Jim Rash has had a busy year. The Oscar winner (for the screenplay for The Descendants) started the year by writing a script for Community (“Basic Human Anatomy”). Though he’s played Dean Pelton, the unrestrained id of the Greendale Community College campus, since the pilot, this was Rash’s first script for the sitcom. His directorial debut, coming-of-age tale The Way, Way Back, which was co-directed with his writing partner Nat Faxon, hit theaters to friendly reviews and solid box office. Now, he’s hosting the Sundance Channel’s new look into TV’s best writers’ rooms, which will enter the rooms for Breaking Bad, New Girl, Parks & Recreation, and more. Produced in cooperation with Entertainment Weekly, The Writers’ Room will feature Rash as he digs into the creative process behind TV’s best shows. The series debuted July 29 and will continue to air on Monday nights at 10 p.m. Eastern. In honor of the series, Rash decided to offer up 24 hours of a TV genre that’s meant a lot to him—the Saturday morning cartoon.
Jim Rash: I tried to think of what I would do for 24 hours. Then I thought of being a kid, and I was a huge Saturday-morning-cartoon kid.
I realized that I did binge-watch, I was that kid that woke up very early and didn’t go outside until they were over. And the time [they were on], to me, got shorter as the years went on. All that live-action crap entered the Saturday morning cartoons.
All good stuff, but it ruined it for me. [Laughs.] I remember being a kid, and I had a giant box that you could fit in. And I would put toys in the box and then cut a hole in the box, so I could see the TV while I sat in the box and played with the toys. I don’t know what that says about me, but maybe I’m a very bad introvert. [Dry.] I need shelter while I play with my toys in a safe environment and just fry my brains on Saturday morning cartoons.
I watched The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour, or the good ones, but I liked looking back at all the ’70s and ’80s cartoons only, if I could only allow myself to watch what I watched as a kid. I had fun picking out the crap that I probably watched, that probably only lasted a season. I guess seasons were like… what did they do, 16 episodes maybe?
The A.V. Club: They’d usually do 13 to 22 and then just rerun them over and over.
JR: That was it, wasn’t it? You think, “Oh my God, there were so many years of one,” and then you realize, like you said, there’s only 13 or 22 [episodes]. So I’d like to just throw out ones that I saw.
6 a.m.: Pandamonium (1982)
JR: With Saturday morning cartoons, you’ve got to start at 6 a.m., right? So we’re going to be up through the night. Start it with Pandamonium. I think it will allow us to realize that we’re in for a good crapfest. It’s like a good mixtape: You led with a really good song, but then you got a little worried that you pushed the envelope… it’s that High Fidelity thing.
AVC: So why are we starting with Pandamonium?
JR: We’re starting with Pandamonium because I feel like this sets our 6 a.m. It’s almost an appetizer when you look back at the intro to it, like a really weird, fucked-up idea. It’s basically teens, with three pandas, searching for pieces of a pyramid that has exploded, I guess. And there’s obviously an evil force, but his powers don’t work on Earth, so he can command other people. So danger can come in any form, and anywhere in the country. At one point, the pandas, when they’re critical, when they need help, they meld into one panda, but it’s sort of a really fucked-up-looking image where the eyes are a little separated. I don’t know that the powers make them super-powerful. But I think that right there is a good indication that our brains are going to be fried.
So for an hour, let’s absorb two episodes of Pandamonium. I feel like at this point we need to reward ourselves with something that I actually loved, so why don’t we go to Challenge Of The Super Friends?
7 a.m.: Challenge Of The Super Friends (1978)
JR: In the original billing, I think it was an hour long. They had an episode of Super Friends, with probably the Wonder Twins, or whatever, and then the second half hour was Challenge Of The Super Friends, which was an ongoing series. I don’t think it was a continuous storyline, but basically it was them facing off against the Legion Of Doom, which had a cavalcade of characters, even though they weren’t allowed certain Batman villains in it. They had Riddler, but they weren’t allowed to have Catwoman or The Joker, supposedly.
