The best animated series ever, from Adventure Time to whatever The Zeta Project is

The best animated series ever, from Adventure Time to whatever The Zeta Project is

A.V. To Z is an alphabetical survey of a specific realm in pop culture.

The A.V. Club kicked off its A.V. To Z feature last month with a rundown of the best obscure Simpsons characters from chimpan-A to chimpan-Z. Now we’re back with another look at animation—albeit a broader one. This time, writers sifted through the hundreds if not thousands of animated shows that have graced the small screen, heatedly debating the merits of, say, Johnny Bravo versus The Jetsons, trying not to let our nostalgia-tinged memories get in the way. Some letters were easy—there are only so many “Z” shows, after all—while others (“S,” “B,” and so on) nearly drove us to drop anvils on one another.

A: Adventure Time (2010—)

Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time began as a pitch that was as generic as possible so that it would have the widest appeal when viewed by network executives, but over six seasons and 186 episodes (and counting), it’s blossomed into one of the most distinctive cartoons currently on the air. That first story about a boy, his dog, a princess, and an evil king was the sapling that grew into a sprawling post-post-apocalyptic absurdist action comedy epic, drawing from influences that include (but are far from limited to) the cosmic comic-book work of Jack Kirby, Dungeons & Dragons, and a number of retro video games. The writers have developed an expansive mythology for the series, but the broadness of that initial concept has kept the show very malleable. In recent seasons, it’s become an outlet for unique creative voices to do short-form animation experiments, showing that a basic foundation doesn’t have to be a limitation. [Oliver Sava]

B: Beavis And Butt-head (1993-1997, 2011)

Beavis And Butt-head is the smartest show MTV has ever aired, and it “stars” two of the greatest morons in cartoon history. Butt-head and his even dumber friend Beavis perfectly captured the brains of hormonal, destructive teens—both their general ridiculousness and their biting wit. You weren’t exactly laughing with them, but if you weren’t a total stick in the mud—like the parents who protested the show—you probably recognized some of their opinions as your own, especially about the music videos they watched in every episode, which are sadly lacking on DVD releases. (“These guys are like a cross between Danzig and my butt,” says Butt-head of Type O Negative, rendering all music criticism before or after completely useless.) [Josh Modell]

C: The Critic (1994-1995)

Often mistaken for a direct spinoff of The Simpsons—and both embraced and spurned for it—The Critic took two of that show’s most successful writer-producers, Al Jean and Mike Reiss, its beloved guest actor Jon Lovitz, and its pop-savvy satire, yet spun something entirely new out of them. Unlike Homer Simpson, Lovitz’s film reviewer Jay Sherman was envisioned as an unlovable loser: a snooty Manhattanite who cultivated an incredibly high opinion of himself, yet craved the love of the same uncultured TV viewers he derided. Needless to say, ABC audiences who’d just finished watching Home Improvement never warmed to it, while even Fox’s Simpsons fans received Jay with as much hospitality as Homer did in their crossover episode. But time has been kind to The Critic, whose format was ideal for the sort of quick-cut movie spoofs that can live well beyond their original context (and which, for better or worse, led to the similarly structured Family Guy). Newcomers may also be surprised to discover that Jay actually becomes a surprisingly sympathetic character through his constant humiliations yet plucky resolve, which creates the same affection for him as original viewers had for his perpetually endangered show. [Sean O’Neal]

Runner-up: Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999)

A pastiche of misfit space opera, spaghetti Western, pulp noir, and whatever else its creators thought looked or sounded neat, this beloved anime series about a team of spacefaring bounty hunters combined retro-futuristic cool with a surprising emotional depth. Yoko Kanno’s original songs—an integral part of every episode—are nothing to sneeze at, either. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

D: Daria (1997-2001)

Daria, a show so entrenched in late ’90s alt-culture that one of its characters was named Trent, is due for a renaissance. Deadpan, tabloid TV-obsessed 16-year-old cultural critic Daria Morgendorffer, described by The New York Times as “a blend of Dorothy Parker, Fran Lebowitz, and Janeane Garofalo,” was a role model to a generation of disaffected teen girls (and boys), and the show’s sardonic take on suburban teen life remains relevant today. Daria is an outcast, for sure, but in her way she’s the most normal person in her Sick Sad World populated with exaggerated caricatures of jocks, nerds, and popular girls. And she’s one of the few TV characters who actually reads. The character of Daria was initially spun off from our “B” pick, Mike Judge’s Beavis And Butt-head, but Judge had no involvement in the show itself. To distinguish itself from its parent series, series creators Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis Lynn transferred the Morgendorffers to the neatly manicured suburb of Lawndale in the first episode, a move that provided endless targets for Daria’s sarcastic takedowns. [Katie Rife]

