When classic cartoon characters find themselves in legal trouble, there’s only one man for the job: Harvey Birdman. The oft-forgotten 1960s Hanna-Barbera superhero only vaguely resembles the character his few fans may remember. Instead, viewers are treated to yet another subversive reworking of cartoon history created by Adult Swim, the late night programming lineup on the Cartoon Network. What originally played as a serious action series is now ripe for mockery, and no target is safe from the postmodern hijinks of Birdman and his staff.
Though the stupid, nonsensical humor found in most Adult Swim shows is the basis of “Harvey Birdman,” each 15-minute episode manages to climb above the rest of the pack via the hilariously inspired lawsuits. Rather than playing it safe, the creators turn nerdy, often risqué fan debates into court cases. Birdman defends Shaggy from “Scooby Doo” when he’s busted for pot possession and argues a custody suit between “Johnny Quest” “partners” Race Bannon and Dr. Quest over youngsters Johnny and Hadji.
The picture and sound are good enough, but the animation is inherently crude. The series features little in the way of music or sound effects. The DVD, while nicely packaged, doesn’t offer much in the way of features. There are commentary tracks on select episodes, which explain the technical aspects of the production rather well, but rarely discuss any of the inspiration behind the stories. The lone bright spot is one episode that features a track by Turner’s clearance team, in which they go over the difficulties in getting the rights to use these classic, even iconic characters in potentially offensive ways.
The paltry featurettes last barely a minute and say next to nothing. Some look at other actors voicing the characters or animation tests, neither of which are substantial. Nevertheless, the introductions and presentation keep in line with the tone and comedy of the actual episodes.
Adult Swim has created a new type of animated genre steeped in poor visuals and scattershot humor. And while “Harvey Birdman” ranks among Adult Swim’s best, it’s still very much stuck in this niche. The DVD set won’t convert the series’ detractors, but it’ll sit perfectly next to anyone’s copies of “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.”
Show: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Picture/Sound: 3 out of 5 stars
Features: 2 out of 5 stars