Craig McCracken and the fall of Cartoon Network


Picture this: it’s the year 2004, which in my mind was one of the golden years of Cartoon Network. We British kids enjoyed all our favourite cartoons (or at least ones that were great for their time), including Ed, Edd ‘n’ EddyDexter’s LaboratoryBilly and MandyCourage the Cowardly DogGrim & EvilCow and ChickenJohnny Bravo, and of course, The Powerpuff Girls (the reboot of which launches today in America), created by a man who is kind of central to the topic of this post – Craig McCracken. While the original Powerpuff Girls series was still running, he went on to create another show called Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, the subject of a recent conversation on this very blog that brought back a few memories.

Foster’s was pretty much the last show produced during what could be called the “classic era” of Cartoon Network’s history. After that, pretty much nothing good came out of it until Adventure Time showed up (more on that later). As for the show itself, I remember watching it for about two-and-a-half years. At that point, I used to like it, but then hated it by the time I reached puberty. Within a year or so after the show’s UK premier, I noticed that they had started introducing characters who are solely obnoxious (Cheese, for example, has got to be the worst character that ever featured on Cartoon Network), and then they made nearly every character obnoxious, especially Bloo. By 2007, Cartoon Network was already going down the crapper anyway, so I abandoned it I started turning into a teenager. It no longer airs on the channel, being replaced by several other new cartoons.

It wasn’t until a decade after I stopped watching the show that I found out that Foster’s had turned into a show that was almost as spiteful in its tone and character writing as Family Guy. Over a week ago, an eagle-eyed viewer alerted me to what had been going on in the show’s writing, and I began fitting the pieces together. The main character, Mac, was presented as a shy little boy who has trouble making friends, and is obsessed with order, but also very intelligent and creative for his age (much like me, except there’s no evidence to show that Mac might have autism). Over time, he became a character obsessed with trying to save face, easily exploited by nearly everyone, especially his imaginary friend Bloo, who ropes him into his meaningless schemes. After a certain point, none of the episodes were worth watching.

That show had gone off the deep end, and in researching for this topic, I came up with a theory as to why. Apparently Craig McCracken, the creator, writer and director of the show, was getting pissed off about the fact that Cartoon Network was killing off their original shows in favour of a new wave of mindless live-action teen shows, as well as firing some of its staff in the process. Craig perhaps felt slighted by the idea that Cartoon Network, under its new management, no longer needed him or his creative input, and he must have been channelling is own frustrations into the writing. Of course, he shouldn’t have done that. Seth McFarlane did that with his hatred of conservative Christians, and then Family Guy became a gross, hypocritical left-wing cartoon that treats all of its characters horribly. I think a similar transformation happened in Fosters’, but to a lesser extreme considering it was meant for a young audience. Mr. McCracken definitely turned it into a more mean-spirited cartoon in terms of writing, but I don’t believe that the mean-spirited approach even works anymore. All three of the mainstream long-running “adult animated sitcoms” (The SimpsonsSouth Park, and Family Guy respectively) have fallen into that pattern, and now they’re garbage.

For me, the transformation of Foster’s could be taken as the thing that signalled the death of “classic Cartoon Network”. When it started, many of the older shows already ended, but still ran on the network. As Foster’s continued, the other shows were dying, but this time they were being replaced by worse shows like Johnny Test (which was later reviled as one of the worst cartoons ever made), My Gym Partner’s a Monkey (which died a year before Foster’s did), Camp Lazlo (to which I’m fairly indifferent because I forgot about it), and Ben 10 (which is now a big merchandising machine). They also threw in a plethora of shows from other studios, and these were often taken off the air within a year at a time, probably because they were terrible (especially Loonatics Unleashed, which I hated within only a few months).

By the time Fosters’ ended, all the classic shows and some of the newer shows had been terminated. In fact, Foster’s died in the same year as Ed, Edd n Eddy (both in 2009, within six months of each other). At that point, it was pretty much over until Adventure Time arrived. If you ask me, the fall of Foster’s illustrated the decay of the classic era. Before 2010, the network was resting on its laurels, and newer episodes any older shows that survived were filled to the brim with bad jokes and nonsensical plots. Craig McCracken seemed to have fallen victim to this, resorting the laziest form of comedy writing, trolling his fans in the process (and one wonders why he isn’t involved in the Powerpuff Girls reboot).