AVC: Do you know why that was?
JR: I don’t. Maybe they had some other cartoon. Maybe they were just being dicks about telling The Riddler where he stood [Laughs.] in relation to Catwoman and The Joker—that he was lesser, because he was allowed. I think Toyman was in there, and I think that was a Batman villain. Anyway, I think it only did about 13 episodes, so you could really binge-watch this. It’s almost like The Wire of Super Friends. I can remember it really mapped out the season, because each episode started in the Legion Of Doom, which was in a swamp, and looks like Darth Vader’s helmet. And inside, they were in this little U.N. sort of room and discussed their evil plan, as villains are apt to do, and then what was great was certain members of that group would pair off and go, and certain members of the Super Friends would pair off and face off. It’s like a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World of Super Friends and Legion Of Doom.
Those episodes, I could just binge-watch, but I don’t want to waste our whole morning. 13 episodes. That’s how much? Quick math.
AVC: That’s six and a half hours, probably a little less.
JR: That’s too much of our time. Why don’t we watch a good two-hour chunk, so we enjoy some good episodes of the Super Friends?
AVC: Was that your first exposure to the superhero world?
JR: It was, actually, because I wasn’t a comic book aficionado. I would buy them for road trips, so I never really got into storylines. This might have been my first, and I feel like this probably was their Wire. Not just because of the ongoing plot, but it felt like the smartest to me.
9 a.m.: The Krofft Supershow (1976-78)
JR: It feels like we went insane, so I think we should devote two hours to the Krofft hour. I think we should embrace—not H.R. Pufnstuf or Sigmund And The Sea Monsters, because those seem to be a given. That’s almost, like, too entertaining, because those seem to be their quality [shows]—and dip into their deep tracks.
Okay, Sid and Marty Krofft, they had those that everybody knows, and then they had Dr. Shrinker and Wonderbug, which is basically like Speed Buggy, but it was a junk car and they found a magic horn in a junkyard, which is classic. Most things in junkyards are probably magic. They put it on this beat-up car and it turned into Wonderbug, sputtered a little bit like Speed Buggy, so ripping that off. Dr. Shrinker was a mad scientist who shrunk these kids. So it was an early Honey, I Shrunk The Kids thing, wonderful special effects.
There was Electra Woman And Dyna Girl, so we’ll add that to our two-hour chunk. My favorite memory of all of these, but particularly Electra Woman And Dyna Girl, was: A chase would ensue, and it clearly was different shots of the same studio and them running a different direction past different rocks, and then they did that sort of the Batman thing, where they tilt the camera as they pass by it. I don’t know what creative choice that was, if that just made us think they were more in danger, or they were going faster or things started to slope. Then they had these wristbands, and it always felt to me like they were pushing the wristbands an exorbitant amount of time in order to accomplish what really was a horrible special effect, almost like Atari pellets coming. [Laughs.] It’s almost like waves of Atari special effects zapping someone.
And Magic Mongo. There we go. We have our two-hour block. Magic Mongo was pretty much a genie in a bottle. Teens need to stop some ne’er-do-wells, they’re always on the beach, they find the magic lamp, they rub it, Magic Mongo comes out. Then he would grab his ears and—you’ll have to describe this, what I’m doing [High pitched ululating.]—whatever that is. Moving tongue. Anyway, that made magic things happen. So I feel like we went insane, high-brow, and then we went drug-induced, “We ran out of ideas, so let’s just keep throwing shit against the wall and see what sticks.”
For the sake of sanity, devote another two hours to Laff-A-Lympics.
11 a.m.: Laff-A-Lympics (1977-79)
JR: This was Hanna-Barbera’s answer to our love for Battle Of The Network Stars—which is another binge that would be fun to watch. They had Scooby Doobies, Yogi Yahooeys, and the Really Rottens. Another cavalcade of Hanna-Barbera cartoons, with a sort of Howard Cosell, not rip-off, but their version was Snagglepuss and a wolf, which originally was Paul Lynde’s voice, but I don’t know if it was this time.
