Judge Brett Cullum wants his quarters back after six rounds of Game Over!
Did you ever wonder what happens after the game ends?
Brad Bird should be feeling pretty damn smug right about now. Television has tried to co-opt CGI animation to make a hit for years, and just can't seem to get it right like The Incredibles did. Last year we saw Father of the Pride go down like a gazelle pinned down by lions on an African plain, and a year before that we witnessed the self-prophecy of the title for the video game family show Game Over. In an "eventually everything will hit the format" kind of move, Anchor Bay assembles Game Over: The Complete Collection to remind us why, out of 168 shows that ran during the 2003-4 television season, Game Over came in 168th. Hell, The Mullets did better that year. The biggest problem is that CGI cartoon shows seem so dazzled with the technology they often forget what made Toy Story and The Incredibles such big hits—they had heart and a great story in addition to some hot new graphic techniques. The Simpsons was crudely drawn in its first years, but it had charm and a unique family with some great dark humor for good measure.
It sounded like a good idea at the time. Television executives were worried they were losing a key demographic to video games. Gamers were mostly male (well over half), and their ages were growing past the teenage set up into the Gen Xers who grew up happily tapping away at their Atari 2600s. Video games had their down time, but it seemed Sony and Nintendo were fighting even harder to capture television sets with the adventures of their big franchises. Lara Croft, Crash Bandicoot, and Mario were becoming big stars, and a billion-dollar industry was trying the patience of executives at the major monolithic broadcast television networks. How could they fight back and reclaim their turf?
The producers over at Carsey Warner had a novel idea. Marcey Carsey teamed up with writer and producer David Sacks, and they came up with a family sitcom where the clan would be comprised of video game characters. It was a tried and true formula that had worked when they made The Munsters monsters, or The Flintstones cavemen. Why couldn't they make an unconventional conventional family from video games? Marcey had developed hit shows like The Cosby Show and Third Rock from the Sun, while David had masterminded The Tick and been a writer for The Simpsons. How could they lose?
The pilot won over executives at UPN (the "we need a hit now" network) who bought six episodes, and the voice casting and animation work on the series began. Major voice talent was assembled for Game Over. Patrick Warburton (the lead in The Tick) was given the character of Rip Smashenburn, the race-car-driving father who never seemed to win any races, or even finish without having his car burst into flames. Marissa Tomei (The Guru) originally voiced the mother in the pilot, but scheduling conflicts kept her from committing to the series. Instead, Lucy Liu (Kill Bill Vol. 1) came in to record Raquel, a Lara Croft-type spy and treasure hunter who was wildly successful, but is now having a hard time reconciling fame and family. Elizabeth Daly (a veteran voice actress who appeared in '80s hits Valley Girl and Better Off Dead, but now mainly does The Rugrats and Powerpuff Girls) won the role of Billy, the "wigga" son who seemed to be either a skateboarder who never skates or a Sim who never does much. Rachel Dratch (one of the current members of the Saturday Night Live cast) landed the role of Alice, the daughter who was too busy protesting and sulking to chose a video game career. One of the conceits of the show is that the kids have yet to decide what kind of video game they are going to be in, so they started off at a disadvantage from day one. The last "regular" cast member came in with New Yorker Artie Lange (infamous for being on The Howard Stern Show, Elf) as the family pet, called Turbo.
Fully-realized three-dimensional CGI shows are still very expensive, and Game Over cost a lot to produce. It was faced with some logistical problems right off the bat. The series creators were handicapped by not being used to storyboards, and there was a frantic rush to get them completed at the last minute. Another problem was that nobody on the staff was a gamer. The crew had to hire a guy to sit around and play video games, and advise them on what to insert into the scripts so their most important demographic would feel a part of the show. It was trouble—the producers and writers were having to learn on the fly how to make the show and how to work with the content.
Game Over: The Complete Collection is an interesting artifact of a show that ended up dead last in the ratings. I saw the premiere and the show's last aired episode when it was broadcast, and I can attest to the fact that as you watch it does get better than the dreadful pilot. It probably got the axe a little too soon (ratings kill you every time), but even after viewing the "unaired" show you get on the set I wasn't convinced it would have gone anywhere significant. The problem is it never lived up to the potential of the concept. The family was just humdrum, and the plots were never very lively. I loved the voice actors, and thought the show looked like a million bucks, but it had no momentum—comedic or dramatic. If it were a video game, it would feel like Tetris with no ceiling. It was just a constant loop of slow moving pieces coming at you. It forgot that the biggest sin in the video gaming world is being bland. There are a few gags that work extremely well, but more often than not the show seems too slow and too concerned with the stereotypical "family" issues rather than the far more entertaining video game elements.
So Anchor Bay has unleashed this notable failure on the masses, for what it's worth. You get all the episodes ever made, and a couple of sort-of-cute bonus features. Most interesting to me was the progression reel, which shows Game Over from concept drawings to finished product. There's a nice booklet that talks about the show, but no interviews or anything to attempt to explain what went wrong with the series. The transfers are completely, utterly gorgeous. It was a digital show, so it excels on the DVD format unlike any other television show (at least until we see another casualty of this CGI TV craze—Father of the Pride—hit shelves). The menus are nicely animated, and as a package it looks great. I just wish the show inside held more appeal.
If you're a diehard gamer it's probably worth a rental just to see if you can catch the sparse references to famous game characters. My favorite instance appears on disc two in the "Into the Woods" episode, when a drunken Halo soldier decides to wipe out the neighborhood squirrels. Too bad there's not more of that kind of gaming glee, because then Game Over: The Complete Collection could have been more successful. The video game influences should have been front and center. But even then, would it have made anyone drop their controllers? Gamers know what they want, and unfortunately it's not a family sitcom. Lara Croft in some racy skin flick? Now we're talking. And never mind the expensive CGI, I'll take Angelina Jolie. That would have been a hit!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Unaired Episode: "Monkey Dearest"
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