Warner Bros. // 2004 // 220 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // November 29th, 2006
Did you get that thing I sent you?
Whether you call them "cartoon remixes" or "post-modern animated shows," the Cartoon Network has found surprising success by rehashing and recycling classic Hanna-Barbera toons for their late night "Adult Swim" programming block. One of their wittier attempts, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law revives the costumed do-gooder from Birdman and the Galaxy Trio, a coolly-received animated superhero show of the 1960s, for a hilarious deconstruction of the H-B universe featuring absurdist humor, political satire, and top-notch voice acting.
No longer charged with saving the universe from maniacal supervillains, Harvey Birdman (Gary Cole, Office Space) is a third-rate lawyer toiling away at a fourth-rate firm run by the tyrannical but fun-loving Phil Ken Sebben (Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show). Arguing before judge Mentok the Mindtaker (John Michael Higgins, Best in Show), Birdman and his paralegal Peanut (Thomas Allen) defend a parade of H-B cartoon characters arrested for the lewd and crude criminal behavior you always suspected they might be involved in.
Picking up somewhere in the second season and taking you part way into the third, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Vol. Two collects 13 episodes on two discs. You get:
* Back to the Present
The Jetsons time-travel back to Birdman's era to bring a lawsuit against the world for allowing the icecaps to melt. Meanwhile, Phil is concerned that Orbity has arrived to anally probe him. Much of the humor in this episode comes from the fact that the Jetsons have arrived from the "far off" year of 2002, and flaunt their obsolete technology in front of Harvey. Great stuff, if not a classic episode. 8/10
* Blackwatch Plaid
Phil Ken Sebben becomes convinced that one of the employees is stealing, and sets increasingly strict security measures in place. He introduces a color-coded terror alert system and reads emails over the intercom, making it difficult for Harvey to defend the Secret Squirrel from a charge of indecent exposure -- it seems he keeps opening his trench coat on the street to pull out a spy gadget -- or so he says. This is a fun parody of tightened security in the wake of 9/11, but Secret Squirrel's case gets very little screen time. 7/10
* Grape Juiced
The Laff-A-Lympics are rocked when Grape Ape is accused of using steroids, and Harvey must stop the committee from stripping the gargantuan athlete of his medal. Meanwhile, Phil caters to the Laff-A-Lympics delegates in hopes that they might hold the event in his city, and the firm discovers that Harvey's former flame Gigi is pregnant, but is he the father? The show continues to move away from the law case format in this episode, but the hilarious scenes of Grape Ape popping pills and Harvey's dubious "expert witness" make it one of the best of the season. 9/10.
* Peanut Puberty
Peanut reaches that special time in every super boy's life when he begins to discover his powers. Harvey is too busy defending Doggy Daddy from being put down after biting someone, so he enlists Superfriends Apache Chief and Black Vulcan to explain "Superty" to his young ward, and even tries to set up his first superhero encounter with his own nemesis, X, The Eliminator. Another great concept that more or less overshadows the court case at hand, "Peanut Puberty" features lots of guest shots and some comical scenes of Peanut "shooting off" his power bands in an employee bathroom stall. 8/10
* Gone Efficien...t
Phil hires "efficiency expert" Dvd (he has no time for vowels) to cut costs across the board. Harvey is driven out of his mind -- and his office -- to make way for a Greek restaurant. To avoid being fired, Harvey also finds time to help speech-challenged duck Yakky Doodle with a name change. Definitely one of the more absurd episodes, there are some great gags here, but they don't add up to much. 7/10
* Droopy Botox
A fine return to form, "Droopy Botox" has Harvey defending a plastic surgeon against Droopy Dog's botched Botox malpractice suit. He wins, but is racked with guilt over Droop's sad demeanor, even after he's made vice president of Sebben and Sebben and given a truckload of money. Meanwhile, X The Eliminator ends up redecorating Harvey's house(?!). 8/10
* Guitar Control
El Kabong! Baba Looey hires Harvey to defend Quick Draw McGraw, after he's arrested for carrying a concealed six string. With a Charlton Heston-like voice, Quick Draw loudly defends his right to bear guitars in the courtroom, even after it's pointed out that his defense is largely being funded by the powerful guitar lobby -- the same group sponsoring Phil Ken Sebben's $12 billion presidential campaign. There's lots more inspired shenanigans in this episode that culminate when Peanut and Baba Looey get into Quick Draw's locked gun cabinet, with dire results. 9/10
* Booty Noir
Size-obsessed attorney Myron Reducto is smitten with Black Vulcan's girlfriend Norlissa, and is drawn to the possibilities of expanding her posterior to unseen proportions. He's also prosecuting a case against Birdman and his client, Wally Gator, who has been brought up on charges of being a NASCAR-lovin' redneck. The "Booty Noir" portions, blending real life backgrounds with animation are interesting, but why doesn't Wally Gator look anything like his 1960s incarnation? This, unfortunately, completely ruins the joke, even when he's sentenced to mud wrassle. 7/10
* Harvey's Civvy
Supervillain Murro the Maurader sues Harvey for injuries sustained in 1967. But Murro's lawyer, Shado the Brain Thief, isn't satisfied, and brings a class action suit against Harvey by all the villains he ever defeated. Fellow Sebben and Sebben lawyer Peter Potamus takes the case, but he is too distracted by the stenographer's "ta tas." A brilliant episode, perhaps the best of the season, introduces Shado the Brain Thief, whose mind-control gimmick is so similar to Mentok's that they immediately challenge each other to a series of mental contests. It's truly hilarious stuff, and a fascinating dissection of the supervillain mind. 10/10
* X Gets the Crest
After thirty years, X The Eliminator finally wins the crest of Birdman -- in a high stakes poker game. Believing the crest is the source of his powers, Harvey is a mess in court as he tries to defend hyperactive sheriff Ricochet Rabbit (Mark Hamill, Star Wars), who Mentok orders to take Ritalin. But even after showing off the crest and momentarily turning good, X feels unfulfilled, and Harvey has to set things right by tricking him out of it. Another top-notch episode that beautifully deconstructs the hero-villain relationship. 9/10
