You might not expect the cable network that broadcasts Stripperella, featuring a crime-fighting peeler voiced by Pamela Anderson, and Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, a program for those who “enjoy broken bones, splattering spleens, high impact hematomas, and watching people get them,” to be a place where old-school conservatives might feel at home. But This Just In, which debuted Sunday night on Spike TV, is a surprisingly fun cartoon about an unabashedly conservative syndicated columnist from San Diego.
“If it’s in his head, it’s out of his mouth,” reads Spike’s description of lead character Brian Newport. From that, you might expect more conservative bashing from the Left Coast. But you’d be disappointed. “Most of the time you see a conservative on a TV show, he’s played as a zealot or a boob,” comedian and This Just In co-creator Steve Marmel told the Houston Chronicle. “I wanted to do a show where the conservative wasn’t the idiot.”
The show is made using the digital Flash animation system. This bare-bones technique, widely used on the Internet to create everything from punk rock kittens to fake political ads, allows the creators to write and produce each episode the very week it airs, thus giving the show a just-torn-from-yesterday’s-headlines feel.
I realized this isn’t your typical political satire just a few minutes into the premiere episode when Brian’s best friend Jimmy Townhouse, a black schoolteacher and moderate Democrat, laughs, along with everyone else in the bar, at the current crop of black leaders. “Al Sharpton doesn’t scare just white people,” Jimmy says. “He scares everybody.”
THIS JUST IN LEVERAGES the greater political freedom permitted to animated shows by our censorious culture. Because people tend to feel sheepish, or look stupid, when they protest cartoon characters, the medium is loaded with often savage political satire. Shows ranging from The Critic to The Family Guy to, yes, The Simpsons (Lisa to Grandpa Simpson: “Didn’t you wonder why you were getting checks for not doing anything?” Grandpa: “I thought it was because the Democrats were back in power”) are able to ridicule and mock with little fear that the PC cops will lower the boom.
The cartoon also allows for wonderful “guest stars.” The first episode of This Just In features Ted Kennedy. It re-creates the scandal that sank Ted’s presidential aspirations — with a happy ending this time. Kennedy helps Brian escape from a sunken car using the bottle-opener he carries with him everywhere. Imagine making fun of Chappaquiddick! Sacrilege!
But there’s more to This Just In than satire. It has something like a core, and deals with real issues, albeit in a slightly off-kilter fashion. The column Brian writes in the first episode is on voter apathy and ignorance. “Everybody’s vote shouldn’t be equal,” Brian argues. “Idiots making decisions for the rest of us is why Bruce Almighty won a People’s Choice Award, why there are 100 episodes of Becker, and why guys keep marrying Liza Minnelli.”
That’s quite an anti-liberal rant. It is therefore surprising that Spike describes Brian as the “kind of guy who says what everybody’s thinking.” And the creators have so far have resisted most of the easy right-wing sink holes. “I don’t care how hot she is,” Brian says of Sami, the attractive, left-wing Latina waitress at his favorite watering hole. “She’s a Nader supporter. I’d rather sleep with a six I agree with than a ten I don’t.” It comes off as a sweet and unexpected thought.
Of course, the curvaceous Sami is a crucial part of the show. Spike (“the first network for men”) wouldn’t be Spike without heaving breasts and certain stereotypes. According to Spike’s website, Brian’s other pal Craig Tindle “isn’t just a married guy — he’s a cautionary tale for every man who fears the worst in marriage.” His Korean ball-busting wife, incidentally, is a neoconservative. No subtext there.
LIKE ALL GOOD SATIRE, This Just In doesn’t raise sacred cows, on the Left or the Right. A newscast from CNN ends with the anchor deadpanning, “We’re just like Fox News, but without the hot female anchors.” The channel is then switched to Fox, where an anchor identified as “Amber” cavorts around a pole, wearing only pasties and a thong. (No reality here, however. Amber is a redhead and everyone knows all the hot female anchors on Fox are blonde.)
This Just In isn’t perfect. A subplot in the first episode, in which Jimmy and Craig get the black former talk show host Wayne Brady to run for president, is far too inside baseball, and inside the Beltway. However, a wickedly funny show about politics that doesn’t hate the Red States of America? Spike TV just won itself this female viewer.