slapstick adventures, with a colorful cast of characters including Bradley, who has a Frank Grimes-style pessimistic view of Milo as everything goes right for him but wrong for Bradley (and is ironically voiced by the same person who voiced the always-optimistic Phineas on Phineas and Ferb) and Diogee, Milo's pet dog who is the exact opposite of Ferb's Perry the Platypus - whereas Perry was always running away, Diogee always follows Milo into the brink of danger and usually saving him without anyone realizing (to which Milo simply responds "Diogee, go home. Silly boy, he's not supposed to be [incredibly descriptive explanation of what he's currently doing]").

In the ever-competitive television landscape, being a hit show requires not only quality, but luck. Besides being a well-written show, The Loud House has been incredibly lucky in that it's been given a prime weekday-afternoons-at-5 slot of real estate but also adequate promotion - the problem with an animated show is that production takes so long you either have to run episodes on a regular schedule and run out of your stockpile quickly or stagger premieres while increasing the wait between new episodes. Cartoon Network made the latter into the ultimate promotion tool with its Monday-to-Friday strip "Steven Bomb" weeks of premieres of Steven Universe, increasing not only the anticipation for new episodes but the eventual Nielsen ratings each time they aired. Nickelodeon has been reaping the rewards of The Loud House in a similar way, stockpiling episodes to dole out an entire month of premieres in May to create buzz followed by one or two weeks of premieres each month following, creating a supply-and-demand situation that didn't burn out new episodes too quickly but still managed to get an entire season on the air in six months' time. Ferb itself was given a similar PR blitz, with an entire "Ferb-uary" of new episodes every day in February 2008. Most other shows aren't so lucky (as C.H. Greenblatt made clear to many when lamenting the raw deal his show Harvey Beaks was given late last year), and unfortunately Milo Murphy's Law is one of those cases. Sadly befitting a show whose main character is the epitome of bad luck, Disney doesn't really seem to know what to do with the series, having only aired a handful of half-hours throughout 2016, then shifting premiers over from Disney XD to flagship Disney Channel as a result of poor ratings. Like Milo himself would be, I remain optimistic that Milo will find an audience. Besides, it took Povenmire and Marsh over a decade to sell Phineas and Ferb in the first place because networks thought it was too weird - this wouldn't be the first time they've had trouble having a creation of theirs catch on.


Mighty Magiswords

Via Variety. ©The Cartoon Network Inc.
This is a late addition to the list as I only started watching this series last week when I was looking for something to do. Mighty Magiswords is a Cartoon Network series that originally debuted as a series of online shorts. In a intentionally anachronistic medieval kingdom called Rhyboflaven, siblings Prohyas and Vambre serve as warriors for hire - in that that is their job, the name of their business (pronounced "bweezness") is Warriors for Hire, and their last name is actually Warrior. Prohyas is the dumb one who rushes into things before thinking and loves making horrible puns (much to the dismay of his sister), and Vambre is the level-headed one whose hobbies include reading the Harry Potter-esque Veronica Victorious book series and not wearing pants. Most of their quests involve both using and finding Magiswords - which are swords with bizarre powers.

This series is just plain goofy, and a throwback to stuff such as classic Looney Tunes where the order of the day is snappy dialogue and slapstick, with a little bit of Ren and Stimpy thrown in as funny and overexaggerated posing and facial expressions also deliver a lot of the humor. (In fact, Bob Camp, who's probably one of Ren and Stimpy's most famous artists, works as a writer and storyboard artist for the show). Cartoon Network is cross-promotiong the show with original online shorts as well as an app that allows viewers to gather their own collection of Magiswords. If there's one problem the show is having in its infancy, it's that the free three and five-minute online shorts are more entertaining than the 11-minute TV ones. The staff is apparently having a problem due to the snappy pacing of the original online shorts and stretching that out into a longer story, but one of the staff members admitted that was a problem they were having and are trying to work on. Either way, the characters, setting, and comedy prove that this is definitely a show that looks like it will have potential down the line once the kinks are ironed out. For fun, here are some of my favorite shorts.

"Warriors for Hire" - The Warriors are less than enthused that their first job after opening for business is unclogging a sink.



"Bark Attack" - The Warriors confront a tree who thinks he's a radio deejay (despite radio not yet existing, although cell phones do. Go figure.)



"The Desolation of Grup" - The Warriors are hired to vanquish a cute and clumsy dragon named Grup. Thankfully, they soon discover that "vanquish" is not the same thing as "kill".



Game Center CX (Retro Game Master)

Via Level Up Video Games. ©Fuji Television/Gascoin
Here are a few things that are not "pop culture of 2016" but "pop culture I got into during 2016". Game Center CX - also known as Retro Game Master - is a long-running Japanese television show starring Shinya Arino, a well-known Japanese comedian, as the "kachou" (section manager or chief) of the Game Center, a fictional company. His goal is to play classic video games - usually for the Famicom (NES) - usually incredibly difficult ones that define the phrase "Nintendo Hard". Part of the appeal of the show is that Arino is not a video game expert by trade, and the struggle of getting through particularly hard parts of the game is made out to be like a sports event - and sometimes is actually as stressful as one! Arino has access to period strategy guides and assistants when he gets stuck, but most of the time he pulls off an unexpected miracle, and these are always the most satisfying.

Although seeing him challenge difficult games we all know such as Mario and Zelda titles are always entertaining, the most interesting episodes are ones that revolve around incredibly difficult games that were never released in the United States or quirky Japan-only genres such as detective RPGs, plot-based quiz games (where players have to answer Jeopardy!-style general knowledge questions to do something like unify feudal Japan or raise a child), and horse racing simulations. Arino's playthough of the latter was unintentionally filled with a soap-opera worthy plotline due to his usual ineptness, as he accidentally had one of his horses mate with its own parent and then struggled with the decision as to whether to have the incestuous offspring run in an important race knowing that it would be physically weaker as a result of inbreeding.

Another highlight of the show is the various segments which change every season which highlight retro video game culture in Japan, which is pretty much the same as it was in the United States: strategy guides, bizarre peripherals, tie-in comics, unsuccessful systems, etc. Probably my all-time favorite of these was one called "Sing About Whatever the Hell You Want", in which Arino is sent lyrics to songs from classic video games made up by viewers he then proceeds to sing on the air. Another memorable segment was "Moshi Moshi Tactics", in which Arino received assistance from random callers in how to complete an incredibly horrible RPG called "Super Monkey Adventure", ostensibly based on the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West. (At one point, Arino makes fun of the game's full title "Original Journey to the West: Super Monkey Adventure", remarking that there is in fact nothing original about it.)

The segment that remains the same each season - and probably one of the most fun - is "You Should Visit This Game Center Sometime" (or "Tamage", after its abbreviation in Japanese, for short). Here, Arino visits an arcade (or game center, as they are called there) somewhere in Japan to see what sort of games they offer. Usually these are arcades of the regular sort, but very often he visits a small candy shop somewhere in a small town with a few arcade games set up outside. These are always fun as the candy shops are inevitably always run by a kindly old woman. And one of the arcade games is inevitably Metal Slug. I'm assuming it's some kind of law that all candy shops in Japan must be run by kindly old women and have at least one Metal Slug game on the premises. Arino always asks the old woman to play Metal Slug with him, and some of them are surprisingly good at it! Special episodes based on the Tamage segment have taken Arino to Cambodia, Vietnam, France, California, and other exotic locales, where he took a look at the video game culture of each and managed to mangle foreign languages (his favorite French phrase was "je t'aime" - I love you - whereas in his American adventure he became obsessed with telling people in English "I am very tired because of a long trip").

