Back to the drawing board: 14 TV shows that should do animated episodes

Back to the drawing board: 14 TV shows that should do animated episodes

The Boys (Jasper Savage/Amazon Studios); Claws (TNT); Riverdale (Kailey Schwerman/The CW)
The Boys (Jasper Savage/Amazon Studios); Claws (TNT); Riverdale (Kailey Schwerman/The CW)
Graphic: Jimmy Hasse

TV executives and creators alike are struggling to figure out how to make sure the show(s) goes on in the midst of a pandemic. For many, that’s meant putting a pin in things (for others, it’s meant just axing them despite existing renewal orders) and shifting season and midseason premieres to 2021. Network sitcoms like One Day At A Time and Black-ish have found another way to keep the conversation going—with animated specials. Kenya Barris’ family comedy first ventured into animation with “Please, Baby, Please,” its much-discussed anti-Trump episode from season four that was pulled by ABC in 2018, and then released on Hulu in August of this year.

ODAAT and Black-ish focused on timely matters for these stand-alone episodes—having “the talk” with your Trump-loving family and the importance of voting, respectively—to great success. And they got the A.V. Club staff thinking about what other shows, regardless of genre, would lend themselves well to an animated format. We then narrowed that list down to 14 ongoing series whose creativity, absurdity, and/or otherwordliness would run wild in animated episodes.

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Barry

Barry

Alec Berg and Bill Hader’s Barry is one of the most nimble shows on TV, merging multiple genres in a season and deftly moving from dark humor to character study to action-thriller—sometimes in the same episode. Such a bold, tonally rich show could certainly handle a departure from its live-action format for a stand-alone, Trigun-style episode that captures Barry’s (Hader) state of mind as he finds himself poised to be a lone wolf after Fuches’ (Stephen Root) betrayal. Equally ripe for the boundless adventure that animation would allow is NoHo Hank’s (Anthony Carrigan) backstory. Barry has hinted at a traumatic past for the most polite and genial gangster in pop culture, which may have prompted his move to California, but has done nothing to diminish his friendliness or made him any less of an “optometrist by nature.” An animated trip into Hank’s past would connect some dots, while allowing the show to reach new levels of absurdity. And just think of what it would be like to see Hank’s malapropisms come to life all around him. [Danette Chavez]

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Atypical

Atypical

Atypical’s autistic teen Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist) processes life differently than most of the people around him—a fact that propels much of the important conversation the Netflix series partakes in when depicting life on the spectrum. It often falls on Sam and his family to explain why he may respond to stimuli differently than others. An animated episode would provide a unique opportunity for the series to visually represent how Sam experiences the world. The sounds that send Sam reaching for his headphones could swirl in the air around him, creating for the viewer the same sense of claustrophobia and stress that the stimuli instills in him daily. The special could even have a sequence that sends Sam to Antarctica to spend some time with the penguins he’s always loved so much. [Patrick Gomez]

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Superhero show omnibus

Superhero show omnibus

This seems like a gimme, as the trip from comics to animation seems even shorter than the road from comics to live action. But just imagine these popular superhero series unhampered by real-world restraints. The Umbrella Academy could draw from Gabriel Bá’s angular, surreal drawings to depict the boundaries of White Violin’s difficult-to-harness powers and the horror of Klaus’ ghosts. The Crisis On Infinite Earths in the Arrowverse could actually seem infinite, as the myriad worlds of DC’s ever-expanding universe could head toward the outer reaches of space. The Boys brutality might be even better translated in animation based on the red-drenched pages of artist Darick Robertson. And Doom Patrol’s artwork could stem from the various different decades of that group’s iterations, even while bringing all 64 of Crazy Girl’s personalities or Mr. Nobody’s faltering face patterns to the screen. [Gwen Ihnat].

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Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

Animation, at it best, is powered by whimsy. And when it comes to whimsical, few approach the over-the-top heights of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, NBC’s bold, campy celebration of everyone who ever attended musical-theater school and wished the rest of their life could be like that. (Those who sing along to the Hamilton soundtrack in the shower are also welcome to consider themselves part of that coterie.) In Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, a woman suddenly finds herself with the power to hear others’ innermost thoughts manifest themselves via song and dance—usually in the parlance of pop-music hits through the decades—so there’s a built-in sense of cartoonish reality within the very DNA of the musical comedy-drama. (No one would ever call something this fluffy and light a “dramedy.”) So why not play to the show’s strengths, and have it go the extra mile? Turn force of nature Jane Levy (as protagonist Zoey) into a full-on animated version of herself, surrounded by a world that has similarly resigned itself to the already fanciful universe it depicts by morphing into a series of colorful hand-drawn animatics. And a one and a two and a... [Alex McLevy]

