Was it the impact of cable television or was it the slow impact of VHS but significant changes happened to the world of mass-market kids cartoons in the late eighties and early nineties. The basic fundamentals of creating shows which would cross-promote toys and other media franchises (movies, comic books) and which could be recycled indefinitely on Saturday mornings, didn’t change but there was new emphasis on better quality animation and writing. Notably, there was a renewed appetite for serial story telling and shows were there was continuity of both plot and character development that was lacking in shows like He Man.
Notable examples include The Real Ghostbusters, Batman: The Animated Series, the 1990’s X-Men series that each attempted to raise the game of kid’s TV shows. Of those, Disney’s Gargoyles was one of the most ambitious. Personally, it was a show I saw only a little of due to where and when it was available but I recall even at the time that it was promoted as something of a prestige project. Like many kids shows, it had a short run of three (closer to two and a half) seasons that had a bigger impact than its net running time.
With a complex premise and deep backstory, it was the sort of show that would plug into young minds and create a fandom that would last far longer than the show itself. The term ‘Xanatos Gambit’ named after the shows key antagonists convoluted schemes has become a term used in wider fandom both to describe a plot trope and ironically to describe over-thought schemes in real life.
Meanwhile…speaking of manipulation…
Obviously I caved in and signed up for a Disney+ streaming subscription. Tempted by the vast back catalogue and the live-action Star Wars series The Mandalorian (aka Lone Wolf & Yoda-Cub), I handed yet more of my dollars to the media-oligarchy. The service itself is still a bit clunky (it forgets what episode you are watching, hangs for no good reason etc) but its selling point was always going to be the vast archive Disney controls.
The poor old meat robot had a spot of enforced idleness this week which coincided with a blistering hot day and a level of air-quality that was literally off the charts. It was the sort of day where that bit in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke is recuperating in a big tank of liquid looks like the best of all possible worlds. It was the perfect day to sit back and indulge in rewatching something. I asked Twitter to pick between an MCU infinity war marathon (Avengers Infinity War & Endgame back to Back), the 1990’s X-Men cartoon or Gargoyles. The answer came back that I should watch Gargoyles.
I phrased the choice as a ‘rewatch’ but I quickly realised that I knew even less about the show than I thought I did. So this was more of me arriving new to the show and experiencing a whole pile of twists, betrayals and shocking reveals for the first time.
I semi-live Tweeted my experiences of about eight episodes here:
I’m going to finish watching Season 1 and then write a blog post covering that first series and then two further posts for Season 2 and the shorter Season 3.
I think this is going to be a meaty topic. The show has many flaws and sudden shifts of tone but in nearly every episode I’ve seen, it is full of ambition. Whatever else you might say about this often surprisingly dour show, it was a show that relentlessly worked to be bigger than its limitations.