Television wasn’t as ripe with “quality” programming in the ’80s as it is today, but connoisseurs of the medium sought out anything distinctive, even if they had to wake up before noon on the weekend to see it. Next to Ralph Bakshi and John Kricfalusi’s radically wacky Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, the Saturday-morning cartoon that had TV buffs buzzing was Hanna-Barbera’s The Completely Mental Misadventures Of Ed Grimley. Debuting on NBC in fall 1988—one year after CBS launched Mighty Mouse—Ed Grimley had Martin Short voicing an animated version of the pointy-haired weirdo he created for SCTV, then reprised for Saturday Night Live. The cartoon translates Short’s quirky sense of humor and preoccupation with showbiz phoniness into kid-friendly fare. Each episode runs the cluelessly cheery Grimley through a string of bizarre, often tongue-in-cheek slapstick scenarios—Ed gets mistaken for a bank robber, Ed accidentally enlists in the military, and so on—with frequent breaks for messages from live-action horror-host Count Floyd (Joe Flaherty) and educational scientists The Amazing Gustav Brothers. Simultaneously funny and unpredictable, Ed Grimley was one of the most original shows around, animated or otherwise, during the one season it was on the air.
It didn’t have a lot of competition back in 1988. The 13 episodes on Warner Archive’s double-disc MOD set The Completely Mental Misadventures Of Ed Grimley: The Complete Series feature a cruddy sound mix and crude animation, albeit with a kickier sense of character design than the majority of cartoons at the time, in the days before The Simpsons and Nickelodeon redefined how animated shows could look. Short and Hanna-Barbera’s team of writers and directors made the most of what they had by focusing on comedy that could be carried mostly by voices. Short had help from his sketch-comedy pals Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas, and Christopher Guest, along with regular contributions from Jonathan Winters and Hanna-Barbera mainstay Frank Welker. Plus Short himself worked in his impressions of Jerry Lewis, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, and Judy Garland, applying them to the eccentric characters who upended Ed’s world from week to week. Ed Grimley relied heavily on Short’s shtick—his over-the-top “sincerity,” his rambling sentences, and his odd little anti-catchphrases like, “I must say,” and, “I mean, how can you say it’s not?”—and none of that required elaborate visual setup. All the show needed was Short’s strange idea of what was funny.
Key features: None, we must say.