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TV Picks: 'Bravest Warriors,' 'Gritty City,' 'The Tonight Show''

February 14, 2014|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • A scene from "Bravest Warriors," a Web-based cartoon created by Pendleton Ward ("Adventure Time") and developed in part by Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi ("The Adventures of Pete & Pete").
A scene from "Bravest Warriors," a Web-based cartoon created… (Cartoon Hangover / Frederator )

"Bravest Warriors" (Cartoon Hangover/YouTube). Given the enormity of my affection for the works of Pendleton Ward ("Adventure Time"), who created these characters, and Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi ("The Adventures of Pete & Pete") -- who, with writer-director Breehn Burns ("Dr. Tran"), helped develop Ward's 2009 "Random! Cartoons" short about a multicultural quartet of 31st century teenage space heroes into this Web series -- it surprises me that I have taken so long to get around to watching it. Possibly, as with all things I hope to take seriously, I was waiting for a moment of ease and concentration.

Realizing that that would never happen, I finally clicked the mouse. (Yes, friends, I am still using mouse-based computer technology.) For the period of this writing, at least, "Bravest Warriors" is my favorite thing on the planet. (Though, to be fair, not my only favorite thing on the planet.)

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Although, for reasons the Internet has not disclosed, the credit "created by Pendleton Ward" that opened every Season 1 cartoon has disappeared in the second, replaced by a development credit for McRobb, Viscardi and Burns, the series is very much in the style and spirit of Ward's "Adventure Time." It is "scientific" where "Adventure Time" is magical, but it has its look, and its cadences, its rubbery limbs and noseless faces, its declarative sentences full of strange information, its poetical sensibility. (I am a person who finds poetry in a line like, "The fate of Bunless Nine is riding on this dance mixer," admittedly.) It is a bit more mature, without being too adult about it -- characters talk about "smooching" and "getting sassy." It is sexy on an Archie Comics level, or just above it, with allowances made for extraterrestrial notions of intimacy. But it is love, mainly, that makes these worlds go round, with the central recurring question of whether Warrior Chris will admit that, notwithstanding his protestations that "our bond goes way beyond all that stereotypical male-female jive," he is in love with Warrior Beth, when everyone else can see they're connected "in a soft-rock, soulmates-in-puberty kind of way."

"Pete & Pete" fans may sense familiar ground. "Doctor Who" fans might sense common cause.

Ward-like, too, are the smaller creatures who populate the periphery of the action, like Catbug (a cat with ladybug wings and a child's voice and manner) and the gelatinous Jellykid, who produces slices of bread from thin air. There are a butter lettuce party with Chippendale unicorn; cereal made with seahorse dreams and rainbow spit; a "gas-powered stick" (it never runs out of gas); a computer-generated elf who gains independent being, grows huge, and threatens to absorb/enslave the universe in pink bliss; a horse "frozen in my awe and knowledge of forever." All within the pulsing bounds of the "space-time calliope," as it is repeatedly called. Beautiful.

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"The Whole Gritty City" (CBS, Saturday). Like many documentary films, this feature-length look at New Orleans, marching bands, kids and band directors took a while to get done. Shot from 2007 to 2010, it was finished with funds raised from Kickstarter and acquired by CBS, which is airing it under the rubric of its crime-umentary series "48 Hours." (Richard Barber, who edited the film and co-directed it with Andre Lambertson, its director of photography, works for the series.) The venue is not entirely inappropriate -- murder is a recurring theme through the film, a low, dissonant pedal tone that fades up occasionally but never completely fades away. But it is not the dominant note, which is the creation of harmony, figuratively, literally.

It's sometimes hard to track -- there are three bands, three band directors and numerous young players, and it is not always easy to remember who goes with whom, and who goes where, and the film, which (excitingly) is as close to cinema verite as network television ever gets, jumps around between them, without narration or much in the way of identifying titles. But since all bend toward similar goals, with similar obstacles in the way, it is all, in a sense, the same story; the end, which is at once heartbreaking and hopeful, makes that clear. ("Treme" fans may be reminded of Wendell Pierce's story line, in which an itinerant trombonist finds himself -- and finds himself -- slowly becoming a teacher.) It is a look at life, rather than a structured argument; or rather, the argument is made continually, with casual eloquence.

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