For the most part, Game Center CX thrives in less-than-legal manners thanks to a very enthusiastic fanbase who has subtitled most of the episodes. There was an unsuccessful attempt to bring the show to the United States, which led to a DVD release of a handful of episodes as well as the translation of the first video game for the Nintendo DS (sadly, its sequel never saw the light of day over here). Both are worth checking out, and if you must take a look at the seedy underground to see some of the fan-subtitled episodes, I'm not going to stop you. It's just a shame that the series didn't catch on here, but Arino has a big American fanbase regardless (which he himself was surprised at when he made his American trek) and he's always fun to watch.

Japanese

A lot of people are interested in learning a foreign language as a result of some element of that language's home country they enjoy. For a lot of people who want to learn Japanese, it's usually anime or manga. For me, it's a mix of my interest in classic video games and their history as well as Game Center CX that made me want to learn Japanese.

I originally tried learning Japanese when I was in high school, buying a few books but being woefully unprepared in knowing how to start actually studying it. In 2016 I decided to start anew as a result of my Game Center CX kick. There are a ton of great online and print resources that not only teach you Japanese, but also teach you how to "learn how to learn" - not just Japanese, but anything. I admittedly haven't been studying as full-on as I should be (something I plan to rectify in 2017), but the fact that I can actually read all of the Japanese hiragana, katakana, and a good handful of kanji (probably about 100 or more, including all those required for the beginning level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test) is an improvement from the beginning of 2016, when I couldn't read any Japanese at all. I can identify a few simple sentences - my mother was impressed when I saw a sign outside a Hershey's store in New York that read チョコが大好きです (Choco ga daisuki desu) and I was able to both read it and identify that it meant "I love chocolate".In 2017, I hope to really start seriously studying Japanese in-depth, and hopefully I'll have a few blog posts that will introduce you to the world of Japanese for those of you interested in studying it yourselves.

So that's my 2016 - like most of yours it was probably very colorful and entertaining. Even with all the sadness and uncertainty, this was certainly a memorable year for me as it probably was for all of you. Let's all go forward and make new discoveries in 2017 - in entertainment, in the world around us, and wherever we may find them.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Jean Jacques Perrey, 1929-2016

Rolling Stone magazine and other outlets are reporting the passing of Jean-Jacques Perrey from lung cancer on Friday. He was 87. An early pioneer of electronic music, the French-born Perrey was an early adopter of an electronic instrument called the Ondioline (a modified version of which was used in the famous solo in Del Shannon's Runaway) and in 1966 with Gershon Kingsley (who composed the famous Moog composition Popcorn) released the album The In Sound from Way Out!, combining the Ondioline with hand-spliced tape loops of animals, humans, and other sound effects. Their follow-up the following year, Kalidoscopic Vibrations, is notable for featuring one of the very first songs ever to utilize a Moog synthesizer, The Savers (later used as the theme to the game show The Joker's Wild). Although many Moog-based albums would be released in the 1960s and 1970s - many of which would follow Perrey & Kingsley's example of mixing original compositions with classical music and popular Top 40 tunes of the time, it's amazing to think that what I've always considered the earliest example of a "Moog album" is in fact 95% not "Moog" but rather a predecessor!

 
Perrey & Kingsley's one actual "Moog" composition, The Savers (1967)

Perrey would later record two solo albums for Vanguard and compose a number of other works and albums both alone and with collaborators, most recently with Dana Countryman. Jean-Jacques Perrey's work is some of my favorite music of all time because it's not only catchy, but also a very "visual" sort of music. It's some of my favorite music to draw to and is in a way to me very much like an aural cartoon - many of his songs I can imagine sight gags that accompany the changing instrumentations and sound effects (in later years Perrey's work with Countryman would even sample the iconic Hanna-Barbera cartoon sound effects, which scream "zany cartoon" to me - as they probably do to a lot of people, since they've been used in practically every cartoon from the past 30 or 40 years). It's also probably some of the few "Space Age" music that still sounds "out there" and futuristic, perhaps not in the real future sense that was big in the '60s, but the imagined "retro future" of the same era that '60s icons that originally meant to predict what our futures will be like, such as Disneyland's Tomorrowland, have chosen to pay tribute to when those predictions turned out to be less than accurate.

 
One of my favorite Perrey & Kingsley "cartoon" pieces, Electronic Can-Can (1966)

And speaking of Disneyland, it is they who we have to thank for Perrey's most indelible contribution to pop culture - when Disneyland introduced the Main Street Electrical Parade in 1972, Don Dorsey, who was responsible for audio engineering and production for Disneyland parades and festivals, chose Perrey & Kingsley's Baroque Hoedown as the song which would accompany it. Dorsey's rendition of the song is famously mixed with various theme songs from famous Disney movies and patriotic tunes. The song oddly fits the experience, which is as "out there" as Perrey's music, and the song has become one of many that make one immediately think of the Disney parks - if not the Walt Disney Company as a whole itself. Interestingly, the song was at first used without permission - Perrey himself was unaware that Disney was using it in a parade until he visited one of the theme parks and was shocked to hear one of his own compositions! Since then, things have been squared away and Perrey & Kingsley have been paid proper royalties by Disney. (Before Disney took the song as its own, the Beatles sampled Baroque Hoedown on the 1968 installment of their annual fan club Christmas greeting - a record which also included Tiny Tim covering Nowhere Man.)

 

Perrey and Kingsley's original recording of Baroque Hoedown was used as the soundtrack for this short film which appeared as part of Mickey Mouse's 50th anniversary TV special in 1978. Combining it with stop-motion animation of Disney memorabilia further shows how the song has become synonymous with "Disney" as a company and a spirit. Stop-motion animator Mike Jittlov was incensed that Disney did not give him on-screen credit for his short films, so he hid the name of two collaborators in the animation itself and his name backwards on the psychiatrist's door at the start of the film. Jittlov's autobiographical movie The Wizard of Speed and Time is an interesting, if intentionally fanciful, recollection of his work and example of his mastery as a stop-motion artist.

Other countless examples of Perrey's work in pop culture include, but are not limited to, the "Medicinal Fried Chicken" episode of South Park, a recent Simpsons couch gag and a recent Apple commercial, a sample in the Smash Mouth song Walking on the Sun, and countless, countless others. As Perrey was a musician, the best way to honor him is not to talk about him, but to let you listen to him, so here are some more of my favorite compositions as well as other uses of his music in pop culture:

 

2016 guest Simpsons couch gag featuring Perrey & Kingsley's Computer in Love

 

December 1969 sketch from The Ed Sullivan Show starring one of the newest Muppets at the time, Big Bird, only one month after Sesame Street debuted, featuring Perrey's solo composition Minuet of the Robots. Big Bird is performed here not by Caroll Spinney but a professional dancer, who accidentally beaned Ed with his beak at the end of the sketch. Sullivan apparently didn't get the "I'll give you the bird" zinger - I'm guessing he ad-libbed the unintentionally hilarious (and redundant) introduction of his next guest as "Big Bird, a real big bird."



