Clerks: The Animated Series

It’s a sad fact, but if a filmmaker loves his or her works, they should never, ever ever ever allow it to be translated to the boob tube. With minor exceptions (say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), TV has a tendency to gut what made the film special, thrash the enterprise around for a bit before feeding it to the Wolves of Cancellation. Then Mr. or Mrs. I-Won-A-Best-Director-Oscar finds themselves sitting at home one night playing a game called “How many pills can we swallow before passing out?”

I was tremendously excited to hear that Kevin Smith’s Clerks — the cult comedy hit from 1994 — was to be made into a half-hour prime time cartoon series on ABC. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up; there really was no way this was going to be a smash hit and stay on the air for any length of time. The reality ended up being that ABC gave it very mild promotion, a poor summer time slot, and axed the show after a mere two episodes were shown. Kevin Smith came out of that mess with a bruised ego, but we got six fairly awesome episodes of Clerks goodness.

If you like the concept of Clerks but wanted it to be less offensive while still funny, this is the series for you. Let’s go through it real quick:

Episode 1

Evil billionaire Leonardo Leonardo returns to the town of Leonardo and tries to run the clerks at Quick Stop out of business. Dante and Randal aren’t very concerned, but pretty much just plod through the day inflicting mortal harm on others. While not overly hysterical, there are shining moments. Exhibit A, a reference to Canada, where Maple Leaf loinclothed citizens live in “Mon-Tree-All”. They’re so cute, I want a Canadian of my own!

And there is something so laughably pathetic in Leonardo Leonardo, who sees the clerks as his arch-nemeses, even though they really don’t care less. While LL launches some sort of vague plan, Dante and Randal launch some sort of vague anti-plan to stop him. It’s got one of those quickie, tacked-on endings that never seem to work very well, but you can’t lambast it because there is the Maze of Death. And Robot Chickens.

Episodes 1 through 3 have “Safety Tips with Jay and Silent Bob” epilogues, which are genius sketched onto 2D. This episode has a supposedly “silent” Silent Bob and Jay advising kids to take care of their campsite. It’s a well appreciated reference to those moronic safety tips that shows like “Superfriends” and “G.I. Joe” would tack on at the end (“Kids, don’t play with matches at a gas station. Knowing is half the battle!”) of their shows.

Episode 2

Dante and Randal get locked in a freezer and have flashbacks to Episode 1. Okay, this episode made no sense. I don’t mean it made no sense in watching it, because there were laughs to be had. And I don’t mean the episode itself made no sense, because it did and spoke deeply to my soul. I merely state that ABC’s decision to air this as the second (and last) Clerks episode made no sense. Why? Because the main running gag is that episode 2 is a clip show (a show padded with flashbacks), which mainly drew off of showing episode 1 clips (the only previous show) over and over. Whether that works for you or not, well, it’s a matter of opinion. But it made NO sense to air this when episode 1 never made it to TV. There simply weren’t any reference points to guide the viewer.

That said, Dante and Randal (and Jay and Silent Bob) get themselves locked into their store’s freezer. They use this as a lame excuse to recall past memories (including last week) countless times. It’s a funny idea, but I don’t know if it came off well in the transition. Instead of being more plot-based, it’s a string of one-joke gags (a lot like the style of Family Guy, I thinks). I really liked them getting out of the freezer, then promptly locking themselves into RST Video (with the AC jacked up).

There’s a clever little parody included that was banned from the televised version: Flinstone’s List (dinosaurs and Nazis, oh my!). There’s really not much more to say about this episode. If you dig the premise, you’ll probably like it. Otherwise, it’s just so-so. And being so-so is so so-so.

But dig the “Rainy Day Fun with Jay and Silent Bob” segment at the end… it just cracked me up non-stop (so THAT’S how they do magic tricks!). Poor Charles Barkley gets dissed again.

Episode 3

A strange virus hits the town of Leonardo, and there’s a cute monkey. I have to applaud two great things about this episode. One, they mock Patrick Swayze (a hideous actor, we all agree) without mercy. Poor Swayze is seen working as a clerk at a pet store, naming various pets after his failed film career (although I hear Red Dawn 2 is in the works). The second great thing is the monkey. There’s a monkey! And it has to be the best cartoon monkey ever, mostly because it blows excellent smoke rings.

After a brief “letter reading” segment (in which they are lambasted for their lack of girls and minorities on their show), the fun begins. A rancid box of “Descreeto Burritos” causes Randal to think that the Mutaba virus has hit the town, and suddenly they find themselves in quarantine. Meanwhile, Jay and Silent Bob adopt a monkey and teach it to smoke (ever the educational show). Big props to Baklava (James Woods), the neurotic commander who takes everything well over the top. Woods just rocks.

