BOMBS AWAY At least “Beer Goggles” is an improvement on The Drinky Crow Show’s pilot.
In the first animated adaptation of Tony Millionaire's sumptuously debauched comic strip Maakies — a half-dozen or so shorts shown between skits on Saturday Night Live in the late '90s — the soused Drinky Crow was voiced by erstwhile Conan O'Brien sidekick Andy Richter. It worked well: reedy and weak, Richter's intonation was perfectly suited to a sad-sack creature so ill-equipped to deal with this poor world that his daily routine veered between drinking himself into oblivion and blowing his birdbrains all over the screen.
In the latest stab at adaptation, which turns Maakies into The Drinky Crow Show (debuts November 23 at 12:15 am on the Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim"), Drinky is voiced by Dino Stamatopoulos (Mr. Show, Moral Orel). His constant companion, Uncle Gabby, a simian-looking fellow with a shamrock in his top hat and a shared lust for liquor, is voiced by David Herman (MADtv, Office Space). Neither of them is wrong per se. In fact, I'm an admirer of both guys' other work. I just remain convinced that Richter's were the proper pipes to give Drinky the gift of gab.
If the above suggests an unseemly amount of thought expended on something astoundingly inconsequential, so be it: I'm that much of a Maakies fan. Created by Millionaire (a/k/a Scott Richardson) and Scott Kaplan, The Drinky Crow Show first aired as a lukewarmly received pilot in the spring of 2007. In that clip, the animation seemed clunky: flat, washed out, sorta bland. It had none of the weird and wondrous rococo flair of Millionaire's intricate inky lines. (He's heavily influenced by the gorgeous fantasias of early-20th-century comics artists like Winsor McCay.)
I'm happy to report that the new season premiere, "Beer Goggles," is far better than the pilot. The animation is more detailed and expressive, with more of a hand-drawn feel — whether it's limning a candy-spangled fantasy land or the sagging breasts and cellulite of two over-the-hill ladies of the night. The themesong by (of course) They Might Be Giants and the voice cameos by Brett and Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords are gravy.
The story here — thanks to the steampunk-style beer-bottle optical device he's got strapped to his noggin, Drinky doesn't notice that the world has become a post-apocalyptic wasteland — is also a lot funnier than the pilot. (As is the second episode, "Old Girlfriend," which airs December 21.) And if it's impossible to capture fully Millionaire's drawings in motion, at least the show can indulge in some of his favorite thematic fetishes: rampant alcohol abuse, copious spumes of vomit, gory self-mutilation, interspecies copulation, and pupating insects.
That said, television shows are all well and good. But not as good as sitting down with a copy of the latest Maakies collection, The Maakies with the Wrinkled Knees (Fantagraphics), perhaps swigging from a steady supply of Budweisers as one reads. (One should read it as its author drew it, after all.) There you can lose yourself in Millionaire's ornate black-and-white world, one that draws on the clam shacks, widow's walks, and majestic three-masted schooners of his boyhood Gloucester home. The refined beauty of these backgrounds stands in contrast to our heroes' warped sexual fantasies, abject alcoholism, Grand Guignol violence, and excremental experiments: Drinky shooting Gabby's face off for having feet that smell "like warm meatloaf"; Gabby injecting himself with estrogen to suckle on his own teat; a Siamese fighting fish that's been flushed down the toilet picking a fight with a turd. Some things, after all, you just shouldn't show on TV.