Fans of Kevin Smith may remember an animated version of his movie Clerks airing ever so briefly last summer. Chief Justice Mike Jackson was one of the nine people who watched its entire run on the air...all two episodes of it. The show has been brought to DVD, and you can read his ruling on the two-disc set.
Snooch to the Nooch.
If you want to talk filmmakers…I love Tim Burton. I love the Coen Brothers. I love Steven Soderbergh. I love Woody Allen. I like Kevin Smith. Notice the distinction? There's a lot that I love about Smith: the honesty of his films, his willingness to say exactly what is on his mind, his devotion to the friends he had before he became rich and famous, his aversion to playing by Hollywood's rules. I like all his movies, even the lambasted Mallrats. Heck, that's probably my favorite for its glib, gleeful humor. No, wait, my favorite of his films is Chasing Amy for its absolute candor when dealing with a very strange romance (or are all romances strange? Mine always have been). I even respected Dogma. Linda Fiorentino really dragged the movie down (man, was she acting in another movie or what?), but I admired Smith's willingness to tackle obviously controversial religious themes, and he did so in a way that challenged Christian believers rather than demeaning their faith.
All that said, I obviously skirted around two topics: why I don't unabashedly love Kevin Smith, and his calling card to the filmmaking world, Clerks. Maybe I should discuss those in reverse order. Clerks was made on a shoestring budget provided by family and friends, maxed-out credit cards, and the sale of what must have been a considerable comic book collection. It was shot in black and white (a budget mandate rather than a stylistic decision), and chronicled a day in the lives of two convenience store clerks and the women one of them loved. As someone who worked in the retail sector between the ages of 18 and 23, I can definitely relate to the mental pain and frustration of working with the public. (Did I ever tell the story of trying to explain to some dope what it meant that the L.A. Confidential DVD was "dual-layered"? It took five minutes and three explanations of the dual layer process to discover that what he really wanted to know was if it was letterboxed, because he hated missing parts of the picture with those black bars. Idiot.) Smith always had a great ear for dialogue, and could write insights buried underneath the profanity and dick-and-fart jokes, but Clerks demonstrated that he didn't quite have the filmmaking artistry of my other favorite directors. Unfortunately, his subsequent films have shown little improvement in the artistry field. But even there there's another reason to like him: he admits he has a very uninspired visual style.
All right, jump cut to discussing the material at hand. Clerks spawned a series of comic books, and it was only natural that Smith and his cronies would want to bring it in animated form as well. After many years of pitches and planning, it finally landed a spot on the ABC network. It was an odd choice, considering that ABC is probably the family-friendliest of the Big Three networks. The reason can be summed up in two words: corporate synergy. ABC is owned by Disney, which in turn also owns Miramax, the company that distributed Clerks. Even when they had a broadcast partner, it was still an uphill battle for Smith and Company…but I'll leave them to tell that, as Smith is only too willing to do. Six episodes of Clerks: The Animated Series were produced to be broadcast in Summer 2000. Only two episodes were ever hit the airwaves.
Facts of the Case
Most of you are probably familiar with the Clerks crew, but in case you're not, here's a quick rundown. The show centers on titular clerks Dante and Randal. Dante (Brian O'Halloran) regrets that his twentysomething life has degenerated to working in a convenience store, but is unwilling to do anything to change his situation. He tends to be uptight. His polar opposite but best friend is the happy-go-lucky Randal. Randal (Jeff Anderson) accepts his position at the bottom of the food chain, because it gives him a unique opportunity to make the lives of others miserable. Joining their adventures, albeit rather tangentially at times, are the "merry pranksters" Jay and Silent Bob. As anyone who's seen the "Jersey trilogy" knows, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith himself) are really degenerate drug dealers, but lovable degenerate drug dealers. In the confines of network TV, they became the aforementioned "merry pranksters," selling fireworks or just otherwise causing havoc. For the show (or maybe it was for the comic, but I only read the first issue), an evil archnemesis was created: Leonardo Leonardo (voiced by Alec Baldwin…yes, you read that correctly: Alec Baldwin). He's an evil billionaire bent on world domination. You know, the classic comic book villain archetype.
Anyway, on to the episodes. I don't think they were ever named (or if they were, it was not to the public), so I'll just refer to them rather uncreatively by number.
Say what you will about the Disney megalith's DVD track record, but when they do things right, they really do them right. They may have waited to release the Toy Story movies, but when they did we got the definitive box set. Same with Fantasia and Fantasia 2000. The Clerks Uncensored disc set doesn't quite rise to that level, but it is an admirable and impressive effort.
The six half-hour episodes are evenly divided on to the two discs. They are presented in their original full-frame aspect ratio, with matrixed surround sound. Like the "Powerpuff Girls" disc I recently reviewed, this is near reference quality for a television animation-to-DVD transfer. The show's visual style is preserved perfectly. The muted colors are accurate, and there is no edge enhancement visible in either the chunky or thin lines that build the characters. Only an occasional dust blip mars the picture. The audio is very dialogue-centric, relegating the front left and right channels largely to music, and giving the rear very little action. Sound quality, however, is superb.
As for extras, Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith introduce each episode as their alter egos Jay and Silent Bob. Each episode sports a commentary track and the ability to view animatics (animated versions of the storyboards) as a multi-angle feature. The commentaries are almost as entertaining as the show (as is usual with any Kevin Smith commentary). Present are Smith, Smith's long-time collaborator Scott Mosier, supervising director Chris Bailey, co-creator Dave Mandel (an alumnus of "Seinfeld"), and voice talent Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, and Jason Mewes. While everyone has something to contribute at one point or another, Smith is definitely the chattiest of the group. Other extras include featurettes on character development and the show's visual style, the show's promotional spot played during Super Bowl XXXIV (that's 34 to you philistines, or the one played in 2000), a promotional trailer played at the Sundance Film Festival, and a bevy of DVD-ROM material that looks interesting if only I had a DVD-ROM drive at home.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's a real shame that ABC didn't give Clerks more of a chance. I mean, it's not any worse than any other animated series, and certainly better than pablum like "The P.J.s" or "Family Guy" (though I do have to say I really liked "Family Guy"). Comedy-wise, it runs circles around ABC's trite flagship comedy, "Dharma and Greg."
Even if I did really enjoy the show (and I heartily recommend you pick up the DVD set), I do have one complaint. Six episodes are well and good. They make for close to three hours of entertainment when watched back to back. But, could the creators have maintained that level or brand of humor for an entire 26-episode season? Or multiple seasons? I highly doubt it. The show's running gags (Charles Barkley, the giggling girls, every episode opened with a variation of "'Clerks' is drawn before a live studio audience") could not have possibly stayed fresh or laugh-inducing beyond the short shelf life they managed to garner. Frankly, it's almost for the best that only six episodes were produced, and that we get them in this form rather than spread out week after week with commercial breaks interrupting the humor.
The court admonishes every reader to purchase a copy of Clerks Uncensored. At least, anyone who would appreciate the humor and not be offended by the potty-mouth humor inserted between the episodes is encouraged to buy it.
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