I don’t know what it is, but monkeys are always funny. So that, plus a lot of other craziness, gets this episode a high rating (possibly 556.6). And there’s the classic line “Nothing can kill the Grimace” that should be used in daily conversation.

Episode 4

Jay slips in the Quickstop and sues Dante for ten mil; Dante has Randal defend him. I laughed for the first twenty-five minutes, but the last few I was crying. Yes, me, an authentic male, weeping due to probably the most hysterical moment of TV history ever. Clerks the Cartoon is here, maybe not for long, but it’s definitely up there with any Askewniverse film in existence.

I think I can best compare Clerks to the style of cartoon pacing that has made both The Simpsons and Family Guy so great: a storyline frequently interrupted with flashbacks, cuts and wipes, and a universe where nearly anything can happen. We begin episode 4 with Jay taking temporary control of the Quickstop. Due to his inept handling, an incident ensues where Jay falls down (twice) and decides to sue the store and Dante. Poor Dante. They go to court, where Judge Reinhold (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) presides, and the jury is filled with members of the NBA. Naturally, Randal screws everything up, but somehow (and don’t ask me how, I still have tears from the ending) things end up okay.

You want pop culture satire? Kudos to Clerks, who tackle everything from Star Wars Episode One (Randal grills George Lucas over the plot flaws) to legal courtroom thrillers to anime. Oh, geez, all I want to do is talk about the ending, but then I don’t want to spoil it for you. I’m that nice of a guy, I suppose. I guess I can leak that if you’re confused by all things Pokémon, Akira, Voltron, and basically any other Japanese cartoon released, you’ll find some small comfort to know that they’re all basically crazy.

All in all, terrific. Much different from the series (only a couple minutes are spent in the Quickstop), much less profane (heck, they even said “pee-pee”), and no sex in sight… but the Kevin Smith-brand humor is ever-present, and I think the format forces the Askew team to be creative in other ways. While the animation is rather flat (and you’ll be staring at those really thick black outlines around each character), at least it’s different and lends itself to fairly accurate portrayals of celebrities and whatnot. I also had to cheer when they brought Reggie Miller into the jury (go Pacers!).

So, Silent Bob doesn’t speak, Randal still hates customers, crap constantly rains down on Dante, and the world couldn’t be a better place. God bless the Clerks.

Episode 5

At a high school reunion, we discover that Dante was a (forgotten) baseball manager in high school, and Randal has the ability to turn straight women into lesbians overnight. Mainly staying outside of the Quick Stop (what Quick Stop?), Dante coaches a baseball team of loser kids, including my favorite, Foreign Boy (although Helmet Boy has his charm as well). Once he discovers that Jay is still, technically, in the fourth grade, Dante turns his team to victory. Meanwhile, Randal is enslaved due to his video gaming technique, and finds himself moving big blocks of stone from point A to point A.

Out of all six episodes, this one goes very far outside of the box. Away from the clerk world, Dante and Randal are just relegated to standard “fill in the blank” parody roles, and that’s kinda sad. Yay for Jay and Silent Bob, tho, who work their magic anywhere, anytime. No big laughs here, but it’s a fun (if bland) episode nonetheless. Maybe this was just a case of taking pop culture references a smidgen too far. And hoo boy, I can’t believe they got away with the Challenger explosion reference.

Episode 6

The clerks strive to be more like the movie… but fail. This unaired episode has been considered by others to be the best Clerks cartoon, and I’d have to hardily agree. Not only does it make countless references to the movie (satisfying the nerd urgest within), but it’s got a series of running gags that just kept… running!

At a comic convention, the few fans of Clerks lambast the clerks for not being enough like the movie. So Dante and Randal resolve that – no matter what – they’ll stay in the store and talk about pop culture and stop being so cartoony. Of course this fails from the start, as movie and TV parodies aboud (from Alive to Gilligan’s Island) and a local fair in Leonardo wreaks havoc right outside of the Quick Stop.

It’s wheels within wheels here, and I’m not afraid to say I rejoiced all of the Clerks movie references (from Caitlin Brea to playing hockey on the roof). Even though the episode was making fun of people (like me) wanting that sort of thing. Jay’s frequent interludes in the Quick Stop are hilarious, as he keeps us informed on the unseen action outside. It builds and builds until the surprise ending (Jay is actually Tyler Durden from “Fight Club”… wait, wrong review).

More of the jokes are on than off, and I absolutely loved the guy on the phone constantly wanting to tell Dante about the Matrix. If the Clerks cartoon had to end, it’s great they went out with such a classic episode.

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