Needless to say, the old Cartoon Network is dead, and now Craig McCracken works with Disney. Since then, many new shows have arrived on the network’s lineup, but so far, only three of them are worthwhile. The show may be gone, the damage has been done. McCracken ended both of his shows rather disappointingly. He ended the original Powerpuff Girls on a whimper, and he practically destroyed the characterization in Foster’s before he ended the show. Meanwhile, Johnny Test got to continue until 2014, long after it became irrelevant. Meanwhile, McCracken himself did act as an executive producer for Regular Show’s pilot episode, and trust me, that show’s doing fine without him. In fact, I’m pretty sure the network itself is doing fine without him.

He may no longer be in Cartoon Network, but the legacy of the two shows he made for it will live on, manifesting itself in the form of the anguish of fans who will no doubt be sending him hate mail for the Powerpuff Girls reboot, to which he gave complete approval. Only time will tell what will come of that show, but the fact that his work is still being discussed (on this site no less) shows that the cartoonist leaves an indelible mark on the viewer.


32 thoughts on “Craig McCracken and the fall of Cartoon Network

  1. I’m sorry about carrying on this conversation further than it needs to, but their is more that I want to say.

    This time I want to draw comparison between Craig McCracken, his wife Lauren Faust, and “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.This was another show that I used to be a fan of, I’m admitting that I used to be a brony, but I feel that it’s probably one of the most offensive shows I’ve seen today. The reason is, though you may call me hypocritical, is endlessly preaches that friendship is everything.

    I find that incredibly offensive because, even with all the bonds I have formed in therapy, I still consider myself a lone wolf. The title aside, this was another show that also delved into mean-spirited comedy despite all of its bluster about friendship and magic. There were a number of episodes where the moral was twisted into an excuse for characters to act a jerks.

    What the hell is up this Craig and Lauren’s senses of humor? For a husband and wife team, I find them both rather warped.

    • To make one final point, I believe that Craig and Lauren are both used to mean-spirited humour (they probably grew up with a number of shows that used it), and so have written it habitually. Still, I can’t that a show called “Friendship is Magic” could render its own title into something as meaningless as Family Guy (because the characters act like horrible jerks to each other, as prescribed by the writers). For the mean-spirited writer, all moral messages are merely pretences that the writer can hide behind, and it’s always important to be wary of a writer’s intentions.

  2. I already said this but didn’t get a response.

    Like I said, the world of Foster’s is already twisted enough with people giving up people just to “grow up.” I made the comparison to Mac because I feel that he is the one being used like a toy by his family. He should run away with the fear that nobody really cares about him.

  3. Sorry about the accidental name change again.

    Woody’s situation goes like this.

    One day Andy is playing with Woody and he ends up accidentally ripping his arm. Andy is told that toys don’t last forever. While trying to save another abandoned toy, Woody is kidnapped. He is taken to a place where he finds out that he used to be an icon before the space race. He tries to go back home but is for a while convinced that he can’t stop Andy from growing up. Woody explains to Buzz that he is afraid of being forgotten and never loved again.

    All of this sinks in when the character Jessie reveals that she was once loved and ultimately abandoned the same way Woody fears.

    • Imagine what would happen if the story Foster’s were told from the point of view of an imaginary friend going through Woody’s situation. I wonder if that thought ever crossed Craig McCracken’s mind at all.

      • Well, like I said, the world of Foster’s is already twisted enough with people giving up people just to “grow up.” I made the comparison to Mac because I feel that he is the one being used like a toy by his family. He should run away with the fear that nobody really cares about him.

  4. Lemme rephrase.

    In the movie Destination Imagination, Frankie runs away. That is a problem because Frankie is an adult, and adults do not run away from their problems. Mac, I feel, has every single right to run away.

      • If Mac and Frankie ever ran away in the Foster’s timeline, that would definitely be a huge twist in the plot. Either Mac’s Mom would feel guilty about treating him so horribly, or she’d just send the police to fetch him. Madame Foster would probably deal with Frankie.

  5. I feel that even when they tried to do right, they still managed to mess up.

    As much as I hate to say this, I pay no mind to the movies.

    Sorry to say this, but I don’t particularly care about Wilt’s or any other character’s backstory so much that there should be a whole movie about them. If they wanted to talk about them, they could’ve talked about each individually in one episode at a time. I even feel that that Destination Imagination just made things worse. It was way too dramatic than it needed to be and most of all, it centered on an ADULT running away. I’m sorry, but adults like Frankie, who is 21 or 22 I believe, are not allowed to run away from their problems and responsibilities.

