Shout! Factory // 2002 // 325 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Ryan (Retired) // July 6th, 2005
"Look at him out there. So small. So defenseless. He's like a chipmunk
with a disease."
-- John McGuirk, on his "Little Brother" Eddie
Buoyed by its (relative) success as part of the initial Adult Swim block on Cartoon Network, Home Movies returned for a second, full 13-episode season in 2002. Buoyed by the (apparent) success of Home Movies: Season One, Shout! Factory returns with a second Home Movies DVD collection, containing the complete run of the aforementioned second season. What's new in Season Two? Out is the possibly-seizure-inducing Squigglevision animation technique, replaced by straight Flash (yes, webizens, that Flash) animation; in is a greater focus on long-term, continuing storylines.
Although this season is probably the weakest of the show's four, that doesn't mean it's a bad season. And, as usual, Shout! Factory wraps it up in a beautiful package chock-full of valuable extras. This was one of the most consistently entertaining animated shows ever produced; it's good to see that its DVD releases are in good hands.
Home Movies brings us into the proto-cinematic world of Brendon Small (Brendon Small), a 12-year-old filmmaker-in-development. Brendon, armed with his trusty video camera and a wildly unbounded imagination, produces fairly high-quality cinematic epics with his friends Jason Penopolis (H. Jon Benjamin, Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist) and Melissa Robbins (Melissa Bardin Galsky), all the while trying to deal with the typical (and some atypical) struggles faced by a 12-year-old boy: girlfriends, bullies, homework, a divorced (but very cool) mom, Paula (Janine Ditullio), and an absentee father. Filling in as Brendon's sole father figure is John McGuirk (Benjamin again), his youth soccer coach, who hates both kids and soccer.
In its original UPN form, Home Movies was almost completely improvised. By the time it hit Cartoon Network, that had changed, and the show was scripted. But the actors were still given a bit of leeway to improvise in the recording sessions, and the show still retained a lot of that improvisational feel.
The second season of Home Movies is considered to be the "worst" of the four by many fans. It does seem a bit more scattered than other seasons, but it's not bad by any stretch of the imagination. This DVD set has all the episodes on three discs, presented in their production order:
Brendon's campaign for school president gets a boost when local bully Shannon (Emo Phillips) throws his support behind it. Unfortunately for Brendon, the bill for Shannon's support soon comes due...
* "Identifying A Body"
Brendon's teacher, Mr. Lynch (Ron Lynch), forces the class to participate in a charity walk-a-thon "to beat those fifth graders." When Brendon joins Coach McGuirk on a trip to identify the body of McGuirk's uncle, the two of them manage to spend all of Brendon's walk-a-thon donations. McGuirk promises to pay him back with the riches his uncle surely left him in his will. As usual, things don't quite work out. Paula asks her boss, Mr. Lindenson (Andy Kindler), for a raise, but winds up losing her job.
Realizing that his work has become stale, Brendon, Melissa, and Jason decide to go on "hiatus." None of them are 100 percent sure what that means, but hopefully it will help shore up their increasingly hackneyed work. Brendon meets his dream girl, Cynthia. Meanwhile, McGuirk shanghais Lynch into taking a Cancun trip with him, because the group rate is cheaper.
* "Business & Pleasure"
Against his better judgment, Brendon agrees to go to Jason's house for a sleepover, but only if Jason doesn't abuse it and use the opportunity to talk movies and get better parts out of him. Jason uses the opportunity to talk movies and get better parts out of him. Things deteriorate from there. Paula asks Melissa's dad Erik (Jonathan Katz) for help in her job search. She winds up with a completely inappropriate job.
* "The Party"
Everyone goes to Fenton Mulley's party, even though nobody likes him. With good reason -- he's a jerk. Fenton's poor milquetoasty mother asks Brendon to make a "video film" for the party. He does a roast-like routine that that highlights how awful a human being Fenton (Sam Seder) is. Unfortunately, Brendon realizes that the tape would break Mrs. Mulley's heart, and has to redo it on the fly. Jason has a problem with candy. McGuirk shows up (with two six-packs) and lays down the smack on Fenton, much to Mrs. Mulley's delight.
Brendon tries to impress Cynthia by taking her to the country club, where Jason's parents are members. He has to pretend to be Jason, of course. McGuirk gets lonely, and starts calling cute girls he knew in high school. He arranges a date with one by lying profusely. Paula tries to get a job with a temp placement service, but her lies get her in trouble. Lies are bad, kids.
The Season One cliffhanger is finally resolved -- Brendon gets to meet, and spend time with, his father Andrew (Louis C.K.). Unfortunately, he also has to deal with Dad's beautiful, but exceedingly high-maintenance, trophy fiancée Linda (Laura Silverman). Brendon's new film does very little to hide his contempt for Linda. Jealous of Brendon's new (and actual) father figure, McGuirk volunteers as a "Big Brother" for Eddie, a tragicomic, sickly, and vaguely disturbing lump of a child.
