- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by David Medsker
eason two of “Home Movies” finds Brendon Small’s group of precocious students and emotionally crippled adults screwing up, a lot. In fact, failure appears to be the underlying theme of the entire season. Outside of “Seinfeld,” you’d be hard pressed to find a set of characters go so far out of their way to be so unlikable (except for Melissa, the show’s sole voice of reason). Amazingly, only one character actually succeeds at being unlikable, and he’s even funnier because of it.
Three episodes, one on each disc, stand out as definitive moments in “Home Movies” history. There is “The Party,” where the class is invited to a birthday party for the spoiled Fenton (Sam Seder). Fenton’s mother asks Brendon to make a video celebrating Fenton, but he has trouble doing so since Fenton is such a jerk to everyone. Brendon’s final video winds up exposing Fenton’s abominable behavior, but Coach McGuirk (Jon Benjamin), of all people, saves the day. The true value of this episode reveals itself in the season premiere of season three, when Brendon dares to spend the night at Fenton’s, and we get a sense of why Fenton is so messed up.
Another great bit is “Class Trip,” where Paula acts as a chaperone on one of Brendon’s field trips, which potentially foils his plan to ditch the group and shoot a scene for his new movie in a hotel room. The real fun comes when McGuirk tries to find supplemental income, but has to use Brendon’s name to get a job because of his own bad credit. We get our first look at the unblinking Clarisse (“My boyfriend calls me Little Mama”), and Paula learns that eight-year-olds are not as easy to keep track of as she thought. (“They found Allison. She was at the airport.”)
The best episode by far, though, is “Hiatus,” where Brendon, Jason and Melissa decide to take some time off from making movies after making their worst movie ever. The truth is, from a viewer’s perspective, the movie is the funniest thing they’ve ever done, starting as a legal drama, turning into a sword fight, and culminating with a freestyle jazz skat-off between Brendon and Jason. From an animation standpoint, they truly outdo themselves, which makes it all the more amusing to discover that they think it’s awful.
The secondary characters really step up this time around. Brendon’s teacher Mr. Lynch (Ron Lynch) gets a lot more room to expand, and his disapproving “Mmmm” officially hits catch phrase status. Janine Ditullio seems more comfortable this time around as Paula Small (replacing Paula Poundstone midway through season one. The casting of oddball comic Emo Phillips to play the school bully Shannon was simply a stroke of genius, but the best enhancement to the show is the emergence of Walter and Perry (Small and Benjamin). Anytime they have lines, one can visualize Small and Benjamin in the booth, each trying to make the other laugh first.
The season isn’t without its flaws, however. “Impressions” uses the hoary “impostor” setup in both the main story and the side story, with Brendon pretending to be Jason at Jason’s country club in order to impress his beloved Cynthia, while Coach McGuirk goes through his high school yearbook looking for a date. One girl bites, but only because he’s told her a massive web of lies about how much he’s changed. It’s frustrating to watch on a couple levels. The writers are better than this, and they turned Brendon into something he would never be, even if it meant impressing Cynthia. “History” is wildly ambitious, but falls over itself in the interest of expanding the show’s musical aspirations at the expense of what might actually be the worst movie Brendon, Jason and Melissa have made to date.
The beauty of “Home Movies” is in its subtlety, which is a rare thing for any sitcom but particularly for an animated one (see “Family Guy”). Instead of fretting about Cartoon Network’s decision to pull the plug in 2004 after four seasons, fans should be grateful for getting three seasons more than any other show UPN canceled in 1999.