Jan 22 - 28, 2009 
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Idiot Box

Science Fiction

“Look Around You” on Cartoon Network

By Devin D. O’Leary

You can argue over whether Cartoon Network’s recent move toward more non-animated entertainment (“Goosebumps,” “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace,” “Tim and Eric, Awesome Show, Great Job!”) is a good thing or a bad thing. Or you could just shut up and enjoy the laughs you’re given. Cartoon Network’s latest Sunday night Adult Swim addition is a fine example. “Look Around You” is a welcome BBC import largely devoid of animation but perfectly suited for CN’s block of mature, late-night weirdness.

“Look Around You” is a straight-faced parody of old educational series from the late ’70s and early ’80s. The creators of “Look Around You” nail the low-budget look and patronizing tone of these junky old shows perfectly. I can still vividly recall sitting in class on rainy afternoons watching scratchy filmstrips of “The Search for Solutions,” a nine-part scientific documentary series narrated by Stacy Keach and featuring eerie music by Pat Metheny. (When is that coming out on DVD?)

Each episode of “Look Around You” concentrates on a different topic--from germs to math to computers to ghosts. The central joke here is that, for all its serious posturing, “Look Around You” provides wildly inaccurate information. In fact, “Look Around You” is best described as “anti-informative”--doling out such off-kilter nuggets as “germs originated in Germany before spreading rapidly throughout the rest of the world.” Did you know “maths” stands for “mathematical anti-telharsic harfatum septomin”? Spend a few episodes hanging around “Look Around You” and you’ll be able to dazzle your friends with brilliant esoteric information like “ghosts can’t whistle.”

The brief show (10 to 15 minutes, which is well in line with Adult Swim’s other offerings) jumps from segment to segment, discussing various factoids, proposing assorted questions and urging viewers to mark down answers in their corresponding classroom workbooks. Answers are graded at the end. Sort of. If you didn’t grow up watching cheap PBS filler, odds are good you won’t “get” what’s happening here. If, like me, you can easily call up those dull, rainy elementary school afternoons, “Look Around You” is dead on the mark.

The show is the work of Robert Popper (“Peep Show,” “The IT Crowd”) and Peter Serafinowicz (who’s been on dozens of British comedy shows, but is best known--oddly enough--as the voice of Darth Maul). Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll spot the occasional guest star like Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Nick Frost from Shaun of the Dead or David Walliams of “Little Britain” fame.

There are only 14 episodes, so “Look Around You” really doesn’t have time to wear out its comedic premise. Catch it while you can, and be sure to show off your newfound knowledge. Everyone’s impressed by trivia about sulfur. Even if it’s wildly inaccurate.

“Look Around You” airs every Sunday night at 11 p.m. on Cartoon Network.

 
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