E: Eek! The Cat (1992-1997)

“It never hurts to help,” insisted Saturday morning’s most altruistic feline. That cheerful motto aside, the real moral of Eek! The Cat was how much helping can hurt. Episode in and episode out, the titular ball of optimistic fur learned the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished—a lesson often taught by his irritable (and chompy) canine nemesis, Sharky The Sharkdog. Created by Savage Steve Holland, the writer/director of Better Off Dead, Fox’s gleefully sadistic series delighted in putting its do-gooder hero through the ringer, all while satirizing a hypothetical audience of spoiled, impatient, cereal-eating kids. Arguably even funnier was the companion segment: Introduced in the second season, The Terrible Thunderlizards pitted a trio of armed-to-the-teeth dinosaurs against the clueless humans who accidentally, but without fail, get the best of them. Packaged together on one half-hour bill, the two programs offered a weekly dose of mean-spirited mayhem. Tex Avery would be proud. [A.A. Dowd]

F: The Flintstones (1960-1966)

A prehistoric sitcom way ahead of its time, The Flintstones beat The Simpsons to primetime by several decades, and established a market for TV cartoons aimed at adults—even if, ultimately, most of the show’s audience was under 10. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera borrowed liberally from one of television’s best-loved comedies, The Honeymooners, building their series around two blue-collar buddies, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, and their long-suffering wives Wilma and Betty. Hanna-Barbera’s stroke of genius was setting The Flintstones in a Stone Age world of cavemen and dinosaurs (which never existed at the same time in actual history, but whatever). With that one twist, the show was able to spin six seasons of fairly typical sitcom high jinks—neighborly feuds, trouble with the boss, having kids, and more—and make it all seem fairly fresh and clever by tacking the words “rock” or “slate” or “granite” onto otherwise ordinary names and concepts. Intentionally or not, The Flintstones exposed some of the earliest sitcom clichés, even if just by throwing a pterodactyl into the frame and making the commonplace seem more bizarre. [Noel Murray]

G: Gravity Falls (2012—)

Adolescence is a scary time, and in popular culture, the terror of adolescence easily translates to straight-up terror: Think Carrie, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, or that episode of Boy Meets World where Cory Matthews thinks he’s a werewolf. But Gravity Falls has a distinct advantage over other coming-of-age stories that go bump in the night: It’s a cartoon, so the show’s ranks of artfully rendered nightmares from the preteen psyche are limited only by its animators’ imaginations. Taking place during one crazy summer in the lives of twins Dipper (Jason Ritter) and Mabel (Kristen Schaal) Pines, Gravity Falls is essentially a Frankenstein’s monster of Bart-and-Lisa-centric Simpsons episodes, the atmosphere of Twin Peaks, and the dense mythologizing of The X-Files and Lost. Fortunately, the brain and the heart of Gravity Falls communicate better than that of Frankenstein’s actual monster, channeling well-calibrated chills and emotionally honest laughs through Dipper and Mabel’s tangles with lake monsters, time travelers, an eerily influential (and totally fraudulent) child psychic, and the supernatural forces that tie together everything (and everyone) in Gravity Falls. [Erik Adams]

H: Home Movies (1999-2004)

Navigating adolescence through the lens of his video camera, the preteen protagonist of Home Movies shares a name, a voice, and presumably some life experiences with the show’s mastermind, Brendon Small. But this four-season cult cartoon, born on UPN and raised in the more permissive household of Adult Swim, belongs equally to its co-creator, Loren Bouchard. There are telltale signs of both writers’ involvement over four stellar seasons. The elaborate movie homages and rock operas dreamt up by the fictional Brendon feel like dry runs to the power-chord insanity of the real Brendon’s Metalocalypse. Likewise, the show’s vision of precocious childhood anticipates the more refined pleasures Bouchard now offers with Bob’s Burgers. But Home Movies is its own animal, heavy on inspired improvisation and featuring characters as richly developed as they are crudely drawn (first in Squigglevision, then through a marginally more attractive Flash animation). And with all due respect to Sterling Archer and Bob Belcher, H. Jon Benjamin’s definitive vocal performance may still be his embodiment of ill-tempered peewee soccer coach John McGuirk, the most uproarious of this show’s young and old screw-ups. [A.A. Dowd]

