"Drawn Together," which premieres tonight on Comedy Central, bills itself as the world's first animated reality show, though all this means is that it parodies "The Real World" and similar unscripted dormitory series, while being completely scripted itself.
Created and written by Matt Silverstein and Dave Jeser, with characters co-developed by former "Simpsons" animator Jordan Young, it replicates some of the narrative and visual tropes of the reality genre -- the video diaries, the optical zooms, the domestic anxiety, the hooking up, the hot tub -- and plays with some of the visual conventions of different cartoon styles. And that is about as smart as it gets.
Billeted together are eight cartoon genre parodies: Captain Hero (Superman, et al), Clara (generic Disney fairy-tale princess), Toot (Betty Boop, but running to fat), Foxxy Love (Josie of the Pussycats, but black), Ling-Ling (Pikachu, but evil), Wooldoor Sockbat (SpongeBob SquarePants, more or less), "video game adventurer" Xandir and Spanky Ham (voiced by "Man Show" co-creator and co-host Adam Carolla), an "Internet download" who spends most of his time urinating on or defecating into things not usually used for the purpose.
The main conflict in the opening episode is between Clara and Foxxy -- Clara assumes Foxxy is a servant, because she's black. They fight like cats before moving on to what Shakespeare called "girl-on-girl action."
Toot, meanwhile, lusts after Xandir (who is gay, but doesn't know it), and expresses it by repeatedly exposing her black-and-white (pixelated) breasts.
She also cuts herself with a razor, chops off her head with a guillotine, dies twice by hitting her head on a coffee table and is eaten by Ling-Ling. (The most authentically perverse thing about the series is that Tara Strong, the voice of sweet little Powerpuff Girl Bubbles, is also the voice of Toot.)
There is euphemistic sex talk. There are penis and nipple jokes. There is a lot of drinking.
Synopses can be misleading, but you should be able to tell from the preceding whether this series -- eight episodes is all for now -- is for you. I'm sure there are those who will find it an outrageous good time. But its comic vision, to use too strong a word, is little more than the child's delight in hearing funny words for feces.
Back in 1967, the Realist, an underground newsletter, infamously published comic artist Wally Wood's "Disneyland Memorial Orgy," featuring all the stars in Walt's pantheon engaged in every manner of sexual pose and congress.
There was some cultural validity to that then, not only as an attempt to epater le bourgeoisie, but as an expression of sexual and generational revolution. It was also an assault on unreality.
But here on the far side of R. Crumb, Ralph Bakshi and "Heavy Metal," the notion of cartoon characters getting it on is as stale as the smell of old beer.
"Drawn Together" also seems to want to steal a little of the weird magic of such Cartoon Network series as "Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law" and "Space Ghost Coast to Coast," which make comedy from exchanging the blunt perfection of animated superheroes for something more recognizably lifelike: ordinary egomania, insecurity, obsession with trivia. Those are clever series, but there is a fine line between stupid and clever, and "Drawn Together" is pretty much the former.
Vileness and crudity are no impediment to humor; indeed, properly applied, they can be funny and even liberating. And it can be hard to recognize at first: "South Park" seemed merely juvenile to me initially, rather than the juvenile-but-not-merely attack on adult American hypocrisy it is. But I don't expect to be similarly converted here.
The targets aren't interesting, and the jokes aren't funny, and when it does seem to want to say something -- about racism, for instance -- the argument seems manufactured, and has little to do with the reality either of cartoons or the "Real World" generation, whose attitude toward race is, if anything, more flexible than their parents'.
Where: Comedy Central
When: 10:30 tonight
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under age 17)
Executive producers, creators and writers, Matt Silverstein and Dave Jeser.