Appellate Judge James A. Stewart finds that talking animals don't have to be British to be funny.
"Across the United States, hundreds of ordinary Americans were interviewed on a variety of subjects. This is what they had to say."
The first two seasons of Creature Comforts, available on DVD, put the voices of "the great British public" into the mouths of plasticine animals from Aardman Animation. The show followed the formula of the award-winning short Creature Comforts, directed by Nick Park (Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit).
With Creature Comforts America: The Complete First Season, the Aardman interviewers crossed the Atlantic, seeking out ordinary Americans for their odd brand of humorous animation.
The DVD title, Creature Comforts America: The Complete Season One, seems overly hopeful, since the show was dumped onto CBS's summer schedule and disappeared after only three of the seven episodes were aired. I wouldn't expect a Season Two, complete or otherwise.
Facts of the Case
Creature Comforts America: The Complete First Season features seven episodes:
• "Pets at the Vet/Secrets and Lies/Animal
Bonus features are included on a second disc.
The first adaptation you'll notice is that, instead of a 10-minute short, each episode is a half-hour (or 22 minutes), usually split among three topics. This adds a little flexibility, since the Aardman team can concentrate on fruitful topics and just pick up a few bits on some riff that didn't work as well.
I suspect the Americans interviewed were more aware of Creature Comforts than the first-season Britons, even though the show didn't get any high-profile airings; their comments include more actual jokes, rather than just observations. There also seems to be a tendency for the interviewees to let loose a bit more when there's a friend, family member, or spouse around. There's still an occasional profound moment, though.
The design is similar to that of the British series, although a complete set of new characters was created. How were the Americans rendered?
• Police officers become K-9 dogs as they discuss police work.
One tour-de-force segment finds art discussed by dogs playing poker, pigeons on a statue, flies on an Andy Warholesque soup can, and a puppy "printmaker" leaving tracks on a carpet. Regions are also represented in the Aardman choices, with alligators talking about Louisiana food and lobsters discussing life in Maine.
As with the original Creature Comforts, viewers will have to pay attention for little gags, such as when an aardvark talks about his food choices as ants wave picket signs or the fact that a bug who talks about fear of flying—and crashing—has just smashed into a car's license plate.
The picture and sound quality is everything you'd expect from a recent TV series.
The extras don't seem as exciting as they have on previous Creature Comforts releases. The alternate and deleted scenes are slightly edgier, with comments about body hair and two gags about dead birds; mostly, they fall flat for 18 minutes. The "live-action scenes," which show the Aardman staff acting out scenes to guide the animators, are stuff a fan has seen before. The "character comps" put together strings of short bits with favorite characters, with the menu letting you know where they hail from. I did notice all the background action in the dog pound scenes, but whether these are worth 40 minutes or so, I'll leave up to you.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Some of the gags are obvious—it's too easy to visualize a person who's afraid of flying as a bird. Haven't they done that one before sometime?
While Creature Comforts America is mostly gentle, the subjects do discuss adult topics and occasionally use mild profanity. This is a show aimed more at adults and teens.
I will note that the opening introduction on TV didn't make the concept crystal clear. While many people are familiar with Creature Comforts through DVD releases, it could have left someone who just turned on the TV and happened on it puzzled—and the promos could have left someone expecting something more like Wallace & Gromit.
I'm kind of puzzled by the poor treatment this version of Creature Comforts got from CBS. I already figured this would be the only season, since it was being burned off in June, but I at least expected all seven shows to air. What's the sense of a fast yanking in June, when network audience levels are dismal regardless?
Still, fans of Creature Comforts will enjoy seeing the American take on the British series. And, since Christmas is coming, 'tis the season to get someone else hooked on the wisdom of animals.
As the hundreds of American viewers who tuned in can confirm, Creature Comforts America: The Complete First Season isn't guilty of anything except dubious optimism in the DVD title.
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