I: Invader Zim (2001-2002)

Invader Zim was destined for a cult following. From its seemingly bizarre nature to its too-early demise, the Nickelodeon cartoon brought a darker form of entertainment to the kid’s network. Aimed at early teenagers, Invader Zim followed the pint-sized title character, an extraterrestrial from the planet Irk determined to destroy Earth, for two seasons. Zim’s surrounding cast—GIR, a defective robot sometimes masquerading as a dog, and Dib, a hip and young paranormal investigator that is wise to Zim’s real identity—paired with his own ineptitude keeps him from ever succeeding. But the same cannot be said of the cartoon, which welcomed critical acclaim for straddling the line between child and adult entertainment with episodes like season one’s “Bloaty’s Pizza Hog,” in which a grossly obese man zips himself into a hog costume to hawk more-grimy-than-greasy pizza to children he allows to crawl all over him. The constant depiction of Earth as a complete shitcan only adds to this dingy, but delightful program. [Becca James]

J: Johnny Bravo (1997-2004)

One of Cartoon Network’s hit shows, Johnny Bravo told the ridiculous, outlandish stories of a self-centered, chauvinistic man-child named Johnny (Jeff Bennett) and his constant failed quests to hit on beautiful women. Created by Van Partible, Johnny Bravo used its main character to smack down—hardthe idea of the ultra-perfect male and his obnoxious sense of entitlement, while also exploring, in increments, some of Johnny’s surprising positive qualities. The show also reveled in its animated insanity, placing Johnny in the midst of a Schoolhouse Rocks parody, a Scooby-Doo quest, and a date with a werewolf. The show also essentially launched the careers of Butch Hartman and Seth MacFarlane. [Kevin Johnson]

K: King Of The Hill (1997-2010)

By 1997, The Simpsons had basically abandoned any pretext of exploring the foibles of the middle-class American family. (There’s really no coming back from launching your patriarch and protagonist into the cosmos.) Thankfully, that was the year that King Of The Hill arrived to fill the void, offering a perennially grounded alternative to the increasingly out-there misadventures of Springfield’s finest. Set in the fictional suburban sprawl of Arlen, Texas, Fox’s second-longest-running animated sitcom remained firmly rooted in the mundane drama of raising a family and running a business. The show was a perfect synthesis of sensibilities: Co-creator Greg Daniels, formerly of The Simpsons and later of The Office, brought a wealth of character-driven comedy, softening without dulling the satirical edge of Beavis And Butt-head mastermind Mike Judge. The result was a show that poked gentle fun at traditional American values—the kind held dear by its hero, sensible and stodgy propane salesman Hank Hill—without stooping to condescension. (In truth, the series skewed slightly more conservative than liberal, reserving its greatest disdain for self-righteous interlopers.) If King Of The Hill never inspired the kind of devoted fanfare visited upon its animated network neighbors, that’s probably because it was, for most of its 13-year run, as low-key and squarely lovable as the proud Texan it portrayed. A “Deep Space Hank” would have betrayed that earthbound appeal. [A.A. Dowd]

L: Liquid Television (1991-1994)

The breeding ground for some of the strangest animation ever to make it to mainstream TV, Liquid Television was also the inspiration for seemingly half of MTV’s animated programming during its wild mid-’90s. Most famously, the show spawned Beavis And Butt-head and Æon Flux, two very different cartoons that began as experimental shorts on Liquid Television before spawning their own successful series, theatrical movies, and merchandising empires. But these were only the two most obvious breakouts of a showcase that introduced suburban teens to underground animation and cartoonists like Art Spiegelman, Peter Bagge, and Charles Burns, while routinely doing their heads in with everything from the primitive charms of “Stick Figure Theatre” to the sick puppets of “Winter Steele” to the live-action phantasmagoria of “The Art School Girls Of Doom.” Every episode of Liquid Television was like a druggy fever dream that warped an entire generation—or at least, gave them something to watch while stoned. [Sean O’Neal]

Runner-up: The Legend Of Korra (2012-2014)

Building on the strong foundation of its predecessor Avatar: The Last Airbender, this series stands as one of the most feminist action adventure cartoons ever produced, spotlighting a cast of ass-kicking women in beautifully animated martial arts adventures. [Oliver Sava]

M: Muppet Babies (1984-1991)

