After watching Tom Goes to the Mayor, Appellate Judge Brendan Babish was inspired to set a bear trap at the community swimming pool.
A few weeks before one of the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim's biggest successes, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, comes to the big screen, one of the channel's neglected step-children, Tom Goes to the Mayor, comes to our living room, by way of DVD.
Facts of the Case
The show's premise, like its animation, is simple: every episode features diligent, entrepreneurial citizen of Jefferton, Tom Peters, visiting the mayor's office to present a new idea (Tom's full of ideas!). And in every episode The Mayor can be counted on to take Tom's initial idea—which is usually sensible—and in implementing it, turn the whole thing into a fiasco. Tom, though quite ingenious, lacks a strong personality; he never asserts himself enough to prevent The Mayor from wreaking havoc with his own strange bastardization of the original plan. And therein lies the humor.
Each episode is very brief, approximately 11 minutes long. Yet the joke-per-minute ratio of Tom Goes to the Mayor is very high, so you can still expect a good four or five dozen gags in every story.
Tom Goes to the Mayor: The Complete Series contains the following 30 episodes spread out over three discs:
• "Bear Traps"
A few years ago, when I first saw the promotional clips for Tom Goes to the Mayor, I was intrigued by the show's lo-tech animation style (harking me back to one of my old favorites, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist) and the involvement of Bob Odenkirk, who was hot off of Mr. Show, and had yet to be tainted by Let's Go to Prison. However, I missed Tom Goes to the Mayor's premiere, and was quickly informed, mostly through online message boards, that the show "sucked." Over the series' two seasons friends would occasionally drop a good word or two—usually along the lines of "Actually, it doesn't suck as much as I thought it would"—but by that time my slight enthusiasm had waned; the moment had passed.
So when I finally acquiesced and sat down to watch the Tom Goes to the Mayor DVDs, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Granted, coming into the show with low expectations certainly helped, but regardless, this is one funny cartoon (though I use the word "cartoon" loosely).
The show was created by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim (who have a new show on Adult Swim, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job). Originally, Tom Goes to the Mayor was a stand-alone web cartoon, but generated enough buzz to attract a following, including Odenkirk, who signed on as a producer and performer. With Odenkirk on board, the show was able to attract a near Simpsons-level list of celebrity participants, including David Cross (Mr. Show), Jack Black and Kyle Gass (Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny), Jeff Goldblum (The Big Chill), Gary Busey (The Buddy Holly Story), Judd Hirsch (Taxi), and many, many more.
Most of these guest stars don't merely show up for a single scene, but have prominent roles in their episode. And the material is irreverent and absurd enough that guests are encouraged to mug it up for their scenes. This provides a great platform for comedians like Fred Williard and Sarah Silverman to shine; it also allows more traditional actors, such as Goldblum and Hirsch, an opportunity to show off their comedic chops. Not surprisingly, Busey, as a mentally-abusive high school wrestling coach, seems perhaps best suited for the show's absurdist humor. Still, all these performers seem to be enjoying themselves, and that translates to the audience as well.
But of course, the cameos would be wasted without strong material, and Tom Goes to the Mayor justifies their participation by proving to be one of the oddest, most absurd shows on TV. Though I'm sure Heidecker and Wareheim carefully plotted each episode, Tom Goes to the Mayor has a fitting, ramshackle feel to it, almost like a cartoon improv group with a great supply of props. The first episode, "Bear Traps," exemplifies the show's wacky spirit perfectly: Tom visits The Mayor with a plan to increase safety for Jefferton's children. The Mayor loves Tom's plan, but chooses to implement it by setting bear traps in playgrounds throughout the town. Jack Black and Kyle Gass play rival bear trap retailers who back the plan, as it will increase their business. Several children do end up getting their legs severed, but they're cartoon children, so it's funny.
Not every episode is as successful as the series premiere. Occasionally, Heidecker and Wareheim's creative and bizarre sense of humor leads them a little too far from convention, and their absurd plots are just grating and mindlessly silly (see the series' second episode, "WW Laserz"). However, these episodes are few and far between, and as the series goes on, the show becomes far more consistent, and produces some inspired 11-minute episodes ("Porcelain Birds," "Rebirth," "Couple's Therapy") that are as good as just about any cartoon currently on television.
That said, while I'm certainly not happy that Tom Goes to the Mayor has most likely completed production, the high-concept idea for the show seems to have pretty much run its course over these 30 episodes. Unlike cartoons such as The Simpsons, which has dozens of strong characters, this show only has two—admittedly strong—characters. Over these three discs the dopiness of Tom and the vacuous arrogance of The Mayor are mined so efficiently that I would guess Heidecker and Wareheim were a little relieved to move on. I've yet to see Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job, but Tom Goes to the Mayor shows that these guys have great potential, and hopefully that'll attain the increased fan base they deserve.
Compounding the value of this DVD set is the excellent package Warner Bros. has put together. The sweetest plums—by far—are the commentary tracks Heidecker and Wareheim provide for every episode. True to form, the two are funny and irreverent, but also provide good insight into the creative process. The discs also include loads of deleted scenes and featurettes. Those who simply watch the show should be able to tell it's a labor of love for its creators; this DVD set bears that out, and is a must for fans of the show.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As in most comedies with so many jokes, the highs are very high, but the lows are embarrassingly low. In almost every instance, the show's live-action sequences (even those featuring the usually dependable Odenkirk) don't work as well as the animation. In particular, the recurring Married News Team segments, featuring Heidecker and Wareheim as married news anchors, makes the mistake of employing the same broad humor that works in animation, but just seems awkward with live actors. Thankfully, these segments rarely last more than about 30 seconds, and can easily be weathered.
Since it's initial poor reception, conventional wisdom on Tom Goes to the Mayor is that you'll either love it or hate (officials from Adult Swim describe it as "one of the most polarizing shows we've ever had.") I can understand why people say this; many people hate it and some do love it. However, when I watch those love-it-or-hate-it TV shows or movies I usually find myself either simply liking or disliking them, while still admiring their creativity. Tom Goes to the Mayor falls into the first category: I liked it. It's a good show, periodically great, and shows great potential for its inventive creators.
Not guilty. Tim and Eric, great job.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Behind the Scenes
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