[14 November 2005]
S.O.S. to Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Terry Gilliam and any other master of premium DVD packages: at least one of you is desperately needed on the Home Movies set.
Brendon Small and the band of merry producers who constructed Home Movies, the cult wonder of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block, have been around the block in preparing DVD packages for two of the show’s four seasons. They should know better, but in attempt number three, they still haven’t put together compelling extras. Why am I bellyaching over some late-night cartoon show, you may ask? I’m not. I’m bellyaching about one of the most underrated and overlooked shows ever produced, one that deserves more attention to detail than it’s been given. Season Three is not faultless, but its shortcomings are eclipsed by the bright spots.
Home Movies followed filmmakers Brendon (co-creator, co-writer and director of music Small), Melissa (producer Melissa Galsky) and Jason (H. Jon Benjamin) at ages eight, eight, and seven, respectively. Surrounded by adults of dubious authority, including his single mom (Janine Ditullio) and his oft-drunk soccer coach John McGuirk (Benjamin again), Brendon hashes out growing up unpopular with his friends and his video camera.
If Season Two was the most serious of the four in terms of content (as alluded to by Small on the Season Two package), then Three was a complete reversal in philosophy. Instead of dealing with estranged parents, failing grades, and writer’s block, now Brendon and his friends are scrambling to escape the pressures of their young lives.
The season starts off with “Shore Leave,” a fan favorite episode that finds Melissa trapped in the Fairy Princesses, a sort of corporate Girl Scouts, while Brendon is forced to sleep over at the house of obnoxious (and sometimes scary) classmate Fenton (Sam Seder). By the third act, both carry out escape plans: Melissa blows up the sales room, while Brendon is wrestled out of the house by Fenton after accidentally filming his mother in the nude (don’t ask).
By the end of the episode, the tone has been set; the rest of the season features carefully constructed, hilarious plots. We watch Brendon and company fleeing from fat-enabling friendships (“Bad Influences”), the “Scared Straight” school program (“Time to Pay the Price”), and mainstream America’s artistic sensibilities (via a runaway plan to Europe) (“Stow Away”) to name a few.
Along with these clever plotlines, the third season also digs more deeply into McGuirk, already one of the best written characters in sitcoms; his desperation (as well as his awful advice to Brendon) is often over the top, but never overplayed. Benjamin makes his pitiful counsel seem perfectly believable. “Anything that’s too hard in life is not worth doing,” he asserts. “Remember that, Brendon. Like snowboarding, or martial arts… Or math.”
After all the work put into creating show with three-dimensional plots and characters like McGuirk, one would think that this highly regarded cult show would warrant the royal DVD treatment. Not quite. The extras on previous packages have a few highlights (Small taught you how to play the show’s theme on the season two package), but generally, they don’t live up to the actual episodes. The first season discs include lackluster short films by Small and Benjamin, while audio commentaries and interviews drag on, despite attempts to be desert-dry funny.
Season Three’s extras have a little more meat to them. The show’s animatics (similar to an animated movie’s pencil tests) show how flash animation can make a cartoon show on the cheap look “professional,” while the interactive role-playing game, “Revenge of the Dorks” (based on the episode “Renaissance”) is a fun throwback to the old text-based role playing games from the Apple II and Commodore-64 computers. But other extras are uninspired. The audio commentaries, with uninformative tangents and lengthy periods of dead silence, almost prove the creators of the show have nothing to say about their creation. (This could be why Small plays his guitar during a few of them instead of talking.)
The only other major feature is Benjamin’s “A Featurette for People Who Don’t Necessarily Like Home Movies,” a collage in which he rides a motorcycle and eats (followed by a satirical making-of featurette, natch). The short contributes very little discussion as to how the show was made. Make no mistake, the Home Movies DVD is worth the price tag based on the strengths of the show alone. The episodes are probably the best of the series. But honestly, an eight-year-old kid could make a better DVD.