Thursday, February 07, 2008

Your Casual Indifference Won't Save You Now

Anybody remember "Sam & Max: Freelance Police? To my surprise, I remember it; I watched some of the episodes during its first and only season on Fox Kids, and liked it -- not as much as similar shows of the era like The Tick, Freakazoid! and Earthworm Jim, but I liked it. Anyway I got a copy of the DVD release - with all 13 half-hour shows, plus some bonus material and an interview with creator Steve Purcell -- and my view is still the same: I like it, but I don't mourn its early demise as much as that of the three other shows I just mentioned.

The show was based on Purcell's comic books and computer games, and apparently didn't please much of anyone at the time: Sam & Max fans disliked the fact that the comic's anarchic, violent content was watered down for Saturday mornings, and they objected to the addition of a spunky genius girl sidekick, "The Geek." (Not being that big into the comics I have little problem with The Geek as a character; the problem is that her design is a standard Nelvana look that doesn't fit this world at all.) While kid viewers weren't really into these unattractive-looking and (even in the cartoon version) kind of not-very-nice.

But as Purcell says in the interview, his mandate was to keep the "weirdness" of the comic to compensate for the fact that he couldn't be as violent. So it's a weird, nonsensical cartoon, the kind of dada-ist, surreal stuff that abounded in the mid-'90s before networks realized that advertisers didn't want to buy time on "kids" shows that weren't actually comprehensible to kids.

The reason it's not in a class with the other weirdo cartoons of the time is that it's actually a little predictable: there's a weird situation and Sam and Max will stand around making smug jokes about it. It's really almost all talk. And since they don't take any situation even remotely seriously (whereas Freakazoid, Earthworm Jim, the Tick and others all sort of cared -- at least sometimes -- about defeating the bad guy), it's easy to lose interest before the 10 minute segments are over. In many ways the style is a lot like the 10-minute cartoons Adult Swim started doing soon after this show was canceled, and there's no doubt that the characters would have been a good fit for Adult Swim if they'd come along a little later.

Maybe not a first choice as a purchase, but interesting if you liked that era of crazy stuff on Saturday morning.


Loren said...

Purcell doesn't happen to comment on the voice talent, does he? Back when the show was on the air, I got the distinct feeling that they ideally would have wanted John Astin as Sam and Bobcat Goldthwait as Max, but budgetary restrictions forced them to go with unknowns who just *sounded like* Astin and Goldthwait.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

I didn't hear him mention the voices. I also noticed that veteran Canadian voice actor Harvey Atkin (as Sam) was trying to sound like John Astin, but I don't know if they just couldn't get/afford Astin or if it was just easier to use resident Canadian actors for the show (which was made in Toronto).

Anonymous said...

Sam and Max the computer game still has an incredibly loyal following and deservedly so. They certainly seem to have been far better written than this cheap POS.

And thanks to the magic of YouTube you don't even need to play it yourself.

Andrew Leal said...

Harvey Atkin often sounds like Astin when he's not doing burly bully/loudmouth voices, and his natural voice is pretty close to Astin's, especially when he tries to be glib and upbeat. Since Nelvana produced the series, almost always used their own roster of Canadian talent (unless they were just the production house and other parties had overall creative control and chose their own voices, as with "Eek! the Cat," which mixed in-house voices, the usual LA suspects, and people who Savage Steve Holland had worked with before, like Elinor Donahue, Kurtwood Smith, and Curtis Armstrong). Atkin had worked for Nelvana before, so I don't think it had anything to do with budgetery restrictions or trying to get Astin.

Robert Tinkler sounds less like Goldthwait to me than like nothing on earth (his Max voice grated on me).