Hoping to smooth things between Linda and Brendon, Andrew brings them all to a family counselor. He blames Brendon for everything. Things deteriorate from there, but at least everyone manages to avoid bad action words. Sort of.
* "Class Trip"
Brendon wants to shoot "on location" during a school field trip -- a plan that is thrown into jeopardy when his mom agrees to chaperone the trip. McGuirk, thwarted in his quest to find a part-time job by bad background checks, gets a job at a trendy coffee shop using the name "Brendon Small." Hijinks ensue.
Brendon's pseudo-historical epic, "Starboy and the Captain of Outer Space," reveals a shocking lack of history knowledge on Brendon's part. Unsurprisingly, his history grades in school are terrible as well. McGuirk volunteers to tutor him.
* "Writer's Block"
Brendon is struck with a severe case of writer's block right before the school's Writing Fair; he, Melissa, and Jason wind up improvising a song-and-dance number about rice. McGuirk is struck with a severe case of insomnia, which he discovers can be quite profitable when one lives near a sleep disorder research center. Paula starts writing a romance novel, which gets worse and worse the more she works on it.
* "Pizza Club"
McGuirk is, once again, jealous of Brendon's relationship with his dad. When he learns that Brendon and Andrew have a weekly "pizza club" meeting together, he starts his own "pizza club" with Walter and Perry. Unfortunately, neither of the boys can eat pizza. Paula wants to act in one of Brendon's movies; he'd rather work on a documentary about Duane's band Scab, which would bring him closer to his beloved Cynthia.
* "The Wedding"
Andrew and Linda tie the knot. Brendon develops a vicious rash. McGuirk faces a full-on let's-do-it-on-the-carpet assault from Paula's college friend Stephanie (who appeared in the first season episode "Law and Border"), which throws him for a loop. Paula gets her teaching job back. Walter and Perry decide to get married someday.
Although the show's hard-core fans took issue with some of these episodes, the show overall retains the charm and razor-sharp wit it had in the first season. Brendon talks like an adult, but is still very much a kid. What sets Home Movies apart from similar shows is its seamless integration of these two elements of Brendon's personality. Many shows (Simpsons, I'm looking at you...) will put "adult" dialogue into a kid's mouth for laughs, but do it in a way that makes the character farcical or clearly "phony," for lack of a better word. (A school bully would never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, NEVER be into Andy Williams in reality. Ever.) Once you've crossed that Rubicon, you can't go back -- the audience will never again take that character seriously. If you want to do a serious story, you have to wrap the seriousness in a blanket of farce appropriate to the character. The Simpsons regularly jumped waaaaay over that barricade, beginning in its second season. Home Movies, though, doesn't fall into that trap. It uses farce and ridiculousness, true, but it keeps the farcical elements within Brendon's films, allowing the "real" Brendon, Melissa, and Jason to act realistically. Precocious and mature for their age, yes -- but realistically so.
The fans' ire seems to be focused primarily on one episode in this season, "History." "History" turns the Home Movies formula around: the movie is the main focus of the episode, while the real-life Brendon's issues are the side plot. A lot of fans didn't like this. They also didn't like the fact that the production values on "Starboy and the Captain of Outer Space" were way beyond what Brendon should have been able to achieve. (Prior to that episode, the show had always stuck fairly close to the level of props/background/camera effects/etc. that one might reasonably expect a 12-year-old to achieve in his basement.) Personally, I loved it -- it's this season's version of the Metamorphosis rock opera from "Director's Cut" in Season One. (He...is...Franz...Kaf...KA! Franzkafka!) I get the feeling that the fans grew to love it, too -- it was just too much of a curveball when it first aired (much like the notorious Terrence and Phillip April Fool's episode of South Park).
Curveballs are a recurring theme here in Season Two, actually. Since the show had a guaranteed 13-episode commitment for the first time in its history, the show's writers and producers were able to expand the show's storytelling for the first time. Season-long plot arcs make their first appearance here -- e.g. Paula's unemployment, the Brendon/Andrew/Linda triangle, and Brendon's pursuit of Cynthia. The show had always been self-referential, but now it was formally self-referential. This led to a touch -- just a touch -- of seriousness creeping into the show. It doesn't make the show heavy or sentimental, but it does subtly make us care more about these characters than we did in Season One.
This season also featured the debut of recurring side characters. Although some of these characters did appear in the first season -- most significantly the non-ambiguously gay duo Walter and Perry -- they were often just background characters at that point, not intended to ever return. Now, however, with the show's future more certain and the stories a bit richer, the show had the flexibility to develop side characters. So in Season Two we see a lot more screentime for fan favorites like W&P, Fenton Mulley (whose voice changed dramatically in the next season), Ken and Junior Addleberg, and Mr. Lindenson.
