Fox, which once had the renegade TV network market pretty much to itself — "Married With Children" was transgressive in its time — has become semi-respectable as it grays and sprightly basic-cable channels, bound by looser rules, crowd in to occupy the edge.
To get a little of its own back, the network is establishing a beachhead in youth-oriented late night. That is to say, it is going up against Adult Swim (indeed, Nick Weidenfeld, who is leading this charge, is late of Adult Swim) with a programming bloc it calls Animation Domination High-Def, or ADHD — the signature generational diagnosis of the target demographic. The bloc has as a mascot a smiling pizza slice, because eating pizza is a thing people do late at night, not necessarily because they're stoned.
In the vanguard of this colonization are the cartoons "Axe Cop," a science-fiction series with a twist, and "High School USA!," which, in simplest terms, perverts the "Archie" ideal to its own twisted ends. Fifteen minutes each, they will have a prime-time preview Sunday before taking up their late-night post July 27.
The superheroic "Axe Cop" is based on a popular Web comic by brothers Ethan and Malachai Nicolle; it first appeared in 2010, when Ethan, who draws the pictures, was 29, and Malachai, who makes up the stories, was 5. The comic, which moves with dizzying dispatch, is a wonderful thing, a serious translation of a child's mind through the practiced hand of an adult. There is very little irony involved in the presentation.
Some of this quality survives into the Fox cartoon, though there is an extra layer of adult knowingness interposed, which dissipates the magic of the original and makes one question the source of any idea or line of dialogue. (A low-budget YouTube version, which minimally animates the comic frames, better preserves its flavor.)
The first episode, in which Axe Cop (played with more than a hint of Ron Swanson by Nick Offerman) and his sidekick Flute Cop (Ken Marino), help Bat Warthog Man find his missing friends, does more or less follow one of the Nicolles' existing comics. But interpolated lines like "This jump leads to space and that's really high" or (of a villain), "He's asleep because it's past his bedtime," are an adult's impression of a child's voice. And a line like "All right, bro, we don't have time for your back story" is just grown-ups talking to grown-ups.
"High School USA!" is from Konstantinos Stamatopoulos (the stop-motion "Moral Orel" but also "Mr. Show" and "Community") The look is pretty much Riverdale High, with an Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and Moose in place (no Reggie), except the Archie analog (Vincent Kartheiser, who also voices Bat Warthog Man on "Axe Cop") has dysmorphia, the Veronica (Asian) makes out with the Betty, the Jughead is named Blackstein (because he's black and Jewish, I guess) and the Moose is a sensitive bully with a fat, abusive mother.
Of the two "Axe Cop" is the less predictable — I like it, though I would like to love it a little more. Each is sometimes funny, and neither will do you any lasting harm. Pass the pizza.
When: 11 p.m. Next Saturday
Rating: TV-14-DLSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language, sex and violence)
'High School USA!'
When: 11:15 p.m. Saturday
Rating: TV-14-DLSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language, sex and violence)Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun