TV Review: Saddle Rash

Jerry Beck reviews Saddle Rash another entry for Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. This one may just ride quietly into the sunset...

Home Movies go West?

Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming block is testing out some diverse pilots on-air this month -- but none of them are as diverse, or perverse, as Saddle Rash.

Saddle Rash's hero Slim is a twist on the archetype. All images © 2002 Cartoon Network.

Saddle Rash's hero Slim is a twist on the archetype. All images © 2002 Cartoon Network.

Created by Loren Bouchard, co-creator of Home Movies, Saddle Rash utilizes the low-budget techniques honed on that previous show and places it in a bizarre new setting -- the old West. All the standard Western cliches are here and are filtered through a contemporary comic point of view. I liked Home Movies and I love the old Westerns so I approached this with a wide open mind.

Gummy serves as the narrator for this perverse world.

Gummy serves as the narrator for this perverse world.

The story contains the traditional Western archetypes -- the mysterious stranger out for revenge, the notorious outlaw, the cowgirl, the sidekicks, the showdown -- each one given a dose of modern attitude and/or a strange affliction. Our "hero" is Slim, an armless gunfighter, who likes to kick his foes in the crotch. The story is narrated by the grizzled old sidekick, named Gummy, who finds the fighting style of the mysterious hero strangely appealing. "Like a ballerina...like a very violent ballerina. Like one that will kill you."

Slim proceeds to get even for the loss of his arms by tracking down evil Tommy Morgan and disposes of his two heavies at Crappy Joe's Saloon. He also survives an ambush by a bandit gang and has the climactic showdown in the middle of the street. And I haven't even mentioned the rootin' tootin' cowgirl Hanna Headstrong (voiced by comedian Sarah Silverman) or Inez the buffalo, a strange character I cannot explain or describe. It's a wild show.

Like Home Movies this is a dialogue driven show, with comic actors improvising lines of neurotic conversation -- some moments work, others don't. The conversational style is a acquired taste and you can easily turn away from the screen and just as well enjoy the soundtrack on its own terms.

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Franny (left) and Mel are two more neurotic characters who appear in Saddle Rash.

The same can't be said of the visuals -- though the art direction is quite good (I particularly like the town, desert vistas and the cloud laced sky) -- the show is mainly talking heads. Large talking heads.

As a one-shot Saddle Rash is a satisfying grown-up Western comedy. But I just can't picture it as a regular series. And, I'm not sure who the right audience is for this show. It's no Home Movies, nor a Quick Draw McGraw, but rather an acerbic take on a movie genre that rode into the sunset years ago. I like seeing the "Squigglevision" guys (or whatever they are calling themselves these days) try something different, but Saddle Rash is just middle of the road amusing. Worth a look, but I wouldn't want to settle there for very long.

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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