Wonder Showzen is MTV2's deliciously adult take on mid-70s children's programming like Sesame Street and The Electric Company. Mean-spirited puppets, befuddled children and subversive guest star appearances by the likes of Amy Sedaris and David Cross abound.
The lunchbox gift set will hit shelves on December 12th. The set contains Seasons 1 and 2 of MTV2's cult hit, which means no new content, but hey, cool lunchbox.
It is indeed a sad day, fellow fans of Wonder Showzen. In an interview with Radar, show creators Vernon Chatman and John Lee have said that MTV2 has still given no official word on whether their subversive, blood-soaked, drug-addled tribute to children's shows will return for a third season. Currently, Lee says the answer is about "ninety percent 'no'" as to whether or not the show will return.
As is the case with most shows that includes kids dressed up as a dead Pope, dozens of scenes segmented on the screen and played simultaneously, a dog pulling a baby from a pregnant woman's womb while she's being killed in an electric chair and puppets dry humping the Bible, Wonder Showzen had a devoted fanbase but never got the ratings that would make a network want to keep it around. It's not much consolation, but the second season does come out on DVD today, so you can always pop it into the ol' DVD player and remember the good times. Also, the brains at Adult Swim have expressed their love for Wonder Showzen, so maybe there's still a small glimmer of hope for the show after all. Keep the faith, brothers and sisters.
Ever since getting a Tivo a little over a year ago, I no longer watch TV shows when they actually air. When I'm not catching up with what's on my recorder, I'm either reading, listening to podcasts, or pounding out a blog post about what I'm watching on television. The big deletion from my Tivo Season Pass this year is House. I still admire the show, but for me the magic is gone. The season opener sat on my Tivo for quite a few days, unwatched. When I finally sat down to view it I realized, about fifteen minutes into it, that I had completely lost interest in it. I didn't even finish the episode, and took it off my Tivo for good. Perhaps my attitude will change in the coming weeks, but who knows? Anyway, some of these shows are winding down their current seasons, some have yet to air. All times are Central because I live in Minnesota.
I really need to read Joel Stein more often because the man is quite an entertaining read. In his latest column he takes a few shots at Elmo, which may seem like the equivalent of a grown man kicking a preschooler in the face, and it is, but he does seem to have a legitimate beef with the little red Muppet. Now, I usually dismiss tirades against Elmo as uniformed, because most of them accuse him of being somewhat low in IQ compared to the other Muppets on Sesame Street. The thing is, Elmo's character was evolved from a background character in such a way as to give him the mentality of a preschool age or younger child, someone the toddlers could relate to while their older siblings enjoyed other aspects of the show. Stein sees that as a real problem, however. To him, and to Wonder Showzen creators Vernon Chatman and John Lee, who he also quotes in his column, Elmo is a solipsistic creature infinitely infatuated with himself. As Stein puts it, "We are breeding a nation of Anna Nicole Smiths." Being 29 with no kids, I don't follow Sesame Street that closely anymore, but like a rock band that's way past its prime, it sounds like the show's glory days are way behind it now.
The second season of Wonder Showzen, MTV2's hidden subversive gem, will be out on DVD on October 17. If you haven't seen the show, it's essentially what Sesame Street would be if the writers and performers injected LSD directly into their brains before taping every episode. The set will include all eight episodes from the second season, outtakes from the "Clarence" and "Beat Kids" segments, a Wonder Showzen storybook, and assorted games, featurettes and other nonsense. You know, DVD-type stuff. Besides being one of the funniest, sickest, and oddest shows to ever hit the airwaves, the show also featured a lot of great comedians in guest roles, including Amy Sedaris, David Cross, Zach Galifianakis, and Jon Glaser.
It has become clear from the last couple episodes of Wonder Showzen that the creators like to mess with people, whether it be people on the street or the people at home. Last week's episode, which was devoted entirely to a show-within-a-show called "Horse Apples," coupled with this episode which consisted of nothing but Clarence telling people on the street they could make better TV and then leaving the camera on them while they either stare blankly, pontificate, or get angry, both seem to stem from the same dadaistic mindset that made Andy Kaufman both hysterical and frustrating. This, I guess, is both a praise and critique of the show. On one hand, it's embracing the kind of "anti-everything" attitude a show like Wonder Showzen should have, but the gag doesn't feel especially new.
Stepping back and looking at this season as a whole, and disregarding the last two episodes, I think it was pretty solid, and if the show gets renewed for a third season, I would expect to see more great episodes with gags packed in so tight you have no choice but to watch episodes more than once to catch everything. I also expect more episodes like this last one, where they take a few risks and try something different so some guy can write some boring blog post about the philosophy behind it all. And honestly, I think that's great. Exceeding expectations is always cool, but when you flat out refuse to even try to meet expectations ... well, it doesn't make for great television, but I admire that kind of moxie.
I'm a big fan of Wonder Showzen, not only because I find it subversive and hilarious, but also because the show can make a person downright uncomfortable at times with some of its graphic scenes. I recall an animated segment in a recent episode in which a dog pulls a bloody fetus out of a woman while she's being killed in the electric chair. That's just one example of many in which the show tries to simultaneously tickle both your funnybone and your gag reflex. This has led me to the conclusion that John Lee and Vernon Chatman, the creators of Wonder Showzen, should make a horror film. I think the surreal, visceral approach they sometimes use could result in a horror flick that's truly unique. I imagine something along the lines of Dario Argento's films, horrific but oddly fascinating at the same time. I doubt they have any intention of doing so, but they could, that's what I'm saying.