An example of Perrey's later work- his 2006 cover, with Dana Countryman, of The Typewriter, a famous comic instrumental by Leroy Anderson, famed composer of light, usually comic, instrumentals, his most famous being Sleigh Ride (the lyrics were written later by someone else).


"Going to the Store" (2011) by David Lewandowski, featuring Perrey & Kingsley's The Little Ships

I end this tribute to one of my favorite composers with my all-time favorite composition of his - Country Rock Polka from the 1970 solo album Moog Indigo. This is another "aural cartoon" track where I can think up gags in my head to the constantly changing instrumentation of the simple, hummable, repeated theme. These are the kind of instrumentals I like best, giving joy without words to everyone regardless of language, and Jean-Jacques Perrey did it quite well and with technology that was new at the time and still sounds unique to this day. Remembering his collaborator, Dana Countryman wrote in an appreciation that "[h]is motto and creed in almost every interview that he gave was 'keep smiling and be happy'. He was the master of happiness." Great advice, especially in a year such as this one. Thanks, Jean-Jacques, for your humorously happy music.

 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Series Review and 10 Terrific Episodes of...The Loud House (first half of Season 1)

The cast of The Loud House. Lincoln (in the orange shirt at far right) is being chased by (clockwise from top left:) Lily, Luan, Luna, Lori, Leni, Lisa, Lynn, Lucy, Lana, and Lola.

The entertainment industry seems to love stories of young professionals who strike lightning out of the gate, but for every Mozart or Spielberg, there are probably twice as many veterans who plugged away for years in the background before striking gold. In the industry of TV animation, Chris Savino fits the bill for the latter, but not before chalking up an incredibly impressive body of work in his 25-year career. Starting on Ren & Stimpy in his 20s, Savino has on his resume stints on such fan favorites and bona fide modern classics as Rocko's Modern Life, the original Powerpuff Girls, and Samurai Jack, as well as serving as show runner on the post-Genndy Tartakovsky version of Dexter's Laboratory and director of a memorable Cartoon Network original movie The Flintstones: On the Rocks. But no man is an island, and very few successes - animated or otherwise - can be truly said to be the work of just one person, and that also goes for the series Savino and his team are currently reaping the benefits of - had Savino had his way, it would have involved a talking rabbit and his 25 sisters. Nickelodeon executive Jenna Boyd gave a piece of advice that Savino considers the greatest he's ever received in his professional career: "consider making them human."
Model sheet for Warren, Lincoln Loud's lagomorphic prototype. Via the official Nickelodeon Animation Tumblr.
With that suggestion - and the number of sisters whittled down to a more-sizable yet still comically overwhelming 10 - the result was The Loud House. (Amazingly, Savino drew partially on personal experience, growing up with nine siblings, with the five who were girls - much like the female characters on the show - all having four-letter names beginning with L.) After a proof-of-concept short as part of the 2013 Nickelodeon animated shorts program, the concept was picked up as a series much quicker than usual. The Loud House debuted as a regular series on May 2, 2016. After two months on the air, the results are overwhelming to say the least: already it's the top animated kids show on cable, nearly doubling Nickelodeon's kiddie viewership ratings and - perhaps most astonishingly of all - taking the viewership crown that's belonged for more than a decade to that ratings god and genuine pop culture icon, SpongeBob SquarePants. The series was renewed for a second season after less than a month on the air. (Not to say that the fry cook champion of Bikini Bottom is down for the count - a rising tide lifts all boatmobiles and good competition makes everyone work harder, even if said competition comes from the same network. Mr. SquarePants, still a unstoppable merchandising powerhouse, just wrapped up a stopover in Chicago preparing for his debut on one of the few facets of the media landscape he has yet to conquer: Broadway.)

The Loud House follows the day-to-day struggles of Lincoln Loud (voice of Grant Palmer, the only actual child in the voice cast that makes up the Loud family - and believe it or not, giving the L-named main family unit in a show called "The Loud House" the actual last name of "Loud" was a suggested afterthought as well), an 11-year-old boy who is the middle child in a family of 11 kids. In order of age, his ten siblings - all sisters - are: Lori (Catherine Taber), the oldest child who, when she's not talking to her boyfriend Bobby on her cell phone, tries in vain to serve as the voice of authority when things get out of hand (as they often do); Leni (Liliana Mumy), the fashion-savvy "dumb blonde" (at least on the surface) who is sweet and loyal but frequently confused and scatterbrained; Luna (Nika Futterman), the would-be rock star who enjoys playing guitar as loudly as possible and often gives her thoughts on goings-on in the form of famous rock lyrics; Luan (Cristina Pucelli), the jokester who enjoys pranking her siblings and frequently punnily comments on goings-on much to the annoyance of those around her; Lynn (Jessica DiCicco), the sporty girl who enjoys turning everyday chores into sports and making up her own bizarre (and often painful) competitions; Lucy (also DiCicco), the dark-haired goth girl who writes melancholy poems and whose tendency to "hide in plain sight" due to easily being ignored is a frequent running gag on the series; the twin siblings Lana (Grey DeLisle-Griffin) and Lola (also DeLisle-Griffin), a pair of troublemakers who, despite being different as night and day - Lana enjoying frogs, mudpies, operating heavy machinery, and other tomboyish pleasures whereas Lola is the typical spoiled rotten, easily-angered pageant queen (and often the other siblings' worst nightmare) - frequently make a chaotic team when they aren't arguing with each other; Lisa (Lara Jill Miller), the four-year-old genius who uses her siblings as unwitting test subjects for her wacky experiments when she isn't sarcastically mocking their intelligence behind their back; and Lily (DeLisle-Griffin yet again), the baby who, like most cartoon babies, often seems to have a grasp of the chaos going on around her when she isn't cavorting around naked or making a mess of herself.

Most episodes of The Loud House seem to follow the same basic formula: carrying on a long tradition along the lines of Ferris Bueller, Clarissa Darling, and that other middle child Malcolm, Lincoln opens each episode by directly addressing the audience about some aspect of his life which will be explored in the episode. Lincoln is frequently referred to in show press materials as "the man with the plan", but more often than not those plans go off perfectly only in his imagination. Be it trying to get to the couch to watch a TV show before his sisters, taking a family photo as an anniversary present, or simply trying to get out the door and to school on time, the chaos that is ten sisters running wild makes even the simplest task a chore. Lincoln's plans more often than not backfire not due to his sisters' interference but his own dumb luck or his own fear that his sisters will sabotage them, a mindset which frequently causes said sisterly intervention to inadvertently happen anyway. But at the end of the day, all eleven of the kids end up learning a usually sweet little life lesson about getting along as a family, which Lincoln sums up by addressing the audience once again. Lest things get too sappy, however, this is usually immediately followed by what I like to call a "kicker" - a final out-of-left-field joke (usually a callback to an earlier event or a final repetition of a episode-long running gag) to end things on a laugh.

