Friday, March 30, 2012

The Ballad of Elizabeth Lee

More from my siblings fake space series "Understanding the Cosmos", and a two-parter no less!

This time around, the nefarious Professor Gonzo is smitten with an astrophysicist named Elizabeth Lee (played by Shelly Berg). Unfortunately, Miss Lee doesn't feel the same way for Professor Gonzo, hich leads to a total celebrity-style breakdown in the follow-up episode.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Aquabats! Super Show!

I'd thought I do a less-than-quick shout out towards one of the more pleasant entertainment surprises of 2012 thus far.

The California-based band dubbed The Aquabats have been a musical mainstay of mine since the early 1990's, when this bizarre but enjoyable group of mock super-heroes hosted the (long canceled) local music video show "Ar-Oh-Vee". I did not buy many CDs back when I was a pre-teen, but recorded multiple music videos off from television instead, back when such things were readily available on multiple channels and time slots. Not like today's music television, with its limited run of pop flavors of the moment that you might (MIGHT) find at the early morning hours.

Here's one such segment from the "Ar-Oh-Vee", featuring the silver suited villain Powder Milk Man.

Thankfully, the Aquabats have greatly improved upon their comedy and showmanship since these extremely rough early days, but even back then, it was apparent that their humorous personas were heavily inspired by Japanese Tokusatsu (live action super-hero) shows, despite the super-hero conceit being a universal gimmick amongst the American public. This is especially apparent with the following 1999 demo pilot entitled "The Aquabats! In Color!", which also features music and stock footage from "Ultraman", "Kamen Rider", and "Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot":

See, a lot better than Powder Milk Man, right?

Unfortunately, the wackiness of the Aquabats for the longest time has been an acquired taste (much like my other musical favorite Polysics), and because of which, they have struggled throughout their career - complete with multiple changing amounts of band members, and related uphill battles.

In 2005, the Aquabats came close to disbanding permanently, but not before one last album, the appropriately titled "Charge!!", where the band lessened themselves from their previous ska-style, and into a stronger focus on new wave and energetic 'pop-punk rock'. What could have been the Aquabats' last release, turned out to be a steady success with sales and critics alike. And is indeed their strongest, if now most rewarding effort musically thus far (though admittedly I have yet to listen to their most recent 2011 album "Hi-Five Soup!").

The positive outcome of "Charge!!" rejuvenated the band, and they've kept at it with a respectable audience ever since. Some would say cult following, but that would apply that the Aquabats are either inactive, or long gone, yet fondly remembered.

Another project the Aquabats has been trying to get off the ground, and for over a decade I might add, has been a television series aimed towards children and offbeat comedy lovers alike. But as you'll see from this Comic Con presentation video, that has been one of their most strenuous endeavors:

True, they have a show on the air NOW, but seriously, almost fourteen years of near missies and sudden surprise failures that would have destroyed lesser (more sane?) creative minds...myself included!

Beyond the pilot attempts, the Aquabats' front man, Christian Jacobs (alias the MC Bat Commander), was the co-creator of the hugely successful children's program "Yo Gabba Gabba", which itself seems to take minor cues from Japanese tokusatsu, as well as the live action flavor of nostalgic American kid shows like "The Banana Splits Show" and the works of Sid and Marty Kroft.

The solid work and revenue from "Yo Gabba Gabba" resulted in a stronger full-length television pilot for the now titled "The Aquabats! Super Show!", which alongside the main live action narrative, also featured this hilarious animated segment.

See, a HELL of a lot better than Powder Milk Man, RIGHT?

As the Comic Con presentation noted (abet censored), the recently established cable channel The Hub has taken the Aquabats into their already impressive line-up of quality made kid shows and family friendly classics of yesteryear. And whereas Nickelodeon, Fox Family Channel, and Cartoon Network didn't really know what to do with this unorthodox group, The Hub has opened their arms to their weirdness. But than again, what else do you expect from the same cable channel that proudly airs the 1960's Adam West camp "Batman" alongside the much praised and serious minded early 1990's "Batman The Animated Series".

And speaking of campy "Batman"...

"The Aquabats! Super Show!" takes a lot from the aforementioned series, although to much more extreme levels of absurd comedy. The end result is something that appears to be outright silly nonsense at first, but compared to some of Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon's recent offerings, far better executed, and thus quite hip than a lot of other humorist series on television these days. Some critics have compared "Super Show!" to the live action offerings from The Adult Swim line-up, and although that's an understandable comparison ("Saul of the Mole Men" heavily comes to mind), it's also a tad unfair, seeing how this is a program of some obvious effort, and more appealing in its content matter.

Even if you're not at all a fan of the Aquabat's music, the new show is still worth checking out.

It's also awesome to get a kid show with some great monsters, created through obviously fake, but still lively and enjoyable physical effects work. And is a fantastic contrast to the stiff, unexpressive monster suits of "Power Rangers Samurai", or much, much worse, the overpriced-yet-barely-seen computer generated creatures of Nickelodeon's "The Troop" or Cartoon Network's "Level Up".

And yes, I know both those latter shows also have some live action monsters and villains, but those are so terribly simplistic that they're just a step above an expensive Halloween costume from Party City. Needless to say, the monsters and villains of "The Aquabats! Super Show!" are in a great league of their own.

I think the best way to sum up "The Aquabats! Super Show!" is by repeating a nifty bit of dialog from the 1972 film "Godzilla vs. Gigan", in which the leader of a secret alien invasion gives his honest assessment of the movie's unlikely hero - struggling comic book artist Gengo Kotaka...

'Stupid, but Cunning'.


EPISODE 01: "ManAnt!"
(Original Air Date: March 3rd, 2012)

The Aquabats' birthday party gig is interrupted by the sudden explosion of the Burrito Brothers' Burger Hut. Upon further investigating, the musical heroes discover it is the work of ManAnt; a half-man / half-ant genius with an axe to grind with band member Crash McLarson.

In addition to the live action creature effects, we get some much welcomed stop-motion model animation through ManAnt's trio of enlarged monster ants.

EPISODE 02: "The Mysterious Egg!"
(Original Air Date: March 10th, 2012)

Slightly more somber than its predecessor (and no less ridiculous), is this adventure where Jimmy the Robot tries to prove to his fellow band-mates that he can be a caring android, and not just a monster obliterating killing machine, when they come across and incubate a giant egg.

The creature hatched from within, nicknamed Jimmy Jr, is quite funny in its grotesque cuteness, and dinosaur-like viciousness.

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