After a bad spell through the 1980s of lame cartoons created to sell toy merchandise, Saturday mornings in the 1990s offered better options than sleeping off Friday night’s debauchery. While the major networks reprogrammed the timeslots, in part due to competition from cable, FOX stood its ground and made dragging yourself out of bed mandatory with shows like X-Men, Spider-Man, The Tick, and Life With Louie. The former WB had its own offering over the years, but the only thing that caught my attention there was the zany Freakazoid!
Batman: The Animated Series producers Bruce Timm and Paul Dini first developed Freakazoid! as an action superhero series, but executive producer Steven Spielberg wanted more wacky comedy in the vein of his other cartoon series Animaniacs. Timm left and producer Tom Ruegger was brought over from Animaniacs and with his writing team turned the series into non-stop nonsense. Dini stayed and provided a few scripts.
Freakazoid! spoofs superhero anthology shows presenting stories about our main hero and occasional vignettes of other characters like Toby Danger (Johnny Quest) and Fatman and Boy Blubber (Batman and Robin). Each episode is littered with pop-culture references and silliness abounds at break-neck pace. The series has to work better for adults because there’s a lot of topical material that hasn’t aged. Young kids today, or even back then, likely won’t know who Tom Snyder or Kathie Lee Gifford is, but they should enjoy the goofiness of Freakazoid running around making a shooshing noise to simulate flight and Scream-o-vision, which allows the audience to take part in the episode when “Scream” flashes up on the screen.
The scripts are complete anarchy as the characters not only break the fourth wall, but executive producer Spielberg makes a number of appearances as do the Animaniacs, Paul Harvey is cut to often so he can provide exposition, and Jack Valenti who provided his own voice explains the rating system. There is no logic in this world other than going a gag.
The show isn’t as funny as I remember. It’s quite possible that the grogginess from an inadequate amount of sleep and the effects of the night before still in my system increased my pleasure or at least affected my memory. The show is amusing, but I found myself more often puzzled by what I was seeing rather than laughing out loud as I watched with my pal, Fantasma el Rey.
Fourteen episodes are available on two discs, one with material on both sides. Extras include three commentary tracks with Ruegger, writer/voice of Freakazoid Paul Rugg, and writer John McCann. They found the show much funnier than we did. There is also a short feature that provides a history of Freakazoid! and parody promos of the series.
The major flaw in the release is video image doesn’t look good. Compression artifacts appear throughout. Warner Brothers usually takes great care with their animation releases, but since this series only has a cult following, presentation likely wasn’t a priority, and they just rushed it out to the market, which is unfortunate.