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TV Reviews: Cartoons for guys premiere on Spike TV

Sunday, June 22, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

On Thursday, Spike TV, the network targeting young men that was formerly TNN, debuts "The Strip," a block of original animated series designed for guys. It's more successful than you'd expect.

"Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon"
When: 10 p.m. Thursday on Spike TV.

"Gary the Rat"
When: 10:30 p.m. Thursday on Spike TV.

"Stripperella"
When: 11 p.m. Thursday on Spike TV.

"Gary the Rat" and "Stripperella" are watchable, often funny shows. It's too bad the programming geniuses at Spike TV put their worst foot forward with the program airing earliest in the evening. (Then again, how smart can they be? They picked the name Spike TV, mistake No. 1, and then created a flowery, cursive logo for this male-skewing network, mistake No. 2.)

'Ren & Stimpy'

"Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon" returns the Chihuahua Ren and his cat friend, Stimpy, to TV in six new episodes that, from the outset, make clear this show is not designed for children.

John Kricfalusi, creator of the original kids' show that aired on Nickelodeon in the early '90s, is back on board for this series that goes beyond infantile bathroom humor. It's just plain gross.

In an episode provided for review, Ren and Stimpy live in the mouth of a homeless man where Stimpy continually makes sexual overtures to Ren. After the man's epiglottis molests Ren, they move to a spittoon, where the pair wind up covered in tobacco spit before dining on mucus.

At that point I stopped the tape. They don't pay me enough to watch cartoon characters eating snot.

'Gary the Rat'

Created by Robb and Mark Cullen, who also introduced this spring's FX show "Lucky," "Gary the Rat" originally aired on the Internet in three-minute webisodes.

It's the story of Gary Andrews (voice of Kelsey Grammer), a high-powered lawyer so corrupted by his own manipulative, uncaring ways that one morning he awakens to discover he's become a rat.

Not that he reforms instantly. He's still curt with his elderly mother, who calls him daily.

"Tell the nurse to throw some baking soda on it," Gary advises his mother when she calls about an apparent fire in her room. "I'm sure it'll go right out."

Grammer is well-cast as Gary, which he seems to relish.

"I have a certain kind of brand in terms of what my performances have been, kind of intelligent," Grammer said in a telephone interview while vacationing in Hawaii. Using his voice was the hook when selling the concept. "I'd whore myself in whatever way I need to ensure my children will eat years from now."

Gary the Rat differs from Grammer's Frasier Crane ("Cheers," "Frasier") in some key ways.

"Gary's not as highly principled. They're pretty much interested in the same things, but Gary's more interested in things because he knows it's cool than because he has true love for them," Grammer said. "Gary's more of a social animal, Frasier's more of a social misfit. Frasier wants all the things Gary has, but he can't allow his scruples to be compromised.

"Gary the Rat has been compromising every scruple to the point that he compromises his humanity."

The show's arc will follow Gary's attempts to reclaim his humanity.

"Eventually, he may have a truly selfless act and become a human again," Grammer said. "But that's about 250 episodes out."

Grammer's "Frasier" co-stars David Hyde Pierce and John Mahoney will guest voice as KKK members, and his "Cheers" co-star Ted Danson will also voice a character in the show's first season.

Of Spike TV's three new series, "Gary" is the least crude, although it does include a four-letter expletive when Gary looks in the mirror and sees what he's become.

"Apparently that's OK after 9," Grammer said, adding there are alternative vocal tracks should episodes ever air earlier in the evening. "Believe me, I am very cautious and even nervous about going to four-letter words, but in this case, in this character, it seems appropriate. He doesn't go there very often, but it sums up in a word what might be the first reaction you get when you discover you're a rat."

'Stripperella'

If you're not offended by naked, animated breasts, "Stripperella" is actually an unexpectedly clever, albeit sometimes crude, superhero parody.

Created by Marvel comics master Stan Lee, "Stripperella" stars the voice and was inspired by the curves of former "Baywatch" star Pamela Anderson.

She plays the buxom Erotica Jones, an exotic dancer who leads a secret double life as Stripperella, secret agent 0069. She's Jessica Rabbit in leather.

"Look out, crime, I'm gonna take a bite out of you," Erotica says, hastening to add, "but not in a way you're going to find pleasurable."

In an upcoming episode, Stripperella must defend Los Angeles from the miserly villain Cheapo, who plans to steal the world's largest imitation diamond (as well as pennies from city fountains).

Lee populates Stripperella's worlds -- both the strip club and her crime fighting organization -- with some of the expected comic book character stereotypes, but he never fails to poke fun at them.

When two nerdy gadget-makers give Stripperella a "penny disintegrator," she remarks, "I can't tell you how many times I've gotten out of perilous situations because of an unusual gadget that had conveniently been given to me earlier that day."

This tongue-in-cheek humor recalls the live-action '60s show "Batman," which itself was cartoony. "Stripperella" just brings everything full circle, adding a mildly tawdry, juvenile sex joke edge.


You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com . Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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