Jim Henson’s major live-action show of the ’80s, Fraggle Rock, taught young viewers to explore the world around them; the Muppet man’s first foray into series animation took the opposite tack by opening up endless worlds within. Spinning off of a Muppets Take Manhattan dream sequence—in which Miss Piggy reflects on the childhood she could’ve had with Kermit The Frog, Fozzie Bear, The Great Gonzo, Rowlf The Dog, and Scooter—Muppet Babies turned back the clock to portray the Muppet Show cast as hyper-imaginative toddlers. Told from an ankle-biter’s POV that cut off most of the show’s adult characters at the knees, Muppet Babies flexed its powers of fantasy by transforming the babies’ nursery into fairy-tale settings, outer-space outposts, and any other Never Never Land Kermit and company could conjure. Unfortunately, the live-action footage that made this possible, cribbed from sources as conspicuous as the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies, more or less precludes an official DVD release. The show’s limitless imagination would likely lead to nearly limitless licensing fees. [Erik Adams]

Runner-up: Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures (1987-1988)

Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures rejuvenated TV cartoons by fusing a relentless energy with an idiosyncratic point of view that could accommodate superhero antics alongside pop-culture parodies. Although it lasted only two short seasons, the influence of MM:TNA would be felt for some time, as it was an incubator for an astonishing array of animation talent, including Pixar auteur Andrew Stanton, Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi, and Wreck-It Ralph director Rich Moore. [John Teti]

N: Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996)

Hideaki Anno’s esoteric deconstruction of the mecha anime—which, ironically, ended up becoming one of the most iconic series in the genre—is a mess of Jewish mysticism, religious imagery, and psychoanalysis, interspersed with epic battles between kaiju-like monsters-slash-metaphors called Angels and biomechanical giants called Evas. The series’ contrasting and contradictory themesas well as its confounding, experimental finale—have produced two decades of fan theories and academic papers, which, at this point, are on the verge of overshadowing the fact that Neon Genesis Evangelion happens to also be a first-rate sci-fi action serial. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

O: The Oblongs (2001)

Part of the second wave of prime-time animated series (arguably beginning with Family Guy), The Oblongs, created by former Simpsons writer Jace Richdale and illustrator Angus Oblong, ran unfinished on The WB before gaining a cult audience when re-aired in its entirety on Adult Swim. Sporting a talented voice cast—Will Ferrell as the eternally optimistic father; Jean Smart as the sarcastic, alcoholic mother; The Sklar Brothers as conflicting, two-headed siblings; Pamela Adlon as the naive, good-natured son—The Oblongs was a biting, hilarious satire of class divisions and social stratification, delineated by the grotesque mutations of the Oblongs and everyone else who lived “below” the wealthy citizens of The Hills. It never preached, however; its sole focus was on the swiftly paced gags and the strong family unit surviving, sometimes literally, as best it can. [Kevin Johnson]

P: Pinky And The Brain (1995-1998)

Saddled with an infectious earworm of a theme song, this Animaniacs spin-off lasted for four seasons and 65 episodes, each following a rather simple formula: Two genetically modified laboratory rats—one a genius (Brain), the other insane (Pinky)—try to take over the world and continuously fail. The settings and the plots for world domination change, but the core concept and characters never do, forcing the writers to come up with increasingly creative ways to keep the show fresh when it always has the same forward drive. Parody was a major weapon in the series’ arsenal, and those eager to revisit the pop culture of the late ’90s will find a lot to love in these episodes, which throw out slews of references without any care for how they date the show. Like many of the best Warner Bros. cartoons, Pinky & The Brain is uncomplicated and repetitive, but the creators bring just enough variety to keep it consistently entertaining. [Oliver Sava]

Q: Queer Duck (1999-2002)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there aren’t a lot of cartoons that start with Q. Still, Queer Duck is a solid choice to represent the letter. A 3-minute short that originated online before coming to Showtime in tandem with Queer As Folk in 2002, Queer Duck was the first animated series to center around an openly gay character. Created, written, and produced by The Simpsons and The Critic’s Mike Reiss—a popular character around this list—Queer Duck took on hot button issues in the gay community with aplomb, having the titular character hilariously face down gay bashers, come out to his obtuse family, and get married to his long-term boyfriend, Openly Gator. Though the show disappeared from TV in 2002, it resurfaced as the direct-to-DVD Queer Duck: The Movie in 2006. [Marah Eakin]

R: The Ren & Stimpy Show (1991-1996)

