“Move This to the Top of Your Queue” is our new feature that tells you about wonderful shows or movies that have just appeared on (or will soon disappear from) your favorite online streaming services.
What to watch: Home Movies
Where to find it: Netflix streaming added all 52 episodes last month; there are five episodes from Season 3 on Hulu; and a set of 15 episodes are available for free at Adult Swim.
Ah, summer. When kids are free. Released from the constraints of school, they finally have the time to be ignored by their parents and abused by their soccer coach all day long. If they get lucky, however, there are also days when they can hang with their friends, let loose their imaginations, and, perhaps, create a series of short but alarmingly sophisticated cinematic dramas that comment (albeit somewhat obliquely) on their most challenging life experiences.
The 1999-2004 classic Home Movies follows eight-year-old aspiring filmmaker Brendan Small (voiced by . . . Brendan Small) and his friends Melissa (Melissa Bardin Galsky) and Jason (H. Jon Benjamin) as they take the challenges of being a kid and channel them into short but ambitious films. Typical episodes revolve around whatever movie idea Brendan has cooked up that week. And we’re not talking about the type simple movies you’d expect from children this age. Plots range from a rock opera about Franz Kafka to sci-fi epics about spacemen fighting the super villain team of evil George Washington, Picasso and Annie Oakley. Frequently, these films mirror the children’s more stressful “real life” experiences – and these kids are going through quite a bit; but one of the show’s greatest comedic pleasures is watching how the children face those challenges with a level of maturity that far exceeds that of the adults who purportedly care for them.
Brendan lives with his recently divorced mom, Paula (initially Paula Poundstone, then Janine Ditullo), with whom he has a relationship that skews closer to friends than mother and son. And then there’s Coach McGuirk (H. Jon Benjamin again): an overweight, often drunk, galoot of a man who attempts to coach Brendan and Melissa’s soccer team while giving them outrageously terrible advice.
I love the show, but haven’t seen enough of it to consider myself a connoisseur. So I’ve brought in our resident Home Movies expert, Dan Sai, to help show us around the series.
5. The magic of improvisation. Throughout the first season, the show worked largely without a script. And as we know from other great shows that don’t rely on fully scripted dialogue (such as Curb Your Enthusiasm), there is a natural grace and flow to the conversation when talented improvisers play off each others’ ideas. The interaction amongst characters feels more honest and genuine. In later seasons, the writers moved towards outlining the stories in more detail to provide deeper story arcs, but the fresh and original tone of the first season still remained. Many people tend to hold the first season up as the gold standard, but some of the more involved stories of the later seasons lend themselves to more clever and subtle humor. Below is a great example of how quick and natural the conversations sound. It also features some of the classic bad advice from Coach McGuirk that we mentioned earlier. (Language in this clip is NSFW – put on those headphones!)
4. An amazing cast of MaxFun favorites. Home Movies featured more of our favorite funny people than just about any other show out there (with the possible exception of
3. Friendship fuzzies. At its core, this show is about friendship. The bond amongst the kids feels so natural that it will remind you of your own childhood friendships. But the relationships between the kids and the adults are equally fun and weirdly heartwarming. Brendan is pretty much McGuirk’s only real friend because he’s a captive audience. And Brendan does seem to look up to McGuirk even though he also thinks that his coach is insane. Meanwhile Paula and Brendan have a Gilmore Girl-esque friendship with Paula only putting her on “mom hat” when absolutely necessary.
2. Franz Kafka Rock Opera.
1. A bit of animation history. This show has an interesting role in two small footnotes of animation history. One: it was the first show to run on Adult Swim. Two: the first season of the show was rendered in the notorious Squigglevision, a form of animation created by Tom Synder and popularized by the show Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. “Squiggles” move and undulate along the outlines of shapes creating a sense of motion even when the objects and characters are still. Squigglevision was cheaper and quicker to produce than traditional animation, but it also had a very distinctive look which had already become closely associated with Dr. Katz. Also, some viewers complained that it was distracting and gave them headaches. As a result, the show’s creators switched to flash animation for the subsequent three seasons. If you’re not sure how your brain will react to Squigglevision, try out this clip from season one: “I Don’t Do Well at Parent-Teacher Conferences”.
So slip this in at the top of your queue. If you’ve never seen it before, you’re missing some seriously funny (yet also charming and comforting) television. And if you already know the show, it’s never too late to fall in love all over again.
Dan Sai is a MaxFun loyalist and one half of the podcast “There You Are”