They went around the country and competed in Olympic-sized things, and it was pretty obvious the Really Rottens would cheat, points deducted, never won. So it was either the Yogi Yahooeys or the Scooby Doobies who would inevitably win. I was already a fan of Battle Of The Network Stars, so competitions always excite me. [Laughs.] Not that I have to perform in them. Like, I’ll watch Amazing Race just to watch that aspect of it. I was very much a latchkey kid. My parents would feel the back of the television to make sure I hadn’t been watching it when they were gone, which inevitably I was.
AVC: Did you prefer the Scooby Doobies or the Yogi Yahooeys?
JR: That’s a good question. I feel like it was more fun to love the Really Rottens, but if you made me choose between those, it’s got to be the Scooby Doobies. If you really look at their lineup, they’ve got Dynomutt, they’ve got Captain Caveman. They’ve really got some power hitters. It’s almost as if the Scooby Doobies were a little bit edgy. [Laughs.] And then the Really Rottens are sort of a merger of their two best-of villains.
AVC: They’re ’80s capitalists.
JR: We’re not just creating a great day of television. We’re teaching people and showing how the parallels of my Saturday morning binge-watching made for a really smart history lesson.
I’m going to continue with good shit, before we delve into an afternoon of, “Why is this on?”
1 p.m.: Space Stars featuring Space Ghost and The Herculoids (1981-82)
JR: I think people know pretty much everything about Space Ghost, but The Herculoids, for anybody who doesn’t know, was futuristic cave time, which is interesting. I guess it was another planet. It’s as if cave time repeated, like history repeated itself, and cave people became much more advanced. They had dinosaurs that shot pellets out of their horns or breathe fire or had, basically, two Shmoos. Gloop and Gleep, I think were their names, were basically Silly Putty.
This felt like the most badass I can get in the cartoon genre. I remember going to Europe with my family. I can’t remember what country. We might have been in Amsterdam, and I think Space Ghost came on TV. I don’t remember what he said instead of “Space Ghost,” but it wasn’t “Spaaaace Ghost.” It was whatever. That’s a side note. Not of interest. I like both those.
AVC: Did you ever watch Space Ghost Coast To Coast?
JR: I did, not religiously, but I quite enjoyed it.
AVC: Adult Swim did a lot of that reappropriating of that Hanna-Barbera stuff. What do you think is so timeless about that?
JR: There is something timeless about it, despite the fact that it was probably animation-wise, you know, repeating backgrounds, feet and mouths move and not much else. But I don’t know. There’s something to be said for their factory ability and the fact that they could take the simplicity of mystery-solving and attach it to absolutely any incarnation from Scooby-Doo to Josie And The Pussycats to Jabberjaw to The Funky Phantom. Everyone was solving crime, which I think was a great message for kids. [Laughs.] It’s like, “Get a band of people together, and just get out there and do it.” [Punches hand emphatically.] “The cops aren’t solving these crimes!” But I do think they were creative in their characters. Maybe the simplicity of their animation helps us with the simplicity of having fun on Adult Swim. Maybe that’s it. Budget is a good reason to just use them.
AVC: Every marathon needs an endurance test. So let’s do a good three hours of something awful next.
JR: Oh wow. Then we should subject ourselves to probably the most egregious of violations, which was Rubik, The [Amazing] Cube.
3 p.m.: Rubik, The Amazing Cube (1983-84)
JR: We’re dipping into ’80s. They took a toy that was a phenomenon and put a face on it and legs. I think he had a little boy that he was with. This is one where I wish we could watch the opening, because I think we would get very angry, you know? For three hours we would be very angry after listening to Rubik The Cube, if they even have three hours to offer us. When he was “solved,” his form, whatever it was, an alien form, came to be. Then when he was messed up, he couldn’t help us. When the puzzle was unsolved, we’re all fucked, because Rubik’s not around. Three hours of that, I think, will piss people off.