(S02E07) You know, it's like sitting down for chocolate ice cream and getting strawberry ice cream instead. Sure, you like strawberry ice cream just fine, and heck, it's better than no ice cream at all, but you were still expecting chocolate.
Last night Wonder Showzen did what I could only describe as "pulling a Terrance and Phillip" and dedicated an entire episode to a show within a show. None of our usual puppet pals were around for this episode, instead we got to watch a half hour of Horse Apples, the Hee-Haw spoof which we first saw in the episode titled Knowledge. Now, if you go to the official MTV2 site for the show, they have the episode listed as "Mathematics," which as far as I can tell is actually the season finale, set to air next week. I have no idea what the title of this "not really an episode" episode is supposed to be, but if anyone knows for sure, inform me in the comments.
(S02E06) If there was any doubt in my mind about the brilliance that is Wonder Showzen, it was put to rest by last night's episode, which was by far the funniest and most insane episode so far this season. There are a lot of comedic elements that come easy for Wonder Showzen: the gross-out humor, the surreal twists, and the acid-induced logic, but what really makes the show for me are those moments when it outright defies the viewer to keep watching. Last season they did it with the episode "Patience" in which the whole last half of the episode was just the first half of the episode played backwards. In this episode, after a fight breaks out between the regular show and a bootleg knock-off of the program, they decide to split the television screen 60/40, so the audience can watch both shows at once. Eventually more and more shows begin to take over the television screen, which resulted in four minutes of sometimes as many as eight segments all being shown simultaneously at equal volume.
(S02E05) Last night's episode of Wonder Showzen was incredibly surreal, even for Wonder Showzen. The show began with a science fair in which Sthugar reveals a propeller beanie powered by sadness, and Wordsworth creates a television which shows his dreams. Unfortunately, Wordsworth's deepest fears manifest themselves into an actual monster who escapes the TV and wreaks havoc on the town. Chauncey demands Wordsworth face his fear, but Wordsworth is too afraid. Therefore, Chauncey and Him use Him's shrink ray (which doesn't actually shrink an object but instead makes everything else bigger, giving the illusion of shrinkage) and journey into Wordsworth's brain in order to bypass his free will and make him fight the giant monster. The segments inside Wordsworth's brain included some great meta moments, especially when they find themselves inside his short term memory center and they become sensory echoes themselves, multiplying and repeating into infinity.
(S02E04) Last night's episode mostly took place in the 18th century, with Chauncey taking on the role of the master of a plantation and his fellow puppets all serving as his slaves. Things start to get out of hand, however, when Him becomes a cyborg slave, able to bale hay, whitewash a barn, and whip other slaves with greater efficiency. Chauncey loves his new robotic slave, but when his young Southern bride puts the moves on Him, the new robo-slave is charged with rape. In a hilarious court room sequence, Sthugar, the young bride, blatantly admits she was lying about the rape, but they continue with the trial anyway. This became the main part of the episode, and one of the funniest, most absurd takes on race relations in the United States I've ever seen. A monkey who evolves into itself with a hat made of licorice, Chauncey having sex with the Bible, and a visit from God in the form of a banana were just a few of the things that popped up during the hearing.
(S02E03) Yeah, I know, this review is a couple days late, but that's okay. It means we've all learned an important lesson. You've learned patience, and I've learned not to trust Tivo so much. Luckily, the episode repeated last night so I was able to catch it without having a gap in my reviews staring at me like some kind of malevolent eye swirling inside a black hole. Or maybe that's being melodramatic. Anyway, my review:
In this episode, Chauncey and the gang are visited by Middle America (the puppet version), a yammering chunk of the United States who speaks only in gibberish and says "Texas" every other word. This eventually leads to a spoof of Hee Haw called Horse Apples which features a group of trailer park dwellers cracking jokes about incest and lynching. You know, typical family fare. The whole "Middle America" gag is funny for awhile, but eventually it wore thin. The other segments, such as Clarence's obligatory annoying of people on the street and a "Beat Kids" segment where we learn about pet castration seemed to lack their usual energy.
(S02E02) This episode of Wonder Showzen began with Chauncey visited by himself from two minutes in the future. It turns out Chauncey's future self is a hundred times cooler than Chauncey, so Chauncey sets out to build a time machine and travel even further back in the future (four minutes) so he can be even hipper. But we'll get to all that in a moment.
I said in my last review that the "Beat Kids" segment wasn't my favorite, only because I don't think it always works in the execution. Of course, that was before last night when they had a kid put on zombie make-up, dress as the Pope, and interview people in front of a Catholic Church under the pseudonym "Little Dead Pope." Trey Parker has been quoted time and again saying Cartman was his way of creating a character who could say things that would get most real people burned at the stake. Wonder Showzen takes that concept one step further and actually uses real children, which adds a whole layer of apprehension when you hear them say things to unsuspecting adults like, "The Pope should go to Hell for promoting a corrupt system. High five!" Not many shows can make you almost fall of the couch laughing while at the same time fearing for a child's life. They should have some kind of award for that.
Last night marked the start of the second season of Wonder Showzen, and I almost missed it. Thankfully they repeated the episode later in the evening so I was able to crank up the ol' Tivo and capture it. After watching the same Season One episodes about twenty times each, it was nice to finally see something new.
Last night's episode was about heroes and victims, with the main focus being put on the letter P, who was once very pretty but gained a lot of excess weight. Chauncy, the puppet's ringleader, decides P just needs a healthy dose of tough love, so he and the rest of the gang scream things at her like "stupid bitch" and "dumb slut" because "she needed to hear that."
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