The Ren & Stimpy Show looked back to animation’s golden age not just with its wildly expressive main characters—an angry “asthma-hound” and a stupid, joyous cat—but with its ability to ride the line between children’s entertainment and something far more adult. (Kids and grown-ups can both truly love the early episodes, which can’t be said for a lot of cartoons.) Ren and Stimpy get caught by a dog catcher and learn about “the big sleep,” they go to jail, and they wrestle semi-professionally, all the while winking with the kind of jokes that drove the Nickelodeon higher-ups crazy. Eventually creator John Kricfalusi left the show, and it was defanged. (He later launched a strictly adult version of the show, which was just sort of gross.) But those first two seasons are basically unimpeachable; they stand tall with the best cartoons of all time. [Josh Modell]

Runner-up: The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show (1959-1964)

Smart, silly writing and wide-ranging satire made Rocky & Bullwinkle a standout in its era (the early ’60s), and while the cultural references have aged, the show’s energy and wordplay still hold up today. [John Teti]

S: The Simpsons (1989—)

Here’s a no-brainer: The Simpsons is more than TV’s best “S” cartoon—it’s also the best animated series of all time, and television’s crowning achievement regardless of format. Some may try to peel the rose-colored filter from the show’s classic era, others bemoan the creative direction of the past dozen or so seasons—but the fact that it’s survived long enough to even have 12 “bad” seasons is an achievement in and of itself. (And let’s be honest: Anything is going to look bad in comparison to the unprecedented eight-year run of near perfection that The Simpsons pulled off between 1989 and 1997.) The Simpsons redefined the American sitcom, made primetime safe for animation again (effectively making half of the shows on this list possible), and (for better or for worse) influenced the way people in the real world speak. The show even captured a culture so effectively that it built its own living, breathing universe that’s currently nattering away in millions of smartphones—this is no “meh” achievement. The Simpsons is cromulent, plain and simple, and we are all embiggened for having it in our lives. [Erik Adams]

Runner-up: South Park (1997—)

Even South Park acknowledged that The Simpsons did it first, but Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s creation has had a consistency The Simpsons should envy, and it’s long eclipsed other graying workhorses like Saturday Night Live when it comes to topical satire. It’s safe to say the younger generation has derived more of its sense of humor from South Park than any other cartoon—and quite possibly, any other show. [Sean O’Neal]

T: The Tick (1994-1996)

If the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the Nirvana of Saturday morning cartoon characters—growing from cult favorites in the late ’80s to mainstream stars in the early ’90s—The Tick was like one of the countless, much stranger alt-rock bands to score a major-label deal in the years that followed. Hoping to get in early on a TMNT-sized merchandizing phenomenon, toy company Kiscom helped Ben Edlund adapt his independent comic-book series into an animated kids’ program. Miraculously, the satirical and surrealist spirit of the source material wasn’t lost in translation. On-screen, as on page, The Tick was a gloriously silly parody of superhero conventions, featuring a lovably dimwitted crime-fighter, his meek moth-themed sidekick, and a whole rogues’ gallery of hilariously named adversaries. (Best in show: The Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs At Midnight.) And while a soon-to-be-revived, Seinfeldian sitcom has kept the character alive in the public consciousness, it’s the daft Saturday-morning incarnation that remains most worthy of a celebratory, appreciative “Spooooon!” [A.A. Dowd]

U: Ugly Americans (2010-2012)

The setting of Ugly Americans is an alternate version of New York where humans live alongside all manner of mythical creatures, including but not limited to zombies, hovering brains, fish people, and man-sized eagles who drop man-sized feces from the sky. This might sound like a setup for outsized silliness, but the characters of Ugly Americans are matter-of-fact about the lunacy that surrounds them. That easygoing attitude is essential to the show’s humor. Grounded by a straight man at the center—fully human social worker Mark Lilly—demons and wizards face relatable problems amid fantastical trappings, a contrast that allows Ugly Americans to explore the lunatic fringes of its bizarro Manhattan without losing its heart. Although the show’s quality dipped early in its second season as the creators tried too hard to manufacture spectacle, Ugly Americans regained its footing by the end of its 31-episode run, just in time for Comedy Central to cancel it. [John Teti]

V: The Venture Bros. (2003—)

