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In Praise of Homestar Runner

28 September 2009 Things We Like 6,139 views One CommentPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

“The Simpsons” is now in its 20th season. Thanks to Matt Groening, Sam Simon and James L. Brooks, we have been well-supplied with smart, adult-themed animated situation comedy for two decades. And the show’s runaway success has bred others:  The makers of “Family Guy,” “South Park”  and Adult Swim’s nihilistic lineup of animated shows have furnished us with a small army of  cartoon cutups, dropping their edited f-bombs into your Tivo every night of the week.

Yet for all this spirited competition, I wouldn’t call any one of these shows the king of the  hill. (Nor would I give that honor to Mike Judge’s now-cancelled “King of the Hill.”) In fact, the best animated sitcom that’s currently in production isn’t on television at all.

Now in its ninth year, the Flash-animated comedy site Homestar Runner consistently delivers the goods week after week. There are a hundred reasons why I think Strong Bad, Teen Girl Squad and Homestar Runner himself are still relevant and funny on the cusp of their first decade – indeed, even more relevant and funny than “The Simpsons” has been since the late 1990s – but for the sake of brevity and for the greater glory of the nation of Strong Badia (“Population: tire”), I’ve narrowed these manifold reasons down to a boxing-gloved fistful.

The “show-runners” of Homestar Runner are accountable to no one. Brothers Mike and Matt Chapman voice, score and animate every Strong Bad Email, Decemberween special and Teen Girl Squad episode themselves, with some help from close friends. They don’t have corporate overlords or promotional partners – every penny the site makes comes from merchandise sales, and the site’s word-of-mouth remains so strong after a decade that Chapmans scarcely need to advertise. As a result, Homestar Runner can do pretty much whatever it wants without the burden of studio notes or corporate demands for characters that might make good action figures.

The humor of Homestar Runner isn’t mean-spirited. Strong Bad’s ongoing conflict with his endearingly dirt-stupid rival Homestar seldom results in more than a murmured aside or a colorful but empty threat. (He did punch Homestar once, but it was justified: Homestar hijacked one of Strong Bad’s shorts, interrupting him to show off his new “tricked-out” propeller beanie. “When you spin it,” Homestar bragged, “it plays the theme from ‘Night Court.’”)

Also, Homestar’s humor isn’t anchored in the current popular culture – a rarity these days. The characters have lives that are recognizably modern – they’re enthralled by trends, crave new gadgets, share celebrity gossip – but the Chapmans have created their own celebrities and products within Homestar’s universe, and largely avoid names and references that could date the episodes over time. One character idolizes a stock-model emo band called “Sloshy”; Homestar himself is the pitchman for a “flavor-encrusted” soft drink called “Melonade.” Even Matt Groening’s terrific show “Futurama,” set thousands of years in the future, dates itself with references to Segway scooters and “Baywatch.”

The Chapmans don’t limit themselves to one kind of programming. Every week brings new and altogether different surprises. You could get a new cartoon, or a music video (the Chapmans have produced enough original music for the site to fill several soundtrack CDs), or even an old-school video game. Even the site’s menu changes from time to time.

The voice work is exquisite. Truly great animated productions are separated from the merely good by how much fun the voice actors are having with the script, which is why the rudimentary animation of “South Park” works and also why I’ve never finished an episode of “Squidbiillies.” Matt Chapman provides voices for most of the characters in Homestar’s universe – a gruff, Brooklyn-esque dialect for Strong Bad, a spacey surfer-dude palaver for Homestar Runner, a Midwestern drawl peppered with hip-hop idioms for Coach Z and varied voices for more than a dozen other characters. The conversations Champman has with himself makes me wonder if he’s simply found a way to make dissociative identity disorder work to his benefit.

It’s almost endlessly quotable. Many are the times that I’ve declared “a jillion is not a real unit of measure.” accused one or the other of my cats of being a “lazy crap-for-crap,” or proudly told a new business acquaintance that I was “raised by a cup of coffee.”

And I’ll tell you what: Ten years from today, the right people will still be singing the heavy metal praises of Trogdor the Burninator, while they struggle to remember who this “Bartman” was.

Geoff Carter

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One Comment »

  1. […] it can’t be lightened a bit by a peek at The Onion, XKCD or Wondermark. Even the venerable Homestar Runner can get a modest laugh out of me every so […]

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