AVC: Do you think this is the biggest stretch of the many ’80s cartoons about toys?
JR: There was probably a Care Bears thing or Strawberry Shortcake. They were actually little dolls and characters to begin with, so that’s not really bad.
Maybe we should work our way back to some quality by moving into a good chunk of sitcoms that were turned into cartoons.
6 p.m.: The Fonz And The Happy Days Gang (1980-82)
6:30 p.m.: Laverne & Shirley In The Army (1981-82)
7 p.m.: An animated Mork & Mindy segment from The Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/Fonz Hour (1982-83)
7:30 p.m.: The Gary Coleman Show (1982)
JR: Gary Coleman, I believe, was an angel in his, so I think they must have combined that movie where he was an angel [The Kid With The Broken Halo] into an idea. Happy Days was pretty much that plus, I think they all got alien forms with them, didn’t they?
AVC: There was one where Laverne and Shirley were in the army or something.
JR: Yes. I think their whole cartoon was in the army. I think you’re right. So you had Fonz, they added an alien, because there was a spaceship in the front part. Laverne and Shirley went into the army. Was there a Mork and Mindy one?
AVC: They combined them all into the The Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/Fonz Hour.
JR: You’re right. Wow. They really wanted to offend us across the board.
I remember the Gary Coleman one, because he was an angel. What a weird thing to say. “Hey kids, Gary Coleman’s passed away, and now he’s an angel. Here’s a cartoon about him.” I wonder what we thought about that, because we were probably watching Diff’rent Strokes at the same time.
AVC: You, of course, are a regular on a sitcom now. Would you like to see that sitcom become a terrible Saturday morning cartoon?
JR: Yes. Could we be animated? I mean, that would be a fantastic episode to see. I know we’ve been claymated, but animated in tribute to ’70s or ’80s—whichever one feels more appropriate—that would be awesome. Would it not?
I would love that. I would love the idea of what Community would be. If it wasn’t an episode of Community, what the Saturday morning version of us would be. I feel like they would first put us in space, just because they can. They’d probably say, “It worked for Josie And The Pussycats, we ran out of stories on land, and then we moved them to outer space.” It also made me think that they have a bunch of great cels left over from some villains, so they just moved Josie up there and used those characters again.
This is a divergence, I guess. If Community, we’d have to have some kind of element. We have to get some [Inspector] Spacetime in there. It has to be factored in. I would like the Dean to have some kind of little alien friend. I feel like it should be a nondescript character, but polka-dotted, just a subtle reference to dalmatians, but not too on-the-nose. Just a wonderful friend. I don’t know what we’d call him. Do you have any thoughts on what we’d need?
AVC: It needs to be set in space, or you guys need to get a time machine. Those are the only two options.
JR: You’re absolutely right. I think what we need to do is sort of Bill & Ted it, and the space plays into it—but a magical, weird spacetime. That doesn’t even make sense. But anyway, let’s say the time machine is the Dean’s closet of costumes. So they go into this thing, and they’re taken to places of history and have to stop something evil, and the Dean has this weird polka-dotted, nondescript character, to be named later. And Annie’s Boobs needs to be in there. Or maybe Annie’s Boobs is missing, and we’re going across the globe to find the monkey.
AVC: So you’re at 8 p.m., people are probably getting antsy.
JR: Fantastic. I’m going to bring them down again, so I better get them up. I loved Dungeons & Dragons. That was actually a good cartoon to me. So let’s get a nice two-hour palate cleanser.
8 p.m.: Dungeons & Dragons (1983-85)
JR: Teens were zapped into some world and given these powers. I remember one kid I particularly loved; he was a misfit, and he had, basically, a wizard’s outfit and could pull anything out of a hat. It was usually, obviously, things that were incorrect or wrong, but somehow that seemed, maybe because I was a nebbish—I say that as if I’ve become un-nebbish—that’s how I reacted to it.
