Judge Paul Corupe is the alpha male.
Did you get that thing I sent you?
Whether you call them "cartoon remixes" or "post-modern animated shows," the Cartoon Network has found surprising success by rehashing and recycling classic Hanna-Barbera toons for their late night "Adult Swim" programming block. One of their wittier attempts, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law revives the costumed do-gooder from Birdman and the Galaxy Trio, a coolly-received animated superhero show of the 1960s, for a hilarious deconstruction of the H-B universe featuring absurdist humor, political satire, and top-notch voice acting.
Facts of the Case
No longer charged with saving the universe from maniacal supervillains, Harvey Birdman (Gary Cole, Office Space) is a third-rate lawyer toiling away at a fourth-rate firm run by the tyrannical but fun-loving Phil Ken Sebben (Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show). Arguing before judge Mentok the Mindtaker (John Michael Higgins, Best in Show), Birdman and his paralegal Peanut (Thomas Allen) defend a parade of H-B cartoon characters arrested for the lewd and crude criminal behavior you always suspected they might be involved in.
Picking up somewhere in the second season and taking you part way into the third, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Vol. Two collects 13 episodes on two discs. You get:
• Back to the Present
• Blackwatch Plaid
• Grape Juiced
• Peanut Puberty
• Gone Efficien…t
• Droopy Botox
• Guitar Control
• Booty Noir
• Harvey's Civvy
• X Gets the Crest
• Birdgirl of Guantanamole
• Beyond the Valley of the Dinosaurs
• Evolutionary War
Eschewing the flat-out surrealism of some of its Adult Swim neighbors for a more satirical tone, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law is one of the smartest animated shows on television today. Rather than just lazily parodying superheroes or dropping in outdated references for nostalgia buffs, it explores all the familiar Hanna-Barbera touchstones and clichés to reveal the subtexts that have made these cartoon characters so popular over the years. Reasoning out that global warming is the reason the Jetson's distinctive houses are all on stilts and casting Magilla Gorilla as the missing link between ape and man, the show's inventive and decidedly adult take on these classic and not-so-classic characters is a Hanna-Barbera fan's dream come true.
On top of that delectable base, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law ladles a thick steaming gravy of incredible voice talent. While most Adult Swim shows feature standard actors and unknown faces to bring life to their characters, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law boasts an all-star line. As Birdman, Gary Cole finds the perfect blend of dopey do-gooder and existentially troubled nervous wreck. Stephen Colbert frequently steals the show with the one-two punch of Phil Ken Sebben and Reducto, but it's John Michael Higgins' amazing Mentok the Mind Taker that provides many of the show's finest moments. Making her debut this season, former Andy Richter Controls the Universe star Paget Brewster is also pitch-perfect as the latest addition to the "Birdteam," Birdgirl.
If there's any disappointment with this set, is that it's just not as balls-to-the-wall uproarious as Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Vol. One. Clearly, the writers were feeling a little trapped by the show's restrictive premise after the show's first season, as there really are only so many Hanna-Barbera characters to skewer. While still frequently funny, the first half of this set spends too much time outside the courtroom, developing the characters of Harvey, Peanut, and Ken as they navigate their increasingly dysfunctional work environment. There's a notable drop in the sheer onslaught of cartoon references that permeated the first DVD, as the season began to rely less on the H-B animation vaults in order to make a more significant emotional investment in the characters. In the end, though, these earlier episodes ultimately make the season that much stronger, and by the time we hit "Droopy Botox," the show is back on track, with inspired insights into Captain Caveman, Quick Draw McGraw, and Ricochet Rabbit.
It's amazing how many of these shows that simply reuse decades-old animation cels end up looking so great. Even though dirt and grain can occasionally be seen in the source material for Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Vol. Two, detail is quite good and colors remain deep and solid, all which make this set quite a pleasure to watch. Audio is always clear on the otherwise no-frills Dolby 2.0 Surround track. As for extras, Warner Brothers loads this disc with a bunch of interesting tidbits. 9 of the 13 episodes feature good-natured commentary tracks with show creators Michael Ouweleen and Erik Richter, who are joined by various cast and crewmembers including Cole, Brewster, Colbert, and Higgins. The rest of the extras are housed on Disc Two, headlined by a six-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that shows the animators at work and Ouweleen and Richter answering fan questions. "Record of Records" features about four minutes of the show with an inset box that reveals the actor voicing the character, while "Clothes-less Animation Pass" is a scene from the "Birdgirl of Guantanamole" with all the characters naked, except for Birdman's crest over their naughty bits. A brief "CGI Clip" shows how some shots are animated, "Bluetube Moments" reveals the process of adding sounds, "Hey, Mr. Passerby" is a music video featuring clips from the show, and "Birdman Stripper" is some photos of a guy in a Birdman costume going down to his skivvies. Finally, there are three deleted storyboards from "X Gets the Crest," a whole whack of Adult Swim promos, and some jokey "Superty" textbook blowups. Whew!
With such brief runtimes, I'd be willing to argue that like many of the other Adult Swim shows, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law is best experienced on DVD. This way, viewers can absorb the off-kilter humor in large doses at a time, which greatly improves the shows over late-night blink-and-you'll-miss-it airings. As a result, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Vol. Two is hard to suggest as a blind buy, but for anyone who enjoys the show and wants more mind taking in their lives, this is another high quality release that will absolutely not disappoint. Recommended.
Not guilty. Why? Because Mentok wills it!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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