Appellate Judge Dave Ryan finds that the worst season of a good show is usually better than the best season of a mediocre show. Or something like that.
Our reviews of Home Movies: The Complete First Season (published December 8th, 2004), Home Movies: Season Three (published November 2nd, 2005), and Home Movies: Season Four (published May 1st, 2006) are also available.
"Look at him out there. So small. So defenseless. He's like a chipmunk
with a disease."
Buoyed by its (relative) success as part of the initial Adult Swim block on Cartoon Network, Home Movies returned for a second, full 13-episode season in 2002. Buoyed by the (apparent) success of Home Movies: Season One, Shout! Factory returns with a second Home Movies DVD collection, containing the complete run of the aforementioned second season. What's new in Season Two? Out is the possibly-seizure-inducing Squigglevision animation technique, replaced by straight Flash (yes, webizens, that Flash) animation; in is a greater focus on long-term, continuing storylines.
Although this season is probably the weakest of the show's four, that doesn't mean it's a bad season. And, as usual, Shout! Factory wraps it up in a beautiful package chock-full of valuable extras. This was one of the most consistently entertaining animated shows ever produced; it's good to see that its DVD releases are in good hands.
Facts of the Case
Home Movies brings us into the proto-cinematic world of Brendon Small (Brendon Small), a 12-year-old filmmaker-in-development. Brendon, armed with his trusty video camera and a wildly unbounded imagination, produces fairly high-quality cinematic epics with his friends Jason Penopolis (H. Jon Benjamin, Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist) and Melissa Robbins (Melissa Bardin Galsky), all the while trying to deal with the typical (and some atypical) struggles faced by a 12-year-old boy: girlfriends, bullies, homework, a divorced (but very cool) mom, Paula (Janine Ditullio), and an absentee father. Filling in as Brendon's sole father figure is John McGuirk (Benjamin again), his youth soccer coach, who hates both kids and soccer.
In its original UPN form, Home Movies was almost completely improvised. By the time it hit Cartoon Network, that had changed, and the show was scripted. But the actors were still given a bit of leeway to improvise in the recording sessions, and the show still retained a lot of that improvisational feel.
The second season of Home Movies is considered to be the "worst" of the four by many fans. It does seem a bit more scattered than other seasons, but it's not bad by any stretch of the imagination. This DVD set has all the episodes on three discs, presented in their production order:
• "Identifying A Body"
• "Business & Pleasure"
• "The Party"
• "Class Trip"
• "Writer's Block"
• "Pizza Club"
• "The Wedding"
Although the show's hard-core fans took issue with some of these episodes, the show overall retains the charm and razor-sharp wit it had in the first season. Brendon talks like an adult, but is still very much a kid. What sets Home Movies apart from similar shows is its seamless integration of these two elements of Brendon's personality. Many shows (Simpsons, I'm looking at you…) will put "adult" dialogue into a kid's mouth for laughs, but do it in a way that makes the character farcical or clearly "phony," for lack of a better word. (A school bully would never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, NEVER be into Andy Williams in reality. Ever.) Once you've crossed that Rubicon, you can't go back—the audience will never again take that character seriously. If you want to do a serious story, you have to wrap the seriousness in a blanket of farce appropriate to the character. The Simpsons regularly jumped waaaaay over that barricade, beginning in its second season. Home Movies, though, doesn't fall into that trap. It uses farce and ridiculousness, true, but it keeps the farcical elements within Brendon's films, allowing the "real" Brendon, Melissa, and Jason to act realistically. Precocious and mature for their age, yes—but realistically so.
The fans' ire seems to be focused primarily on one episode in this season, "History." "History" turns the Home Movies formula around: the movie is the main focus of the episode, while the real-life Brendon's issues are the side plot. A lot of fans didn't like this. They also didn't like the fact that the production values on "Starboy and the Captain of Outer Space" were way beyond what Brendon should have been able to achieve. (Prior to that episode, the show had always stuck fairly close to the level of props/background/camera effects/etc. that one might reasonably expect a 12-year-old to achieve in his basement.) Personally, I loved it—it's this season's version of the Metamorphosis rock opera from "Director's Cut" in Season One. (He…is…Franz…Kaf…KA! Franzkafka!) I get the feeling that the fans grew to love it, too—it was just too much of a curveball when it first aired (much like the notorious Terrence and Phillip April Fool's episode of South Park).
Curveballs are a recurring theme here in Season Two, actually. Since the show had a guaranteed 13-episode commitment for the first time in its history, the show's writers and producers were able to expand the show's storytelling for the first time. Season-long plot arcs make their first appearance here—e.g. Paula's unemployment, the Brendon/Andrew/Linda triangle, and Brendon's pursuit of Cynthia. The show had always been self-referential, but now it was formally self-referential. This led to a touch—just a touch—of seriousness creeping into the show. It doesn't make the show heavy or sentimental, but it does subtly make us care more about these characters than we did in Season One.