I’m not picking this cartoon because I think it’s pretty cool, but it’s like me feeling how I felt about He-Man’s Orko, again, another magician thing. I think I’m always attracted to that. But there’s like a kid who had a bow and arrow that pulled back and created arrows out of thin air, I remember. That was actually a good one. That was actually a well-done cartoon. I can’t really say anything bad about it.
AVC: What do you think separates a well-done Saturday morning cartoon from a poor one?
JR: I’d say story first. Because animation can be as primitive as we want and be really fucking funny or engaging, but I think it was the ones that had creative teams. That’s why I’d never put Looney Tunes on here, as much as I’d love for us to watch The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour. I just feel like everyone would watch that. In that time period, if you look at that lineup in the ’70s or ’80s, that one always stuck out, Looney Tunes.
That’s what I would say: Somehow, as I recall it, my brain decided Dungeons & Dragons was special.
So we’re getting people back. I’m going to give everybody one hour of what they deserve, which is a classic Scooby-Doo, one of the original Where Are You! plots, and then follow that up with Jabberjaw.
10 p.m.: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969-78)
11 p.m.: Jabberjaw (1976-78)
These two, out of the mystery-solving entities, were the best. I feel like Jabberjaw just created a whole new world underwater. I love that he was just basically Curly [from The Three Stooges] put into another character. And Scooby-Doo, you can’t not have a Saturday morning without a version, and if you’re going to go, then go classic.
I particularly remember one, would be the thawing of the caveman, which I think is a very good episode. Finding the caveman, him thawing out, then suddenly he’s appearing. I remember they’re back at the malt shop, post-successful crime-solving, and Scooby is dancing with not the actual caveman, but the costume that the person who did it was wearing. It was a little troubling, because it was just this flat, flaccid caveman that he’s dancing with. I think that’s an image that’s interesting for kids to see.
AVC: Do you have feelings on Scrappy?
JR: I do not mind going on record saying I hate the fuck out of Scrappy-Doo. And look, I’m embracing cartoons big-time, but Scrappy pushed limits. I’ll also say that Baby Plas pushed the limits. I’ll watch Plastic Man. I’ll watch him. But then when they spun-off and made him get married and have a baby, and that baby was Baby Plas, with one tooth? No. You lost me.
With six hours left, I’m going to now really turn up the crap-a-thon, because I don’t give a shit. Two hours, and I think it was called Saturday Supercade, which is when they said, “Let’s make video games into cartoons.”
12 a.m.: Saturday Supercade (1983-85)
1:30 a.m.: Pac-Man (1982-83)
JR: You had Donkey Kong, you had Frogger, and you had… Super Mario Brothers had one, but that’s different. Shit, that’s an hour and a half, so we need to find another 30-minute show.
AVC: I think Q*bert had one.
JR: We just became two hours. Q*bert is added. Because that seems like a piece of dung. That’s like someone making you listen to those pop songs they made, like “Pac-Man Fever,” you remember that?
“Pac-Man Fever” would be their best hit. And then they made other songs for Donkey Kong. I don’t know what they were called. But that’s like making someone listen to that for 24 hours. That’s how bad watching four [of these is]. I feel so bad. I hope there’s some person out there going, “How dare he. My father created those cartoons and worked his ass off.” I’m just saying. They didn’t look good. I can’t speak intelligently other than saying that seems really bad. But I watched it. I’m telling you, I sat in that box, and I watched all of these.
AVC: So, another two hours of crap somewhere?
JR: Yup. I’m going to do a half-hour of Turbo Teen.