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Claws

Claws

The technicolor absurdity of Eliot Laurence’s audacious Florida noir crime drama, Claws, practically begs for an animator’s skilled touch. Not that it necessarily needs any help to test the boundaries of reality—this is the show that threw a New Orleans-inspired funeral for a man and wasted little time bringing him back from the dead. But if Claws can manage as much with just a talented batch of actors and one brave writers room, just imagine how high the eccentricity could soar once the bonds of live-action are broken. Off-color stints like rollicking musical moments and tense crime-boss showdowns—known affectionately as Clawsian moments—are such an integral part of the show’s charm that an equally vibrant animation style would do them some overdue justice. And with the show preparing to take its final bow, there’s no time like the present to really push the envelope and let one of the most creative stories on television get one last chance at Peak Wackiness. [Shannon Miller]

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Pen15

Pen15

As Pen15’s middle-school BFFs Maya Ishii-Peters and Anna Kone, creator-writer-stars Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle operate with a Looney Toons-like physicality to recapture their tweenage years. When Maya’s at her most uninhibited, Erskine’s face is as elastic as any Tex Avery character’s, while Konkle contorts her limbs to show Anna’s struggles to control her body after a growth spurt. With performances like these, it’s no stretch to imagine Pen15 adapting to the animated format. And, with the show’s 2000 setting, it’d be the perfect medium to pay tribute to millennials’ most beloved childhood ’toons—shows like Arthur, The Powerpuff Girls, and As Told By Ginger, to name a few. One can imagine an episode where Maya, Anna, and their classmates recount their summer vacations, each memory told via distinctive animation styles from that era. Maya and Anna are also the perfect age to fall down the rabbit hole of websites like Homestar Runner and Albino Blacksheep, giving Pen15 the opportunity to play out their internet fantasies through the magic of primitive flash animation. [Cameron Scheetz]

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The Mandalorian

The Mandalorian

The Star Wars Holiday Special was never as thoroughly memory-holed as its reputation suggests. While its complete, broadcast-once-and-never-again form persists only in bootlegs, elements of its plot eventually worked their way into Star Wars canon. Nowhere is that more evident than in the streaming series it made possible: Even if you missed The Mandalorian’s dialogue about Life Day, or failed to recognize Din Djarin’s favored method of long-range disintegration, you surely knew his fellow, principled, helmeted bounty hunter Boba Fett first appeared as a cartoon in the franchise’s disavowed hive of scum and variety-show schtick. Where his appearance in “The Story Of The Faithful Wookiee” helped bridge A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Boba Fett’s journey from the belly of the sarlacc to The Mandalorian could be told in a similar, Moebius-inspired fashion—and now that Disney owns Lucasfilm, there’d be no need to farm the animation out. Sure, one of the main draws of The Mandalorian is that every other ongoing Star Wars story on TV has been told in cels and pixels—but with the series’ established history of riffing on The Star Wars Holiday Special, why not give Jon Favreau and company a chance to play with the part that people already like? [Erik Adams]

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Pose

Pose

FX’s Pose is an exceptionally moving drama that has provided a spotlight for its wonderful cast, including Mj Rodriguez, Billy Porter, and Indya Moore. Pose has something to say—about the way trans women of color have been marginalized within the LGBTQ+ community and the Reagan administration’s deplorable response to the AIDS epidemic. It’s also proved itself capable of deft changes in tone, from fanciful to heartbreaking, and is packed with the kind of show-stopping moments that would lend themselves especially well to an animated format. The number of jaw-dropping looks (courtesy of costume designer Analucia McGorty) would skyrocket, as animation could create costume changes with a swipe of a pen, and also fill in period-specific details for the historical eras (and fashion styles) the show mines for its already impressive ballroom scenes. The late Candy (Angelique Ross) gifted her ballroom peers with the lip sync, and those performances could be rendered through music video homages—all while preserving Pose’s commitment to empathetic storytelling. [Danette Chavez]

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American Horror Story

American Horror Story

As one of the series that helped spark the anthology TV revival, few shows are as suited to following their creative and stylistic whims wherever they might take them as American Horror Story. Which raises the question: For a show that’s already this luridly cartoonish, why stop at a single animated episode, when the potential for a full animated AHS season is waiting right there to be seized? (It wouldn’t be any goofier than AHS: 1984, anyway.) Finally, every bizarre visual, implausible sex toy, and post-apocalyptic landscape the series has ever dallied with can be back at its fingertips—and more. Mile-high fetish ghosts, non-Euclidean knife dildos, a thousand different Sarah Paulson characters on camera all at once: If there was ever a show ready to hack away its last remaining tethers to reality and float off into the animated ether for good, FX’s long-running nightmare buffet has got to be the one. [William Hughes]

