Head to Head: Best Cartoon

What's the funniest animated show on television? We say "American Dad!" or "The Venture Bros," you can say whatever you want. But we probably won't listen.

Ryan Peters:

This ever-so-important debate about the funniest animated show on television started exactly where you would assume: Facebook, the nexus of the known world and the only place where I can offer digital approval (I spend 4-6 hours a day "like"ing pointless shit) to one friend's complaint about BP's handling of the gulf oil spill even as I simultaneously re-post a photo of another friend vomiting blood.

When I sat down to give the matter some actual thought it was more difficult than I imagined, mostly because of my incredible love for Metalocalypse:

But Metalocalypse is infinitely funnier if you're a fan of death metal, or at least know something about the genre, which most people don't. So, let me stake a claim for American Dad!. I can already hear a lynch-mob gathering their pitchforks, but calm down. People like to knock American Dad! by saying that it's either not as funny as Seth MacFarlane's other show, Family Guy, or that it's exactly like Family Guy, which means it's not funny. Neither is accurate. First, American Dad! benefits immensely from the fact that the cut-away, non-sequitor humor that defines Family Guy is all but nonexistent here. American Dad! is much more linear, and as such the jokes tend to flow out of the story, rather than interrupt it. Not only is it dissimilar from Family Guy, it has also become much, much funnier.

I watched a few episodes in its first season and hated it, mostly because it premiered in 2005 at the height of the Bush Administration, and was altogether focused on making tepid satire of rah-rah-Amuuurica! types. But since then, the show's reliance on broad caricatures--the conservative all-American dad,Stan; the liberal daughter, Haley; etc--has dropped and the characters have mostly just become weird and wonderful. The basic characterizations are still there, but they've faded to the background.

None of that really matters, though, without American Dad!'s ace in the hole (<--does anyone else still use this term?): Roger. Yes, Roger, the alcoholic, violent, gender-bending, swish-speaking space alien is not only the show's best character, but the best animated character on television right now:

In a recent episode, Stan coaches the family on ways to avoid embarassing themselves at a neighborhood pool party. At the party, Stan eats too much brisket, cannonballs off the diving board, and craps in the pool. He reasons that the only way he can recover from the shame is to get President Obama to crap himself in a pool, because Obama is so loved that he could make that sort of thing socially acceptable. Thus, the rest of the episode centers around Stan befriending the Obamas, inviting them to a pool party, and trying to slip him a laxative that works merely by touching one's skin. That kind of story-plotting would make Charles Dickens jealous.

Look, even more so than what Dominick and I usually debate, this is entirely subjective. But American Dad!'s later seasons make me laugh out loud more consistently than any other animated show on television. I'll leave you with one of my favorite clips, in which Roger has convinced Steve that he is sending him to study at a school for wizards, a-la Harry Potter. In actuality Roger sends Steve to work for some coke dealers. Enjoy:

Dominick Mayer:

Now, I'm not going to fight Ryan too hard on this argument, which began as a Facebook thread. If he so chose, he could just redact entire articles as I would try to publish them, or find my Xanga page in the internet and post entire selections of the musings of me at 14. (Spoiler: I REALLY liked A Clockwork Orange and The Used.) This having been said, I just can't get into American Dad!. Yes, it's better than the poor-man's Family Guy it started out as (and Family Guy these days is now a poor man's version of its former self anyway), but it's just not funny to me. Maybe it's Seth MacFarlane's overreliance on non-sequitors for the crux of his entertainment, I don't know. As animated television goes, there's much better material out there.

Like The Venture Bros. Currently on a sabbatical halfway through its fourth season, here is a show that has taken the creative freedoms that Adult Swim affords its producers and run a marathon. First, a taste, to see what it is that I'm talking about:

The show started out as a whacked-out parody of Jonny Quest and other Saturday morning boy-adventurer shows from the '70s. Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer, the show's creators, wanted to imagine what such boy wonders would grow up and turn into. However, what started as a high-concept joke rapidly evolved into one of the densest mythologies on television. The pop culture jokes run rapidly, as do the in-jokes; if a superhero's name was played as a one-liner for laughs, there's probably an episode two seasons later dedicated to that one joke. Case in point: A man named Truckules, who is in fact half Mack truck.

One of the big contentions with the show is that it's tailed off. I disagree. It's not as mile-a-minute funny as the virtuoso second season, but this having been said, it's evolved into a dense and occasionally genuinely moving portrait of failed lives, father issues and resentment of one's more successful peers. That, and there's a bunch of male nudity, particularly in the third season. The show demands far more of audiences than most anything on television currently, let alone Adult Swim; the closest thing to touching this on that station is Metalocalypse, which has turned into a far better example of a show losing steam after its early seasons.

My point here, really, is that American Dad! might make me crack a smile occasionally, but it'll be forgotten once its run is over, replaced by MacFarlane's other show and better items, like this: (Possibly NSFW)

Posted by Ryan Peters on May 27, 2010 @ 8:08 am

american dad!, venture bros, animated, adult swim, seth macfarlane.