Liquid Television, 25 Years Later

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Ubiquitous

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Feb 5, 2020, 1:48:08 PM2/5/20
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Liquid Television ran for three seasons from 1991 to 1995 on MTV. It heralded
Avant-guard American adult animation at a time when The Simpsons (1989-
present) had only recently picked up the torch from the last syndicated adult
sitcom in memory, The Flintstones (1960-1966). Ren and Stimpy (1991-1995) was
testing the waters of Nickelodeon’s evening audiences alongside Liquid
Television, but MTV was looking for a different demographic. Liquid
Television was bringing their Avant-guard sensibility cut with the lowest-
brow of postmodernism to the last bastion of Generation X. Notably, Ren and
Stimpy’s John Kricfalusi was solidly rooted in the classical schools of
Filmation and the Ralph Bakshi schools of animation, whereas Matt Groening
earned his chops cartooning for Wet: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing and
animation for The Tracy Ullman Show. Wet was a magazine that incorporated
innovative graphic art stylings to portray cultural issues imaginatively, and
there was inevitable overlap with the new wave underground comix movement as
seen in Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly’s Raw comix; they shared talent.
In the summer of 1991, MTV’s Liquid Television was being billed as “an
animated variety show,”[1] and while that sold well in the television ‘zines,
MTV creatives were allowing a more unique show that looked to the talent of
this comix movement and post-modern literature. It is well-documented that
David Lynch said his inspiration for directing his earliest short films came
from an experience where he saw them as moving paintings. If we can separate
that notion from general movie or television production, we could then begin
to see Liquid Television as an anthology of moving new wave commix, comix
literally animated.

The first season of Liquid Television boasted the talents as seen in “Stick
Figure Theater” shorts, Bill Plympton shorts, Peter Chung’s Aeon Flux, and
the serialized Winer Steele. Season 2 doubled down on talent from Art
Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly’s Raw comix introducing Mark Beyer’s “The
Adventures of Thomas and Nardo” and Charles Burns’s “Dog Boy” cited in an
early article as “Raw Dog.”[2] Aeon Flux returned, and the world was
introduced to the cartons of Mike Judge with Office Space and Beavis and
Butthead. In its final season, Season 3, most of the notable titles above
were gone. “Stick Figure Theater” would continue to run the course of the
series, and the notable additions were “Crazy Daisy Ed,” “Brad Dharma:
Psychic Detective,” and “The Blockheads.” Aeon Flux and Beavis and Butthead
would go on to their own highly popular series, but those who caught Liquid
Television late at night, changing the channel over from TNT’s MonsterVision
or USA Network’s Silk Stockings or simply awaiting the Headbanger’s Ball with
Matt Pinfield would probably remember the more obscure shorts in their
memories. Those obscure shorts borrowed heavily from Raw as can be seen in
comparison illustrations included.[3] Another famous short is titled “Human
Bomb,” which is narrated by Mark Leyner, who was making a reputation on
college campuses with his short story collection My Cousin, My
Gastroenterologist. “Human Bomb” was adapted from his story “i was an
infinitely hot and dense dot.” Ultimately, Liquid Television confused critics
but remains uniquely its own, and while we now have Adult Swim and
innumerable adult cartoons spun out of Jananimation, no following animated
series has been successful in imitating the plotless inventiveness of the
anthology series.

[1] Solomon, C. (1991, Jun 01). MTV’s ‘Liquid’ A Cut Above Saturday Cartoons.
Los Angeles Times (1923-1995) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-
com.lib-e2.lib.ttu.edu/docview/1638629694?accountid=7098

[2] Rhea, M. (1992, 10). Animation Highlights Television Production. American
Cinematographer, 73, 14-21. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.lib-
e2.lib.ttu.edu/docview/196322231?accountid=7098

[3] Kelly, M. (2008, Spring). Art Spiegelman and His Circle: New York City
Comix and the Downtown Scene. International Journal of Comic Art, 10, 313-
339.

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