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Evil

Evil

No network TV show is doing horror like CBS’s Evil. A good mixture of procedural and episodic, Robert and Michelle King’s creepy drama already exists in a world of dream sequences and heightened reality. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine possible devil worshipper Leland (Michael Emerson) sending Kristen (Katja Herbers) and David (Mike Colter) into an animated realm where the demons that lurk in the shadows of their real-world lives could stretch their wings both literally and figuratively. The series has had a lot of fun using video games and other media as a conduit for evildoers, so maybe Evil goes analog and has Leland use Kristen’s daughter’s artwork serve as the vessel for his animated antics. Things could start off cute and Crayola-colorful before transforming into darker, Walking Dead-like visuals. [Patrick Gomez]

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Euphoria

Euphoria

HBO’s bold drama Euphoria took some big creative swings in its first season, including an animated sequence featuring some particularly bawdy One Direction fan fiction. It didn’t quite win the respect of subjects Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson, but it did manage to confirm the show’s willingness to veer off the beaten path and explore some texture within its narrative. And when you consider that there’s no telling when it’ll finally be safe for a show that features a packed high school to resume production, fans may need more than one promised pre-season special to get through the drought. It wouldn’t even need to lean on forced silliness: There’s such a dearth in truly dramatic animated storytelling that Euphoria, if given the opportunity, could actually exhibit the versatility of the medium. No need for stunts and large-scale flights of fancy, just some good old-fashioned color theory to delve into the grooves of Rue and Jules’ friendship, or the rocky terrain of Rue’s sobriety. [Shannon Miller]

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Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

Kicking off the week with John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight on Sunday nights on HBO has been a balm—a witty, intelligent voice of reason in a sea of conflicting reports and biased misinformation. Think of what a blast it would be, though, if Last Week Tonight was animated. While Oliver’s current graphics are amazing (an image of Putin’s genitalia as a fist surrounded by barbed wire stands out), animation would enable his brilliant metaphors like “At this point, we aren’t just flirting with disaster; we’re rounding third base and asking if disaster has any condoms,” or “Cranberries taste like what raspberries drink before a colonoscopy” to come to appealing—if bizarre—fruition. And just imagine how much fun Oliver’s animation staff would have with his frequent and hopefully prescient Trump refrain of “We got him!” We’re picturing a celebratory, tripped-out utopia that would put The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine to shame. [Gwen Ihnat]

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Riverdale

Riverdale

When Riverdale made Chad Michael Murray into an organ-harvesting cult leader with a penchant for Evel Knievel-esque theatrics, it proved there was no shark it could jump that would derail its macabre cartoon logic. And, given that its willingness to tackle genres like musicals and noir has produced some of its best stand-alone episodes, why not go full cartoon? With plenty of comics to draw from—not to mention animated series like throwback The Archie Show and oddity Archie’s Weird MysteriesRiverdale already has a visual world sketched out for itself. The Archie Horror imprint, in particular, presents an exciting roster of monster teens (Werewolf Jughead, Vampironica) that the series would have a field day with, finally delving into the supernatural in a way regular episodes can only tease. Animation would also make possible a long-awaited crossover event, bringing together the casts of The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina and the canceled-too-soon Katy Keene for a rager of an Archieverse party at Cheryl Blossom’s place. And, hell, throw the Predator into the mix, just for the fun of it. [Cameron Scheetz]

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Fargo

Fargo

As an anthology series (that’s an adaptation of the Coen brothers’ movie), Fargo is all about reinventing itself. The fourth season of Noah Hawley’s FX series includes an episode that marks one of its greatest departures in style and tone that still nods to the show’s core conceit about ordinary people stretched to extraordinary limits. Fargo already comes across as a dark fable, thanks to Dana Gonzales’ cinematography, which is intent on uncovering the beauty and hidden perils of windswept plains and the snow-covered Upper Midwest. An animated episode down the road would allow for even more fantastical moments, or a spirited jaunt through historical periods, like say, the waves of migration seen in Kansas City, Missouri. For something even more heightened, illustrators could take inspiration from Joan Miró’s playful landscapes—or heck, just create a whimsical backdrop for Jeff Russo’s icy score. [Danette Chavez]

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