Thursday, September 20, 2012

Old School Lane's Nickelodeon Tribute: The Angry Beavers with James Bevan

It's the year 1997. Titanic, Men in Black, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace were released in theaters. Daria, Ally McBeal, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and South Park debuted on TV. If there was one Nicktoon that some people claim has as much adult humor as Rocko's Modern Life, it's The Angry Beavers.

 Joining me today in this special collaborated review is Manic Expression's own James Bevan. Welcome aboard, James.

James- Thanks for having me here, Patty. I'm honored to join you in talking about one of my favorite 90s Nicktoons. The Angry Beavers was one of those cartoons that hit my preferred sweet spot of being both weird and genuinely funny. There are shows that are weird, like Ren & Stimpy, Adventure Time, and Flapjack, that I could never get into because they focused more on the bizarre than the jokes. Thankfully, this show, like Rocko's Modern Life, Pearls Before Swine, and Chowder, doesn't skimp out on humor in its bizarre premises, and I love it.

The Angry Beavers is about a pair of beaver brothers, Norbert and Daggett, who leave their dam after their parents give birth to a second litter. Out on their own, the two build their own dam where they plan to enjoy the good life as swingin' bachelors. Naturally, their lives of independence are filled with a variety of bizarre adventures, sometimes caused by their own lack of competence/impulse control, other times thrust upon them by outside forces.

Norbert Beaver, the older of the two brothers by four minutes, was voiced by Nick Bakay, a writer and actor best known for providing the voice of Salem the cat on the ABC sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch. He is the more intelligent of the pair, and usually has an easy-going attitude unless provoked or annoyed. He is rather self-centered, and occasionally uses his cunning to manipulate others (mostly his brother) into helping him get what he wants. Still, he does care for Daggett, looking out for his younger brother when he isn't swindling or fighting with him. Norbert sees himself as a sophisticated ladies' man, though he is prone to indulging in more immature activities. He also has a fondness for cheesy 50s sci-fi and horror movies. An odd quirk he shares with Daggett is mispronouncing words by putting the wrong emphasis on certain syllables, sucy as saying "myoo-vay" instead of "movie".

Younger brother Daggett Beaver was voiced by Richard Horvitz, previously best known for providing the voice of the robot Alpha 5 on the first four seasons of Mighty Morphing Power Rangers. Less intelligent, quicker to anger and more impulsive than Norbert, he frequently finds himself in trouble for his poorly thought out actions. Since he isn't as manipulative as his older brother, Daggett frequently antagonizes his sibling by annyoing him or provoking him into fights. He has several verbal tics, most notably saying "eeeh?" when confused, or verbalizes punctuation, most commonly ellipses, by saying "dot dot dot" aloud. In spite of his general stupidity, he has occasionally shown moments of intellectual prowess in areas like construction and engineering, suggesting he may be a savant with untapped potential.

Patricia- Not to mention all the amazingly hilarious supporting cast consisting of their friends Barry, Treeflower, Bing, Wolffe, Truckee, Big Rabbit, and the coolest guy around Stump. In every episode, Norbert and Daggett would go through crazy scenarios in such simplistic ways. Whether it's releasing a new disco album, staying up all night for the first time, becoming pets to a strange family, or getting box tops to purchase a street sweeper, it's always so fun seeing Norbert and Daggett playing off each other in a funny way.

The show was created by Mitch Schauer (pronounced shower). He had been a producer in other animated shows such as The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo and Freakazoid! The shows would have a lorlt of inside jokes and references mostly based on the creator and voice actors. For example, did you know that Norbert's sisters Stacy and Chelsea were named after Schauer's two daughters? They even voiced the characters whenever they appear in the episodes they did.

James- Schauer did have fun with in-jokes, meta references, and breaking the fourth wall. One notable example I remember is when the brothers got a letter announcing the birth of Richard Horvitz's son Jack. Then there was the episode "The Day The Earth Got Really Screwed Up" where the narrator quits at the end after becoming fed up with the nonsensical plot. Again, I like this for the same reason I like Pearls Before Swine; the characters are aware of the medium they're in, and can use it to make some clever jokes. This was taken to its extreme in the unaired series finale, but we'll discuss that later.