So why is The Loud House so successful - and why am I writing about it? I've seen a number of people call it "a return to form for Nickelodeon", but that in itself is kind of a misstatement. Ever since getting the ball rolling on creator-driven animated series on cable 25 years ago, Nickelodeon's "house style" has specifically been that they don't have a "house style" - although by sheer coincidence most of the Nickelodeon (and Cartoon Network and Disney Channel/XD) animated series have been perfect matches for each other aesthetically, this in itself is a happy coincidence as each of them has been different as night and day. (Nor were all of them specifically made with a particular network in mind: had history turned out different, both Adventure Time and Phineas and Ferb would have ended up running on Nickelodeon - and Ferb would have premiered 15 years earlier.) But there is a sort of unintentional connection between The Loud House and some of Nickelodeon's most well-remembered series such as Doug and Hey Arnold! in that the roots are very similar - rather than being off-the-wall cartoony mayhem at heart - even though the series is chock-full of it - at its core The Loud House tells slice-of-life stories that are relatively down-to-earth yet still somehow pack a comical cartoon punch. (Heck, even Rocko's Modern Life wrapped some social satire about the problems of everyday life around its kooky cartoon crust.) The day-to-day blunders of the suburban Doug Funnie and the big-city Arnold were relatable to the young viewing audience - and their parents - because they're the sort of everyday story all of us, regardless of age, gender, or residency, tend to deal with. Human foibles are human foibles regardless of where they occur.

Added to this simple base of relatable human antics are a bunch of memorable, surprisingly well-developed characters, an appealing visual style, and a just plain funny, optimistic-in-the-face-of-despair sense of whimsy combined with good comedy writing and top-notch voice acting. To differentiate the characters in the original pilot short, besides being given distinct designs and primary colors of dress, each sister was given a personality trait that can pretty much describe them in a few words: the bossy one, the dumb one, the smart one, the sporty one, etc. It serves as an easy way to tell this admittedly large cast of characters apart, but surprisingly the writers are able to avoid the trap of making the characters seem two-dimensional by giving them personalities that flesh them out both with the help of their simple traits and through other ways as well. (So much so that their vivid personalities occasionally overshadow the ostensible main character of the show, on which more later). The final piece of this puzzle is a charming old-timey art style which hearkens back to the comic strips that Savino cites as a major influence (in particular the work of Cliff Sterrett and Charles Schulz). Animated in ToonBoom Harmony by Ontario-based animation studio Jam Filled, the colors are bright and the animation is filled with cartoony details such as funny background elements and - one of my personal favorite touches - old-timey comic-strip tropes such as fistfights being depicted as clouds of smoke with the occasional human limb popping out (with said smoke clouds being given old-timey cartoon shading).

Via Official Nickelodeon Giphy page

Combined, The Loud House is a fun package that is perhaps a breath of fresh air in that it's optimistic and positive while being relatable and fun to watch. I myself am an only child, but as one, struggles and fights with family members over the simplest and stupidest of things are a common occurrence, so even as someone without siblings there's a point of entry in terms of relatability. There was a period in animation where, as Phineas and Ferb co-creator Dan Povenmire once put it, "every single character was a jerk or an idiot" - a period also exemplified by a slew of cartoons where the headsmart boy main character outsmarted both his out-of-touch idiot parents and his bratty siblings. Here, the characters are on equal footing - despite what some of the advertising makes it out to be, no one is trying to one-up or be smarter than one another, or set up a war on either generational or gender lines. Savino quotes Boyd as saying that the show is "not about pink vs. blue. It's not about boys vs. girls. It is about characters vs. characters." (Granted, as far as the "jerk or idiot" thing goes, Leni is an idiot - at least on the surface - but she's the funny kind.) Both fighting over everyday problems - and finding a way to settle the dispute - paint far too many aspects of human interaction, be they political or familial. To steal a line from the musical Avenue Q (penned by Bobby Lopez before he became Mister Let It EGOT), "the more you love someone, the more you want to kill them". Or, as The Loud House's own theme song puts it (again somewhat inaccurately to its actual tone): "Duck, dodge, push, and shove/it's how we show our love." I've seen at least one review that praises The Loud House as a lighthearted palate cleanser to watch to take a break from the occasionally lighthearted but also serious, emotional roller-coasters of its contemporaries such as Steven Universe and Gravity Falls, and that's probably the best explanation as to why it's so popular: much like the newspaper comic strips it admittedly is influenced by, The Loud House provides a comfortable escape from a cynical world (both the real world and the world of other more emotionally charged animated series), something you can come to day after day and be guaranteed both a smile and assurance that no matter how screwy your life turns out, someone else is having the same problems as you and (occasionally) finding solutions to them. And with the newspaper comic pretty much dead as a doornail, it is any surprise that the format that's carrying on its traditions is one that becomes more popular with each passing year, the animated television cartoon? (Perhaps somewhat ironically, it's this combination of writing, art, and newspaper comic influence that has made The Loud House rekindle my interest in wanting to write and draw comic stories, something that Phineas and Ferb previously influenced in me. Seeing as Phineas and Ferb lasted eight years and got a lot of coverage on this blog, if its popularity continues at its current rate, Lincoln and his sisters will probably hang around this blog as often as the boys from Danville did.)
A possible explanation for The Loud House's success, as summed up by the ostensibly-melancholy Lucy Loud. Screencapture by the author.
The Loud House was originally picked up as 13 episodes of two 11-minute shorts (which is more and more becoming the standard format for an animated television cartoon). This order was later doubled for a total of 26 episodes. Nickelodeon has been reaping the benefits of the Monday-to-Friday "strip" format that Cartoon Network has made an art out of creating programming events around (in particular the successful Steven Universe "Steven Bombs") by debuting a new 11-minute Loud House short every weekday in May, followed by a few special weeks here and there pairing with similar strip stunts for other hit shows such as Harvey Beaks and ALVINNN!!! and the Chipmunks (a surprise third-party runaway hit for the network based on the 60-year-old Ross Bagdasarian novelty act). With 25 of the 26 11-minute shorts making up the first half of the first season having already aired (with the last to air later this month), let's take a look at ten of my favorites that show The Loud House at its finest at showcasing its distinct mix of cartoon comedy antics, character interaction, and life lessons.
A photo posted by @nfutterman on

Title cards - drawn in the style of Sunday comic "logo boxes" - for the original 13-episode pickup (26 shorts) of The Loud House's first season, as a commemorative print by art director Amanda Rynda. Via Nika Futterman on Instagram.

All lists are subjective to begin with, and making a "top ten" list makes things even more complicated. Since I was never any good at ranking things, this is not a "top ten" list, but rather a "ten" list. Episodes are listed in alphabetical order as opposed to being ranked from least to most favorite, and position on the list is not an indication of relative quality and/or personal enjoyment.

All featured episodes were directed by Chris Savino unless otherwise noted.


Chore and Peace

Written by: Alec Schwimmer
Storyboard by: Ed Baker
Screencapture by the author.
Lincoln feels he's getting the raw end of the deal when it comes to chores in the house, being forced to take out the trash while his sisters do things that in his mind are much easier. Lincoln decides to go on strike, refusing to empty the garbage until one of his sisters will trade chores with him. Rather than giving in, the sisters decide to strike back - but when Lily goes missing once the house gets far too dirty, both sides realize the importance of their respective chores.