2 a.m.: Turbo Teen (1984-85)
JR: It was a kid who turned into a car. And if I’m correct, this kid, it was a hot/cold situation. Again, I’m not going on record, I can’t be sued, I’m just making statements. This kid would get hot and turn into a car, and then if it’s cool, his body would return to normal. It’s one of those cartoons that animated him turning into a car and only used that section. So the background would just go to a color. In other words, he could be in a castle, go to color. His hands turn into the wheels first, he looks at them, then his body expands. Next episode, they’re at the beach, go to yellow, hands turn. It was just that type of cartoon. “Look, we don’t have fucking time. We can’t keep drawing this fucking kid turning into a car. That’s a waste of time!” [Laughs.]
2:30 a.m.: “Mighty Man And Yukk!” of The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show (1979-80)
JR: Right after that, you have to watch “Mighty Man And Yukk!,” which was just a rip-off, not even of Superman. That’s offensive to Superman. It’s offensive to say Captain Marvel, any of them, but it was a rip-off. I think Mighty Man was small, though. I think it was like, take The Atom and mix him with any cape-flying superhero, and you got Mighty Man. And Yukk was the world’s ugliest dog, so he wore a doghouse on his head, and if he pulled it off there, he would scare the shit out of someone. Inevitably, that’s how it solved the problem, which always seemed very simple. Just lift it.
But Mighty Man was like, “Don’t… don’t.” Then they’d only show him from the back. So as far as we could tell, the ugliest thing about him is he’s got this maybe two curlicue hairs coming out of a bald head—which is offensive to bald people, one—and squiggly drawn. If I were an animator, that would be my job, because I can’t draw, but I’d say, “Well, I’ll do the squigglies.” I love the idea that we never got to see the front of his face, and it felt like this was their version of The Ring. Once you look into it, you’re in line to die. So they were like, “Oh well. We don’t want kids to see it anyway.”
3 a.m. The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour (1968-78)
JR: Let’s give ourselves two hours of relief. We’re doing two hours of good Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour. Again, I can’t say it enough. Starts with them, I think, [Hums the theme.] doing a sort of line dance with all their characters, and in that, you have to watch, we’re giving you Robin Hood. I don’t remember the name of it [“Robin Hood Daffy”], it was Daffy Duck as Robin Hood, Porky Pig was his sidekick, and that probably is the funniest episode. It’s where he’s in the tree, trying to work his way down a vine, and he kept running into the next tree, and then he ends up in the water. Brilliant. That’s within your two-hour chunk, so you’re welcome.
AVC: One last hour.
JR: We started with Pandamonium; we need to just go out with a “Fuck you, Jim.” I can either go good or bad. Which way should we go?
5 a.m. The Super Globetrotters (1970-72)
JR: The Globetrotters had superpowers! Again, here it is. Doesn’t matter where they are; we’re going to cut to the same image: They run into a line of lockers, each individual locker, and come out superheroes. They don’t have time to animate it every week! I don’t care if they’re on a planet or they’re grocery shopping. So then they change. One turned into spaghetti, basically. One had a larger afro that he could pull crap out of—great power, I would take that one. Oh, one had the same affliction that Zan [Wonder Twin] did; he just turned into water. It was weird because he had a scuba outfit on and big flippers and a little blow-up thing around him, and he’d just turn to water. He didn’t have a Jayna to get into a bucket of water… I digress. I remember those three powers. So we’ll watch that, a fantastic cartoon.
5:30 a.m. It’s Punky Brewster (1985-86)
JR: Then the very last thing we’ll do is, “Fuck you all, you just have to watch Punky Brewster for a half-hour.” She had a cartoon. In. Your. Face.
AVC: What, if anything, do you think you learned about writing from these cartoons?
JR: Wow. If anything? I will say you could always look at Looney Tunes and learn about writing. I think you can learn a lot about the beats of comedy. I think you can find out about awkward pauses, because I think they did those well. And I think you can see they knew how to push a joke just too far where it becomes funny again. I would say right there nestled in the middle of my shitshow of a Saturday for you, there’s some gold on the writing side.
And maybe Dungeons & Dragons. [Laughs.]