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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


I knew that I was going to like Freakazoid! during the first episode on the new Season 1 DVD. This animated series centers around teenage nerd Dexter Douglas, who is sucked into some kind of weird cyber-storm that turns him into the hyperactive titular superhero. During one of his adventures, the pop-culture skewering toon stops to imitate Bela Lugosi's famous "Pull the string!" line from Glen or Glenda. I couldn't stop laughing; was a kids cartoon really hip enough to reference the Ed Wood transvestism camp classic? Indeed it was, and I soon found out there was more where that came from.

Freakazoid! ran on the WB network for two seasons during the mid-90's. I never saw it at the time, despite the fact that Steven Spielberg's name was attached as a "presenter." Or the fact that it won an Emmy. Warner Home Video has now released the complete first season on DVD, so if you missed it as well (or just want to see it again), you have no reason not to do so.

There's not really a plot to the series beyond Dexter's occasional transformation. Dexter does have an unrequited crush his gal-pal Steph, but she only has eyes for his alter ego. Various bad guys like the Lobe (a giant brain-looking dude) and Cave Guy try to take over the world, and Freakazoid stops them.

He does not, however, do this in a normal way, and that's what makes Freakazoid special. The cartoon is less obsessed with structure and more concerned with the kind of comic anarchy that has become a WB staple. Each episode begins in a straightforward manner before veering off on one tangent after another. The fun comes in trying to pick out all the in-jokes, pop culture references, and bits of wordplay. Freakazoid himself is a hyperactive sort (imagine an adolescent version of Jim Carrey as the Mask, but really jacked up on caffeine). Wherever he goes, insanity follows.

The jokes come a mile a minute, and if one thing doesn't make you laugh, something else a moment later will. In particular, I was amused by the way Freakazoid doesn't fly; he runs around and flaps his arms, just like children do. It's also an incredibly hip cartoon that features a joke in which the power at the famous Hollywood Bowl goes out and the only person not to realize it is the performer onstage - Ray Charles. One of my favorite episodes features a wild parody of The Day the Earth Stood Still that finds Hilary Clinton and Princess Diana fighting over Freakazoid's attention while Bill watches in amusement. (Yes, some of the gags are dated, but that makes them no less funny.)

Freakazoid! Season 1 contains all 14 episodes on two discs. Each episode contains three segments: two with Freakazoid and one with side characters. The manic pace and referential humor can be found throughout. I've always liked this kind of cartoon. Watching the classic WB cartoons as a kid always made me feel smart. Some of the references I got, others I didn't. But when I didn't get one, I could look it up or ask an adult. There was a pleasure that came in knowing that I was in on the joke. Freakazoid! carried on that proud tradition of challenging kids to think savvy and think smart. And if you're an adult, this is a treasure trove of fast-paced, culturally-knowing comedy.

DVD Features:

Freakazoid is presented on 2 discs, with the second one double-sided. Special features begin with "Freakazoid: The Original Freak," which looks at how what began as a standard action hero program evolved into a series that was jam-packed with comic mischief and insanity. The writers injected some off-the-wall humor into an early script and producer Spielberg encouraged them to keep going. When one episode called for a split-second appearance by the late Jack Valenti, Spielberg not only encouraged the writers to add more Valenti material, he even got the MPAA head to provide the voice himself!

"Freakazoid-less Freakazoid Promos" features just what it promises. When FOX wanted to start promoting the show before any episodes were actually completed, the creative staff put together these brief clips, which have nothing whatsoever to do with the eventual program.

Finally, the DVD features commentary on three key episodes from Senior Producer Tom Ruegger, Voice of Freakazoid Paul Rugg, and writer John McCann. All in all, this is a solid DVD package for fans of irreverent animated comedy.

Purchase it online here

Steven Spielberg Presents Freakazoid!: The Complete First Season - Own it on DVD

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