If a generation's mindset is reflected in its pop culture and vice versa, it's amazing to see how much of a tonal shift there has been between the millennial generation - those who grew up in the 1990s and early 2000s (which include myself) - and their children who are now starting to reach the coveted 2-11 demographic. A metric ton of media marketed to children in the early-to-mid 1990s carried a theme of "who needs stupid parents?" (It's amazing how many types of cereal and/or junk food were advertised with a basic theme of "your parents have no idea why you like this thing, but you like this thing, so who cares about them?") This current generation is apparently much closer to their parents than the previous one was, so it's interesting to see that this trope has (thankfully) pretty much died out. When The Loud House was being focus tested with children for the first time, Chris Savino was shocked when one of the first questions he received was "where are their parents?" If Lincoln and his sisters were able to just run to their parents and have them solve all the messes they got into, there admittedly wouldn't be much of a show, and the kids seemed to know this as well. They just wanted reassurance that there were parental figures keeping a watchful eye on their kids, no matter how rambunctious they may get.

Mom (Jill Talley) and Dad (Brian Stepanek) - it's a running gag that we never get to either see their faces or hear their real names - are for the most part used as background characters or comic relief, or to set the plot in motion as the Louds have to cope with whatever activity they've arranged. This episode probably has one of their most amusing roles as well as a good excuse as to why they choose not to solve this problem - even though the house is a mess, Mom keeps brushing it off with "Well, it's looked worse." She and Dad want to see how Lincoln and his sisters solve this problem themselves - partly out of seeing if they can prove they're responsible and that they might learn something from it, but also partly because they're as amused by the goings-on as the viewers hopefully are (well, not to mention that whole "there really wouldn't be much of an episode if Mom and Dad solved the problem themselves" thing). There's a lot more that makes this episode memorable than just the parents's involvement (or lack thereof, in this case), however: the details of the various trash items thrown around the dirty house are fun to look at and must have been fun for the background artists to think up and draw, and Lincoln's protest maneuvers which get more and more ridiculous are a lot of fun too, as is a running gag involving tiny genius Lisa's chore: paying the family bills, which leads to a lot of back-and-forth with her unseen accountant, using as many S-words as possible to play up the lisp Lara Jill Miller adds to her distinctive voice ("Janish, I don't think any of ush bought a car in Sashkatshewan"). There's also some great supporting roles by frequent guest voice and veteran voice actor in his own right John DiMaggio, including Luna's British-accented roadie Chunk ("Chunk's gotta blow!") and a sentient garbage pile named Trashy (Lisa's doing, naturally), who becomes as concerned as the rest of the family when Lily goes missing, amusingly referring to her only as "Baby".


Driving Miss Hazy

Written by: Karla Sakas Shropshire
Storyboard by: Jordan Rosato
Screencapture by the author.
As the only Loud sibling with a driver's license, Lori is willing to drive the other Loud kids to wherever they want to go - for a price. Fed up with having to do errands in return for transportation, Lincoln realizes that Leni is also of driving age, but her typical cluelessness has led to a record of failed driving tests that rivals a certain sea sponge's. Lincoln decides to use a driving video game to help Leni practice, but her fashion-consciousness and pretty-much-everything-else-unconsciousness combined with Grand Theft Auto-lite tactics do not paint a pretty picture. For some reason, the authorities don't like it when you decide to divert the test vehicle to the mall and hip-check a senior citizen over a new dress in the middle of your driving test. Undeterred, Lincoln's siblings - who are just as tired of catering to Lori's questionable whims as he is - help Lincoln set up a makeshift car in the middle of the living room, and soon Lincoln realizes the problem is that he isn't "speaking Leni". (Wait...there's a country named after her?) With a combination of fashion terminology and using words Leni can actually understand like "spinny thingy" and "blinky-blink", Leni actually learns how to drive, practicing her newfound skills with the family's lawnmower. However, Lori isn't happy about this turn of affairs, and decides to sabotage Leni's chances by having her listen to a recording of dubious driving "advice" the night before the test.

For some reason, "dumb" characters always seem to be the ones that not only seem to have the biggest impression on pop culture as a whole - Homer Simpson, Patrick Star - but also the ones that are my personal favorites. Leni is shaping up to be so far my favorite Loud House character, and this episode is a personal favorite of mine because she takes center stage. If you actually think about it, writing "dumb" lines is actually more difficult than it looks. I'm reminded of the singer Moby's comment about the actual genius inside one of Homer Simpson's typically stupid creations: "You can imagine a Zen monk sitting on top of a mountain for 15 years just thinking about ['Call Mister Plow, that's the name, that name again is Mister Plow']". Comical misunderstandings in the form of puns, usually from someone who doesn't have a keen grasp on the situation at hand, have always been one of the go-to sources of humor from "Who's on first" to that other classic driving test, "what does a yellow light mean". Leni carries on in this tradition here, with her passion for fashion providing an unexpected means to an end. ("What does the brake pedal do? White shoes after Labor Day..." "Ew, stop!" "Exactly! What does the gas pedal do? Boots from the '60s..." "Go-go!")

But it's also possible that Leni is perhaps more intelligent than she lets on (or could ever realize), as we get a lot of comical instances of how her unique way of looking at the world seems to shadow some inate talents - besides her footwear-based knowledge of car parts, Leni eventually gets so skilled at operating the family lawn mower that she's able to write her own name (even if the letters aren't in the correct order), and taking an Amelia Bedeliaesque literal interpretation of Lori's request to "make her bed", she ends up carving an impressive wooden bedframe. (Perhaps I knock Leni's intelligence in this article a bit more than I should myself, but it's only because I love her so.) There's a little bit of obligatory life lesson as Lori shows regret for her actions and a both rare and admittedly sweet example of all the Loud siblings working together to help one of them reach a goal, showing that even in all the chaos they care for each other deep down, but with loopy Leni in the driver's seat, this episode is perhaps one of the most just plain fun so far. Every episode of The Loud House is fast-paced, but perhaps appropriately for one about driving, both the sight gags and wordplay seem to come at a higher speed than normal, making this one of the most "cartoony" episodes (in a good way) of an admittedly already-cartoony show.


In Tents Debate

Written by: Bob Mittenthal
Storyboard by: Ed Baker
Screencapture by the author.
Lincoln and his sisters are dreading their annual vacation to Camp Scratchybottom. After raising the suggestion at a sibling meeting, Lincoln takes it upon himself to ask his parents if it would be possible to vacation elsewhere this year. The only problem is that he never specifically said where. Five of the sisters want to go to the beach, while the other five have their heart set on the Dairyland theme park. With Lincoln the tie-breaking vote, the fear of breaking the hearts of half of his siblings so concerns him he prolongs his decision as long as possible. To try to entice him, both sides butter Lincoln up by doing his chores while also showing off the pleasures of their desired vacation spot. Once they realize Lincoln is taking advantage of the situation, the dueling parties change their tactics to showing off the negative sides of whichever locale the respective lobbying group doesn't want to go to. Is there a decision that can make everyone happy?

Abbott and Costello. Bert and Ernie. Pinky and the Brain. For generations, one of the simplest and most effective ways of writing and performing comedy has been pairing a straight man with a funny guy. This concept even crosses over to other countries and cultures: in Japan, it's the tsukkomi and the boke. In Yiddish, they're called the schlemiel and the schlimazel (as made famous by the theme song to Laverne & Shirley). Writing for comedy with larger groups always seems to follow the same format - you can have as many people as you want, but it's always one straight man playing off of much more colorful characters.

If there is one problem The Loud House is showing while finding its footing (one that will no doubt be solved as the series continues and the team finds their groove into playing with how the characters work with each other), it's that sometimes the colorful personalities of the sisters overshadow Lincoln so much that he ends up having no personality as a result - a dangerous situation for someone who is ostensibly the main character of the show. Lincoln works best as a straight man when he's in the position I like to call "the Mickey Mouse". Once Mickey Mouse became a corporate icon and cash cow, he started to lose his rambunctious personality he had in the carefree days of the 1930s, so more colorful characters were required to work off of him - occasionally themselves guilty of stealing the show out from under him, but for the most part continuing the straight man/funny man tradition perfectly. Pair Mickey with Donald Duck, whose anger at the tiniest thing causes chaos, or Goofy, whose kind-hearted but clumsy actions do the same - or even better, use all three - and you've got a recipe for comedy.

In a career-spanning interview on the official Nickelodeon Animation podcast, Chris Savino remarked that Lincoln's position in the family in terms of age was something he seriously debated and changed multiple times. Making him the middle child makes him what he calls "the fulcrum" of the family - since there are 10 other kids, five older than him and five younger, if he goes too far in one direction, he runs the risk of upsetting the balance in either direction. Whether you want to call him a straight man, a Mickey Mouse, or a fulcrum, Lincoln's position as a middle child makes him a perfect fit to work off of more colorful characters, and since this episode divides the sisters into equal teams of five - not by age, but by desired vacation spot - it's a perfect example and probably one of the best examples of the team getting the dynamic of Lincoln and his sisters right - and perhaps most importantly of all, making it funny. It's also incredibly sweet to see all of the siblings working together, holding a family meeting and seriously discussing their vacation plans, which shows that they can be good friends instead of the stereotypical "always fighting siblings". The situation Lincoln inadvertently causes, how he uses it to his own advantage, and how doing so soon backfires is quite funny and ends in a sweet slice-of-life lesson about how we must occasionally sacrifice our own happiness in order to make others happy, or, to quote the famous Star Trek line, how "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few". That sort of tension/comedy/lesson mix is The Loud House at its best, and this is probably one of the best overall episodes of the series - if not the best - so far. (On an unrelated note, might I point out that Lincoln is not at all concerned about a giant cow randomly showing up in his kitchen and handing him laundry? Lincoln's admittedly an odd kid, but that only raises some questions.)


It's a Loud, Loud, Loud, Loud House

Written by: Chris Savino
Storyboard by: Kyle Marshall
Screencapture by the author.
After the Loud kids come to blows over some spare change left in the couch, Dad punishes them all by making them clean out the attic. There, Lincoln stumbles across a letter from a "Sharon DeMonet" - supposedly the previous owner of the house - telling of a fortune buried somewhere inside the Loud residence. This only makes the siblings want to fight each other for the bounty even more, but Lincoln feels that there may be something to Ms. DeMonet's warning that they won't be able to solve the mystery unless they work together.

Though obviously not as wide-spanning in exotic locales nor as cameo-packed as the 1963 Stanley Kramer classic from which this episode takes its name, it's just as filled with slapstick - and money, obviously. One would think either Lisa or the pun-loving Luan would be able to easily see through a psuedonym as obvious as "Sharon DeMonet", but then again, greed does weird things to people. Besides the episodes which show the balance of the family and how it can easily be tipped (such as "In Tents Debate" above), my other favorite type of Loud House episode is those where Lincoln and his sisters are working together as a single unit to solve a problem, like this one. Personal desires and greed must be set aside, no matter how difficult it may be, but the petty infighting also leads to not only a lesson learned (obviously, though the character who ends up delivering said lesson is a surprise in itself), but a lot of comical fight sequences. We also get another example of Leni perhaps being more intelligent than she lets on (and being aware of people thinking of her as a dumb blonde) - after she uses a hairpin to pick a lock on a treasure chest, she remarks to her shocked siblings, "There's more to my head than just air, you know!"


Linc or Swim

Written by: Karla Sakas Shropshire
Storyboard by: Jordan Rosato
Screencapture by the author.
The antics of the Loud siblings - engaging in chicken fights with the elderly, public defecation, and drinking pool water (hey, it's not Lana's fault it tastes like chicken soup) - have gotten them banned from every public pool in town on a hot summer day. A despondent Lincoln decides to buy a single-occupant inflatable pool all for himself. Lincoln has a heck of a time setting it up, and to make matters worse, his sisters soon commandeer it once it's finished. Eventually, Lincoln finally gets the "paradise for one" he's been dreaming of...but somehow, it's awfully lonely.

This episode showcases another successful way of giving Lincoln a personality that the show hasn't used much (but hopefully will in the future). The three major conflicts in literature are often given as man vs. man, man vs. nature, and man vs. self, but "man vs. technology" is a form of conflict (which probably technically falls into either the "nature" or "self" category) that's been used as a source of comedy ever since Laurel and Hardy tried to push a piano up a flight of stairs (and possibly earlier). The entire middle section of this episode plays out pretty much like a silent cartoon, giving Lincoln a Charlie Brown aspect to his personality as he tries in vain to set up his swimming pool but mishap after mishap ends up getting in his way with as little dialogue as possible. It's a lot of fun to watch, but (as is the case with most of the episodes on this list and most Loud House episodes in general) the whole thing is fun, with the Loud kids's unusual poolside behavior being another highlight - among others, Lucy pefers doing the old "if you drown, you're a witch" test rather than actually swimming, and Leni naturally fails to understand even the basic rules of Marco Polo. (Keep an eye out for the senior citizens who show up at the end of the first scene - long-time Nickelodeon viewers should be able to recognize more than a few of them.)


No Guts, No Glori

Written by: Haley Mancini
Storyboard by: Miguel Puga
Screencapture by the author.
It's Mom and Dad's date night, so Lori's in charge of the house. Much to the anger of the other Loud siblings, Lori's drill-sergeant tactics when it comes to keeping things in order are so restricting that she's quickly dubbed "the Queen of No". The younger Louds decide to overthrow Lori's rule and put Lincoln in charge, but once Lincoln's free-for-all lack of rules quickly dissolves into chaos, Lori's threat that Lincoln "couldn't last five minutes" as the boss soon comes back to haunt him and he quickly gets second thoughts.

You have to wonder if the Loud kids are always this rambunctious or if they decided to go wilder than usual just because Lori wasn't in charge - a good number of the episodes start off with the kids chaotically running around having fun, but the mess they make here is one that's messier than usual. This episode is one that's somehow both not as heavy on the morals yet one that is in a different way - Lincoln doesn't discuss the lesson he learned at the end of the episode, but it's implied from his and Lori's actions that being "firm but fair" works for a reason and that Lori's learned from experience how to keep the house from not being destroyed while Mom and Dad are out. It's fun to see both Lincoln and his sisters working together to conspire to overthrow Lori and then Lincoln and Lori working together to get things straightened out once he realizes the error of his decision. There's also a lot of fun cartoony business, including an amusing sight gag playing on the character design where an irritated Lincoln's face turns red from anger, topped off by his tuft of hair "bursting" and emitting steam. (Interestingly, this is perhaps the only episode so far not written by one of the staff writers - it was written as a freelance gig by Haley Mancini, whose current day job is both writing for and voicing Princess Morbucks on the current incarnation of The Powerpuff Girls, for which she was just nominated for an Emmy.)


