25 Years Later, ‘Home Movies’ Remains a Linchpin of Contemporary Adult Animation

On the surface, you probably won’t find too many similarities between “Bob’s Burgers” and “Metalocalypse.” One is a fairly wholesome animated workplace comedy about a long-suffering restaurateur and his family struggling to make ends meet while wacky hijinks ensue. The other is an animated black comedy about a death metal band so insanely popular, stupid, and violent that they might literally bring about the end of the world as we know it.

The commonality between them? A quarter-century ago, the co-creators of both shows worked together to create “Home Movies,” a cult classic adult animated sitcom about a precocious 8-year-old boy and his friends trying to navigate the perils of childhood while pursuing their passion for filmmaking. While the show never managed to attain the same mainstream popularity of “Bob’s Burgers” or receive multiple revivals like Metalocalypse, it’s still remembered fondly as a cult classic, even as it approaches its 25th anniversary on April 26.

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Back in 1999, UPN (now known as The CW) was on the hunt for new shows about families and tapped Tom Snyder Productions, then best-known for creating the animated Comedy Central show, “Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist,” for ideas. The initial series concept they batted around would be an animated show starring comedian Paula Poundstone as a single mom. Naturally, having a single mom meant also needing a kid to play off of. While attending a comedy show, Katz producer Loren Bouchard met and hit it off with comedian Brendon Small, and the rest was history. Bouchard and Small took the reins of this new show, workshopping its concept and characters. The kid was named after and played by Small, who would be an aspiring filmmaker, based on Small’s own love for making silly movies when he was a kid. Brendon’s supportive yet constantly exhausted single mom, Paula, would be there, too.

Most of the show’s premise revolves around 8-year-old Brendon’s misadventures with his two best friends and schoolmates, the sweet Melissa and slightly off-putting Jason. When they’re not dealing with school-related mishaps, the trio work together to craft delightfully low-budget films. As with most shows of this ilk, the children talk and act at a far higher level than their ages would suggest, yet still regularly fall prey to childlike thinking. When Brendon finds himself in a predicament he isn’t sure how to solve, whether it’s dealing with a bully or coming to grips with the thought of his father remarrying, he either turns to — or gets unsolicited and often terrible advice from — his sardonic soccer coach, Jon McGurk.

It only takes a few moments watching any given episode to feel a sense of familiarity with “Bob’s Burgers,” its spiritual successor. While a bit rougher and simplistic with its character designs, you can immediately pick up on Bouchard’s influence. The world is full of noodly, Muppet-like people, their conversations strange and offbeat. You’ll also immediately hear some familiar voices, from spoiled, annoying classmate Fenton (played by Sam Seder, the voice of Hugo from “Bob’s Burgers”), Mr. Lindenson (Andy Kindler, who plays Mort), and of course, the incomparable smooth baritone of Bob Belcher himself, H. Jon Benjamin, portraying the show’s arguably most well-remembered (and quotable) character, Jon McGurk.

The dialogue was undoubtedly where the show shined the brightest — not surprising with a cast made up primarily of experienced comedians. Following a plot outline prepared by the writers, many of the character interactions were improvised by the actors. Characters would regularly talk over one another and make awkward pauses and other vocal noises, giving their interactions a raw, natural flow. This style of writing, known as “retroscripting,” would gradually be phased out in favor of more structured dialogue in later seasons, though the sharp dialogue continued throughout the show’s entire run.

“Home Movies” was certainly no slouch in the music department, either. In addition to a funky minimalist soundtrack composed by Small, it featured dozens of vocal songs, typically showcased in the films Brendon and his friends produced. They ran the gamut from offbeat and silly, not unlike those heard on “Bob’s Burgers,” to hardcore heavy metal tracks that would sound perfectly in place on a “Metalocolypse” album. Both styles of tunes would feature prominently in Bouchard and Small’s later series.

Not unlike its adult animated contemporary, “Family Guy,” “Home Movies” initially had difficulty building up steam. It premiered to little fanfare on UPN, which was already among the least-watched networks on TV and suffered cancellation after airing a meager five episodes.

Thankfully, despite few people watching the show, several influential people had their eyes on it — producers who were in the process of brainstorming a new late-night programming block for Cartoon Network called Adult Swim. Since the production company behind “Home Movies” owned the rights to the show, they were free to sell it to the network, and it had the honor of being the first-ever show aired on the block. In fact, “Home Movies” performed well enough that the network funded an additional three seasons. This would cement both Brendon Small and Loren Bouchard’s careers, helping both of them earn the clout needed to create “Metalocalypse” and “Bob’s Burgers,” respectively, several years later.

Those who grew up watching “Home Movies” are no doubt happy to see its spirit living on in their creators’ newest creative endeavors. And fans who continue to be entertained by their shows year after year have “Home Movies” to thank for laying the groundwork, a show that will hopefully still be fondly remembered for another 25 years.

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