The writers clearly wanted Angry Beavers to appeal to both young and old audiences, so they often relied on innuendo and references that would go over the heads of children. One of the most prominent examples I can think of is the episode "Beaver Fever" where Dagget and Norbert become disco stars and engage in behavior reminiscent of the Beatles (bed-in protests, Daggett sparking outrage after saying he was more popular than sliced bread - a reference to John Lennon's controversial statement that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, rumors that Daggett acutally died that parody the "Paul is Dead" conspiracy theory.) Jokes like this fly past you when you're younger, but you're able to appreciate them better when you understand what it's poking fun at.

 Like Rocko's Modern Life, there were times when several risque jokes slipped past the censors. Most of the time, these were pun episode titles like "Specs Appeal", as well as a slew of jokes based on the word "dam", but there were other examples. The writers created their own fake curse word "spoot" that characters would frequently utter in situations of extreme frustration or shock, similar to "frak" from the original Battlestar Galactica. There was also an episode where Daggett's excessive slapping of his tail is used as a euphemism for masturbation. These jokes weren't as extreme as Rocko working for a sex line or Yakko telling Dot to "finger Prince", but they still drew some complaints from viewers who didn't want children exposed to that material. Oddly enough, the one case of censorship as a result of complaints was bleeping out the phrase "shut up." It's strange that such a simple phrase is the only thing that would get cancelled, but consider that certain animated shows airing in Canada will bleep out the word "loser" out of fear that it might offend children. Further proof that censorship makes very little sense.

Patricia- Yes, indeed. The inside jokes were indeed quite clever. In fact, they were more hidden from the kids than Ren & Stimpy or Rocko's Modern Life were. While the show did garner a few Emmys and Annie awards as well as many nominations, for some reason the show did not get the same praise and recognition compared to Ren and Stimpy was. It wasn't until years later that The Angry Beavers was deemed as a cult classic similar to Rocko's Modern Life. Thanks to the awesome guys at Shout Factory, you can catch the episodes on DVD and on Netflix.

James- I can see why it's still appreciated today. The Angry Beavers, at least in my opinion, still holds up very well. It wasn't a perfect show - there were several episodes where the ideas weren't executed properly, but that's to be expected with any series. There were also times when some jokes fell flat, running gags were used excessively, and a joke lost its impact by being explained. Overall, though, there were far more hits than misses. The unique art style, absurd situations, clever writing, and hilarious banter between Daggett and Norbert keep it entertaining 15 years later.

The show ran for four seasons, ending its run in 2001. A series finale titled "Bye Bye Beavers" was in development but never aired. This episode would have featured Norbert learning that they were about to be cancelled, sending him and his brother into an existential crisis similar to the five stages of grief. Not only was the fourth wall obliterated, but there were several jabs that Nickelodeon concerning how they could keep the show going in re-runs and continue to profit from it while the staff didn't see as much money. This is presumably why it was never completed. However, an audio track of the final recording is available online. You can check it out right here.

 Richard Horvitz has done voice-over work for several animated series and video games, including Invader Zim, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Ben 10, Dave the Barbarian, El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera, Psychonauts, and Destroy All Humans. He occasionally performs stand up and sketch comedy. Richard is married to Kristen Lazarian and has three sons.

Nick Bakay continued to provide the voice of Salem in Sabrina the Teenage Witch until it ended in 2003. He has since made appearances in several live action television series such as That 70s Show, The King of Queens, and 'Til Death, in which he also served as a producer. He is married to Robin Bakay.

Patricia- As for Mitch Schauer, he co-created a mini web series with Paul Rugg in 2008 called The Sam Plenty Calvacade of Action Plus Singing, he wrote and drew a graphic novel called Rip M.D., he was the supervising director of the Super Hero Super Squad, and he's currently working on an animated series based on Rip M.D.

Overall, while the show does have its flaws and may not be as well put together and cohesive as Ren & Stimpy or Rocko's Modern Life, The Angry Beavers shouldn't be overlooked and is recommended to check out. James, thank you so much for joining me in this review. I had a ton of fun collaborating with you. We should do it again sometime soon.

James- Thanks for having me here, Patty. I was glad I got the chance to talk about this show with you. Here's hoping it will inspire people who missed out on The Angry Beavers when it first aired to give it a look.

Patricia- Well said, James. That's all for now. Tune in next time as we have a double feature review with the late 90's game show Figure it Out and Nickelodeon's attempt to having a kid's version of Third Rock from the Sun, The Journey of Allen Strange.

Hope to see you around Old School Lane soon. Thanks for reading.

-Patricia and James

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