Project Loud House

Written by: Chris Savino & Michael Rubiner
Storyboard by: Chris Savino
Screencapture by the author.
Lincoln has made a sculpture of his family as the centerpiece for his show-and-tell project at school. Unfortunately for him, Mom and Dad have already left for the day, so it's up to Lincoln to prepare breakfast and get all of his sisters ready for school. But things (naturally) quickly devolve into chaos: the little distractions - of which there are plenty - are easily taken care of, but then Leni turns blue as a result of her skin cream being replaced with one of Lisa's experimental formulas and Lori refuses to drive the kids after she gets angry with her boyfriend Bobby. Can Lincoln get the entire family out the door still in one piece - and for that matter, can he do the same with his sculpture?

Although neither the first episode produced nor the first to air, this makes a great introductory episode to the series, as it plays a lot on the sisters's distinct personality traits. Although practically every episode uses their quirks as fodder for story and jokes, this one puts them all front and center as they not only cause each little problem, but Lincoln also uses his knowledge of them to his advantage to find a solution.


Sound of Silence

Written by: Michael Rubiner
Storyboard by: Jordan Rosato
Screencapture by the author.
Trying to get some peace and quiet for once, Lincoln decides to buy a pair of noise-cancelling earbuds he sees on a TV commercial. Lincoln finally has a perfect day where he doesn't have to hear his sisters, but the next day soon turns out to be his worst nightmare, as it turns out by pretending to agree with everything his sisters said to cover the ruse, he's accidentally made plans with his sisters to help them with all their unusual requests. To make matters worse, they keep telling horror stories of retributions carried out as a result of disappointing Lola, who keeps reminding Lincoln of an important errand he inadvertently agreed to.

This episode is an amusing take on the pushback between Lincoln and his sisters when it comes to the few instances they try to get the upper hand on each other (though never in a malicious way). Lincoln may be smart, but he's not as smart as he thinks he is. Suffice it to say his sisters may know he's been ignoring them...which makes me wonder, if they made up this whole thing as payback for Lincoln ignoring him, are all of the Lola horror stories made up as well? Because Lola is just the type to actually go through with the amusing flashbacks which are a highlight of this episode, which include references to The Godfather and Fatal Attraction.


Space Invader

Story by: Chris Savino & Karla Sakas Shropshire
Written & Storyboarded by: Chris Savino
Screencapture by the author.
Being the only boy in the house, Lincoln is the only Loud kid with a bedroom all to himself - well, actually, it's a closet that's been converted into a bedroom, but at least he doesn't have to share a room as all his sisters do. That is, until Lynn and Lucy get in a fight and the kind-hearted Lincoln just can't say no to Lynn's request to sleep over. After all, it is only one night. Lynn's love of sports leads to irritating and often painful (for Lincoln, that is) antics all through the night, and her loud snoring once she finally does fall asleep only makes things worse. Lynn has already overstayed her welcome, but much to Lincoln's dismay, Lucy still won't make up with her, and Lincoln's attempts to send Lynn packing by imitating her boorish bedtime behavior only endear Lynn to him more. It's up to Lincoln to have Lynn and Lucy make up so he can finally get a good night's sleep.

It takes all sorts of humor to make any type of comedy, but relying too much on any one type makes it tedious. At the same time, certain types of humor are degraded or thought of as ruining something if they're even used sparingly. Practically every comedy staple or institution - from Monty Python to The Simpsons to Phineas and Ferb - is somehow able to find a mix of both highbrow and lowbrow humor, and The Loud House is no exception. In an interview with fan site Beyond the Cartoons, Chris Savino mentions the possiblity of a "well-placed fart joke" - "We're not doing fart jokes for the sake of fart jokes, but when it fits, it fits." Thankfully, The Loud House doesn't go to that well too often, and it's neither the intentionally ironic juxtaposition of, say, a vomiting cat with the orchestration of light-hearted, hokey needle-drop music (which Joseph Lanza dubbed "gale-storming" in The Cartoon Music Book) that Ren & Stimpy turned into a perverse art form, nor is it the wall-to-wall booger and poop jokes that many cartoons in the mid-'90s jammed themselves with in a failed attempt to reverse engineer what made Ren & Stimpy so popular. They are there, but they're sparingly used and, yes, well-placed. When Lynn performs a "Dutch oven" on Lincoln in this episode (farting in bed while he's trying to sleep and then jamming him under the covers so he's forced to smell it), it's not funny because it's a fart joke for the sake of being a fart joke or because Lynn's doing it out of malice (because she clearly isn't). It's funny because it's honest - these are siblings being forced to room together due to circumstances beyond their control, so of course they're going to tease each other just because they can get away with it.

And putting up with your siblings at bedtime is exactly what this episode is about. Most of the Loud sisters are paired together in bedrooms by relative age, which for the most part works, as most of the pairs are alike in either age (identical twins Lola and Lana) or mindset (teenage girls Lori and Leni). But Lynn and Lucy sharing a room is the odd one out: they have absolutely nothing in common (well, other than being voiced by the same person), and it's this "odd couple" relationship and both how it shouldn't work but somehow does that fuels this episode. Lynn and Lucy make an odd couple, but it turns out Lynn and Lincoln make an even odder one. Familiarity may sometimes breed contempt, but more often than not, even the most unlikely of opposites can become the best of friends, and it's the fact that Lynn and Lucy actually miss each other - and how they express it - that's a highlight of this episode. Other memorable bits include Lincoln's impersonation of Lucy and a great misdirection double-entendre that's boosted both by DiCicco's delivery and Lincoln's initial reaction: after seeing Lincoln playing with a stuffed rabbit - "Y'know, I'm noticing a complete lack of balls in this room. [beat] No soccer balls, no footballs, no baseballs..." (Not that this kind of joke is the sort of thing that makes or breaks a show for me, but like I said, it takes all kinds of humor.)


Undie Pressure

Written by: Alec Schwimmer
Storyboard by: Violaine Briat
Screencapture by the author.
Lincoln has the pesky habit of reading comic books in his underwear in plain sight of his sisters. It's more comfortable for him that way, but naturally they're not the biggest fans. After an argument regarding all of their bad habits, Lincoln decides to make a bet with his sisters: he'll stop reading comic books in his underwear for good, but only if he isn't able to go without doing so longer than all ten of his sisters can go without their own bad habits. With a new pair of underwear on the line for Lincoln, both sides are (for the most part) prepared for a long battle - but some of them go down easier than others, and nobody ever said that those who are more strong-willed - namely, Lola - had to play fair...

If this were a live-action series, this would probably be classified as a "bottle episode" - where, for budget purposes, the action is confined to relatively few sets and features relatively few cast members (though, of course, this has no monetary bearing on anything when you're an animated series with eleven characters). This episode takes place entirely within the Loud living room, so the spotlight here is how the characters interact with each other and how they try their darndest both to give up their own respective vices and get each other to start doing theirs again. Lori's boyfriend Bobby actually appears in person for the first time as well. He's voiced by Carlos PenaVega, who's no stranger to Nickelodeon, having starred in Big Time Rush (as well as being a member of the band of the same name that was spun off of it). Like most of the Disney talent who became part of the supporting cast of Phineas and Ferb, he does a surprisingly good job as a voice actor, as his deadpan reactions to unusual goings-on - such as a actual chicken crossing the road - end up forcing Luan to naturally make joking responses (as much as she doesn't want to for once). The ramping-up of the competition is done in such a way that when the eventual victor is revealed, it comes as a surprise - I had completely forgotten the character's involvement when I first saw the episode - and the lesson here, where Lola actually shows remorse for her actions and buys Lincoln his "victory undies" even though he didn't win, is probably one of the show's sweetest. (And Luna - and by extension Nika Futterman - does some pretty darn good comedy British and Svedish accents, ja?)


Bonus: Slice of Life

Written by: Chris Savino
Storyboard by: Jordan Rosato & Kyle Marshall
Directed by: Kyle Marshall
Screencapture by the author.
This web-exclusive short is a direct adaptation of a comic given away to promote/advertise the show during its coming-out party at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con. Said comic was only five pages long, so even for a short it's pretty short, but admittedly, there's really not much you can do with the concept of "this is what dinner's like when you have 11 kids and a pizza has 12 slices", but what it does it does well. It's on this list as a bonus for two reasons: it yet again does a good job of introducing the characters's personality traits (which it should, given as it was meant to create awareness of the show's existence and all) and in part to highlight the contributions of the latest member of my personal Hooray for Women Doing Awesome Things In Animation and Also I Am Extremely Jealous of This Person's Talent Fan Club (among whose esteemed members include a previous interview subject of mine, Aliki Theofilopoulos), Jordan Rosato, who drew the brief shot in this short of the characters rendered in anime/manga style as they prepare to battle over the last slice of pizza. Besides having done a lot of my personal favorite episodes alongside writer Karla Sakas Shropshire, Rosato's caught my attention due to her contributions to "Linctober", an event the Loud House staff did on social media in October 2015. Putting their own spin on the popular "Inktober" concept - in which an artist posts an original drawing in ink every day in October - members of the show's staff drew characters from the series in the style of a different comic artist every day. Not just Rosato (who chose Leni), but Miguel Puga (Lincoln), Diem Doan (Luan), and Lauren Patterson (Charles the dog) did some fantastic pieces rendering the Loud House characters in styles ranging from the realistic (Dick Tracy, Marvel Comics) to the cartoony (Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes) and yes, a few manga and anime-inspired pieces - not only recreating each individual style dead-on, but also creating some art that's just plain fun to look at. Given not only the visual inspiration but the shoutouts the show makes to the Sunday funnies (the family pets are named Charles, Cliff, Walt, and Geo after cartoonists Schulz, Sterrett, Kelly, and McManus respectfully), I'm hoping to see future episodes which play on different styles for fantasy and dream sequences in the same way Rosato gives them a manga twist in this promotional short to allow the creative team to be given more chances to show off their expertise at various art styles. (To see the Linctober contributions for yourself, check out the "#linctober" hashtag on both Tumblr and Instagram. And while you're there, check out Jordan Rosato's own Tumblr and Instagram.)

Honorable Mention:

Sleuth or Consequences (written by Whitney Wetta & Sammie Crowley, storyboarded by Kyle Marshall): Lincoln's hopes to go to a convention devoted to his favorite superhero, a Batman-type character called Ace Savvy, are thwarted after Dad grounds all the kids when the toilet backs up. Lincoln is immediately blamed due to his past mischief, but for once in his life he's completely innocent. To clear his name, Lincoln decides to put Ace Savvy's teachings into action and plays detective, interrogating his siblings as to who caused the clog with the help of Lucy (who had nothing better to do anyway).

This is a fun little episode in particular for its revelation about Lucy. I won't give it away here as it's a good part of the fun, but let's just say you can't always judge a book by its cover, and Lucy's secret - and how Lincoln decides to hide it in a lesson regarding what you're comfortable about yourself to reveal to others and how those close to you will have your back to make sure you aren't teased about it if you aren't - is quite memorable. Another highlight is the entire interrogation sequence, in particular Lincoln's horribly-drawn caricatures of his "suspects". (It amuses me especially that he had to write the names of more than a few down as if he couldn't recognize his own drawings, but can you really blame him?)

The Sweet Spot (written by Kevin Sullivan, storyboard by Kyle Marshall): By process of elimination after many a disastrous car trip, Lincoln has determined the "sweet spot" - the one seat in the family van (lovingly dubbed "Vanzilla") that doesn't have some sort of flaw such as a broken spring or gum stuck to it. The night before the family's next big road trip, Lincoln hatches a plan that will allow him to acquire the "sweet spot" for himself, but then realizes that the seat he's sitting in is only half the struggle - due to their quirks, the sisters sitting next to, in front of, and behind him can make or break a road trip as well. Lincoln spends the night negotiating seating arrangements with his sisters, who demand preferred seating arrangements of their own...and this only makes them more suspicious that Lincoln might have an ulterior motive up his sleeve.

Of the handful of early episodes I've seen of Adventure Time (one of many gaps in my current TV animation collection I have to rectify one of these days), by far my favorite was "Memories of Boom Boom Mountain", in which our intrepid hero Finn the Human's desire to help those in need causes more problems than it solves when it turns out each problem he fixes ends up causing a problem for someone else and so on. Although he's a nice guy at heart, Lincoln is by no means an altruist and his conniving in this case is for his own benefit rather than someone else's, but this episode's premise reminds me a lot of that Adventure Time short: the more people you try to wrangle to do your bidding, the more complicated things get, and it's that chain of demands that spirals out of control that makes this a fun episode. (If nothing else, all this negotiating is probably preparing Lincoln for a career in politics.) It's also a fun episode due to showing off the sisters's personality traits and quirks and how they're affected by car trips: the motion of the car makes Leni even more dazed and confused than she usually is (making her Lincoln's perfect seat partner), Lisa spends the entire car trip thinking aloud to herself the many ways she could potentially die en route, and Luna naturally sings loud rock music, leading to an amusing sarcastic retort from Lisa: "Where's a low-flying plane when you need one?"


In the United States, The Loud House airs weekday afternoons at 5:00 pm Eastern on Nickelodeon. Check out the official Loud House Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram (and check out series creator Chris Savino on Instagram as well).

The author wishes to thank Haley Mancini for clarifying her status as a freelance writer on the episode "No Guts, No Glori". Additional thanks to my fellow animation fans on Twitter for discussion on The Loud House and cartoons in general, in particular Ukari "RacattackForce" Bakosi, Thomas "Spongey445" Blalock of A Taste of Spongey, Luis "lartkma" Ramirez, and Luan Loud herself, Cristina Pucelli.

THE LOUD HOUSE and all related titles, logos, and characters are trademarks of Viacom International, Inc. ©2016. No ownership of this property is intended or should be inferred.