Judge Christopher Kulik is suffering from a knock and ping he just can't shake.
"Hello and welcome to Car Talk from National Public Radio. We have with us Click & Clack, The Tappet Brothers, and we're here to talk about cars, car repair, and the new puzzler: how the hell we got to star in an animated series!"
For the past 20 years, I've been steady fan of the one and only Car Talk. I remember in the late '80s going out to breakfast with my Dad (God rest his soul) and his friends; afterward we would listen to these guys' antics while driving to his shipping store. The show is a hybrid of useful automotive info—usually involving preventive maintenance—mixed with a banquet of good, bad, and hilarious jokes. It's one of the few NPR shows which avoids a dry delivery and remains consistently funny week in and week out. Best of all, however, it actually makes the subject of automobiles and maintenance interesting, which under usual circumstances would be lethargic and dull.
The Tappet Brothers are actually Tom and Ray Magliozzi. The MIT graduates founded their own garage ("Hacker's Haven") in Cambridge, Massachusetts ("Our Fair City") before finding an alternate home at National Public Radio as Click & Clack, expert mechanics and full-time jokesters. They began in 1988, and still are reigning supreme on the radio station known primarily for All Things Considered and A Prairie Home Companion. While the idea of the boys having their own animated series has been floating around since 2001, it was only this year when Click & Clack's As The Wrench Turns would make its debut on PBS, the station's first foray into the medium. In fact, PBS made an announcement for the show shortly after the monster Pixar hit Cars came out; if you remember, Click & Clack played the Rust-eze owners in that film.
Car Talk Plaza is brought to fictional life in As The Wrench Turns. The boys are doing their radio show every Saturday and prefer to hear their callers than their demanding producer Beth Totenbag (Kelli O'Hara, All My Children), who is constantly pushing them to positively acknowledge their sponsors and promote the PBS fund drive. The studio is, in fact, connected to their Cambridge garage, which employs an eclectic group of misfits: Crusty, a middle-aged hippie who is politically savvy; Hans, a Russian immigrant who is working for a Green Card; and Hans, a Hispanic lothario in his own mind. Much of the humor is built on Click & Clack's lazy nature and how they search for shortcuts in lieu of really working. For example, in the second episode, they fly to India to visit a company that's recruiting native workers to take over famous U.S. radio personalities, such as Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern. As a result, their ratings go sky high, and they get a bonus, which they happily put to good use in Hawaii.
As a long-time devotee of Car Talk, I found this series to be a mixed bag. The humor is certainly there, and the Magliozzis' comic punch is still hitting hard, except their famous improvisation and spontaneity is practically thrown out the window. The result is Click & Clack 2.0, as the friendly voices are there but not the belly laughs or jolly merriment the boys' audibly display every Saturday morning. Many of these episodes are scripted by Doug Berman and Bill Kroyer (the executive producer of animation), with a moderate amount of submissions provided by Tom & Ray. The out-there stories themselves set up some big laughs, like when the boys' discover pasta as an alternative energy source for automobiles…and piss off the local Mafioso in the process; others lack any ingenuity whatsoever.
The animation itself harkens back to the 60s and 70s. In other words, the animation is very dim and dry, lacks real color and pizzazz, occasionally rough around the edges. Nothing special, unless you want to return to that old-fashioned, old-school look which was prevalent in George of the Jungle. Since the humor will whisk over children's heads, it's clear this show was created specifically for the older crowd, ones who are too slow to catch every gag in The Family Guy. The show does earn points for its rich character design, courtesy of Stephen Silver, who also did the Clerks television series for Kevin Smith.
Paramount was quick in getting a DVD out showcasing the series' first ten episodes (the show premiered in July). All are presented in full frame and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, which both do their job. The image is clean and the audio is serviceable, but nothing more. Extras are null and void. Whether or not there will be more episodes only time will tell, as the reception has been lukewarm at best. I say die-hard fans of Car Talk should definitely check it out, while others should make a casual viewing on PBS. Click & Clack are found not guilty, but Berman and Co. are ordered to let the Magliozzis run wild in later episodes. Court is adjourned!
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