Cartoon Network: The Good Years

dexters lab

Happy birthday, Cartoon Network! I’ve been around since the beginning, and have watched you grow up right before my eyes. Literally, because you’re a TV channel. I’ve seen you at your peak, and I’ve seen you stumble and fall flat on your face. (Canceling Megas XLR? Ending Toonami? What were you thinking?) But this is your birthday, and no place to bring up your flaws. That’ll be next week. For all the shows you cancelled, there were plenty you introduced me to. I’m going to start name-dropping shows now; if I missed a show you (the reader) were a fan of, I probably wasn’t or didn’t have space to mention it. But feel free to let me know what I missed. Also, let me know if one of my favorite shows was stupid and dumb; it is debate season, after all.

I guess the best place to start would be what I remember the earliest, which would be The Flintstones and The Jetsons. I thought it was weird that the men on The Flintstones didn’t wear pants, like they had a onesie that stayed in place. The thing that got me about the Jetsons was that they had machines that could do everything, and yet they weren’t fat. Does living in the stratosphere just make you thin? Then there was that time they crossed over and it was no big deal for them, and I was thinking that the first thing I’d do if I traveled through time would probably be to shit my pants, because I’d have a pretty good excuse. But that’s just me. I liked Scooby-Doo because it was so formulaic, but just about every show rips off in some way, and I’m not even talking about Jabber Jaw. I liked the idea of a group of friends solving mysteries together because it was really safe for some reason, and it made mysteries seem pretty simple. I also tend to say ‘jinkies’ whenever I watch a crime drama. Scooby and the gang also got to team up with Batman and Robin, the Harlem Globetrotters and Sonny and Cher! Where else is a child going to get that kind of exposure? Side-note: I hated Scrappy-Doo; young fucking punk just walks right in and expects everyone to like him because of his uncle’s name? Also, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo was the shit, no discussion.

Besides the classics, I remember witnessing the birth of the Cartoon Cartoons (Cow and Chicken, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Ed, Edd N’ Eddy, I Am Weasel, Johnny Bravo, The Powerpuff Girls, etc.) It was this original programming that helped warped my mind into the M.C. Escher/Salvador Dali amusement park it currently is. It also proves Old Cartoon Network is better than Old Nickelodeon/New Nick/the one in-between combined, but I think that’s just common knowledge.

My favorite show from this era was Dexter’s Laboratory. There was something about a boy building stuff and having it wrecked by someone else while trying to keep it a secret from his parents that resonated with me, because it’s the story of my life. Ever write a gritty dark comedy where people get killed in hilarious ways (think Pee-Wee’s Playhouse mixed with Saw)? How about when you were nine? Well, it turns out my parents weren’t too pleased, so I started hiding my stories where Dexter hid his lab: behind a bookcase. Turns out a lot of stuff will fit there. I could also relate to Dexter’s love of solitude. Dexter’s Laboratory also had segments like Justice Friends and Dial M for Monkey. I liked Friends more, but not by much. After all, who could hate a monkey with superpowers?

Anyway, Justice Friends and Freakazoid were my tickets into the idea of superheroes being funny. Superheroes are stereotypically serious, and everything they do and wear is considered cool, but what these cartoons taught me was that there are superheroes that laugh at the serious ones, mess up every now and then and are afraid of bees. I wouldn’t see an animated hero do this again until the Flash on Justice League, which also ran on Cartoon Network. And Dexter’s Laboratory also had the Koosalagoopagoop and did an episode that explained Dexter’s life through opera. ‘Nuff said.

So I guess that’s enough from memory lane. It’s amazing how much my life has changed over time, and yet I still laugh at all the same jokes. Maybe some things really are timeless, or maybe I have bad memory and forget easily and haven’t matured at all. Either way, thank you Cartoon Network, for giving the right people at the right time shows that would influence them at a very young age. And thanks for making the 90s the best period for animation. Don’t even try to bring up the 80s.

  • Chris Osterndorf

    I’m glad you wrote this. I often feel at odds with people who watched more Nickelodeon cartoons growing up, because I was raised almost solely on the Cartoon Network shows. “Dexter” still holds up today, and I’m happy to say that programs like “Regular Show” and “Adventure Time” continue in the tradition of the brilliant stuff Cartoon Network was doing in the ’90s.

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