Once upon a time, everybody on the planet collectively seemed to be a little more innocent and a whole lot less connected. Sure, back in the pre-internet days we “technically” had sketchy basic online modem connectivity, but that could be completely destroyed any time grandma picked up the telephone receiver and inadvertently began dialing. The only thing that our laughable 300 baud modems could really handle (and eventually fuck with) were very primitive text-only BBS pages. BBS’s were the electronic equivalent of painting cave walls with shit, and were always ran by people that coveted their phone number (their “server”) with the level of clearance reserved for our nuclear arsenal. If I had a nickel for every BBS homepage I was able to hack and re-code into giant ASCII penises, I’d have a dollar in my pocket that I feel like I genuinely earned.
If every person on the planet was slummin’ it without the high speed internet that we take for granted today, you might wonder what we could have possibly done with all that free time. Occasionally, we ventured into the outdoors from our suburban homes and appreciated the majesty of the outdoors. Back when I was a tween, every time I unplugged and stepped outside the house, I felt like I was transported directly into an episode of the Mutual of Omaha’s: Wild Kingdom. I vividly remember being blown away by the natural beauty of a couple of well-trimmed bushes in front of some of the houses at the end of the block and there was also a pretty sweet-looking giant cement drainage pipe by the jogging path. No matter how much I wished I could be like Grizzly Adams, I always felt out of place in the outdoors.
….because most of my younger years were spent inside the house sitting on my ass watching some TV.
Ok, maybe a metric shitload of TV.
Even though we didn’t have anything close to high definition televisions in the early 90’s, the level of quality programming on cable made up for not having the clarity to see individual pubes on unscrambled Cinemax. Nickelodeon had the oddness of Ren and Stimpy, and Cartoon Network was showcasing hours of fresh giant robot anime every day. Most importantly, 1990’s MTV was still playing actual music videos before they got addicted to 24-hours-a-day of spray tans and implants (Sorry, I had to go there, even though I know that this joke is so old that it can apply for AARP benefits).
Back then, it was pretty cool seeing MTV bring the Seattle grunge movement of the 90’s directly into the spotlight, while kicking Stryper off the bus.
In 1991, MTV also began featuring one of my all-time favorite shows of that magical decade: Liquid Television, which was a 22 minute compilation show stuffed full of (mostly) underground and independent animation. Variety was king on this show; some clips were only a few seconds long and some clips were 10 minute-long segments that bridged the gap between Pizzarias and Crystal Pepsi commercials.
The gloves were thrown completely off for this half hour of debauchery. It was filled with nothing but gratuitous violence, gore, and hella sexualized content. It finally felt like someone had made a TV show specifically for me. Liquid Television even birthed a monster cash cow, the entertainment juggernaut Beavis and Butt-Head after they set the world aflame after playing a friendly game of frog baseball in the backyard.
There were also other smaller properties that were spawned from this show, but what made Liquid Television special was the variety of animators and the variety of the styles of animations. Some of these sequences used puppets, or occasionally live action filmed in front green screens (not yet referred to as “Lucas-Prequeling”), and even some really prehistoric computer animation. A few of these would throw a mix of all of these mediums together with a half-written script and just go with it. Whenever this messy approach was used, the results were painfully obvious (see: Karmic Detective). While some content wasn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread, it still felt like a “democracy” because everything, regardless of overall quality, got an equal amount of time in the spotlight. Liquid Television truly felt like it was the forefront of an animation and entertainment revolution at the time. This lit a fire inside me that inspired me to try my hand at (terrible) computer animation almost a decade later.
It’s been hard to find any physical copies or re-releases of this show, as the copyright issues abound with expired music licencing, artists, or characters. There are a few copyright rogues out there, still doing that thing where they use a knife to slide down a ship’s sails while uploading segments for viewing on YouTube. I am here now to show you which of these are the best of the best.
I promise that every one of these videos will transport you right back to the glory days of Pogs, JNCO’s and Cool As Ice.
5. The Street Sweeper (Le Balayeur)
This entertaining French short tells the story of an old-fashioned street sweeper and his desire to keep his street clean by stuffing the never-ending stream of offending litter, people and vehicles directly into the gutter. EVERYTHING. MUST. GO!
This short film is completely rendered in black and white, and every frame is hand-drawn and colored in with pencil strokes. This approach keeps anatomy and figure drawing stripped down to its simplest form, but still keeping it at its’ most expressive. Not a single cel is wasted and close ups of the characters and their facial movements have unique life breathed into them via a crosshatched artistic style.
The music that accompanies this short is awesome as well. It sounds like what most of us would envision hearing inside a dimly lit French restaurant. There are a few spoken words, but they are in French and being a proudly ignorant American, I have no idea what anyone in this is saying. However, this doesn’t really matter, because every hand-drawn frame is expressive enough to transcend the need for any spoken language in order to tell the story.
