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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Clerks: Uncensored

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Clerks: The Animated Series had a lot in common with 1994's Jon Lovitz vehicle The Critic. Both animated TV shows featured lurching, staccato pacing, simply drawn characters, an elaborate but understated absurdist sense of humor, and a terminal obsession with celebrity cameos, parodies, and TV and movie referents. Both also had the rug pulled out from under them at ABC, though The Critic made it through most of a season, whereas Clerks was canceled after only two episodes. But where The Critic found new life on Fox, then on Comedy Central, the six completed episodes of Clerks: TAS headed straight to video—and, more significantly, to DVD, where original Clerks writer, director, and actor Kevin Smith can be heard raging against the ABC machine on the commentary track, along with half a dozen members of the show's cast and production staff. Clerks' raw deal at ABC does at least provide grist for the commentary mill; the lively audio track only intermittently devolves into the mutual-admiration-society babble so common to DVDs. But the network's rejection could hardly have come as a surprise to any of the commentators. The original Clerks was a foul-mouthed, intimate talkfest centering on sex, drugs, and misanthropy; did anyone really think it could be polished up and dumbed down into a form that a family-friendly network would want to air? Worse yet, did anyone actually think the resultant show would be worth watching? As it is, Clerks: TAS wobbles along the fine line between "too dumb for Clerks fans" and "too rude for network TV executives." Most of its humor comes from repetition, low-key iconoclasm, nonstop homophobia, and bland regurgitation of visual and textual jokes from more creatively daring shows and movies. The pop-cultural appropriation reaches a climax in episode six, which steals not only the structure but also most of the specific gags of Chuck Jones' classic Duck Amuck. Granted, Clerks: TAS provides the pleasant, self-affirming buzz of recognition common to all such pop-referential work, and the show's heavy lines, dark palette, and deadpan delivery add up to a unique artistic package. Diehard Smith fans will no doubt revel in finally watching the scenes and episodes ABC withheld, while completists should be pleased with the two-disc set's bonuses, which include trailers, a series-development "featurette," and full animatics for all six episodes. But without the controversy of censorship or the compulsion to collect, Clerks: TAS is just a sanitized retread of a once-creative franchise. Can Slacker Babies be far behind?