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Saturday, March 7, 2015

TV Pilot Hell: Bubsy (1993)

NOTE: When I wrote the first draft for this it was nine paragraphs and two-and-a-half pages long!  I did my best to edit it down as much as possible. 
The 90’s was a great decade for animation.  Batman, Animaniacs, Daria… The list goes on and on and honestly, even the laziest, stupidest series from that decade seem to have their fair share of fans.  However, there has always been one medium that has failed to create a real lasting success in animation: Video Games.  Sure, there were moderate successes like The Super Mario Bros. Super Show and Sonic Sat. A.M., but these were mostly short-lived and more reflected the popularity of their source material than any actual objective quality.  So, given the (at best) mediocre standards of video games-to-animation, where does Bubsy fit on that scale?

Well, first, a little backstory: Bubsy was a mascot game created for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis in the early 90’s.  It was an effort by the fledgling studio Accolade to create a lasting series and, surprisingly, it kind of worked.  The few games in the series were spread across the SNES, Genesis, Jaguar and the Playstation and Bubsy 3D, released on Sony’s flagship console, is ranked among the worst video games ever made.  So, in a nutshell, Bubsy was an attempt by a B-studio to put out a game that will be their Mario or Sonic.  Accolade was banking so hard on this that they actually commissioned to have an animation group work on a tie-in for their game.  The company of choice was a small studio called Calico Creations.  Never heard of them?  Well, how couldn’t you!? I mean they are only the masters who brought us the majestic Denver the Last Dinosaur and Widget the World Watcher!  I mean, come on!  (No… Seriously, these guys were bad…. Very bad.)

On paper, there is one promising credit: Rob Paulsen, who did the voice for Bubsy in the games and is back for the TV show.  Paulsen is a tremendously-accomplished voice actor who worked on just about every animated series of note from the past thirty years.  He’s a highly-regarded talent and hearing his voice in this show is like if Peter O’Toole interrupted one of Michael Bay and Ehren Kruger's comic relief moments to give a resounding monologue.  They must have been desperate and paid him a ton in hopes that this series would catch on.  As with most animated tie-ins from its time, Bubsy was an attempt to expand name recognition and popularity.  It didn’t work… at all…

That was a lot of setup to cover and for that, I apologize.  Still, even knowing myself the ill fate of this franchise going in, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  The pilot for Bubsy is entitled “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” (Which was also the title character’s uninspired catch phrase), and follows Bubsy, his friend Arnold (voiced by another talented voice performer in Pat Fraley), and a couple of obnoxious twins as Bubsy volunteers to be the guinea pig for a powerful piece of technology created by doctor Virgil (...ugh) Reality.  The device is a helmet that can harness the imagination of its wearer and conjure it into reality.  So, essentially it’s Anthony from Twilight Zone: The Movie… except more overblown and stupid.  The rest of the episode involves all of the characters, and a team of villains led by a spoiled, fat, female cat, battling for control over the helmet.  It’s all a device to create a bunch of slapstick animated set pieces to sell the show, and boy does it fail.

The problem with Bubsy as a character is, even in the video games, he was essentially a Sonic rip-off with greatly-inferior level design and there simply isn’t much you can do with this premise.  At least with Sonic going in there actual characters and a plot that felt like it could be fleshed out in some way, but Bubsy was never that interesting to begin with.  It would be like making Frogger into an animated series (Oh!  WAIT!!!  They actually DID that!)  A result of this lack of personality is a lead character that is forced and over-confident as to be completely stupid.  This has worked in the past with some characters (Bugs Bunny, for instance) but here, it just feels like Bubsy suffers from some sort of chemical imbalance that leaves him completely incapable of expressing any emotion outside of “Ohhhhh yeaaaah!”.
Now, to talk about the actual quality of the episode.  A common problem with a lot of animated series is the writers and animators go in wanting their show to be for kids and simply try to make it as flashy and noisy as they can to keep their interest, forgetting that even silly shows like Animaniacs had a fair share of quieter character moments.  When the show is just noise and grunting from start to finish “exhausting” doesn’t even begin to describe it.  There is not one moment for the audience to breathe here.  Either Bubsy is fast-talking and spouting out his catch phrase for the tenth time or Arnold is grunting and growling after every line.  Every character has one joke that is driven in over and over for the entire episode and the animation is lackluster and lazy, with most scenes just showing the characters in one frame posing or falling on a moving background.  This show is scene-to-scene just noise and flashing lights.  It has no substance and not even one joke lands, it’s all wrong.

I find it interesting that Obvious Villain Cat character (I can’t be bothered to look her up name again) uses nails on a chalkboard to torture her minions because this show felt like someone was doing that for twenty minutes.  It’s loud, stupid, unfunny and really just boring.  As bad as this is, and as shocked as I was watching it, I will likely not even remember seeing this before too long.  It just was not interesting enough to care about and it doesn’t surprise me that it wasn’t picked up to series.  It was further proof that a show that is clumsily thrown together as an advertisement for a brand most people were already indifferent about just doesn’t work.  Still, that hasn’t kept studios from trying over and over again.

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