4. The 12 Dangers of Skydiving
“12 Dangers” was used as a segment breaker in episode 12 (ironic!), and all twelve parts were placed in between different animations as a funny framing device. In the clip above, all of them are stitched together with a specific descriptor name for each of the twelve possible dangers of skydiving.
You might think the only real danger would only be “parachute failure”, but there are in fact, many things that can go south. Nobody ever stops to think about the dangers of crossing paths with the Sky Mime before leaping out of that plane.
But the one thing that puts this over the top for me is the blank-faced, empty brained smile that all these characters have as they quickly plummet to their doom. This comical take on impending death and inevitability ends up making every one of these skydiving fails oddly surreal, and even more humorous.
3. Aeon Flux
I know. Right now you are collectively screaming “THIS IS NUMBER 3 ON A LIST?!!! WTF YOU HACK THIS WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVVVAR….!!111” I hear you, and I get it. Aeon Flux really was a bad-ass futuristic gunfire-filled romp that told the story of the best assassin sent from Monica in a really strange way. The twangy musical score was really simplistic, but it added another layer onto the setting and feeling that ended up making this animation amazing. There was a lot of uncomfortable weird shit going on with all that awkward random foot and ear licking going on, too.
This show and segments were completely bizarre, but they were beautiful in an ultra- violent-ballet-beautiful kind of way. Most of the episodes end with the main character, Aeon getting killed off in gruesome fashion. Sometimes, episodes were nothing but 5 minutes of nonstop gunfire and hallucinations. The art style and direction of Peter Chung made the Aeon Flux one of the most legitimate parts of Liquid Television. The ass-kicking hyper violent comic book cyber-assassin come to life was deeply contrasted from being sandwiched in between creepy skits of rockabilly dudes with plastic hair mumbling at each other.
The only reason that its in the middle of my list is because at the time, to my dumb 14 year old mind, it was too hard understand any kind of cognizant A to B story. Now that I’m older, I can appreciate the sheer randomness of it all, and I can understand that a serialized story arc would have actually detracted from all the crazy angles and possibilities that this animation series took.
2. Bobby and Billy
“Oh BOY! a soap box derby!”
Imagine, if you will, what it would be like if the world of Highlights: For Children’s Goofus and Gallant exploded into colorful life, with a soft and cheery 50’s theme playing in the background. Now, picture it as being just Goofus and Goofus with a hefty side of homicidal imbalance (which is how I explain the complete lack of Gallant).
You’ve just pictured Bobby and Billy, a colored pencil-shaded homage to the simpler days of the post-war prosperous 1950’s. Those days were a different time when kids actually ventured outside, made boxcar racers to challenge other kids, and didn’t even get carded when buying bottles of Everclear at the drugstore.
Every episode of Bobby and Billy begins as innocent fun, and quickly begins to devolve into gore, bad intentions, or an onscreen death or two. What makes this series so great (and so funny) has to be the wacky music that plays underneath all of the carefully shaded carnage. The juxtaposition this series manages to achieve is deliciously sublime. If you get a chance, try to hunt down and watch all of the other uploaded episodes. Be warned, however, that the episode in which the boys go camping and one kid ends up sharing a sleeping bag with a counselor may have been taken just a step too far.
“Get well soon, Dad!!”
1. The Running Man
(sorry, the above video formatting is weird because YouTube has a Running Man copyright search-and-destroy bot working overtime)
No, this Running Man isn’t the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie about a futuristic murderous game show of the same name where he kills Electric Company Meat Loaf. It might be hard to believe, but this animated Running Man is a spectacle that is actually much, much cooler.
The Running Man is is a heavily edited for time/content segment of a film called Neo Tokyo, released onto VHS in 1987. The story is told as a voice over by a narrator who interviews a one of the most successful racers of the Circuit of Death. This hovercar racer completes repeatedly in high-speed Formula One style races where most of the other racers are killed, and he continues to cheat death every time. This racer has secretive psychic abilities that he utilizes to make all of his competitor’s vehicles explode on the track.
After years of winning, surviving, and killing the competition on this track of death, he eventually outraces even himself and is confronted by ethereal spirits as he speeds faster and faster around the track. These flashing ghosts also share his psychic ability and begin to give him a taste of his own powers in a most spectacular fashion.
When this was broadcast, F-Zero on the Super Nintendo was huge, and we just could not get enough of this futuristic hovercar racing stuff. To see this sort of life and realism breathed into one of our favorite SNES titles improved both this short film and the video game property dramatically.
The Running Man was some of our first exposure to anime, and it was enough of a taste to have us go out into the world to hunt down more. This short led me to become a huge fan of Akira, Gundam Wing, and Robotech. Sometimes, all you need to get the ball rolling is a little death race.
R.I.P Liquid Television.