Given television’s summer explosion of courtroom programming (NBC’s Crime & Punishment, ABC’s State v., Court TV’s Power, Privilege & Justice, Martha Stewart on any channel), it was only natural that the cat with the beak would stage a comeback now.
It’s been almost a year since the Cartoon Network’s late-night Adult Swim (Sundays and Thursdays, 11 p.m.-2 a.m.) block of animated anarchy debuted, and yet only two episodes of the übercool Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law have aired. Compared to how many times lesser lead-ins Home Movies and Baby Blues have run (like, a thousand or something), it’s an outrage—and let’s not even get started about all those promised “new” installments of Space Ghost: Coast to Coast that haven’t been delivered over the past 10 months.
For those who don’t stay up late watching cartoons (what’s wrong with you?), Adult Swim is a concept developed specifically for the 18-34 demographic the Cartoon Network has already sucked in with “kiddie” shows like The Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory. On and off for the last eight years, Space Ghost has been a wee-hours Cartoon Network cult hit, thanks to its stylized mix of old-school Hanna-Barbera crap-animation, current pop-culture infusions and guerilla dada humor. Adult Swim takes that funky formula (as well as the unspoken assumption that the late-night crowd is under the influence of more than Froot Loops) and blows it up into three PG-13 hours.
Like Space Ghost, Birdman was, until recently, a lame ’60s cartoon superhero with zero prospects in modern showbiz—he even tried out for SG’s Coast to Coast hosting gig once in a spectacle of Magic Johnson-esque failure. Now, resurrected as a business-suited superhero lawyer (the mask and wings remain, as does trusty purple hawk sidekick/personal assistant Avenger) with swank opening credits to put Nash Bridges to shame, driven-but-fallible Harvey Birdman (he can unleash his “Power of Attorney” with energy bolts from his hands, but can’t operate his Palm Pilot) litigates on behalf of fellow cartoon characters in trouble with the law. At the end of the day, he and Avenger (who’s also a mean one-claw typist) sometimes wind down with a drink or two at local watering hole The Birdcage. Put in perspective, it’s really no screwier than any given week on The Practice.
In last September’s debut, Harvey negotiated a bitter custody battle between Jonny Quest stars and “traveling companions” Dr. Benton Quest and Race Bannon, two “dads” fighting over kids Jonny and Hadji. Much to the lawyer’s thinly-veiled discomfort, the gay overtones flew fast and flaming until “Bannon” was revealed to be an evil robot pawn in a scheme to capture the boys—the real Race was on vacation … frolicking and playing volleyball on the beach with other half-naked men. The following week’s case involved obscure freelance superhero Apache Chief (power: enlarging to giant-size) suing over work lost due to a hot cup of coffee spilling in his lap, stunting his ability to get it up, er, grow. Two of the raciest, sharpest and funniest ’toons ever to air on the Cartoon Network, then … nothing.
Most assumed Harvey Birdman was disbarred in favor of tamer/dumber Adult Swim fare like Sealab 2021 and The Brak Show, that the legal eagle (or whatever kind of fowl he is) was too edgy for even late-night cable. In actuality, HB’s creators have been working on 20 new episodes to avoid weekly gaps, and the show re-launches this Sunday with “Shaggy Busted,” a mucho-discussed installment that was to air last year, but since dismissed as an urban cartoon legend. True to Harvey Birdman’s emerging theme of exposing what we’ve always assumed about cheesy yesteryear ’toon reruns, Shag and Scooby-Doo are arrested in the Mystery Machine for “possession.”
Hot courtroom action and dishy E! True Hollywood Story inside cartoon dirt? Harvey’s going to bury David E. Kelley’s sorry non-animated ass.