    Mac, on the other hand, I feel has every single right to run away.

    Focus on Mac is incredibly rare both in the show as well as in this very fandom. The show should have revolved around him because this is his life we’re talking about. He is THE main character so why wasn’t there a movie dedicated to him?

  6. What right does Mac’s mother have to both force her youngest child to give the one living being he can possibly form a connection with and threaten to move out just to get away from one disruptive imaginary friend?

    Sounds pretty prejudiced to me.

    For that matter, why are these creatures called “imaginary” friends when they’re given a physical form and can think, feel, and act exactly like humans? The world of “Foster’s” is already twisted enough with people abandoning their friends just to “grow up.”

    • Sounds a lot like real life to me. Kids are always forced to grow up, which for some reason always involves surrendering your imagination in order to become a working drone. I wonder if Mr. McCracken was actually attempting to portray the ugliness of growing up in the real world.

    • You probably already asked this. Anyway, your theory about Bloo is plausible, considering how people tend to use fantasy to cope with reality. I also think having that coping mechanism is what allows him to cope with the world that the show presents, but I also propose that Mac knows that Bloo does nothing but get him into trouble, but goes along with it because it means spending more time with him. Anything to ease the pain of being forced to give up the only thing that keeps him sane.

  7. How do you feel about South Park’s episode “Ass Burgers?”

    Personally, I can immediately make a comparison between Mac’s and Stan’s situations.

    Both are in totally unhappy situations, but they both have a way of dealing with. I know South Park completely ruined it at the end, but Stan learns to accept that his parent’s are no longer together and that Kyle and Cartman are actually getting along. He’s even happy.

    Let’s play some more with my theory that Bloo was created to help Mac accept that his father has either left or passed on. Mac’s mother and Terrence, however, are still trapped in denial and anger, and they both take it out on Mac. Mac’s mother has forced her youngest child to give up the one living being that he can possibly form a connection with, and Terrence hates the pair’s guts. Mac accepted change when he couldn’t help it, but this is something he absolutely has a say in.

    What if Mac went to Foster’s for more personal reasons than just to hang out with his best and only friend? What if Mac went to Foster’s for much more personal and therapeutic reasons, such as to escape from the people that are only bringing him down? There is a fan theory that Mac made up the entire world of “Foster’s” just so he can escape from his family.

    To tell you the truth, I am a strong advocate of Frankie and Mac having a familial relationship. It works way better than him having a crush on her (Seriously, yuck.)

    Not that I am pushing you, but have you read “One Winter’s Night” and “Unfair Rule” and checked out Dude13, yet? Begin with “More Than My Friend” and work your way up, it’s remarkable.

    On a scale of one to whatever, how screwed up do you think Mac is?

    • 1) I didn’t like “Ass Burgers”, mainly because by the time it was made South Park had already gone down the crapper in terms of writing, and that shows in the episode. I’d say South Park is even more mean-spirited than Craig McCracken because the show isn’t meant for a young audience. Just look at the way they treated Chef after Isaac Hayes quit the show. If I have any advice for Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the writers of South Park, it’s that making fun of the pronunciation of the word “Asperger’s” isn’t humour, it’s schoolyard bullying, which I guess is all their characters are good for.

      2) I read through some of the fanfiction. Clearly the fans who wrote it (and dude13) care about the characters. Personally, I feel that fans write their own fiction because they feel that there’s something the original writers missed. In this case, Craig McCracken dropped the ball so many times that it only makes sense that the fans wanted to put forward different ideas for perhaps how it should have been done in the first place. I read “Unfair Rule” and “One Winter’s Night”. It seems as though someone should have sent them to Mr. McCracken.

      3) On a scale of one to ten, I’d say Mac qualifies for a solid 7, in that he’s really screwed up, but you can’t help but feel for him given the circumstances.

      4) What if Foster’s is all one guy’s dream? If that were the case, Mac must have been asleep for a long time. Maybe he’ll wake up in a post-apocalyptic future and realize he slept too long (or maybe I’m just thinking about Army of Darkness lately).

  8. While we are the subject of “The Powerpuff Girls,” the reboot of that show is something I already do not appreciate. In terms of its artstyle, I believe that it’s one thing to try something different, but it’s a whole other thing to ride on the coattails of shows like Adventure Time and Clarence. I feel that today’s cartoons desperately need to step their artistic game up.

