TV Review: Butt-Ugly Martians

I knew this was a dirty assignment when I took it on. Reviewing TV animation isn't as easy as it sounds. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. This week I lose. Big time.

The Butt-Ugly Martians. © 2001 Universal Worldwide Television, Inc., Just Group PLC, Mike Young Productions, Inc., DCDC Limited

The Butt-Ugly Martians. © 2001 Universal Worldwide Television, Inc., Just Group PLC, Mike Young Productions, Inc., DCDC Limited

I knew this was a dirty assignment when I took it on. Reviewing TV animation isn't as easy as it sounds. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. This week I lose. Big time.

Butt-Ugly Martians is one butt-ugly piece of work.

This is one of those shows you know, just from the title, is going to stink or surprise. No surprise here. It stinks. I've just watched the wretched first episode, and I'm sitting here with the press kit. I'd rather review the press kit -- it looks more entertaining. But it's my job to watch these shows so you don't have to, so I'm obligated to recount the horror that is Butt-Ugly Martians Episode #1: "That's No Puddle, That's Angela." (What is it with these things labeled "Episode #1" -- are they cursed?)

Before I go into the particulars, I suppose I have to set up the series premise. The problems begin here. The show is about a trio of friendly Martians, originally sent to destroy the earth (in the year 2053), but instead they discover how cool it is to hang out with three stereo-typical future American Earth-Kids who mainly watch TV, eat burgers and race hover-boards. These kids seem to live in some desolate location, which looks like a cross between Death Valley and Afghanistan.

This show is way over-developed. The paragraph above doesn't begin to cover it all. First off, the three kids are the now-traditional PC white boy (the average kid), black boy (the smart kid) and white girl (the smarter kid). The Martians have a robot dog named "Dog" (an idea that was original and funny when George Of The Jungle named his great ape, "Ape" -- "Dog" is just lame), and are regularly pursued by a local "alien hunter" named Muldoon (voiced by Robert Stack). They are monitored by their Martian superiors on the red planet, so they must periodically stage fake invasion reports (á là Wag The Dog) to keep further Martians from landing, and prevent them from leaving.

Meanwhile a variety of space villains routinely invade the Earth (apparently one each week), and when this happens the Martians utilize an ability to morph into super-rangers -- an ability they call "BKN" (is this an in-joke about Bohbot Kids Network?), but they never explain what the letters B.K.N. stand for.

And get this, the Martians even have "funny" names! Our three heroes are called, respectively: Do-Wah Diddy, B. Bop-A-Luna and 2-T-Fru-T (that one voiced by Rob Paulsen). Well, hardy-har-har. These sound like names that a 50 year-old kids programming exec, who has never watched kids programming in 40 years, might come up with over the weekend. A weekend of hard drinking.

The Martians have a signature line, said when they go into battle: "Let's Get Ugly!" And ugly it gets.

Which brings us to the visuals -- the absolute worst part of the show. This is Computer Animation 101. The characters move like puppets... No wait, that's an insult to puppets. Thunderbirds had more acting and emotional range and they were string marionettes! I understand the limitations of time and budget in kids TV programming, but this show looks dirt cheap. The character design and character animation are sub-par even for this kind of series.

This particular episode has the Martians juggling the Alien Hunter (Muldoon), a space Villain and a ray gizmo, which turns the girl, Angela, into a puddle of liquid. At the climax of the episode, the Martians rescue the kids along with Muldoon who has been captured by said generic Space Villain. The alien hunter normally believes that all space creatures are hostile -- but after the Butt-Uglies save him, he realizes they are friendly. Happy ending, right?

Not exactly. The Martians decide to spray Muldoon (Men In Black-style) with something that makes him forget the whole adventure (if only I could forget). But why would they do that? Why make him forget? (Why do I care?) They had proved themselves to Muldoon. He would have been one less problem for them to deal with on a weekly basis. This is typical of the bad writing, and clearly done to keep the show from straying far from the basic premise.

Another annoying thing is that, according to the press kit, Do-Wah Diddy is supposed to be the stupid alien, cracking dumb jokes all the time. Bad jokes. So bad, they added a rim-shot in post-production SFX, to underline his "funny" lines.

The entire show needs an overhaul in post-production, pre-production and development. As I understand it, this was originally developed as a 2D series. It's existence as a cheap CGI production is a classic example of Hollywood jumping on a new hot trend without any consideration of its audience or producing a quality product.

What more can I say? Butt-Ugly Martians is aimed at children 4 to 8 years of age and is a Mike Young Production. I feel Mike Young -- and kids 4 to 8 -- can do better. Much better.

The show premiered on the U.K.'s ITV in February, 2001 and has begun debuting elsewhere around the world. Nickelodeon will premiere the show in early 2002 in the U.S. and Universal Studios has just entered into a broad arrangement with the U.K.'s Just Group, Hong Kong production partner DCDC and Mike Young Productions to promote the property.

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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