* Birdgirl of Guantanamole
Phil Ken Sebben's daughter Judy is interested in a law career, and interns at the office, where she disguises herself as Birdgirl. Fighting off her father's lewd advances, she helps Harvey defend Morocco Mole on charges of being an enemy combatant, in another smart send-up of the Iraq war. 8/10
* Beyond the Valley of the Dinosaurs
Harvey and Potamus end up in the prehistoric past after falling through a time warp in Potamus' hot tub. Harvey's strung up while his hippo colleague is treated like a deity, and the two litigate a caveman divorce case. Peanut and Phil arrive to rescue them, but Phil ends up using the hot tub to create a lucrative prehistoric tour guide business. There are very few H-B in-jokes in this strange episode, which mostly falls flat. A disappointment. 6/10
* Evolutionary War
Captain Caveman hires Harvey after his son, Cavey Jr, is teased by the other kids when his teacher refuses to discuss evolution in his science class. Peanut goes off to study the topic but ends up at the local strip bar, and Harvey pulls out the ace up his sleeve -- the talking ape, Magilla Gorilla. Finishing up the season in a big way, "Evolutionary War" proves that you don't have to be heavy-handed to make poignant political humor. 9/10
Eschewing the flat-out surrealism of some of its Adult Swim neighbors for a more satirical tone, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law is one of the smartest animated shows on television today. Rather than just lazily parodying superheroes or dropping in outdated references for nostalgia buffs, it explores all the familiar Hanna-Barbera touchstones and clichés to reveal the subtexts that have made these cartoon characters so popular over the years. Reasoning out that global warming is the reason the Jetson's distinctive houses are all on stilts and casting Magilla Gorilla as the missing link between ape and man, the show's inventive and decidedly adult take on these classic and not-so-classic characters is a Hanna-Barbera fan's dream come true.
On top of that delectable base, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law ladles a thick steaming gravy of incredible voice talent. While most Adult Swim shows feature standard actors and unknown faces to bring life to their characters, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law boasts an all-star line. As Birdman, Gary Cole finds the perfect blend of dopey do-gooder and existentially troubled nervous wreck. Stephen Colbert frequently steals the show with the one-two punch of Phil Ken Sebben and Reducto, but it's John Michael Higgins' amazing Mentok the Mind Taker that provides many of the show's finest moments. Making her debut this season, former Andy Richter Controls the Universe star Paget Brewster is also pitch-perfect as the latest addition to the "Birdteam," Birdgirl.
If there's any disappointment with this set, is that it's just not as balls-to-the-wall uproarious as Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Vol. One. Clearly, the writers were feeling a little trapped by the show's restrictive premise after the show's first season, as there really are only so many Hanna-Barbera characters to skewer. While still frequently funny, the first half of this set spends too much time outside the courtroom, developing the characters of Harvey, Peanut, and Ken as they navigate their increasingly dysfunctional work environment. There's a notable drop in the sheer onslaught of cartoon references that permeated the first DVD, as the season began to rely less on the H-B animation vaults in order to make a more significant emotional investment in the characters. In the end, though, these earlier episodes ultimately make the season that much stronger, and by the time we hit "Droopy Botox," the show is back on track, with inspired insights into Captain Caveman, Quick Draw McGraw, and Ricochet Rabbit.
It's amazing how many of these shows that simply reuse decades-old animation cels end up looking so great. Even though dirt and grain can occasionally be seen in the source material for Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Vol. Two, detail is quite good and colors remain deep and solid, all which make this set quite a pleasure to watch. Audio is always clear on the otherwise no-frills Dolby 2.0 Surround track. As for extras, Warner Brothers loads this disc with a bunch of interesting tidbits. 9 of the 13 episodes feature good-natured commentary tracks with show creators Michael Ouweleen and Erik Richter, who are joined by various cast and crewmembers including Cole, Brewster, Colbert, and Higgins. The rest of the extras are housed on Disc Two, headlined by a six-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that shows the animators at work and Ouweleen and Richter answering fan questions. "Record of Records" features about four minutes of the show with an inset box that reveals the actor voicing the character, while "Clothes-less Animation Pass" is a scene from the "Birdgirl of Guantanamole" with all the characters naked, except for Birdman's crest over their naughty bits. A brief "CGI Clip" shows how some shots are animated, "Bluetube Moments" reveals the process of adding sounds, "Hey, Mr. Passerby" is a music video featuring clips from the show, and "Birdman Stripper" is some photos of a guy in a Birdman costume going down to his skivvies. Finally, there are three deleted storyboards from "X Gets the Crest," a whole whack of Adult Swim promos, and some jokey "Superty" textbook blowups. Whew!
With such brief runtimes, I'd be willing to argue that like many of the other Adult Swim shows, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law is best experienced on DVD. This way, viewers can absorb the off-kilter humor in large doses at a time, which greatly improves the shows over late-night blink-and-you'll-miss-it airings. As a result, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Vol. Two is hard to suggest as a blind buy, but for anyone who enjoys the show and wants more mind taking in their lives, this is another high quality release that will absolutely not disappoint. Recommended.
Not guilty. Why? Because Mentok wills it!
Review content copyright © 2006 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 220 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted scenes
* Clothes-less Animation Pass
* Birdman Stripper
* CGI Clip
* "Hey Mr. Passerby" music video
* Behind-the-scenes featurette
* Harvey Promos
* Fun with Audio segments