Friday, August 1, 2008

Freakazoid! - Not Your Average Superhero

Even at first glance, you can already see how different Freakazoid! is. Initially created by major DC animated universe creator/producer Bruce Timm, the show quickly transformed from action show into zany comedy. Rather than a typical superhero animated series in the vein of Batman or Spider-Man, director Steven Spielberg envisioned it with more humor that didn't fit Timm's style. More similar to Spielberg's previous works such as Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, and Tiny Toon Adventures, Timm soon left the project and the show became something fun and unique that was different from previous works. Originally premiered in 1995, Freakazoid! was short-lived but has since gained a cult following. The show's off-set hero and humor are only a few things that set it apart from the pack.

Dexter Douglas was a typical teenage geek until a faulty Pinnacle chip in his computer led to an extraordinary transformation and a highly sought-after secret. An elaborate key sequence was accidentally typed on his computer and he contracted a computer bug that gave him all of the information on the Internet and transformed him into Freakazoid. He has a wide array of abilities at his disposal like super strength, speed, and endurance, but other talents often come and go. With questionable amounts of sanity, he gets easily side-tracked and often annoys his villains because of his manic behavior rather than foiling their crimes. Although he has the ability to transform into electricity and travel long distances, he often runs around, sticks his arms out, and makes "whooshing" noises pretending to fly instead. With a varied cast of allies, enemies, and parody/cameo characters, Freakazoid! is almost anything but normal. While there are traces of a bigger story and larger villain, many of the episodes just follow the crazy adventures of Freakazoid.

One of Freakazoid's best friends is Sergeant Mike Cosgrove. Often seen together hanging out or doing anything at a whim, Freakazoid often gets side-tracked from saving the world. Cosgrove almost always finds a way to find Freakazoid and has the uncanny ability to get others to "cut it out" on command. He also has a girlfriend named Steff, who is always happy and supportive of him. His mentor and instructor, Roddy MacStew was one of the first to alert him of the flaw in the Pinnacle chip but is often seen as the typical angry Scotsman. As he fights crime, his villains often come off as comedic effect rather than truly being sinister. The Lobe's amazing intellect is off-set by his low self-esteem and Freakazoid's ability to foil his plans time and time again. CandleJack is a play off the Boogeyman, kidnapping anyone that says his name. Longhorn is a trucker who underwent plastic surgery to resemble a longhorn bull. There's even an invisible pharaoh that Freakazoid himself named Invisibo simply because he wanted to. The villains make the show fun just as much as Freakazoid himself, as they, too are often amazed by his inanity and ridiculousness.

A few of Freakazoid's villains, from left to right: The Lobe, CandleJack, and Longhorn.

The self-aware humor in Freakazoid! often uses parody, cameos, stock footage, and other devices that break the fourth wall. They would include "commercials" and unrelated scenes such as Scream-O-Vision (people screaming), Relax-O-Vision (a field of flowers), or just a man wrestling a bear. There are numerous running gags such as the character Emmit Nervend, who would never be apart of the story and would appear at least once an episode simply in the background. Self contained mini-segments parodied the likes of Batman, Jonny Quest, and Robin Hood. Cameo appearances by Bill Clinton, Barbara Streisand, and Steven Spielberg himself would be used as comedic devices and fit into the story. The show often exceeded the typical slapstick fare such as falling anvils or exploding dynamite and came off as a little smarter or better executed. The insanity and craziness of Freakazoid! only aided the comedy and its more realistic trappings over Spielberg's other shows like Tiny Toons or Animaniacs made its premise stand out even more.

It's hard to explain the humor and appeal of Freakazoid! without seeing it first-hand. It definitely seemed ahead of its time, different and innovative from other American cartoon offerings of the period. The entire show exudes so much personality, with Freakazoid often overshadowing his alter ego, Dexter Douglas. The complete first season of Freakazoid! has finally made its way on DVD, so now is the perfect time to see how different a superhero can be.

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