Home Movies: Season 4

Jesse Hassenger

Knowing that Brendan Small continues to dabble in music, it's easy to read this season, and the bittersweet (and hilarious) 'Focus Grill' in particular, as his transition away from childhood things.

Home Movies

Distributor: Shout! Factory
Cast: Brendon Small, H. Jon Benjamin, Melissa Galasky, Loren Bouchard, Janine Ditullio
Subtitle: Season 4
Network: Cartoon Network
First date: 2004
US Release Date: 2006-05-16
Amazon affiliate

Though it centers on prepubescent filmmakers, I'm not so sure the wonderful Home Movies was created by actual film buffs. In contrast with a pop-culture-saturated show like The Critic, this one doesn't parody specific movies, but rather shows us clips of movies made by children -- non-referential bits that marry elaborate concepts and slapdash production. Like Bill Watterson's comic strip hero Calvin, the kids of Home Movies harbor precocious fantasies in the sort of half-cocked style of an actual eight-year-old.

Also like Calvin, they don't age. But during the fourth and final season, now on DVD, you can sense that Brendon (voiced by creator Brendon Small), Melissa (Melissa Bardin Galsky), and Jason (H. Jon Benjamin) are shifting their interests. The season is book-ended by episodes hinting that the kids aren't exactly born filmmakers: in "Camp," the trio attends a performing arts summer camp, expecting to be treated as prodigies, but their work is immediately disparaged by the film counselor. "Focus Grill," the final episode, paints an even bleaker picture, as the kids watch their very first (and still unfinished) movie and question their moviemaking aptitude.

As the series moves away from filmmaking, other arts start to emerge. Brendon flirts with film reviewing in "Everyone's Entitled to My Opinion" and theater in "Bye Bye Greasy," but this DVD set is music-centric. Indeed, one of the bonus features is an audio CD featuring songs from the show's entire run. As this 52-track CD shows, music was always featured prominently in the Home Movies universe, in particular as embodied by Dwayne (Small), a longhaired guitarist with rock-opera ambitions that rival Brendon's cinematic plans. But music becomes especially prominent in this fourth season.

"Camp" features guest voice work by John Linnell and John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants, playing teenage camp counselors (the episode's centerpiece song, "Taste the Fame," appears on TMBG's 2005 CD Venue Songs); "Bye Bye Greasy" immediately follows, centering around a school musical that goofs on Grease and Bye Bye Birdie. Similarly, "Temporary Blindness" includes scenes that ape the Who's rock operas, showing more affection towards their musical sources than anyone on the show typically shows film.

This newfound investment in music carries over as well to the DVD set's many commentary tracks. For "Camp," Small, usually so deadpan, sounds dead serious when trying to recall the chord progressions for "Taste the Fame." "Camp" also has a commentary track from members of the alt-rock band Modest Mouse (though at least one has never seen the show before). The track is agreeable but hazy, with lengthy pauses, but the band does seem engaged by the show's music: "This is one of the only cartoons where singing doesn't bother me," says a band member (I think it was frontman Issac Brock, but they don't identify themselves). He adds, "If [the show's music] was put out as a legitimate band, it would go over pretty well." Even the guy who hasn't seen the show says of the episode featuring Dwayne with the animated They Might Be Giants, "That looks like a guy from Weezer, a guy from the Ramones, and..." before maybe-Brock identifies the characters for him. In a spotty track, music is the one element that draws the Modest Mouse boys into real discussion.

The Shins also contribute a commentary, on "Temporary Blindness," pointing out the Who allusions and -- a bit more lucid than their Modest Mouse peers -- making references of their own to The Simpsons and Freaks & Geeks. But this commentary, too, doesn't provide much insight, apart from showing that the easygoing deadpan interplay between the guys from the Shins isn't far removed from that between Small and his collaborator, Loren Bouchard. In a bit of restlessness that would make Small proud, the two guys from the Shins actually start fooling around with musical instruments during their commentary, though they stop short of improvising the kind of three-minute rock operas that, by the end of the series, had become an odd but prominent part of the show.

Knowing that Small continues to dabble in music, it's easy to read this season, and the bittersweet (and hilarious) "Focus Grill" in particular, as his transition away from childhood things. Like Calvin & Hobbes, Home Movies is brilliant at evoking the world of children from a distinctly adult perspective (dry, smart, neurotic) -- without turning the children into miniature adults. Like actual kids playing with Legos, the creative ambition of Brendon, Jason, and Melissa show is touching (moreso than their talent); it will probably aid them in the future, when their abilities catch up with them. We can only imagine that they went on to form a high school band.





12 Essential Kate Bush Songs

While Kate Bush is a national treasure in the UK, American listeners don't know her as well. The following 12 songs capture her irrepressible spirit.


Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish Replace Form with Risk on 'Interactivity'

The more any notions of preconceived musicality are flicked to the curb, the more absorbing Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish's Interactivity gets.


Martin Green's Junkshop Yields the Gritty, Weird Story of Britpop Wannabes

Featuring a litany of otherwise-forgotten budget bin purchases, Martin Green's two-disc overview of coulda-been Britpop contenders knows little of genre confines, making for a fun historical detour if nothing else.


Haux Compellingly Explores Pain via 'Violence in a Quiet Mind'

By returning to defined moments of pain and struggle, Haux cultivates breathtaking music built on quiet, albeit intense, anguish.


'Stratoplay' Revels in the Delicious New Wave of the Revillos

Cherry Red Records' six-disc Revillos compilation, Stratoplay, successfully charts the convoluted history of Scottish new wave sensations.


Rising Young Jazz Pianist Micah Thomas Debuts with 'Tide'

Micah Thomas' Tide is the debut of a young jazz pianist who is comfortable and fluent in a "new mainstream": abstraction as well as tonality, freedom as well as technical complexity.


Why Australia's Alice Ivy Doesn't Want to Sleep

Alice Ivy walks a fine line between chillwave cool and Big Beat freakouts, and her 2018 debut record was an electropop wonder. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, she tries to keep the good vibes going with a new record decked out in endless collaborations.


Five Women Who Fought the Patriarchy

Whether one chooses to read Square Haunting for the sketches of the five fascinating women, or to understand how misogyny and patriarchy constricted intellectual and public life in the period, Francesca Wade's book is a superb achievement.


Director Denis Côté on Making Film Fearlessly

In this interview with PopMatters, director Denis Côté recalls 2010's Curling (now on Blu-Ray) discusses film as a "creative experiment in time", and making films for an audience excited by the idea of filling in playful narrative gaps.


Learning to Take a Picture: An Interview With Inara George

Inara George is unafraid to explore life's more difficult and tender moments. Discussion of her latest music, The Youth of Angst, leads to stories of working with Van Dyke Parks and getting David Lee Roth's musical approval.


Country Westerns Bask in an Unparalleled Sound and Energy on Their Debut

Country Westerns are intent on rejecting assumptions about a band from Nashville while basking in an unparalleled sound and energy.


Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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