Judge Erich Asperschlager is chock full of '90s pop culture references.
Our review of Freakazoid! Season 2, published May 4th, 2009, is also available.
With the long-awaited DVD release of Freakazoid! Season 1, fans can breath a sigh of relief. Not just because it's finally out, but also because it's as funny as ever.
Facts of the Case
Freakazoid! freaks out on three sides of two discs:
Disc Two: Side One
Disc Two: Side Two
* = repeat story
Bruce Timm was already well-known to animation geeks as co-creator of the moody Batman: The Animated Series when his concept for Freakazoid! was picked by Steven Spielberg as an "action-adventure" follow up to his hit Kids' WB series Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs. Although Timm's involvement may have been minimal after his original idea for a superhero series got turned into more of a slapstick comedy, the result is a pitch-perfect mix of goofy action, pop culture references, live-action footage, surreal humor, and a style borne out of Timm's years of experience working with DC Comics.
For the uninitiated, Freakazoid! tells the story of geeky teen Dexter Douglas, who gets sucked into the Internet after accidentally activating a computer chip's secret flaw, turning him into the blue-skinned, lightning-haired superweirdo Freakazoid. At least, that's the easiest way to describe the show. In reality, Freakazoid! is a scattershot collection of sketches, stories, and interludes centered loosely around its title character—and what a character he is! Freakazoid (voiced by writer-actor Paul Rugg) is an overloaded socket of energy channelling Jerry Lewis, Robin Williams, and Daffy Duck. Because he can't fly, he runs from place to place with his arms outstretched, making a whooshing noise. He drives the Freakmobile (featured in a fake toy commercial), operates out of the rigorously focus-tested Freakalair, and works alone unless the story calls for one of his temporary sidekicks.
Freakazoid is surrounded by an equally colorful cast of characters, including Dexter's family, his sometimes girlfriend Steff, Scottish inventor Roddy McStew, thick-skulled alien Mo-Ron (later changed to Bo-Ron to appease network censors), comic book enthusiast/celebrity stalker "Fanboy," and my personal favorite, Officer Cosgrove (voiced by Ed Asner)—a grizzled old cop who routinely shows up in the middle of an episode to take Freakazoid for a sno-cone, to a Honey Festival, or to see a bear riding a motorcycle.
Helping fuel the frantic surreality of the show are stand-alone stories—shuffled in and among Freakazoid's wacky adventures—starring characters like Britain's much-put-upon superhero Lord Bravery, the Heston-meets-Robin Hood vigilante The Huntsman, Fatman and Boy Blubber, and the Lawn Gnomes. Unlike Animaniacs' motley crew of characters, there's little regularity to these segments. While both Lord Bravery and The Huntsman appear twice over the course of the season, the Lawn Gnomes get half of Episode Four to explain their statues-by-day-crimefighters-by-night origin—and that's the last we see of them. The best of the non-Freakazoid stories, though, is "Toby Danger in Doomsday Bet," a Jonny Quest parody that captures not just the show's feel but its animation style. Long before the Venture Bros. ruled Adult Swim, "Toby Danger" mined cheaply produced animated adventures for comic gold. The tragedy is that this episode—the mini-pilot for a potential series—was the only one ever produced.
Freakazoid! also features a rogues gallery of villains who could have been alternates from The Tick. There's the snake-charming Cobra Queen; the club-wielding, Ivy League-educated Cave Guy; Longhorn, a man surgically altered to look like a bull; and Arms Akimbo, a mobster whose hands-on-hips posture was frozen in place during his child modeling days. Perhaps the two most memorable supervillains, though, are The Lobe—who has a giant brain for a head and veteran British actor David Warner for a voice—and eye-patched industrialist Armando Guitierrez, who stars in both the episode-and-a-half Freakazoid origin story and the season finale. Guitierrez is modeled after the actor who plays him—the incomparable Ricardo Montalban, whose inclusion allows the writers to geek out on Wrath of Khan references.
Speaking of references—my, oh my! There's no way this show was written for kids. How many ten-year-olds know who Paul Harvey or Jack Valenti are, or have seen Ed Wood or F-Troop? Even for adults, the downside is that at least half the references require familiarity with '90s pop culture—meaning anyone too young to remember Quantum Leap or The Sinbad Show is pretty much out of luck.
For the most part, these episodes look and sound great. The full-frame picture is colorful and bright, with only the occasional dust or speckles. I did, however, notice a lot of interlacing artifacts, especially during action sequences. I can't say for sure it was the DVD and not my player, but it might be an issue for some viewers.
Besides the 2.0 stereo mix, there's a surprisingly nice 5.1 surround option that elevates the great Warner Bros. music—not least of all the catchy theme song.
The episodes are rock solid, but how are the extras? Great. Really great. Which is why I'm disappointed there's not more of them. Three of the 14 episodes have commentary tracks featuring senior producer Tom Ruegger, Paul Rugg, and writer James McCann. They have a great time reminiscing and telling jokes. The "key episodes" they chose are all classics, but it's a shame they couldn't burn through a few more. The rest of the extras are on side two of disc two. There's the 17-minute retrospective "Freakazoid: The Original Freak" and about half a dozen "Freakazoid-less Freakazoid Promos"—hilarious cruise ship ad parodies they put together to advertise the series before they had any footage to show.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
After watching the first episode, I was afraid that Freakazoid! Season 1 was going to be a bumpy ride. Freakazoid's first appearance was almost entirely improvised by Paul Rugg, who never thought his inane ravings would make it on the show. He was wrong, and the result would probably annoy even Jerry Lewis. Thankfully, the character's wackiness is more in check for the rest of the season. Still, if juvenile ramblings and insane noisemaking get under your skin, Freakazoid! might not be for you.
The biggest problem with this set is that it could have been so much more. To start, they crammed three discs' worth of material on 2 DVDs by making Disc 2 double-sided. Besides being easier to handle, a three-disc set would have provided more room for commentaries and extras. In fact, had they gone a little further still, they could have given fans the complete series instead of just . Freakazoid! only ran for two seasons, so adding the other 11 episodes wouldn't have made the set any longer than a Simpsons release. The only danger in having to wait for Season Two is that sales for this set might not be enough to justify a Season Two release. Freakazoid! fans have waited far too long for that to happen, so it better not. You hear me, Warner Bros.?
Although it might annoy only a small group of people, no mention is made anywhere in the extras of Mike Allred's allegations that Freakazoid plagiarized his comic book Madman. It would have been interesting to hear an official response, but there's no mention of the controversy.
Freakazoid! might be less "adult" than Adult Swim, but it stands up with the best of those series. The jokes are hilarious, the references are clever (albeit dated), and the stories are deliciously surreal. You might have to explain to your kids who Barbara Streisand is and why she's riding on Air Force One with the Clintons, but it's worth it to revisit Season One of this tragically short-lived animated series.
Not Freakin' Guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "Freakazoid: The Original Freak"
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