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Toon: Dexter’s Laboratory Season1

Dexter’s Laboratory is, quite simply, exactly what a cartoon should be. It’s silly, fun and clever. Everything in it for kids can be enjoyed by adults and everything in it for adults will fly over kid’s heads. I’m not saying that there’s anything too mature or inappropriate for kids in Dexter’s Laboratory, because there certainly isn’t! There are however, many pop culture references that anyone under the age of 14 simply won’t connect with. Actually, there are plenty of references that anyone who wasn’t alive during the eighties (or earlier) will miss out on too.

Perhaps it’s the fact that Dexter’s Laboratory has never been marketed at adults, or perhaps it is simply a case of it not being crass or edgy enough to appeal to the kind of audiences who’ve made the likes of Family Guy and The Simpsons house hold names. Whatever the reasoning it seems to me that this little gem has been hidden away on the Cartoon Network for far too long (12 years for that matter). The good news is that the first season of Dexter’s Laboratory has just been released on DVD, so hopefully it will reach a new following.

Dexter is a genius and a straight up homosapien. Unfortunately, even with his vastly superior intellect, Dexter is unable to keep his annoying sister, Dee Dee, out of his expansive, hidden laboratory. Dee Dee is either an intolerable flake, who’s moronic behaviour thwarts the advancements of Dexter’s research, or she’s cool… I guess it depends on whether you grew up with an annoying older sister yourself or not.

Each show in this series features three shorts. Two instalments featuring Dexter’s misadventures, separated by a ‘spin off’ short in-between. These ‘spin off’ shorts for the first half of the season follow the adventures of Monkey: A resident of Dexter’s Lab. Dexter appears only in the opening sequence of these shorts — titled: Dial M for Monkey — expressing his disappointment regarding the fact that, despite his experiments, the monkey shows no signs of genetic mutation or super powers. Of course, Dexter is wrong and each episode sees Monkey called away to save the planet from yet another menace.

Later in the series Dial M for Monkey is replaced by a short featuring a trio of superheroes known as the Justice Friends. Major Glory, Viking Rock God Val Hallen and The Infraggable Krunk — obvious parodies of classic superheroes — all share an apartment. Rather than focus on their crime-fighting or world-saving adventures, The Justice Friends shorts play out like a sitcom (complete with laugh track) and centre on the mundane happenings of sharing a house with superheroes.

As the name on the DVD case suggest though, Dexter and his Laboratory are the stars of this series. Starting out extremely strong with an episode dealing with a temporal paradox, the series makes many repeated references to classic science fiction movies and television shows, including Raiders of the lost Ark, Stargate, Terminator, Iron-man, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jurassic Park, Tron, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Godzilla and Predator.

Not satisfied with simple pop-culture references, there are plenty of subtle science based hat-tips too, including a nod to the controversial experiments conducted by Harry Harlow.

Having looked at the writing credits for this show, it’s no surprise that it is as entertaining as it actually is, many of the writers have worked on some other, well known, animated series, including The Ren and Stimpy Show, Rocko’s Modern Life, SpongeBob SquarePants, Star Wars: Clone Wars, Samurai Jack. No doubt the best known name amongst the writers is Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy and American Dad, but this comes as no surprise really. Dexter’s Laboratory gets very close to matching Family Guy’s humour, however it is almost unrecognisable without the venom that is often included in many of the Griffin family’s exchanges.

Being delivered in short instalments the writers rarely bother to clean up after themselves, instead Dexter’s universe simply resets before the beginning of the next episode: An episode can end with Dexter’s Laboratory being destroyed or Dee Dee having been transformed into a giant monster, yet neither of these things will have bearing on the following episode.

Dexter’s Laboratory isn’t just wall to wall parodies and classic pop-culture regurgitation though, it is cleverly written and genuinely funny. It never forgets that it is a show intended for a younger audience, but is obviously intended to amuse adults as well. [source]

Programme content, package design and supplementary material © 2008 Cartoon Network. CARTOON NETWORK, DEXTER’S LABORATORY, the logos and all related characters and elements are trademarks of and © 2008 Cartoon Network. A Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.
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