Best of 2011: Animation on TV

We're gonna have a TV party tonight! Alright!

[In shakiest old man voice] When I was a boy, we didn't have all of these wonderful animated shows on TV. ABC was trying to convince us that something called Fish Police would be something we'd want to watch. We didn't! Now the range of animation for kids and adults on television has grown to a staggering, unexpected degree--and the MTV Geek staff had some opinions of the best titles from this past year.

#10. China, IL (Adult Swim)

Now, on the offhand chance that, for whatever reason, we're all unable to return to Greendale next season, allow me to present another community college alternative: one situated in scenic China, IL, where your dean is an ultra alpha male voiced by Hulk Hogan, your history class might be taught by a gay ghost, and there's all kinds of madness going on in the science department. That would be one of the newest additions to Adult Swim's Sunday lineup, China, IL. It was actually a toss-up between this show and the second season of Superjail!, but the in the final analysis, we couldn't ignore the anarchic violence of the local public education system.

#9. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Cartoon Network)

Having already addressed this one in the TV Gift Giving Guide, let me reiterate it again: The Clone Wars is the most vital take on the franchise in not just the last ten years, but since Empire (yeah, I said that, Jedi, what's up?). Bringing you a weekly installment of an honest-to-god war, it's all of the high-stakes daring and adventure that you grew up loving about Star Wars with all kinds of intrigue and action, enlivened by the stylized CG art used on the show. Now matter how many new cuts, edits, and additions to the trilogy and prequels Lucasfilm puts out there, for all intents and purposes, The Clone Wars is keeping the spirit of the original trilogy alive.

#8. Young Justice (Cartoon Network)

After several successful season of the hyper-color Teen Titans, Cartoon Network could have been forgiven for simply delivering a similar take on new DC material. Instead, the network appears to be gradually modifying its programming with its maturing audience. No longer as anime comedy-influenced, Young Justice places its angsty teen superheroes smack in the middle of a DCU that doesn't necessarily trust their crime fighting prowess. Although drawn fairly broadly in early episodes, the characters have developed over the course of the first season into a somewhat complex team, defined by their growing respect for one another and their increasing paranoia about the shadowy organization that appears to be targeting them. While not yet at the lofty heights of say, Justice League, Young Justice has the potential to grow into that show's stature as one of the great team superhero shows on TV.

#7. The Regular Show (Cartoon Network)

I'm convinced this show takes place in an alternate version of the 80's, but someone pointed out to me that the main characters--bluejay Mordecai and raccoon Rigby--actually traveled back in time to the 80's, so there's that. It's just another off-kilter element to series creator J.G. Quintel's oddball vision of a couple of slacker dudes' lazy afternoon adventures that tend to get upset by unicorn meatheads, zombies, seemingly omniscient prank callers, and even Death himself. The tone of the show is often so low key and low stakes, that the jokes land all the harder when they take their turns for the bizarre. Add to that yet another killer VO performance by Mark Hamill as Skips, the park's resident ultra-competent white gorilla with a shady past, and you've got one of the best new animated comedies for all ages on TV.

#6. Beavis and Butt-Head (MTV)

Yes, the idiots are back, and yes, we know it's weird to be pimping one of MTV's shows. But honestly, it's that funny. After 14 years off the air, Beavis and the original hetero life mate Butt-Head have returned home, back to Highland, back to the couch, and back in front of the TV. No longer content to take on music videos, the dim-witted duo has shifted their attention to the ubiquitous reality TV programming littering the airwaves, the only place where our heroes can find people dumber than themselves. Series creator Mike Judge continues to have his pulse on the diminishing returns of American TV, and doesn't mind letting his high school alter egos go on the attack when he sees a chance to take a stab at it.

#5. Futurama (Comedy Central)

Yeah, last year gave us season five, but it feels like with season six, Futurama is back in earnest, as the writers get back into the groove again of telling sci-fi stories about the Planet Express crew without so much of the need of the previous season to make all of the pop culture jokes that they didn't get to tell from the last decade. And they did all this with the specter of yet another cancellation on the horizon. Thankfully, for the time being, the show's new home--Comedy Central--seems to be a bit more patient about the series' ratings. Maybe with a seventh season on the way, the show will start to fire on all cylinders and start delivering at the legendary heights of the third and fourth seasons, bringing the show all the way back and shooting it to the top of next year's "Best of" list.

#4. Archer (FX)

Archer earns its TV-MA every week. The follow up from the creators of Adult Swim's Frisky Dingo, this boozy, profane, sexed-up comedy about the world of espionage and counterespionage and thrives on the fantastic timing of the voice cast featuring H. Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler, Judy Greer (their secret weapon) and Jessica Walter. The rhythm of the back and forth dialog lives on the rapport between the voice actors who are able to volley their lines back at one another like so many ping pong balls. Also, did I mention that this show is filthy? Somehow outpacing the other Thursday night FX series It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia in terms of sheer depravity, making it a national treasure in the realm of raunchy humor on TV.

#3. Adventure Time (Cartoon Network)

Pendleton Ward's Adventure Time has to work at a real balancing act to remain as successful as it is. On the one hand, it has to be honest to the rambling sense of whimsy that draw younger viewers to the show, making heroes Jake and Finn such a hit with the kids, while at the same time playing this weird, dark edge to the humor that draws on anxieties about dating, finding a place to stay, dealing with (other peoples) parents and what have you. All the while, it can't feel like it's winking too much at either of the intended audiences, maintaining that sweet, good-natured core that defines the show. And there's a reason why Adventure Time costumes were in such high supply this convention season: people gravitate to the show because for all of the goofy adventures, the songs, the dancing, and the sword fights, it's got character and it's got heart.

#2. ThunderCats (Cartoon Network)

Another case where the formula had to be just right. The 2011 revamp of ThunderCats, like Adventure Time, had to serve two masters: it had to reintroduce the 80's franchise to a generation of kids and tweens that had never heard of them before while still respecting and moving forward the original series in a way that "felt" like the ThunderCats. Apparently, something resonated with you, because anytime we post anything about the series, you guys seem happy with it. Mixing the sci-fi action with the fantasy backdrop of the original, the new showrunners have added a long form mystery about how Third Earth came to be the way it is currently in the series, as Lion-O (Will Friedle) gradually has to grow into the role of leadership that he's inherited. Frequently thrilling and sometimes a little ominous, ThunderCats is an update that works.

#1. Bob's Burgers (Fox)

Okay, I can see some of you out there are already like, "What? Bob's Burgers?" [Close window, delete MTV Geek from bookmarks]. But this, the other animated H. Jon Benjamin show on TV is gradually working its way into instant classic territory thanks to a reunion of some of the talent from Home Movies and character-based comedy that works thanks to the increasingly desperate situations at Bob's New York burger joint. Special notice should be given to Kristen Schaal as Bob's youngest daughter, Louise, who's one part petulant grade schooler and ten parts devious, manipulative mastermind. While lacking the improvisational flair of Home Movies, its tight plotting and gag-a-minute scripts allow us to laugh at the escalating frustrations of this poor, schlubby burge joint owner.


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