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"Home Movies" on UPN.

By Devin D. O'Leary

MAY 17, 1999:  Animation seems to have hit its saturation point on television. Executives at Comedy Central were stunned last month when they debuted their new season of "South Park" to a shocking 41 percent drop-off in viewership. Although "South Park" remains one of the most deviously funny things ever broadcast on television (the recent Cartman as Jesus episode was a screamer), the other networks around the dial have diluted the market by piling on tons of mediocre animated action.

UPN recently jumped on the prime-time cartoon bandwagon with their much-touted "Dilbert" series. After an impressive debut, the show has settled back into basement level ratings. (Due, perhaps, to the show's slide into nerdy "inside joke" territory--the same thing that has damaged Scott Adams' once-funny cartoon strip.) UPN's latest attempt to create some kind of ratings bulkhead has been the introduction of their newest animated sitcom "Home Movies" in the post-"Dilbert" slot. While the pairing of the two animated shows is hardly remarkable (FOX has been trying for years to pull off the same formula), it is remarkable to note that the little-hyped new toon is actually one of the most inventive shows on TV.

"Home Movies" is a product of the same warped minds who brought us "Dr. Katz" over on Comedy Central. I know a lot of people who were turned off at first by the strange "Squigglevison" animation technique pioneered on "Katz." Those who tuned out were missing one of the most consistently funny shows on TV. "Home Movies" follows the same wiggly, low-tech approach to animation and will probably alienate a lot of viewers at first glance. Again, their loss. The crude, doodle-like characters on "Home Movies" belie a sharp, offbeat world.

Brendon Small (played, coincidentally, by actor Brendon Small) is a slightly neurotic, underachieving eight-year-old who survives the trials of his life (a single mom, a brutish soccer coach and a poor school work ethic) through his obsessive love for movies. Brendon is constantly talking his best friend Melissa and his snot-nosed neighbor Jason into starring in his no-budget home video camera epics (such as the Serpico-esque Dark Side of the Law II).

Like "Dr. Katz," the show is largely "retroscripted"--that is, the actors improvise most of the show and the animation is done later. The result is the same kind of free-wheeling, loosely plotted shtick as "Katz." Talent for such an enterprise must be up to the task. Series stars Small, H. Jon Benjamin (as nasally challenged Jason and tough coach McGuirk) and gravel-voiced comic Paula Poundstone (Mrs. Small) prove they are ready for the challenge.

"Home Movies" isn't for everyone. It's one of those shows that's likely to elicit a "love it or hate it" response. Those who allow enough time to get into the show's quirky rhythm, however, will be rewarded with bursts of bright, spontaneous humor and an offbeat style that (mercifully) doesn't try and ape what's allegedly hip on TV right now.?

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