Cable television has opened the door to many an animated hit that wouldn't have made it onto broadcast television in the past. Take a look at my top ten picks for Prime Time Animated shows.
Top Ten Prime Time Animated Series
10. Wait till Your Father gets Home
1972-74 first run animated sitcom from Hanna-Barbera that was meant to be an animated All in the Family. It became the first prime time animated series since the Flintstones to run more than one season and while not a mega hit, it had a run for three seasons and its stories often struck the same notes (but played much softer) as shows that would follow in years to come. Animation was produced at Hanna- Barbera’s Australian partner studio in Sydney.
9. American Dad
Well here is the first of several Seth MacFarlane shows that have had substantial runs in prime time slots (mostly on Fox). Like the much earlier Wait till Your Father Comes Home, the show explores the dynamics of a cartoon family dealing with contemporary issues through a comedic prism. However American Dad stretches itself a great deal more in its world view and use of sarcasm and off-the-wall humor and outrageous irreverence. If very broad comedy is your thing, this is your kind of show. It has build a solid following and has run for five years in a highly competitive market and so it makes my top ten.
8. The Critic
I love Jon Lovitz and I thought this was a very funny show. Produced by Gracie Films and created by Simpsons veterans Al Jean and Mike Reiss, the show ran for two seasons on ABC and Fox. The show poked fun at pundits and had a field day lampooning self-importance, industry egos and everything else that came within firing distance. Lovitz was a perfect fit to voice of Jay Sherman, the title character. Self-absorbed and completely full of himself he lamented the loss of old Hollywood and hated almost all the contemporary films he reviewed (films that parodied notable releases). His favorite declaration “It Stinks!” could be heard in almost every episode. A fun and funny show that wasn’t afraid to poke fun at everything that suggested hot-air, even itself.
7. Beavis and Butt-Head
I hated this show and still don’t much care for it but when it came out I was a father with a young son who along with his friends loved it and loved to watch it in my living room. The animation was so poor that it became a style, the tracks were either horrible or they were genius. Created by Mike Judge for a short film, MTV signed on to develop a series from the two characters. This was probably the absolutely perfect show at that time for MTV which was establishing itself as the firm leader for teenage boy demographics. Based upon turning everything desirable in a teenager’s character upside down, the two lead characters were everything that would break a parent’s heart. Stupid, insensitive, lazy and down right crude, these two had it all to make them the favorites of young boys and men everywhere. This show ran for seven seasons and the more base, cowardly and despicable as these two delinquents were, the audience loved the show evermore. This was humor at its lowest level but maybe it just was genius.
Frozen in a cryogenic pod for 999 years, our hero Phillip Fry awakes to find himself in a less than Brave New World. Created by Matt Groening the show first aired in 1999 and ran through 2003 giving us a quirky world filled with aliens, humans and creatures of every type imaginable. Clever and at times provocative writing kept this show at the top of its game for a number of years. How could you not love the Planet Express group of misfits including Leela, a one eyed mutant that leads the team, Fry the IQ challenged 2oth century N.Y. pizza delivery boy and a cigar smoking, bad tempered robot named Bender. Fanciful, fun and far-out – Futurama had it all covered.
5. Family guy
Another Seth MacFarlane offering of...............? You guessed it, a dysfunctional American family featuring dad Peter, mom Lois and their offbeat brood of Meg, Chris and young Stewie along with the family’s pet dog Brian. This show has all the elements that seem to be a trademark of Prime Time animation, off-color humor, crudeness, irreverence for just about everything and an utter distain for all things normal. We laugh at this show because it acts as a pressure release valve for all of us – Nothing is sacred and everything and everyone can become a target in a heartbeat. That’s the wonder of a cartoon, storylines, jokes or lines that would be objectionable in real life or Okay to laugh at if it’s a cartoon. Dad farting in the kitchen isn’t in poor taste in a cartoon, its funny when Peter Griffen cuts loose with a roof rattler. The show delights in poking fun of Middle America with a very sharp needle and everyone seems to get the joke. Eight seasons and over 140 episodes – a hit by any other name..
4. South Park
Okay I really don’t like this series at all but what the hell, any show that has the balls to depict the Prophet Muhammad in a bear’s costume can’t be all bad. It seems that creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have been threatened by a number of radical groups for this offense. Stupid as the threats may be, they more or less define the core essence of this show; offend as many people as much and as often as you can to get a laugh and deliver clever but stupid middle school humor offered up as hip social commentary poorly packaged in silly paper-cut looking animation. Love it or hate it, it has worked for 200 episodes on Comedy Central to date and if this is your cup of tea you’re welcome to it – It clearly is not mine and although I find it mean spirited and sophomoric at best , I am horribly outvoted by the rest of you who have supported this show for years. It may be admired for its audacity and willingness to push the envelope by many and I place it at number 4 because it has changed the landscape for animated series and opened the door very wide for those that have and will follow.
3. King of the Hill
Mike Judge is back again with this huge hit featuring yet another American family, the Hills. In this series however the humor is wry, understated and deals with the common problems that families face in daily life. This show began its run in 1997 and before it was done had logged 13 seasons of folksy, comfortable comedy that viewers had grown to love. This was not a hard edged, crude andirreverent offering like Beavis and Butt-Head but rather a far more thoughtful and slower paced type of comedy. The show dealt with the everyday life of a likeable redneck dad and his common sense wife and their two children. A few stereotypically odd, but likeable neighbors are thrown in to help expand storylines and to enrich the texture of the character’s relationships. Named by Time magazine as one of the top 100 best television shows of all time, King of the Hill was every bit of a King.
This is the granddaddy of Prime Time Animation and a show from a kinder, gentler time. Airing in 1960 the series ran for six years on ABC and 166 episodes were produced. What’s to say? Fred, Wilma, Barney, Betty, Pebbles, Bamm-Bamm, Dino and all the other wonderful characters that shared the pre-historic world of Bedrock. Like most Hanna-Barbera properties the shows consisted of quick, gag driven humor and relied upon the juxtaposition of what was meant to be an average American family cast in a stone-age setting. Cars propelled by the driver’s feet and building machinery using long necked brontosaurs as cranes – Yabba Dabba Doo! Once again we see the American family as the centerpiece for an animated Prime Time series only this time the show was the forerunner for all the others that followed. Supposedly based on The Honnymooners, the show pivoted on the antics and misadventures of friends and neighbors, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble and their families. Lacking the edge and need to shock of later animated sitcoms, The Flintstones ambled along relying on soft banter and gags that would certainly seem corny by today’s standard. A standard by any other name and a solid number two.
1. The Simpsons
As the Tina Turner song goes, “You’re simply the best, better than all the rest.”
Over twenty-one seasons and nearing 500 episodes and still going strong, and what a remarkable, wonderful run it’s been. One of the greatest television shows of all time, forget just animation, this show will break all records for a television series and will be remembered for generations to come for its wit, humor and ability to speak to such a broad range of viewers. A true icon and an American treasure No need to say any more – Yes Homer, you are Number One!
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Top Ten Classic Animated Series - Even if You Haven't Seen Some You Probably Know Their Names