Cartoon Network premieres four new shows this week, none of them cartoons. These aren't the first CN shows to feature real people: There have been live-action "Ben 10" movies, based on the animated series, and the "Roger Rabbit"-style "Out of Jimmy's Head" in 2006. Indeed, the network's first real original production, "Space Ghost Coast to Coast," was cobbled together around interviews with living, breathing humans. (There is also a live-action "Scooby Doo" prequel slated for the fall.) And Adult Swim, CN's late-night alter ego, has the live-action "Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!" and "Saul of the Mole Men."
The new series are gathered together under the rubric CN Real, which is less a programming bloc than a sub-brand. (Two of the shows premiere tonight and two on Saturday.) As in the past, the current incursion of flesh and blood into the network's formerly fully 2-D Tooniverse has been met with dismay by (mostly adult) animation fans and CN purists -- I was about to write that it is a "hot topic of debate," but really there is no debate at all, just a collection of complementary assessments posted on various Internet message boards as to why this is a bad direction to take.
The point might be made that these shows -- by definition -- have not been created for that particular audience, but to serve younger, less particular CN viewers, and perhaps to steal a few new ones from Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. While any but the most juvenile cartoons are suitable for adults -- there is nothing guilty about the pleasure I get from "The Powerpuff Girls" -- most live-action teen shows are set up to mirror their audience.
All of the CN Real series play variations on previous adult reality shows: "Survive This" has a few things in common with "Survivor"; "The Othersiders" echoes Sci-Fi's "Ghost Hunters"; "Brain Rush" is a kind of accelerated cross between Discovery Channel's "Cash Cab" and the Comedy Central's "Distraction"; and "Destroy Build Destroy" lights up the same parts of the cerebral cortex as does "Monster Garage." None are as essential as the best of CN's animated fare, but none will do any harm to you or your children (or to you or your parents) and one looks to be fairly compelling.
The least of them is "Brain Rush" (premiering Saturday), a quiz show that tests one's ability to answer trivia questions while riding a roller coaster. It is exactly as amusing as the previous sentence suggests.
"The Othersiders" features a Scooby Gang of five teenagers who travel to reportedly haunted locations and apply infrared cameras and EMF detectors (that's "electromagnetic fluctuation," not the '90s British band that recorded "Unbelievable") to assess the presence of unquiet spirits. They are "skeptical" enough not to believe that every weird thing they see or hear is a message from the beyond -- but they do believe in messages from the beyond, and tend to accept what they can't explain as evidence for the paranormal. In the pilot episode they bravely venture into L.A.'s own abandoned Lincoln Heights jail. Ruh-roh!
The best thing about "The Othersiders," which starts tonight, is the interaction among the kids, and teamwork is also at the heart of "Survive This," a Canadian import hosted by outdoorsman Les Stroud of Discovery Channel's "Survivorman." Stroud takes eight kids "from eight different walks of life" -- the City Boy, the Tough Girl, the Princess, the Hunter, the Motivator, and so on -- and leaves them out in the woods to fend more or less for themselves. "If the group is going to do well they'll need to work together," says Stroud, which is exactly the opposite of how it works on other TV survival shows. (Here, elimination is self-selecting.) In the opening episode a girl gets her lip caught in a pocketknife, but coming attractions promise worse injuries to come and no dearth of tears. This is the deepest of these shows.
Finally there is the basically critic-proof "Destroy Build Destroy," debuting Saturday and hosted by Andrew W.K., of "Party Hard" fame. (You may recall his bloody face on the cover of his album "I Get Wet" -- this may not be an animated cartoon, but Andrew certainly is animated, and he's a bit of a cartoon.) The best way to describe the show is just to tell you what happens on the one episode I've seen: Two teams of thematically grouped teens (Skaters versus Math Club this time) each wreck an SUV belonging to the other team. These are then rebuilt, with adult assistance, into Mad-Maxian battle machines. Tennis balls are shot at targets, and the winning team then gets to destroy the other team's vehicle. Leaders emerge. Dynamite, sledgehammers and a mortar are involved.
'Othersiders' and 'Survive This'
Where: Cartoon Network
When: 8 and 8:30 tonight
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)