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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

'Beetlejuice: The Complete Series' Perfect 10 for 100th Post

The timing of Shout Factory's awesome recent 12-disc 94-episode DVD release of "Beetlejuice: The Complete Series" is a perfect from the perspective of "Unreal TV." This site started as "Shout Factory for Joy" and was primarily devoted to reviewing Shout's incredible cult classic DVDs until the site's scope broadened.

"Beetlejuice" is among the great Saturday morning cartoon series of the late '80s and early '90s that were based on recent films. "The Real Ghostbusters" remains a personal favorite; other great series include "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures," "Teen Wolf," and "Back to the Future."

The 1990 Daytime Emmy winning"Beetlejuice" had the same spectacular dark humor, and catchy calypso music, as the 1988 Tim Burton film of the same name. (As an aside, seeing a dreamy young and thin Alec Baldwin in the film was a real treat.)  Further, Burton created the cartoon series and remained its executive producer through its four-year run.

The titular character was a netherworld ghoul who earned his meager living in the film as a bio-exorcist. He met his bff teen Lydia Deetz when the recently deceased former owners, and pathetically ineffective ghosts, of the house that Lydia's parents bought hired Beetlejuice to scare the Deetz family into moving.

The cartoon series ramped up the surreal humor and sets much of the action in the netherworld where Beetlejuice resided until someone in our existence summoned him by saying his name three times. Excitement regarding the DVD release of the cartoon series prompted several efforts to call forth that ghoul that did not achieve that objective but did annoy friends and colleagues.

The netherworld adventures consisted largely of Beetlejuice's business ventures or pranks going awry in a manner that required that he and Lydia put right what once went wrong. Seeing the surprisingly complex downward spiral, which included a trial essentially for a deathtime worth of crimes against non-humanity, was particularly noteworthy.

The series has held up very well over 20 years and had a wonderfully kid-friendly perverse humor geared to the 12 year-old in all of us. Seeing Beetlejuice and Lydia revel in their horrific antics was wonderful fun.

One standout episode had the gruesome twosome participating in a game show in which contestants competed to gross out the audience of netherworld creatures the most really captured the spirit of the show; not only did we see Beetlejuice and Lydia wallow in a tub of incredibly disgusting liquid, we saw the great support that they offered each other in terms of Lydia's wonderful pep talk when Beetlejuice hits a true nadir.

Other great humor in the series related to Beetlejuice's handicap of having his body literally respond to off-the-cuff statements. A segment in the series pilot, which involved hellish adventures in babysitting, had Beetlejuice transform to a baby when he expressed a desire to be like his charges. Reverting to his present state required that he state that he wanted to grow up.

An even better example of Beetlejuice's literal mindness involved trapping Lydia in his brain after he commented that he could not get her out of his mind following a serious fight. That episode gave Lydia and the audience wonderful insight into Beetlejuice's persona and his actual id.

These situations evoked fond memories of Paul Lynde's Uncle Arthur on the truly icon '60s supernatural sitcom "Bewitched." I recalled one episode in which the prank-loving warlock experienced the same fate as Beetljuice of having his every utterance result in a literal manifestation.

Jumping to fourth season episodes after sampling some from the first season created curiosity regarding the darker physical appearance and overall tone of this still kid-friendly show. Reading in the press  release that the show moved from ABC to Fox after its second year explained the change.

One fourth season episode started with Beetlejuice using his wonderfully cute anthropormophic convertible Doomie to run a scam driving school. This led to a car jacking by a truly desperate character, greater peril than your average Saturday morning and after-school cartoon, a relatively malicious round of betrayals, and a hilariously unbearable court-ordered traffic school for Beetlejuice.

Another fourth season episode had Beetlejuice achieve the first step of wealth distribution in the Netherworld's version of Robin Hood's Sherwood Forest by seizing the wealth of the despotic monarch. He had more trouble bringing himself to distribute more than rocks and toasters to the breadless peasants. He also literally toasted one of these 99-perenters.

Alan the Airedale was a lute-playing dog who stole the show in the Robin Hood episode. A segment in which this very talented canine crooned in the middle of singing his narration of the tale that he could not think of a rhyme for "minstrel" was particularly funny. Beetlejuice giving this troubadour a pile of "loot" to replace the dog's broken "lute" was also funny.

The darker elements in this one had the evil ruler kidnap Lydia and tie her to a stake to lure Beetlejuice to his castle for a royal beatdown. Beetlejuice's willful ignorance regarding this obvious trap made this plot point particularly amusing.

As this small taste of the 94 episodes in this terrific set demonstrated, "Beetlejuice" is a wonderfully creative and little-syndicated cartoon that anyone of any age with a sense of humor will love.

Anyone with questions about the "Beetlejuice" cartoon or film is welcome to email me.