Around the start of the aughts there was a rash of animated sitcoms that hit TV. While a couple showed lasting appeal, most fell by the wayside. Futurama is one of the all-time great television shows and somehow the soulless husk of Family Guy is still being broadcast, but who remembers Mission Hill, The Oblongs or The PJs? Despite being an undeniably great show, Home Movies seems to have fallen into that latter category. That is a real disappointment; Home Movies is every bit as good as Futurama.
For those not fortunate enough to have seen it, and yesterday I learned that the whole series is up on Youtube so there is nothing stopping you, Home Movies is about Brendan Small, an eight year old kid who makes movies in his basement. He is helped by his friends Jason and Melissa, and gets advice from his Mom, Paula, and significantly more dubious advice from his soccer coach McGuirk. The show was never destined for big success. The style of the animation is not all that appealing. The first season is in “Squigglevision,” the same scratchy looking animation technique used on Dr. Katz, but the entirety of the show uses the borderline abstract character designs and flat, sparse backgrounds. While one grows to appreciate the look of the show, it is not initially appealing. It is a somewhat ugly show, but its look perfectly fits the combination of normality and weirdness.
I love the way that this series evolves. I am ignoring the first season for the simple reason that I don’t own it on DVD and am therefore not as familiar with it. The second season is all about the movies that Brendan is making in his basement. There are plenty of other goings on, but they are filtered through his movies. As the third season goes on, the movies start to fade in importance. In the fourth season, they are often dropped completely. This isn’t a case of the show losing sight of its focus; it is Brendan growing up. Everyone was eight at one point; everyone had something that meant everything to them as child. Very few people are still in love with the same activities that they were at eight. At that age I was in love with dinosaurs (Jurassic Park), everything I did revolved around them. That fascination was short lived, though. It is the same with Brendan and his movies. They were what brought him and his friends together, but as they grow up the movies start to become less important. It is brought home in the last episode when he drops his camera outside of the car and barely seems to care. He has moved beyond his movies.
While there is change, it is amazing that Home Movies has such well-defined characters when improvisation played such a big part in the scripting. Most of the show is at least partly improvised. Still, the core of the cast comes out as very real characters. Brendan, Paula, Jason, Melissa and Coach McGuirk are all great characters. Having a handful of them in a scene to play off of each other is just amazing. It has a lot of pithy one-liners. Characters will face a completely ridiculous problem that every character not directly involved recognize as ridiculous. They react with very adult sarcasm. The show really takes off, though, when the secondary characters become more prominent and start getting thrown in with different configurations. Characters like Walter and Perry, Mr. Lynch, Fenton and Duane. They all add something fun and new to the mix.
It is sad that Home Movies is gone, but its spirit lives on in the shows its creators, Loren Bouchard and Brendan Small, are doing now. Brendan Small went on to do Metalocalypse, a show about a crazy Death Metal band. Music was a big part of Home Movies, Brendan (the character) spent a lot of time working on the sound for his films with Duane, his slightly older friend with a band. Metalocalypse is a different show from Home Movies, but there are times when the patter of dialogue is similar. Loren Bouchard went on to make Bob’s Burgers, which in tone is much like Home Movies. It is about a weird family and weird neighborhood. Bob’s Burgers is the show that really keeps the spirit of Home Movies alive. Home Movies is on Youtube for anyone to watch, you should do that. It is one the best animated shows from an era full of great animated shows. Then watch Bob’s Burger’s on Netflix.