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TV Review: Aaagh! It's The Mr. Hell Show!

While Australians might not get excited over their native marsupials, the rest of the world certainly does -- much to the delight of Yoram Gross, whose pocketed characters have been successfully exported to millions. Stephen Lynch reports from Australia.

A marriage made in Hades: Mr. Hell and television. All images © 2001 Peafur Productions/Sextant Entertainment.

A marriage made in Hades: Mr. Hell and television. All images © 2001 Peafur Productions/Sextant Entertainment.

"The dictionary says that ANIMATION is the coming together of two words: 'Animus,' the Latin for life force, and 'Masturbation' the Latin for trouser gymnastics."

So says the red horned host of The Mr. Hell Show! -- the latest animated series aimed at grown ups -- and the first seriously funny one since South Park. Like South Park, Mr. Hell aims to shock us with outrageous humor. And I was shocked -- at how witty the show actually is.

On the surface the program looks pretty cheap. The series features drawn animation, manipulated on the computer, in a limited style not unlike the Squigglevision masterpiece Dr. Katz. Disguised as a sophomoric, low budget cartoon in terribly bad taste, Mr. Hell contains a non-stop barrage of jokes that actually work. This might be the closest thing to what Tex Avery would have done with today's tools, minuscule budgets and a modern sensibility.

Mr. Hell is the devilish host for the half hour -- the show is made up of various animated skits which allow the writers to take the show in many satiric directions. The particular episode screened for review was themed around the subject of animation itself -- and Mr. Hell takes us back through the origins of the field, showing us how it began.

They cut to a fish crawling out of the primordial pool, gasping for air, who then pulls out a cel phone and shouts a series order: "I want 200 episodes -- and make 'em in China cause it's cheap." Clearly the first animation executive!

This was preceded by a brief Little Mermaid spoof, where our lovely Ariel keeps losing her clam-shell bra -- and her crab companion, scratching himself, complains of having "humans." Mr. Hell walks us through a portrait gallery of animation pioneers -- Chuck, Tex and Walt (whose image is a giant copyright symbol!).

The devilish host celebrates in Mr. Hell.

The devilish host celebrates in Mr. Hell.

The highlight of the show is the survey of the career of "Kokey The Cat," who went from silent films in the 1920s to cigarette commercials in the 1950s, while battling his own drug habit -- before becoming a born again Christian in the hippie-dippy days of the late 1960s.

Other cartoon segments, including "Serge, The Seal of Death," "The Photo Copy Of Dorian Gray's Ass" and "Champion, The Wonder Snail," are the closest to capturing the satirical spirit of Harvey Kurtzman's Mad comics that I've ever seen in animated form.

The computer generated movements (I still like my cartoons to have a human touch) took some getting used to, but the art direction and humor won me over. Kudos to directors Paul Boyd and John "Moose" Pagan, producer J. Falconer, and executive producers David Friedman and Alan Gilbey, for creating a comedy show that delivers both verbally and visually, proudly and expertly walking the fine line between low brow gags and smart satanic satire.

Aaagh! It's The Mr. Hell Show

is a Sextant/Peafur Production for the BBC. A United Kingdom/Canada co-production. It will debut in the U.S. on Showtime on March 3, 2002 at 10:30 pm.

Jerry Beck is an animation producer and cartoon historian who is simultaneously developing a show with MTV Animation and writing a book for Harry N. Abrams Publishers. He also has a cool Website at www.cartoonresearch.com.

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