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Television Review

Look Who's Learning Now: 'Teacher's Pet'

September 09, 2000|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

World-renowned artist and illustrator Gary Baseman's edgy cartoon noir art can be found in everything from Rolling Stone and Mother Jones to the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. Now fans can follow him to Saturday morning cartoon-land.

Baseman's visually mind-blowing new animated series, "Disney's Teacher's Pet," debuts today. In it, Baseman, creator and executive producer, has shaped an entire world of his signature off-kilter, weird characters--heads like bowling pins, peg-like teeth, staring eggy eyes, pickle-like noses, unearthly physiques and skin tones.

Based on an "educational/informational" message that it's OK to be excited about learning, it's about a knowledge-hungry dog whose determination to go to school leads him to infiltrate his young owner's fourth-grade class, disguised as a kid. Spot-turned-Scott blissfully learns long division and participles. He makes friends, runs for class president, and no one notices he's a pooch, except owner Leonard. Now, if he can just avoid such temptations as fire hydrants and cat-chasing . . .

Leonard, meanwhile, has to contend with the fact that not only is his dog more popular than he is, his mom is the teacher.

Besides Baseman, there's star power to burn in this eyebrow-raising show. The Emmy-winning sitcom writing team of Bill and Cheri Steinkellner ("Cheers") are the story engineers. Along with Baseman, they are also executive producers on the show. Broadway luminary Nathan Lane heads the voice cast as Spot, whose periodic soliloquies are nearly Shakespearean; Jerry Stiller is big-mouthed Pretty Boy, an opinionated parrot; David Ogden Stiers is a fussy indoor tabby cat named Mr. Jolly; and Wallace Shawn is cranky, dog-hating Principal Strickler.

In addition to numerous sight gags and verbal quips, the show uses musical accents to riotous effect, with snippets of symphonic, choral, opera, patriotic, jazz and pop works, from "The Nutcracker Ballet" to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

On the down side, the show goes overboard with its own cleverness and is intermittently crass, hyperkinetic and loud--disappointingly like the prerequisite anarchy of any number of other kids' shows. But when the writing's hot, it's a howl, and visually it's like nothing else, thanks to Baseman's superb rendering of his uniquely bizarre, slightly disturbing universe.

*

* "Disney's Teacher's Pet" premieres today at 8:50 a.m. on ABC. The network has rated it TV-Y (suitable for all ages).

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