    Watch this and you’ll see my point.

    Also, there is this legendary “Foster’s” fanfiction writer named Dude13 that you should really check out, but I won’t force you to.

    • Unfortunately the video is “not availably in my country”, but at least I could see the thumbnail. My friend from college feels that the animation on the show looks pretty bad. It certainly looks like it was made as though they weren’t doing enough with digital animation, but at least it looks better than the likes of Teen Titans Go or Johnny Test.

  9. You and I were the only ones having this sort of conversation, and I thank you for the compliment. 🙂

    To tell you the truth, I too am an Aspie, and Mac just struck me as an individual with so much depth. Another thing I wanted to say is that both for being the main character he has little to no focus in either the show or the fandom, and that he has a rather limited set of emotions other than laid-back and irritated. Seriously, he has never cried once in the show’s run.

    Also to be honest, the more I think about Craig McCracken and the more I look back on his work, the angrier I become. I think I have said before that I have no understanding for Mr. McCracken’s sense of humor because it’s so friggin’ spiteful most of the time. I could look back on “The Powerpuff Girls” and say the same thing, namely that one episode where Blossom steals those golf clubs.

    By the way, are you into fanfiction? If so then there are some more stuff out there that I want you to read concerning Mac’s family situation.

    To tell some more truths, I had a crazy dream one night that put me in Mac’s shoes. I had a dream that I was competing in a marathon. I was ahead of the pack when I was suddenly stopped by a gate that led into a cave. I traveled into the cave where I was stopped again by a door. I opened the door and, get ready to freak out, there was dead body with a knife next to it. In order to win I had to stab the corpse with the knife.

    I did so and what followed were not cries of victory, put of both pain and relief. It turns out that the corpse signified my old life and the knife symbolized all my negative emotions going into that life. With the knife finally embedded into the corpse, I could move on to a better life.

    This is all just according to Dream Moods, though.

    • I guess we’re simply that passionate about animation, and possibly even more about characters. I’d talk about the new Powerpuff Girls series, but UK audiences won’t get to see it until April 25th, which means I won’t even write about that until at least next month (after I’ve had time to analyse it properly). I wonder what it would be like for me to write something that was a little similar to Foster’s, but far more honest and earthy about the situation the M.C. finds him/herself in.

      • That would be really cool.

        “Duchess of Wails” could have easily been avoided altogether had Mac actually used his intellect to question why his mother would want to move out instead of falling hook line and sinker into Terrence’s trap. I actually rewrote that episode in a fanfic where Mac has a mental breakdown over his mother’s general idiocy and older brother’s torment, and he lets all his emotions out and tells the truth to Frankie about his family situation. Following that fic is where Frankie actually meets and sits down with Mac’s mother to talk about Mac’s well-being.

        I also know a guy who rewrote a number of episodes with better endings, but I won’t make you read them or mine if you don’t want to, though.

        Here is also an idea of how to handle “Go, Goo, Go.”

        What if Mac, before meeting Goo, was working on something he really wanted to work on? After Goo shows up, he tries to keep her out of trouble and still work on the project. Then, after imagining something that Mac simply could not handle, the project is accidentally destroyed. This, I feel, would be a much more justifiable reason to get upset with Goo. Mac would tell her that instead of being “chock full of nuts” and nobody likes her, she has no self control. This would also be a great time for Mac to open up about why he doesn’t socialize with people very well. Frankie, having been around the block a few times, could teach Mac that he needs to learn patience and to be more open to other ideas, and that Goo needs to learn to control her imagination and then the two could become friends.

        Man, sometimes if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

      • If only every writer figured that out. We could come up with several ideas on how to improve all the show’s episodes, although if we did that, we’d be here for eternity.

        Also, I can’t help but hope that Craig McCracken and other cartoon writers have watched Steven Universe. It’s a show about a boy named Steven who is looked after by The Crystal Gems, three beings from another planet to guard the planet against threats from others of their kind. The show has a continuing story in which the characters actually develop as the plot moves forward. There’s one story arc in which (and I may sound glib in order to avoid spoilers) two of the characters fall out, and they don’t talk to each other at all for at least one episode, and it took about five episodes for them to patch things up again. Meanwhile, Steven, the main character, often feels inadequate in terms of his abilities, but slowly becomes more confident.

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