If there’s one single thing most responsible for shaping my sense of humor as a kid, it’s MAD magazine. I pored over each issue until the seams wore away and pages started coming loose. The late, great Dave Berg was probably my favorite, with his sharply observant “Lighter Side of…” feature. But I loved it all, from Don Martin’s strips, to Al Jaffee’s fold-ins, to Mort Drucker’s and Angelo Torres artwork, to the movie parodies written by Dick DeBartolo, Stan Hart, and Larry Siegel. MAD magazine mercilessly mocked every movie and TV cliché, finding a way to make just about anything absurdly hilarious. Thank God for co-founders Harvey Kurtzman and William Gaines, as well as Alfred E. Neuman and the “usual gang of idiots.”
In 2010, the Cartoon Network began airing a MAD animated series (not to be confused with the long-running, but now-defunct, live-action sketch comedy show MADtv).
Now available on DVD is MAD Season 1, Part 2 which includes the thirteen episodes making up the second half of the first season. That sounds like a lot of content, but keep in mind each episode of MAD is only eleven minutes. The show is a rapid-fire collection of mini-sketches, fake news updates, spoof commercials, and film and TV parodies. Basically it plays like an animated version of the magazine, but geared towards viewers with a short attention span. Fans of the magazine will appreciate the “Spy vs. Spy” segments (authentically black-and-white and free of dialogue) and the animated versions of Sergio Aragonés’ famous margin cartoons.
I wanted to love this, but the fact is the humor is very hit or miss and rarely as sharp the magazine (at least as I remember it, I’ve only read the magazine very sporadically in recent years). I know there was a short-lived MAD Kids spin-off magazine that ran from 2006 to 2009. This animated show is more in line with the content I remember seeing in that magazine, which was basically a watered-down G-rated version of the normal magazine. The humor is lacking in edge, but occasionally clever. The parodies are mostly mash-ups, for instance “Pokemon Park” reimagines Jurassic Park inhabited by Pokémon characters. “ArThor” combines the Russell Brand Arthur with Thor. Silly? Definitely. Dumb? In places, yes. But 11 minutes goes by so fast, it’s all pretty painless.
I will always have a soft spot for anything Mad-related and this show is no exception. Although I didn’t laugh out loud, I cracked more than a few smiles and groaned at the cornier stuff. For the twelve-and-under crowd, this show will be comic gold. If you have kids and want to get them something inoffensive, MAD Season 1, Part 2 will do the trick. Oddly, the show is presented window-boxed instead of enhanced for widescreen TVs. I can’t imagine why. It’s kind of stupid to present a modern production in this format. The only special feature is of little value: a MAD digital comic book that is presented as a series of still frames. Don’t expect to be able to read it unless you have a really big TV or don’t mind sitting extremely close to the screen.