Pity the poor cartoon character. Unable to speak for himself against those who would redraw or rewrite him, he is the slave and plaything of whomever owns the copyright. The human fan can only watch or not and note that in most cases the better work is not usually the latest, and that theatrical versions of old cartoons are almost invariably superior to their television revivals.
But revivals there will be. “The Looney Tunes Show,” which debuts Tuesday night on CN, at the big-kid-but-not-little-kid-friendly hour of 8 p.m., is the latest attempt to do something new with the Warner Bros. roster of cartoon players -- the greatest cartoon cast of them all, to my mind. It is a certainly a new take on the classics, making suburban neighbors of its players in a show framed like a sitcom, and while it doesn’t improve on the originals, it does not at least turn them into toddlers, as in the 2002 “Baby Looney Tunes.” It’s useful to remember that even in their youth these characters evolved, and taken on its own merits, ignoring the cognitive dissonance, the show can be pretty amusing.
Bugs Bunny, badly re-proportioned with a big head and big feet, and Daffy Duck are at the center of the action. (Both are well voiced by Jeff Bergman, who has voiced them before.) When they shared a cartoon in times gone long by, they were adversaries, the cool rabbit versus the overheated waterfowl. Here they are not only best friends -- the words “You’re despicable” will not be heard -- but roommates. (“I’m just crashing here until I get back on my feet,” Daffy protests to Speedy Gonzalez, who points out that five years cannot be described as crashing.) They lead a modern life, in a big house with a flat-screen television and stone-topped kitchen counters. Bugs works out on a treadmill; there are laptops and email and texting.
Bugs is not the wiseguy he once was; Daffy is an amiable, excitable idiot. Let’s listen in:
Bugs: “I bet if you looked up ‘self-absorbed’ in the dictionary you’d find your picture.” (“Self-absorbed” is, I would guess, a phrase new to him.)
Daffy: “My picture’s in the dictionary?”
Some of the characters have been given new backstories or jobs, as if they had entered a cartoon witness protection program -- Marvin the Martian is now “a former foreign exchange student from Mars who went to Daffy’s high school”; Speedy Gonzalez, voiced by Fred Armisen, “owns the local pizza place, Pizzarriba”; and Foghorn Leghorn has become “a rich entrepreneur and adventurer.” Sylvester, Tweetie, Porky, Yosemite Sam, Elmer Fudd and Granny (still voiced by June Foray) are all here as well, along with the relatively recent Lola Bunny (a very funny Kristin Wiig).
There are also “music videos” -- Elmer Fudd singing a soul ballad to grilled cheese, or “gwiwwed cheese” -- which are weird in good and bad ways, and brief CGI Road Runner-Coyote segments have something of the quality of ViewMaster slides. They are sort of neat, but brevity is certainly the soul of their wit.
‘The Looney Tunes Show’
Where: Cartoon Network
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday’
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)