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Not many original Warner Brothers’ IPs are quite as unique as ‘The Animaniacs’. Originally airing from 1993 to 1998, it followed the mischievous antics of three siblings (and various side characters) as they caused various disturbances around the Warner movie lot. These antics take the form of a variety sketch show, with episodes containing three different segments that often careen into each other. But that’s not the only thing that made this show unique. It was ahead of its time in many ways. The series often indulged in meta humor, leading to pranks and parodies on actors, movies, and Warner Brothers itself. The innovative sitcom left a sizable hole in its place after it went off the air.
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That is, until three years ago when Hulu decided to revive it. And now, its third and final season is here. Since its beginning, the reboot has tried to keep the core formula of the show intact. Sketches intertwine with the occasional overarching storyline that slowly progresses the characters in the show forward. Since the new season is finally here, it’s time to deliberate. That’s right: it’s time for Animaniacs. Ultimately, the writers’ refusal to change their formula that went over so well in the 90s has garnered mixed (but mostly positive) results, and season 3 is no different.
‘The Animaniacs’ Have Jokes About Their Jokes
The jokes are the most interesting part of ‘The Animaniacs’ conceit, especially in context of the modern television landscape. Since the show left air, there’s been an enormous boom in television that’s often dubbed the Golden Age of Television. During this time and continuing into the present, most shows have dabbled in meta comedy. A good example of this would be HBO. After a few shows that were innovative in their own right, HBO created a plethora of shows that were meta in various ways. ‘The Comeback’ was a Lisa Kudrow-centered show about an actress making a return to TV. ‘House of Cards’, Netflix’s first original show, utilized fourth wall-breaking plenty of times.
‘The Animaniacs’ of the 90s had these kinds of jokes routinely. The three titular siblings would make fun of what Fox would allow them to do and not do. Without spoiling too much, this new season pokes more fun at Warner Brothers Executives and television producers. There’s drama involving which characters truly own Warner Brothers, and there’s a plethora of examples of executives making dumb decisions. They do this with the same high quality of voice acting, direction, and animation that they’ve always possessed.
It Hurts and It Helps
This is both to the show’s credit and to its detriment. On one hand, it’s a crucial part of ‘The Animaniacs’ identity. By continuing on with this style of comedy in season 3, they’re affirming longtime fans’ devotion to the franchise. Not only is the meta comedy something that the show was known for in the 90s, but it was also always incredibly good at this as well. The original comedy was a unique combination of different types of meta-jokes, from parodying celebrities to fourth wall breaks, to talking about their own reputation with the people that make their show. The new season is easily just as witty. One could argue that it would also feel weird if they didn’t keep this quality in the reboot.
However, they haven’t changed or adapted this too much. The one thing they’ve changed in their approach to their humor is their references and the level of self-awareness they try to utilize. The references are recent, if not always recent enough (the first episode of the new season features a joke about ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and ‘The Dark Knight’). While awkwardly aged references like these don’t make or break the show’s quality, it definitely puts the new iteration of the show’s pop culture knowledge in the spotlight. In terms of the level of meta they utilize, the three main characters make constant jokes about the fact that they’re meta. The fact that it’s a reboot of a previous meta show gets absorbed into the joke landscape of the show. Adding layer after layer of meta comedy can only go so far before getting a little stale and repetitive. In other words, it can only be witty for so long. In fact, a large reason why the writers have been able to get away with it is probably because it’s such the biggest part of the branding of the show.
‘Animaniacs’ – Who Will Enjoy It the Most?
After over twenty years of being off the air, this minimal change to the new series is officially noticeable. The old comedy tricks can now potentially be considered passé (the show’s own words), forcing the writers to up their game and attempt to craft even wittier scripts. Enjoyment of the new series and its slightly tweaked approach will ultimately be up to a person’s preferences.
These preferences will most likely fall pretty cleanly along certain age lines. Most of the older fans will find no problems with the new season’s brand, immersing itself deeper and deeper into the style that people loved so much in the beginning. This might make it harder for a newer audience to enjoy season 3, and the newer show as a whole. They can excuse some of the outdated references from the older series because it was incredibly trailblazing for its time. The minor adjustments in the new season may not be enough to distract from the refusal to change its more prominent elements.
In my opinion, the new season is an overall solid entry of television in spite of its flaws. The blindspots of the new season aren’t that egregious, and can easily be overlooked by the continued commitment to the high level of writing and their own clever and witty punchlines. The writers clearly still care about honoring the original spirit of the series, and want to present it to everyone in the current media landscape. The third season of ‘The Animaniacs’ is a welcome swan song for a series that has given so much entertainment to the world. In the immortal words of Yakko, Wakko, and Dot: those are the facts.
Producer: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Lucas Crandles, Timothy Nash, Scott O’Brien,
Voice Actors: Rob Pauslon, Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille
By Zachary DePiore
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