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Clerks: The Animated Series Uncensored

Writer-director Kevin Smith loved his first film Clerks so much he's built his other movies around it; the characters Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) have shown up in all his pictures, as has New Jersey, and many of the key events in Clerks are referenced throughout his oeuvre. It then shouldn't come as a surprise that his first stab at a sitcom was a cartoonized version of it. Given the green light for six episodes, Clerks: The Animated Series (2000) was mishandled by ABC, who didn't know what to do with it — the network that aired Full House for nine years isn't exactly hip — and when the success of Who Wants to be a Millionaire made ABC #1 in ratings, they bumped the premiere date. Smith went public with his gripes about the date-move as the show was put on during the summer (considered a burial ground) for only two of the six episodes, and then abruptly canceled. As badly as ABC was perceived for fumbling the ball, Smith's public dissing of the network wasn't exactly going to make them his biggest supporter. Clerks: The Animated Series Uncensored, the DVD collection of all six episodes, shows then what could have been. Unfortunately, the six shows are not that good. The first episode introduces Leonardo (Alec Baldwin) as the principal foil for "Quick Stop" clerks Dante and Randal (Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson, both reprising their roles from the film). Nearby are Jay (Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith), who were drug dealers in the movies, but just mischief-makers here. But this initial outing isn't that funny (Smith ironically loves poking fun at the quickly canceled Secret Diary of Desmond Pfiefer). The second episode is a "flashback" bit wherein Randal and Dante get locked in a freezer together and remember past events; humorous briefly, the premise gets tiresome (and uses the same joke about the Happy Days season cliffhanger where Fonzie jumps the barrels that South Park did in a similarly themed and much funnier turn). A pet store opening next door to the Quick Stop fuels Randal's fear of the Outbreak virus and the plot for episode three. Patrick Swayze (voiced by Gilbert Godfried) is mercilessly parodied as he is portrayed working at the pet shop; this is one of the better episodes as it is very busy and has a James Woods vocal cameo, but it also skirts homophobic dialogue that would have raised a lot of eyebrows had it aired. The fourth episode focuses on a lawsuit Jay has against Dante (it features a Pokemon parody, similar to one from South Park) and has Judge Reinhold playing himself as the judge, which is supposed to be funny but speaks how far his career has sunk — it's sad to watch. The fifth installment is a rip-off of The Last Starfighter, The Bad News Bears and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and is the funniest of the lot: Randal plays a video game to the point of beating it, and is asked to use his video game skills in real life, but unfortunately the game is about building pyramids. Meanwhile, Dante coaches a little league team made up of the Special Ed. kids and Jay. The final episode is an homage to the geeks who loved the first film, and to Chuck Jones' Duck Amuck, with the results being spotty. Taking the Clerks animated series in full, it should be noted that both The Simpsons and South Park are much more insightful and inflammatory in terms of pop culture send-ups, and they are funnier. This TV version of Clerks is derivative of both. That said, The Simpsons and South Park took more than six episodes to find their respective grooves (something anyone who's seen a recent airing of first season Simpsons can attest to), and with animation Smith and his crew surely had to work out the wrinkles. There was promise here, and there are a couple of good laughs. But Smith had yet to expand his New Jersey universe enough to make anyone think that this show could fly (and there are way too many in-jokes for the market he went after). For Smith fans, this disc is a must-have, but the casual viewer probably will understand ABC's decision to pull the plug. Buena Vista's DVD set is lavish, featuring introductions to each episode, TV spots, two behind-the-animation featurettes, audio commentaries for each episode featuring Smith, Mewes, Anderson, O'Halloran, animator Chris Bailey, executive producer Scott Mosier, and writer Dave Mandel (which offers a lot of is a griping but does give a good idea of what they were doing and where they were going), and animatics for every show. The episodes are presented full-frame (1.33:1) and in Dolby 2.0 Surround. Keep-case.

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