Thursday, November 11, 2010

Missing Liquid Television

There was a time not too long ago when MTV was a channel worth watching.  As recently as the early 1990s, it had a lineup full of music videos that could be like great short films featuring bands that occasionally played great music.  Between the blocks of music were some fantastic, though often bizarre, original programs.  A pre-fame Ben Stiller had his own sketch comedy show that ran for a season before moving on to FOX.  A pre-fame Jon Stewart had his own talk show for two seasons long before The Daily Show.  There were scores of strange game shows.  But, without question, my favorite MTV original was Liquid Television, an animated anthology show that ran on MTV from 1991 through 1994.

Liquid Television was the spiritual precursor to the Adult Swim shows that became a cult hit on Cartoon Network in the new millennium.  The cartoons being shown were not made for children.  In fact, the target audience for Liquid TV, like Adult Swim, would have to be described as 18-30 year-olds who happen to be under the influence.  Or kids like me I suppose.  Each episode had about 12 shorts, each made by a different animator in a different style.  There was computer animation, traditional animation, claymation, construction-paper animation, etc.  Once in a while, there was some live action thrown into the mix.  The only common thread between the cartoons was a complete sense of weirdness.

Consider 'Aeon Flux', one of the recurring segments on Liquid TV.  'Aeon' looked like the comic book-style action anime that was being produced in Asia at the time.  Yet each segment, which lasted only 2 minutes or so, contained no dialogue (or at least no dialogue that was understandable) and the titular heroine died a grizzly death every time out.  And, of course, there was the sexual element...

 'Aeon Flux' went on to spawn its own half-hour MTV series (like Beavis & Butthead, who appeared on Liquid TV few times before MTV gave them their own show in 1994) and eventually a feature film starring Charlize Theron, with each iteration getting further and further away from what made the original shorts so good.  I'll admit that I didn't see the movie, but I saw what Charlize is wearing on the posters, and I will go out on a limb and say that there were no scenes of creepy ear-licking.  If there ever was a movie that was made to be R-rated, that was it.

I am not a great admirer of animation.  I will take a live action movie any day, but the animation on Liquid TV - in contrast to much of what is on Adult Swim nowadays - was dynamic and striking.  Don't get me wrong - it's not that I don't enjoy watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force or Sealab 2020.  They are hilarious and odd in the best sense of the word.  However, Liquid Television combined these elements with a visual splendor that makes me wish that there were still TV networks that would take a chance and put up some money for something different.  The Internet has become the new medium for the risk-takers, but I will sometimes flip channels at 2 in the morning and wish that I could stumble on something as crazy and funny as Liquid Television.


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