‘Cartoon Hell’ review
By Jacey Gibb, Distribution Manager
The jokesters over at CollegeHumor launched their own comedy streaming platform Dropout TV. I’m here to tell you if their exclusive content is worth the subscription fee.
I wanted to like Cartoon Hell—the first full-length cartoon series offered by CollegeHumor’s Dropout TV—I really did.
In the dizzyingly fast-paced intro credits of Cartoon Hell we’re introduced to Caldwell Tanner and Nathan Yaffe, two cartoonists who sign a contract to have their art featured on a television show. On their way to the studio, however, the pair are run over by a hotdog truck and end up in hell, where week after week they’re forced to animate television pitches for their demon overlord Managar. (This is all summarized in the theme song, sung franticly and wonderfully by Weird Al Yankovic.)
Each episode, their demonic supervisor assigns a new topic to inspire a hit cartoon show for the upper demon management. A few of these cringey prompts have included “weed anime,” “elderly assassins,” “sexy boy skeletons,” and even “ugly babies.” The majority of the episode then consists of Tanner and Yaffe illustrating characters and brainstorming zany backstories, with the occasional interjection from Managar and other characters from the hellscape.
Cartoon Hell has a fantastic concept. It looks great, and the show pitches are so outlandishly entertaining that you almost wish they became real shows—except you don’t because these shows would assumedly be unwatchable.
Tanner and Yaffe also sell the heck out the show as co-leads, with a comfortable banter that’s both organic and entertaining to listen to. (Much of the dialogue feels slightly improvised, though in a positive way; I dug around online but couldn’t find anything that confirmed or debunked this theory.) They’re also joined by a fantastic voice cast of supporting characters, both recurring and one-offs. Especially delightful is Julia Lepetit’s character, a veteran cartoonist who’s been in hell so long that she’s taken on many demonic characteristics but also slays with her bone-dry sense of humour.
The jokes are also some of the best on any Dropout original show. Quips and zingers pass by without drawn-out, predictable set-ups, and then it’s onto the next set of jokes. Each episode starts with Tanner and Yaffe cracking zingers about their latest tortures, ranging from a nearby toilet seat being perpetually cold, to how a 15-car pileup made the morning commute a nightmare. (A quick twist at the end of the conversation reveals the car pileup was inside Tanner’s colon.)
What really ties each episode together nicely is the final few minutes, where a draft of the show is fed into the mouth of robot Cartoon-o-tron and viewers get to experience a taste of whatever monstrosity Tanner and Yaffe have birthed. It’s usually only part of a scene, rarely breaching a one-minute runtime, but the clips are fully animated and ridiculous. They’re able to offer some quick jokes without having to commit to the overall concept of a show about something stupid like “swanky space bugs.”
So why the 3/5 rating?
Oddly enough, where Cartoon Hell lags the most is during the actual cartooning segment. Tanner and Yaffe are both talented illustrators, and it’s cool watching their drafts progress as an episode goes on, but half of the episode is constricted to a closeup of an illustrating program as early sketches are slowly fleshed out. It’s punctuated with shots of the two cartoonists chatting, but it’s a relatively unengaging format for viewers. Think of a Mr. Dressup episode, but half of the show is spent just on his drawing board.
Cartoon Hell also feels similar to Dropout’s other original program Um, Actually in that it could easily be half as long. Episodes run around the 18- to 20-minute mark, which works for most traditional network comedies but not as well for Cartoon Hell. If you trimmed the runtime and the illustration portion, the show might be more digestible, though in doing so you lose the significance of following a cartoon’s creation from pitch to sample clip.
There’s an abundance of great television out there, which sets the bar fairly high for what people spend their limited free time watching. I can’t say Cartoon Hell is required viewing, or even something I’ll tune into regularly. However, it’s worth the occasional revisit, if only for the opening banter and previews for shows that will (rightfully) never see the light of day.
There are a handful of full Cartoon Hell episodes available on CollegeHumor’s YouTube channel, as well as a few shortened previews. Otherwise, the full season can be found on Dropout TV.