One thing can be said for Cartoon Network lately: they’ve cornered the market on animated television that can subvert not only expectations but also the idea of what a cartoon can and should be. From The Marvelous Misadventures Of Flapjack to Steven Universe, CN isn’t afraid to take a chance by seeking an older audience (while still hanging on to the kids growing up with their shows). This reminds me of being a younger Jed and watching Doug or Ren and Stimpy on Nickelodeon. While both shows are “for” children, there’s a lot for teens and adults to grasp onto. Cartoon Network has had a great streak of these types of shows andClarenceis no different.
I went into this show knowing very little and this helped my enjoyment of it. I expected something in the vein of Steven Universe: something silly, yet fantastical. Nothing could be further from the truth. Clarence is quite funny while grounded in our own reality. It’s not a mythical world like Adventure Time or heightened reality like Regular Show.
Clarence is the story of Clarence and his friends. All are fourth graders in a lower to middle class area of their town. Clarence sees the world in such optimistically naive tones that it’s hard not to like him instantly. As a counterpoint to his carefree nature is square-headed Jeff, a nervous intellectual boy, and Sumo, a gravelly voiced child of pure instinct and emotion. Add to that the numerous side-characters, staples of Cartoon Network’s programs, and you have a universe that feels real and interesting while, at the same time, silly and slightly strange. Clarence handles its characters with respect, showing that they’re not just mini versions of adults but kids with over-the-top emotions and tempers.
The show fits into the mold of what we’ve come to expect from Cartoon Network’s recent shows: great characters, believable world, and subject manner that most other cartoons never tend to address. Clarence skirts some pretty mature topics: obsessive compulsive disorder, a divorced mother and her not-instantly-likable new boyfriend, and living paycheck to paycheck (or, in this case, coupon to coupon). It could be potentially dire stuff. But, in the hands of showrunner Skyler Page, it’s used as a way to make this world more lived-in and textured. While Clarence is a comedy through and through, it uses these situations to add much-needed heart to what could otherwise be a funny, yet forgettable, show.
The heart of Adventure Time showed audiences that a cartoon can be just as touching as any drama, when handled correctly, and I can definitely see Clarence heading in this direction. The show deals with the fun and innocence of being a kid while reminding us that our nostalgia for being a kid colors some of the more awkward and terrible aspects of being young. Bullies and misunderstandings between friends and adults are common for children in general and Clarence handles these with great writing and characterization.
The DVD Clarence: Mystery Piñata, contains 12 episodes (including the show’s pilot). With its interesting storylines, such as facing down mountain lions, pine cone fights, and getting a crayon instead of a quill, Clarence proves it has a brain as big as its heart and is another in the great line of shows on Cartoon Network.
Jed is a writer and artist living in Iowa. When he isn't living in the myriad mythical and fantastical worlds in his head he's making comics of varying degrees of quality. Growing up on a diet of both Walt Disney and The Brothers Quay, Jed fell in love with animation at an early age. A lifelong student of storytelling and aesthetics, animation has proven an invaluable teacher that has extended its reach far and wide from Pixar and Laika to Ghibli and the works of Jan Svankmmajer. He's also been known to overanalyze the subtle subtext of Bee Movie.
When he's not poring over books, comics, and movies, he's making stories of his own. Jed's first self-published graphic novel, Goodbye Stranger, is due out in 2016.