Reviews

Dexter's Laboratory

Noreen Sait

PULL


Dexter's Laboratory

Airtime: Mon - Fri: 5:30am, 7:30am, 12pm, 12:30pm, 10pm, 10:30pm; Sat: 3pm; Sun: 5pm
Cast: Cast (voices of): Candi Milo, Nicky Wu, Christine Cavanaugh, Angela Tong Ying-Ying, Vivian Lai, Kathryn Cressida, Allison Moore, Bernard Tan, Jeff Bennett, Kath Soucie
Network: Cartoon Network
Creator: Genndy Tartakovsky
Amazon

Thanks to the enormous popularity of The Simpsons, cartoons are no longer just for kids. While if series' political humor is directed towards adults, its cute catch phrases ("Don't have a cow, man!") and Bart's impertinence continues to appeal to children.

This formula has inspired any number of followers, on network and cable. Nickelodeon's first entry into the double-appeal market, in 1991, was The Rugrats. Told from the point of view of four toddlers named Tommy, Chuckie, Phil and Lil, the show plainly solicited viewers ranging from ages two to eleven. However, according to an article published in USA Today on 12 January 2001, the aim of the series' creators, Arlene Klasky, Gabor Csupo, and Paul Germain, was to provide "irreverent humor -- popular with kids but still in a parents' safe zone." Good idea. Since that time, Nickelodeon has featured a number of other cartoons, like Hey Arnold, The Wild Thornberrys, and Rocket Power, all operating within the same comedic vein as The Rugrats.

More such profit-seeking was inevitable. In October 1992, Ted Turner launched the Cartoon Network, the first network to air cartoons 24 hours a day. In its early years, Cartoon Network's programming consisted of old Hanna Barbera cartoons, like Looney Tunes and Yogi Bear. But Nickelodeon's success inspired Cartoon Network to develop its own line of original programming. Dexter's Laboratory was the network's first successful venture. Created in 1995 by Genndy Tartakovsky, Dexter's Laboratory is similar to The Simpsons in that its primary aim is to critique cultural conventions.

Dexter's Laboratory takes on a range of topics, from gender roles to family structures, to the vaunted field of Science. The show's premise revolves around Dexter, an 8-year-old, self-described "boy genius," who has built his very own secret laboratory on the second floor of his parents' house. Dexter tries to cultivate the image of the serious, methodical, reclusive scientist, dedicated to working on his latest invention. However, his efforts are frequently interrupted by his giggly older sister Dee Dee, who always wants to play. Wearing a short, bright pink sleeveless dress, white tights, and pink ballet slippers, the kind that crisscross partway up her legs, Dee Dee's girly-girlness stands in stark contrast to Dexter's tendency to view the world around him in "scientific" terms. Dee Dee does the girly thing, and tries to accommodate her brother, "oohing" and "ahhing" at his gadgets.

Dexter also adheres to gendered expectations, as when, during a family camping trip, he informs Dee Dee, "Camping is very much for your kind of people. And your kind of people are STUPID! As for the smart kind of people like myself, we do not need your fruity little forests. We need to be surrounded by manly, high-tech laboratory equipment. To invent and create!"

While Dexter's pride in his "manly" endeavors is standard, his view of camping illustrates the ways that such attitudes can sort of change. Back in the pre-video-game day, camping was a plainly masculine activity, forcing men to rely on their primitive instincts to forage for the basic necessities of life. Nowadays, real men work in offices and labs, the site of intellectual "progress." Dexter doesn't see camping as a man's activity because its thrilling physicality has been replaced by the cold, hard, imposing steel of scientific ingenuity, and not incidentally, taking over the function of "creation."

Still, Dexter is open to suggestions. In an episode titled, "Old Flame," he reflects on the historical value of the discovery of fire. Anxious to meet the caveman who made the fated discovery, Dexter uses his time machine to travel back and then bring the caveman with him into Dexter's present. So invested is Dexter in the notion that advanced technology is the pinnacle of human achievement, that he never bothers to consider that the man who discovered fire lived at a time when human communication was quite different. Not to mention when the concept of Science hadn't even been developed yet. Dexter's plans backfire when the caveman becomes alarmed in the lab, understandably frightened and confused by all the bubbling liquids and larger-than-life robots.

He attacks Dexter, but, luckily, a circular portal opens, and Dee Dee comes jump-roping into the lab. Stunned, the caveman lowers his arms and gazes at her, as she adorably asks her brother, "Hiya Dexter, who's your friend?" To which a frightened Dexter replies, "He's a crazy mad caveman!" Dee Dee gasps in excitement, gazes up at the caveman with wide eyes and says, "Oooh!" The caveman, equally fascinated, does the same. Dee Dee says, "Aa-ahh!" The caveman repeats.

The difference in the ways Dee Dee and Dexter communicate with the caveman has to do with their different perspectives. Wrapped up in the pretensions of scientific knowledge and unable to speak with his guest, Dexter dismisses him as "crazy mad." Dee Dee, meanwhile, sees the prospect of meeting a "crazy mad caveman" as an exciting adventure, and she communicates with the caveman on a level he can understand.

Dee Dee shows how a hyper-performed femininity can be just as powerful, if not more so, than masculinity. This concept is nothing new, as the phrase "girl power" has been so overused as a marketing tool. Still, it's refreshing to see a girl with some power.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Television

'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.

Music

Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.

Reviews

Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.

Music

Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.

Books

Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.

Music

British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.

Music

Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".

Books

In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.

Music

Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.

Film

Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.

Music

Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.

Music

Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.

Music

'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.

Music

Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.

Television

From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.

Music

Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.

Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.