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TELEVISION REVIEW

Animation for adult eyes only

September 27, 2008|Robert Lloyd | Times Television Critic

There are cartoons and then there are cartoons. Some are the kind that, if not always made specifically for children, are nevertheless child-friendly: This might include anything from "Bugs Bunny" to the "The Simpsons" and, depending on the household, even "South Park." And then there are cartoons that should be kept as out of reach from the kids as blowtorches, Scotch and Hustler.

Cartoon Network's nighttime programming block Adult Swim has become almost synonymous with new-generation, not-for-tots TV animation. Its latest offering is a bloody psychedelic romp called "Superjail." The series, which premieres Sunday, seems tailored for the sort of people who laughed their way through "Saw." Awash in decapitation, evisceration, mutilation and many other unsavory things ending in "-ation," it's "The Itchy & Scratchy Show" stretched out to half an hour, on acid. Fans of CN's gory "Metalocalypse" will know where they are.

It is set in a huge, island prison staffed by the Warden, a dandy in a top hat and bow tie (voiced by David Wain, of the diverting Web series "Wainy Days"); his large-headed assistant Jared, a recovering alcoholic haunted by talking bottles; steroidal guard Alice, on whom the Warden unrequitedly dotes; and a robot enforcer. There is a mysterious pair of twins who may or may not be prisoners, but whose ability to teleport makes that question moot. They are all basically engines for havoc.

Co-creators Christy Karacas and Stephen Warbrick were already known for their short "Barfight," which, broadly speaking, is restaged here, in Superjail's Superbar. (Third co-creator Ben Gruber wrote for "Speed Racer: The Next Generation," and Augenblick Studios, which produces the show, was responsible also for the cartoon elements of the transgressive kids' show parody, "Wonder Showzen.") The look of the show -- which is Baroque and complicated and hard to take in at a single viewing -- owes something to underground comics. I thought of Kim Deitch, Suehiro Maruo, S. Clay Wilson and, most of all, Tony Millionaire, whose own "Drinky Crow" has also been made into a Cartoon Network pilot. The violence is not exactly my speed, but the show is made with a bold assurance, and as a thing of color and motion it has a certain weird beauty. It takes full advantage of its being a cartoon: It realizes the impossible.

HBO, which last invested in animation a decade ago with the comic-book adaptation "Spawn," is trying again with the Adult Swim-styled animated sitcom "The Life & Times of Tim," also premiering Sunday. Like much else on HBO, it works the bad language and sexual subject matter, but it isn't visually explicit, and it certainly isn't violent, although it can be pretty icky at times.

The series focuses on New York slacker-salaryman Tim, who works for the generic Omnicorp and somehow manages to hang on to the girlfriend he is constantly offending. Creator and voice-of-Tim Steve Dildarian, whose previous credits are all in advertising -- he wrote the Budweiser Lizard ads and wrote and voiced their charming donkey-that-wanted-to-be-a-Clydesdale commercial -- developed the series from his "Angry Unpaid Hooker" short (remade here). He comes across, vocally, like a mix of Ray Romano and Jon Benjamin, from "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist," and handles himself well for a non-pro.

Like "Dr. Katz," a cartoon it resembles in the conversational tone of its dialogue and the intentional crudeness of its animation, it is as dry as Melba toast. Basically, Tim is a perennial loser who gets himself into trouble by saying yes to bad requests. ("I don't like where this is going," he'll say. Then he goes there.) I didn't find much of it funny, but on a kind of purely analytical level I can see how the jokes are supposed to work, and might well work on some.

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'Superjail'

Where: Cartoon Network

When: 11:45 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-MA-V (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17, with an advisory for violence)

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'The Life & Times of Tim'

Where: HBO

When: 11 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

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