With the departure of Squigglevision, Home Movies practically jumps off the screen in this transfer. Colors are exceptionally vivid, and the transfer is so good that its only flaw is that it emphasizes some of the inherent limitations of computer animation. (The difficulty in producing non-jagged diagonal lines, for example.) The sound mix is the standard TV stereo mix; it's clear and well-suited for an animated show.
Shout! Factory once again comes through for fans of the show in a big way with a resoundingly valuable package of extras. By far the best extra -- and one of the best extras I've ever seen on any DVD release -- is Brendon Small's short film, "Memories." Ostensibly a behind-the-scenes extra featuring former Home Movies guest voice actors recalling their time with the show, it's actually a non-stop series of comic vignettes. Since most of the guest voice actors were comedians themselves, you can see how this would have potential. It is absolutely hysterical. I hate to say this, but it's funnier than any of the shows included on the set -- and those shows are funny. I also hate to single anyone out, but I will anyhow: Laura Silverman and Ron Lynch are absolutely brilliant here.
The usual gaggle of episode commentaries are included; roughly half the episodes have some kind of commentary attached. Small, Galsky, and producer Loren Bouchard provide the commentary on all but one episode; the remainder features a commentary done by several of the show's animators. The Small/Galsky/Bouchard commentaries are very solid. Not as flat-out funny as the Season One commentaries with Small and Jon Benjamin (who, except for a small but very funny Easter Egg appearance, is AWOL on this set), but more informative. (Galsky -- who was a producer for the show as well as the voice of Melissa -- serves as a good foil for Small, and keeps him fairly focused.) The animators' commentary is much rougher, and not as informative as it should have been. They apparently had a lot of fun doing it, though.
There are three video interviews included, one on each disc. First, Small interviews Galsky -- this is more "Sammy and Dean" than "David Frost and Richard Nixon." There's a formal interview with Small, Galsky, and Bouchard; shockingly, they don't just repeat the information given in the commentaries. Finally, there's an interview with writer Bill Braudis, who's a bit more serious than the rest.
It apparently wouldn't be a Home Movies set without some oddball, out-of-left-field extras thrown in for good measure. (Remember The Thor von Clemson Advanced Fast-Hand Finger Wizard Master Class?) First up is the winner of the "Small Shorts" film contest, which charged viewers to make their own Brendon Small-like video feature. The winner was a group of college-aged kids (or so I surmise) who made a wretched version of Moby Dick. But, truth be told, it is a lot like the films Brendon produces in the show...so mission accomplished, I suppose. Another small featurette has Small giving us a lesson on how to play the Home Movies theme. Some "extended play" versions of a few of the show's songs -- basically audio tracks with still shots from the series -- are included. Finally, there's a very interesting little bit entitled "Audio Anatomy of a Scene." This featurette takes one short scene from the final episode "The Wedding" and shows us how the audio portion was built and edited, from the first table reading to the final product. It's actually quite interesting. Unlike most shows, Home Movies' audio tracks are edited together much like film; segments from different read-throughs are often combined into a final track. Here, we see exactly how that is done. Good stuff!
On the whole, this is another solid package for a great season, albeit one that was superseded in quality by the subsequent season. Fans may gripe about the second season of Home Movies, but I bet they'll snap it up like hotcakes. You should, too.
After two go-rounds, I still find it difficult to write about Home Movies. Its quality is somewhat intangible and hard to describe -- it's just a great combination of humor, pacing, and silliness that flat-out works. The show is still on in repeats on Adult Swim. I strongly suggest taking an episode or two for a test drive. If you like it (or them), don't worry about jumping headfirst into a full-season DVD purchase. The shows are so uniformly good that if you like one, you'll almost certainly like them all.
Once again, crazee madd propz go out to Shout! Factory, who have quickly become the preferred outlet for high-quality-but-largely-overlooked television. And they've even got Undeclared in the pipeline. Keep up the good work, kids -- some of us truly appreciate it.
Not guilty. And...cut! Um...that wasn't very good, was it. (It sucked.) Well, I wouldn't say it sucked, but it wasn't...quite up to the, um, standards I...(Brendon, it sucked.) [Yeah, Brendon -- it really wasn't...that good.] Huh. Maybe you're right. (Maybe we need a new font.) [Jason...] Jason, I don't think the font's the problem...[Why don't we do it again?] (With a new font. Sans serif.) Shut up, Jason. All right, all right all right...let's try it again. Places!
Review content copyright © 2005 David Ryan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2005 Nominee
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Winner of the "Small Shorts" Film Contest
* Featurette: Memories
* Animatics for "Politics" and "The Party"
* Animatics with Animator Commentary for "History"
* Brendon Small Interviews Melissa Galsky
* Interview with Brendon Small, Melissa Galsky, and Loren Bouchard
* Audio Anatomy of a Scene
* Home Movies Music Treats
* Bill Braudis Speaks!
* Official Site
* The Home Movies Supersite (fan site)
* Review: Season One