John Callahan doesn't do cute. Razor-edged observations of human weirdness, told through an unsettlingly bizarre cartoon populace, are more his style. So it's no surprise that this much lauded, nationally syndicated cartoonist's first animated series for kids is anything but sweetness and light.
The adolescent anarchic spirit in "Pelswick," premiering tonight on Nickelodeon, is familiar territory: a gleeful skewering of authority, the educational system and political correctness. Callahan's style is a visual feast, however, and the title character is a groundbreaker: Paralyzed from the chest down, he uses a wheelchair--as does Callahan himself.
Pelswick, no victim or saint, can hold his own. He's a wry, funny, typically complicated middle-school kid--even though he has a guardian angel-advisor whom no one else can see, named Mr. Jimmy.
In the first episode, Pelswick's dad, a benign Mr. Potato Head-ish professor, refers to girls as "mustache-challenged" and boys as "the bicycle crossbar-endowed." When the school's ditsy vice principal gets mustard splattered on his suit, he blithely changes into a Sugar Plum Fairy outfit to finish out the day, complete with tutu.