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’ Eddy, Dexter’s Laboratory, Billy and Mandy, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Grim & Evil, Cow and Chicken, Johnny 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 Simpsons, South 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.