Sam 'n Max
Review by Diana and Wraith6
Sam -- Harvey Atkin
Max -- Robert Tinkler
Geek -- Tracey Moore
Producer: Jocelyn Hamilton
Director: Steve Whitehouse
Creator: Steve Purcell
Rating: Super Star Destroyer
Based on Steve Purcell's enormously popular underground comic book, Sam & Max was winner of the 1998 Gemini Award for Best Animated Series. It chronicles the adventures of law enforcement's most powerful duo -- Sam, a six-foot dog and Max, a three-foot hyper-kinetic rabbity thing -- as they solve only the weirdest criminal cases of the day. Zealously treading on the conventions of tried and true TV fare, these pals-for-life are so hip and above it all that instead of taking what we would consider a dire situation seriously, they study it and check it for head lice. Welcome to their zany world!
-- From the show synopsis at nelvana.com
I like the term "rabbity thing," but that is indeed what Max is -- he even exclaims that he is a lagomorph. Their job description -- "freelance police" -- brings to mind certain things ... not quite "legal," you know? But also kind of goofy-thus-will-win-in-the-end type of vibe. It's an animated cartoon, after all, so it's not bound by special effects budgets or laws of physics. That's a good thing!
This cartoon is also based on the LucasArts-created game, which we all played in high school instead of doing whatever we were supposed to be doing. The voices in this animation don't quite match that -- Sam is goofier than the grizzled detective type voice of the games, and Max is more innocent in the cartoon -- but they are actually good and it's possible to get used to them. The quality of the animations is better than the "Whack-a-Mole" game, and there are frequent references to the 1970s-era comics. But you don't need to have that in your background to enjoy this series.
You do have to be broad-minded and a bit of an arrogant bastard to get a lot of it, though. For one thing, I don't understand how this series was broadcast on FoxKids -- the humor is cynical, sarcastic, and full of innuendo. The situations are comically violent or disturbingly creepy. But it's done in bright colors and the characters are drawn in a cute manner. It's like "Rocky Horror" meets "Snow White," such that the former provides the humor and the latter the creepiness. Not quite kid fodder. Maybe those bright colors and happy-go-lucky attitudes of the characters fooled the execs at Fox to let it run. (The characters even were astounded that they were being shown on a kid's network and say so!)
Would you put humor of this type -- no matter how cute it is -- in front of impressionable youngsters? Or even impressionable oldsters?
Pop culture references abound; like many one-shot successes, the Sam 'n Max comics are heavily dependent on the audience being about the same age as the author, or maybe being a "cycle" younger so that old stuff is cool enough to be retro. Or to read it carefully to understand why drawing without reference material is bad/funny. The cartoon series has the same carefree drawing style. And though the scripts were redone to deal with the change in medium, they have the same irreverence, cynicism, sarcasm, and joie de vivre. Even their lifetime bachelor-generated filth and squalor look cheerful. Too bad it never got beyond one graphic novel's worth of stories.
So if we love it so much, why didn't it get Death Star review status? Because they didn't make MORE! The series was cancelled but lives on -- in part -- video, which confirms that only 24 episodes were made. We're hoping for the DVD someday.
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