Monday, November 1, 2010

Ren & Stimpy “Adult Party Cartoon”

Years: 2003 - 2004
Seasons: 1
Episodes: 9
Created by: John Kricfalusi (John K.)

Main Cast:

John Kricfalusi as Ren
Eric Bauza as Stimpy

As a fan of animation, there was probably no revival that I looked forward to more than Ren & Stimpy. I loved the show during its first run, and always wished that it would somehow find its way back on TV, with creator John K. at the helm again and free to do all the weird, gross-out stuff that Nickelodeon chopped out of the show. My dreams were answered, somewhat, when Spike TV approached John K. to do an “adult-oriented” version of the show, and to go wild. Well, he did, and the results were mixed, to be charitable. But first, a brief history.

Ren & Stimpy was a classic cartoon that attempted to bring back the beauty of the old Looney Tunes cartoons and classic animation in general. Not only that, but it also added the kind of gross-out humor that kids adore, and the show was a phenomenon. Part of what made the original Ren & Stimpy so great was all of the crazy shit that was slipped under the radar. It was definitely a kid’s show, but one so bizarre and scary that there was something thrilling about watching it. It was loud, gross, strange, and most of all, joyous. The giddy enthusiasm that ran through those original shows was a “lightening in a bottle” moment, one that was effectively destroyed when Nickelodeon fired the creator of the show, dumped Spumco (the company he founded to create the show), and created a brand-new studio just for the series called Games. The shows that followed tried hard to duplicate those first two magic seasons, but they were either gross without being funny, or just plain idiotic. The show was canceled, John K. went on to create his only other show (the doomed Ripping Friends, still unavailable in its entirety on DVD), and Ren and Stimpy just faded away.

A full ten years after he was shit-canned from the show, along comes Spike TV with the proposal for a new Ren & Stimpy show. Now he had all the freedom he wanted to make the show as gross and out there as possible. He approached Billy West to come back and voice Stimpy again, but was turned down because West didn’t think the new shows were funny, and due to his extensive work in cartoons, thought that this decidedly adult offering would harm his career (not that this prevented him from frequently appearing on the Howard Stern show). A new guy named Eric Bauza came in to do Stimpy, and all was in place for the glorious revival.

The results were a lot different than many fans expected. Although it was always hinted at, now the show flat-on states that the duo are gay lovers. This revelation comes to a head in the two-parter called Stimpy’s Pregnant, which actually seems like a logical extension from the classic Son of Stimpy episode. Ren’s psychotic nature goes completely off the rails into serial-killer territory, as evidenced by the frog torture scene in the Ren Seeks Help episode. John K. also created a two-part sequel to the classic Fire Dogs episode which serves as an hour-long unfunny in-joke about his friend Ralph Bakshi. Things finally completely fell apart with the Naked Beach Frenzy episode, which was so chock full of bouncing tits and erections that advertisers left the show in droves, and Spike immediately gave the show the ax.

All that said, was the show funny? Well, here’s a test to see if this show is right for you. In Naked Beach Frenzy, there’s a scene where Ren & Stimpy pose as bathroom attendants in order for Ren to see (and grope) two naked girls. While they’re stripping, one of the braindead girls mentions how fancy the bathroom is and then chucks her panties to Ren. They hit him in the face, and with a shit-eating grin on his face he says “nothing but class here, sister,” and then takes a huge sniff of her panties. If you found that funny, then you may like the show. It goes that low, and stays there. It wallows in being the most disgusting and childish thing you’ll see on TV, and the fact that it does this so gleefully actually has some charm to it. There are also some fucking terrifyingly creepy moments, like the frog torture I mentioned earlier. John K.’s sense of humor is somewhat difficult to warm up to at times. There’s an extended make-out session between Ren’s parents that goes on much, much longer than it needs to, going from funny to uncomfortable because of how long that scene lingers. The marriage of creepy episodes like Ren Seeks Help with joyously stupid episodes like Naked Beach Frenzy makes this an unfortunately uneven series. If someone’s first exposure to the new Ren & Stimpy was the Fire Dogs sequel, they would be completely justified in switching it off and not bothering to tune back in.

Fire Dogs 2 brings me to another issue: this show lasted for only nine episodes, with three of those being two-parters. I don’t understand why John K. felt the need to make two-part episodes when so much was riding on this. Fire Dogs 2 was worse than even the post-Spumco Nickelodeon shows, and this story was stretched out to over two episodes. Also, and this is probably going to go into uncomfortable territory, but let’s consider the network’s audience. Spike TV is the unabashed network of bros, mooks, and douchebags. They’re proud of this label and wear it with honor. John K. knew this and thus created an episode chock-full of gigantic bouncing tits and borderline-retarded bimbos called Naked Beach Frenzy. This is something that bros would laugh at, so it makes sense. You know what else is a trademark of bros? Intense homophobia. Therefore, it was a shocking lack of insight on John K.’s part to blatantly make Ren & Stimpy gay lovers in both the Onward and Upward and Stimpy’s Pregnant episodes. All the gross out humor in the world isn’t going to make a homophobe warm up to a cartoon where the stars are gay lovers, even if one of them still lusts after women. A lame defense was offered saying that they are characters in the same vein as the Three Stooges, who weren’t “really” plumbers but played them in certain episodes. That doesn’t work here, because sexuality and rotating jobs are completely different ideas, and as far as I know, nobody has ever advocated the murder of plumbers.

So we have two episodes that probably turned off the bro audience (Onward and Upward and Stimpy’s Pregnant), an episode that was more creepy than funny (Ren Seeks Help), an unfunny two-parter (Fire Dogs 2), and an episode that couldn’t even be aired on cable (Naked Beach Frenzy). There was also another two-parter called Altruists, which was a tribute to the Three Stooges and probably fit the best with the classic older episodes. Another factor that probably doomed this show from the start was that successful adult-oriented cartoons seem to be overly-reliant on pop culture references, timeliness, and having some kind of political stance. Absolutely none of that belongs in Ren & Stimpy, so the adults tuning in to this show would have to be exceptionally comfortable with laughing at dumb, gross-out humor without giving the justification that the humor is actually “smart.” It would have taken a huge amount of patience on Spike TV’s part to continue putting money into this series, so it’s hardly a surprise that it got canceled so quickly. Really, the only audience I can think of for this show is die-hard John K./Spumco fans (like myself), and there’s really not enough of them to keep a show like this on the air. Therefore, short of a major revival of interest, this was probably the last chance for these two characters to get on the air again.

If another network ever decides to give them another chance, for god’s sake, keep it as a demented kid’s show. I’ve seen what John K. is capable of when he’s working with no restrictions, and it isn’t pretty.

Recommended for: John K. fans, deviants, fans of funny-looking drawings, the gloriously immature, people who thought Ren & Stimpy needed more gay sex.

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