This season also featured the debut of recurring side characters. Although some of these characters did appear in the first season—most significantly the non-ambiguously gay duo Walter and Perry—they were often just background characters at that point, not intended to ever return. Now, however, with the show's future more certain and the stories a bit richer, the show had the flexibility to develop side characters. So in Season Two we see a lot more screentime for fan favorites like W&P, Fenton Mulley (whose voice changed dramatically in the next season), Ken and Junior Addleberg, and Mr. Lindenson.
With the departure of Squigglevision, Home Movies practically jumps off the screen in this transfer. Colors are exceptionally vivid, and the transfer is so good that its only flaw is that it emphasizes some of the inherent limitations of computer animation. (The difficulty in producing non-jagged diagonal lines, for example.) The sound mix is the standard TV stereo mix; it's clear and well-suited for an animated show.
Shout! Factory once again comes through for fans of the show in a big way with a resoundingly valuable package of extras. By far the best extra—and one of the best extras I've ever seen on any DVD release—is Brendon Small's short film, "Memories." Ostensibly a behind-the-scenes extra featuring former Home Movies guest voice actors recalling their time with the show, it's actually a non-stop series of comic vignettes. Since most of the guest voice actors were comedians themselves, you can see how this would have potential. It is absolutely hysterical. I hate to say this, but it's funnier than any of the shows included on the set—and those shows are funny. I also hate to single anyone out, but I will anyhow: Laura Silverman and Ron Lynch are absolutely brilliant here.
The usual gaggle of episode commentaries are included; roughly half the episodes have some kind of commentary attached. Small, Galsky, and producer Loren Bouchard provide the commentary on all but one episode; the remainder features a commentary done by several of the show's animators. The Small/Galsky/Bouchard commentaries are very solid. Not as flat-out funny as the Season One commentaries with Small and Jon Benjamin (who, except for a small but very funny Easter Egg appearance, is AWOL on this set), but more informative. (Galsky—who was a producer for the show as well as the voice of Melissa—serves as a good foil for Small, and keeps him fairly focused.) The animators' commentary is much rougher, and not as informative as it should have been. They apparently had a lot of fun doing it, though.
There are three video interviews included, one on each disc. First, Small interviews Galsky—this is more "Sammy and Dean" than "David Frost and Richard Nixon." There's a formal interview with Small, Galsky, and Bouchard; shockingly, they don't just repeat the information given in the commentaries. Finally, there's an interview with writer Bill Braudis, who's a bit more serious than the rest.
It apparently wouldn't be a Home Movies set without some oddball, out-of-left-field extras thrown in for good measure. (Remember The Thor von Clemson Advanced Fast-Hand Finger Wizard Master Class?) First up is the winner of the "Small Shorts" film contest, which charged viewers to make their own Brendon Small-like video feature. The winner was a group of college-aged kids (or so I surmise) who made a wretched version of Moby Dick. But, truth be told, it is a lot like the films Brendon produces in the show…so mission accomplished, I suppose. Another small featurette has Small giving us a lesson on how to play the Home Movies theme. Some "extended play" versions of a few of the show's songs—basically audio tracks with still shots from the series—are included. Finally, there's a very interesting little bit entitled "Audio Anatomy of a Scene." This featurette takes one short scene from the final episode "The Wedding" and shows us how the audio portion was built and edited, from the first table reading to the final product. It's actually quite interesting. Unlike most shows, Home Movies' audio tracks are edited together much like film; segments from different read-throughs are often combined into a final track. Here, we see exactly how that is done. Good stuff!
On the whole, this is another solid package for a great season, albeit one that was superseded in quality by the subsequent season. Fans may gripe about the second season of Home Movies, but I bet they'll snap it up like hotcakes. You should, too.
After two go-rounds, I still find it difficult to write about Home Movies. Its quality is somewhat intangible and hard to describe—it's just a great combination of humor, pacing, and silliness that flat-out works. The show is still on in repeats on Adult Swim. I strongly suggest taking an episode or two for a test drive. If you like it (or them), don't worry about jumping headfirst into a full-season DVD purchase. The shows are so uniformly good that if you like one, you'll almost certainly like them all.
Once again, crazee madd propz go out to Shout! Factory, who have quickly become the preferred outlet for high-quality-but-largely-overlooked television. And they've even got Undeclared in the pipeline. Keep up the good work, kids—some of us truly appreciate it.
Not guilty. And…cut! Um…that wasn't very good, was it. (It sucked.) Well, I wouldn't say it sucked, but it wasn't…quite up to the, um, standards I…(Brendon, it sucked.) [Yeah, Brendon—it really wasn't…that good.] Huh. Maybe you're right. (Maybe we need a new font.) [Jason…] Jason, I don't think the font's the problem…[Why don't we do it again?] (With a new font. Sans serif.) Shut up, Jason. All right, all right all right…let's try it again. Places!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• Episode Commentaries
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