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 V.13 No.46 | November 11 - 17, 2004 

Idiot Box

A Toon Too Twisted?

“Tom Goes to the Mayor” on Cartoon Network

Some time in the future, at some as-yet-to-be-determined court trial, the new Cartoon Network series “Tom Goes to the Mayor” will be used to prove that the people in charge of CN's Adult Swim programming block have gone irrevocably insane. That isn't to say that the show is bad. It's certainly original and amusing in its own otherworldly way. But the show is definitely proof positive that the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

The adult-oriented toons on Adult Swim have definitely gotten increasingly odder and more surreal in recent months. Old faves like “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” and newer shows like “The Venture Brothers” still rank among my weekly comedy highlights. But, with shows like “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” and “The Brak Show” having hit the end of their runs, the network has been on the hunt for replacements. And, man, have that scraped up some strange stuff. (Although fresh imports like the brain-bending “Milk-Chan Show” prove that the Japanese are still capable of out-weirding us lazy Americans any day of the week.)

“Tom Goes to the Mayor” is one of the network's newest offerings, probing the strange new frontiers of animation. The show, executive produced by “Mr. Show” creator Bob Odenkirk, is a baffling little series about the titular Tom, a helpful if bored everyman who moves to the tiny town of Jefferton. There, he pays regular visits to The Mayor, who seems like a genial but rather clueless public official. Tom, bursting with ideas, suggests various ways to “improve” Jefferton. The enthusiastic Mayor often embellishes Tom's ideas, resulting in assorted harebrained experiments. In one show, Tom and the Mayor plan to protect Jefferton's children by surrounding them with bear traps. In another, they decide to celebrate Pioneer Days by cutting off the town's power supply for a week. The ensuing chaos is played out with low-key, deadpan humor.

Visually, the show takes some getting used to. It goes beyond the “limited animation” style pioneered by Hanna-Barbera. The show consists largely of photographs of real actors that have been badly photocopied and tinted. They click stiffly along with the semi-regularity of a malfunctioning elementary school film strip. All in all, the show looks like some lost punk zine from the early '80s.

Assorted guest stars pop up every week, giving voice to Jefferton's cracked citizenry. In the first episode, for example, Tenacious D founders Jack Black and Kyle Gass play a pair of competing bear trap salesmen. (Naturally, their appearance is capped off by a song.) Future guests include Patton Oswalt and Jeff Goldblum.

Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of “Tom Goes to the Mayor.” It's funny in a “Gee, isn't that curious” way rather than a bust out laughing way. Still, its queer, kitschy Americana could grow on me. Or it could just make for an odd palate-cleanser following increasingly bizarre episodes of “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.” Either way, I'm sticking with Adult Swim until somebody on staff gets carted off to the loony bin.

“Tom Goes to the Mayor” premieres on Sunday, Nov. 14, at 12:30 a.m. on Cartoon Network.

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