3 September 2005 | liquidcelluloid-1
The video game world is filled with clichés and annoyances just ripe for satire, but "Game" goes for only the most obvious sight gags
Network UPN; Genre: Animated Comedy; Rating: TV-PG (language, mild adult situations and mild animated violence); Available: DVD; Perspective: Contemporary (star range: 1 - 4);
Season Reviewed: Complete Series (6 episodes)
With CGI animation exploding on the big screen and the geniuses at Pixar turning it into a high art, it is only a natural progression that this style find it's way to the small screen. The footnote in the TV history books next to UPN's "Game Over" will be that it was the first primetime "adult" CGI animated series. Luckily too, because that is the only thing noteworthy about the show. Warning: this review will have a lot of references to other works. Try to keep count.
Created by David Sacks, "Game" actually has an odd, convoluted premise that is stripped down to a single line uttered by a narrator in the show's intro just to make sense of it. Have you ever wondered what happens to the video game characters when the game ends? This is the other side, where apparently all manner of species live together in human cities and have their daily routines interrupted by the adventures you might see in a video game. Really trying to think about the logistical reality of the world (or why there is a zombie in the school) will give you a bit of a headache, but the point is that this is where the Smashenburn family lives.
"Game" is jammed with video game references - some direct, some indirect and some using images so liberally I'm wondering how copy-write wasn't violated. The Smashenburn family is lead by mom Raquael (Lucy Liu) who looks more like "Tomb Raider's" Lara Croft than Angelina Jolie, dad Ripley (Patrick Warburton, typecast again) a NASCAR driver who can't seem to win on the track and strikes out communicating with his family, daughter Alice (Rachael Dratch, "Saturday Night Live") the typical non-conformist, nagging, protester daughter and son Billy (E.G. Daily, "Rugrats"), an airhead who talks exclusively in fads. They also have a cigar-chomping pet (Artie Lange, "Howard Stern") named Turbo who I guess is supposed to be Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog from hell.
I could sit here and hang this on the very real possibility that this show was rushed into production to be that first CGI series and that as a result all the characters are underdeveloped, but that doesn't quite do justice to how repellently annoying all of them (except Raquel) are. Ripley is the whiniest of all the whiny, childish, post-feminist TV dads since Bryan Cranston on "Malcolm in the Middle". Although I am consistently impressed with E.G. Daily, Billy is written in that stereotypical way that people think teenagers talk when they have never actually heard one. And Turbo is the Bender of the piece.
Speaking of, it would be a good contrast to put this up against Matt Groening's excellent "Futurama". Both shows are packed with nerdy in-jokes, but "Futurama's" are nerdier, smarter and more obscure. As "Futurama" showed us the computer and video game world is filled with clichés and annoyances just ripe for satire, but "Game" goes for only the most obvious sight gags. The pilot lifts directly into "Oddworld", a Crash Bandicoot with a milk mustache is prominently displayed, Mario is referenced by all the characters with awe and there are digs at everything else from "Frogger" to "Pong" to "Pitfall", any first person shooter and "Grand Theft Auto". Not word one of this is funny. The most clever bit in the entire series isn't even a video game joke, but a subtle reference to "That 70s Show's" basement circle - and I may even be reading to much into that.
The show's heart lies in it's "Tomb Raider" sequences where the animators get to put Rachael in all sorts of exotic caves and fight hideous monsters in her never-ending quest to find monkey statues made of every known element. These adventurous set-pieces are far and away the highlight of the series. It is also the time when the animators get to take the swooping CGI "camera" out for a lap around the block.
The fundamental problem with "Game" is that it doesn't know that. It puts the action sequences - what the show is good at - on the back burner and focuses almost exclusively on the kind of domestic family drama you can find on any studio audience CBS sitcom. Case in point: "Alice and the Cats" works because (aside from the fact that a B-story involving a Japanime character named Suki is so utterly bizarre) it uses the family dynamic as a catalyst for the action. The other episodes don't work, because they use the action as a catalyst for the family stories. Who cares if father and son end up playing Catch on a trip into the woods.
For what it's worth the show does look good in the animation department. It has a richly detailed landscape, not the mechanical movements of "Reboot" and the bare walls of the later Dreamworks effort "Father of the Pride". And Christopher Tyng's music is kind of cool too, though it borrows heavily from his "Futurama" theme.
"Game Over" was produced by Carsey-Warner productions which was also behind 2000's "God, the Devil & Bob". The two share the same quality of being animated shows produced by sitcom people, not cartoonists. "Game" is a prime example of how often TV shows would rather take a unique premise and squash it into the traditional mold then take a traditional premise and make it unique.
* / 4