Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Top Jerks of Animated Television

Don't tell my kids, but I genuinely enjoy some of their favorite animated shows. In terms of plot, interesting characters and sheer laughs, PBS Kids fare ("Arthur") trumps trying-too-hard tween sitcoms ("The Suite Life of Zack and Cody") every time.

I've noticed that the younger-skewing shows make liberal use of their stock asshole characters, who serve as examples of what not to do. They're easy to hate, but much like Veronica Lodge and Reggie Mantle, they bring a healthy dose of edge and conflict to the proceedings. In no particular order, here are my top five Animated Series Jerks:

Jetta: "Clifford the Big Red Dog"
On Birdwell Island, where "Clifford the Big Red Dog" takes place, Jetta is the resident rich girl and imperious brat. Even her purebred dog, Mac, has a superiority complex. Jetta is always overstating her accomplishments and lording her possessions over Emily Elizabeth, Clifford's saintly owner. I realize Emily Elizabeth is modeling appropriate behavior for impressionable preschoolers, but just once, why can't she tell Jetta to go to hell? When Jetta repeatedly accused Emily Elizabeth of stealing her spelling-bee medal, the innocent EE offered to help her find it instead of threatening to sic Clifford on her. Why? The truth eventually came out (a seagull was the culprit), but Jetta's whiny harassment warranted, at the very least, a verbal beatdown. Stop being a doormat, Emily Elizabeth!

Mac: "Clifford the Big Red Dog"
Though he is a male greyhound, Mac (short for Macchiavelli) is an all-around bitch. Like his owner, Jetta, Mac spends a lot of time declaring his own awesomeness. A dog-show champion and a snob, he is particularly unkind to T. Bone, Clifford's sweet, dim-witted sidekick. Entire episodes have been devoted to Mac's poor treatment of T. Bone, like the time he refused to invite him to join an "exclusive" dog club. Mac frequently speaks of T. Bone with a derisive emphasis on the "T," as if the poor thing were a rabid, flea-infested stray instead of the Birdwell Island Sheriff's pet. My theory is that Mac's meanness stems from the stress of being deeply closeted. My husband says Mac's hostility is classic racism, as T. Bone's voice is supplied by African-American actor Kel Mitchell.

Muffy Crosswire: "Arthur"
Yes, Muffy is rich and spoiled. She's not above using money as a weapon (like the time she tried to bribe the school science-fair judges) or playing hardball (insisting that her friends boycott Arthur's birthday party because it was on the same day as hers). She's also fond of reminding people that she could buy and sell them before lunch time and offering unsolicited makeover advice. However, Muffy is also a brilliant self-promoter who has learned the principles of capitalism at the feet of her businessman father. She was also feisty enough to stare down the playground bullies who complained about her recess photo shoots on their turf.

Cindy Vortex: "Jimmy Neutron"
I feel Cindy's pain. As smart as she is, she's always in the shadow of boy genius and fellow classmate Jimmy Neutron. It's like being second chair flute and having no hope of ascending to first — even though you practice your ass off and win medals at solo and ensemble competitions — because the first chair is a flute prodigy with a fancy ... ahem. Anyway, Cindy berates Jimmy because he is her intellectual rival and because she has a secret, white-hot crush on him. (By the way, I am creeped out by the fact that when I Googled "Cindy Vortex and Jimmy Neutron," a link to a fan fiction site popped up.)

Squilliam Fancyson: "Spongebob Squarepants"
I love Squilliam, who embodies our deepest fears about professional and artistic failure. This is totally lost on my children — whose dreams have yet to be crushed — and who see him as merely an even bitchier version of Squidward Tentacles, the Krusty Krab cashier with a passion for interpretive dance and the clarinet. Squilliam, Squidward's rival from band class, is wealthy and successful, and he lives to remind Squidward that his life sucks comparatively. This has been the setup for some of the the show's most hilarious moments, including this one.


H F said...

Last night I found myself craning my neck around my son's head so I could watch Curious George.

EDP said...

LOL!! Is it bad that I think the man with the yellow hat is kinda cute?

H F said...

I do too! I keep hoping he will crush on one of the other characters but he never does.

downtown guy said...

My ex used to watch "As Told by Ginger" religiously when we were together. I just called her and described the entire show trying to get her to remember the name of it. She accused me of making it up ("I think that's your own show.") until I managed to google it (via: cartoon "little brother" "best friends"). Then she gushed about how much she loved it. Anyway, that's what this reminded me of - As Told by Ginger. Cree Summer did the voice of one of the "mean girls".

EDP said...

I really liked that show, DG! The main character was so cute, and I loved her little posse of outsider/nerd friends. Cree Summer also does the voice of Cleo on "Clifford," and she's hilarious.

K T C said...

And let's not forget the evil babysitter Vicky from the Fairly Oddparents. She's so mean to poor Timmy.

And Plankton! Thief! Trying to steal the Crabby Patty recipe. Bad, Plankton, bad!

downtown guy said...

Remember Elmyra from Tiny Toons?

EDP said...

Vicky is PURE EEEEEEEEVIL! You are so right!

refinnej63 said...

This is the outward verbalization of a dialog I've had running in my head for some time... I guess I'm relieved to know I'm not the only adult out there who spends brain cells on this kind of stuff. It used to really bother me that the "evil" characters were depicted so predictably one-dimensional. Over time though, I think my irritation with the uberperfectness of Emily Elizabeth weighed in more heavily. I felt it was an unrealistic ideal to hold out to my children, and it made it hard to relate to her saintliness. There is however, one isolated episode on Clifford where they employed empathy towards the Jetta character who is struggling with sharing the limelight with her baby brother, Cosmo. Tell your husband he is right about the repressed racism in Mac. On another completely unrelated note... has anyone ever noticed that the scale of the dog Clifford in relation to other things (people, buildings, etc.) changes from scene to scene? It's really disorienting.

EDP said...

You know -- you're RIGHT. Clifford's mass does seem to shift, and it is very disorienting. It's hard for me to watch since John Ritter died, and I love the way he vocalized the character. John is so silly with his "it's racism!" comments. Thank God I know he's kidding. I think.

The Irredeemable Shag said...

I was always a big fan of Vicky from Fairly Oddparents and Swiper from Dora.

Great list! LOL!!!

The Irredeemable Shag

PS: Obviously I'm catching up on my blog reading. Sorry for coming late to the party.

CreepyUCMama said...

My son is obsessed with Clifford right now and won't stop watching the Clifford DVDs his grandmother bought for him. Needless to say I found this blog by searching, "Jetta from Clifford is a bitch". Hahahaha....so glad I'm not the only one who doesn't think so.

Taylor Kerekes said...

I know Jetta can be a jerk, but I still like her, probably because she's voiced by Kath Soucie, one of my favorite voice actresses. Plus, I do believe that she has a softer, more likable side.

And I feel that Cindy is one of the most likable characters on Jimmy Neutron.