Beginning as a relatively straightforward Johnny Quest parody, over the course of its first two seasons The Venture Bros. developed a mythology as deep and rewarding as that of the comic books and sci-fi series that it was spoofing. By the fifth season, the show was layering in-jokes on top of in-jokes on top of parody, bringing them all together in ways that would make Larry David proud. Intricate in both jokes and plot, The Venture Bros. has incredible rewatch value—some episodes can only be fully appreciated upon a second or third viewing—and the personalities of the characters and the relationships between them are both bigger than life and affecting. (There’s a reason you’ve seen so much Venture Bros. cosplay.) Similarities between The Venture Bros. and our “T” entry, The Tick, are no coincidence; series creator Chris McCulloch (a.k.a. Jackson Publick) worked as a writer on the animated series, and Patrick Warburton, who voices uber-macho secret agent Brock Samson, played The Tick in the sitcom incarnation of the show. But there are few coincidences in the world of The Venture Bros. Now if only Adult Swim would set a date for the sixth season... [Katie Rife]

Runner-up: Vinni-Pukh (1969-1972)

This short, Soviet-made series may not be the best-known adaptation of A.A. Milne’s Winnie The Pooh stories, but it’s hands down the best, distinguished by its handmade animation style, brisk pace, and Mieczysław Weinberg’s eclectic and eminently hummable music. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

W: The Wacky Races (1968-1969)

Predating the sports-centric cartoon challenges of Laff-A-Lympics, Hanna-Barbera’s The Wacky Races served as the first foray into sports-related slapstick challenges for the production company. Hardly the star-studded event that is Laff-A-Lympics, Wacky Races features numerous one-off characters, all with a few subtle nods to Hanna-Barbera’s iconic entities (Blubbery Bear’s hat-and-scarf combo feels like only a slight alteration on Yogi Bear’s hat and tie). Only 17 two-race episodes were produced, but the show had long legs thanks to it being heavily rebroadcast. Wacky Races would serve as a precursor to Yogi’s very own Star Wars-indebted racing show, 1978’s Yogi’s Space Race, and spawn a video game for the NES in 1991. Wacky Races may have been a short-lived feature for a gaggle of Hanna-Barbera’s second-tier characters, but those freewheeling contests proved they could go the distance. [David Anthony]

X: X-Men: The Animated Series (1992-1997)

Pulling from a wide swath of the ever-expanding X-Men universe, the animated series struck a balance between highlighting the big names of the X-Men world (Wolverine, Jean Grey, Cyclops) while still allowing lesser-known fan-favorites to anchor their own storylines. The show went for broke at its onset, opening the series with a two-part episode introducing the Sentinels—the mutant-hunting machines that set up the “Days Of Future Past” arch—launching the show with the comic’s Holocaust allegory. The show would continually tackle social and political issues throughout its five seasons, seeing its colorful team of mutants take on everything from intolerance and race to AIDS and religion, all filtered through the lens of the eclectic superhero team. [David Anthony]

Runner up: Xavier: Renegade Angel (2007-2009)

The creators of Wonder Showzen made a shitty-looking cartoon about a creature made up of various animal parts who somehow seeks to build an enlightened universe for himself, but can’t ever make it happen. It’s sublime. [Josh Modell]

Y: The Yogi Bear Show (1961-1962)

Cartoons love spin-offs. When a supporting character in a show becomes popular, it makes sense to give that character a headlining spot to see if that program can bring in even more viewers, and that’s easier to do when you don’t have to worry about having physical actors and sets. Originally introduced on The Huckleberry Hound Show, Yogi Bear was one of the early stars of the first wave of TV cartoons, and established a successful formula of applying the behavior of a recognizable pop culture figure to a cartoon character in a fantastic setting. With a voice and mannerisms borrowed from The Honeymooners’ Ed Norton and a name with striking similarities to a well-known baseball player, Yogi Bear was a mishmash of things people liked, and was well liked in turn. The Yogi Bear Show would run for 33 episodes from 1961 to 1962, but Yogi would continue to live on in various TV series, films, video games, and even a 1966 comedy album with the Three Stooges. [Oliver Sava]

Z: The Zeta Project (2001-2002)

The winner of the Z category based purely on lack of options and the presence of both Kurtwood Smith and Diedrich Bader in its cast, The Zeta Project was a sci-fi series that aired exclusively on the WB. As part of the DC Universe by virtue of its Batman Beyond spin-off status, Zeta followed synthoid robot Infilitration Unit Zeta as he fled NSA agents, aided by 15-year-old runaway Rosalie “Ro” Rowan—or so we’re told by sites that summarize this kind of stuff. Seriously, we’ve never seen this show, and we’re just picking it because it starts with Z. [Marah Eakin]