Type of Media: Animation
At this point it’s safe to say that Archer has made its way into the pantheon of legendary “cartoons for adults” alongside South Park and Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Currently slated to run until its tenth season, Archer has left a firm print on the sitcom landscape, and even has its own set of imitators like Moonbeam City and Pacific Heat.
Like many highly successful creative endeavors, Archer is the product of a journey. Creators Adam Reed and Matt Thompson started at Turner Broadcasting in the 90s, and by 2000 had already begun to shape the direction of television with a little show called Sealab 2021 on new block of late-night programming Adult Swim. However, while their first success Sealab and their most recent hit Archer are both well-known, my favorite show of theirs is their less popular middle child. In 2006 Reed and Thompson made a show called Frisky Dingo that only lasted for two seasons, but pioneered the callback-driven, catchphrase-heavy style they would later perfect on Archer. It’s also weird as hell, and how well it handles that weirdness makes it, to me, the better show.
Frisky Dingo begins as a simple superhero parody. Killface, a monstrous alien with red eyes and taloned feet, has constructed a machine called The Annihilatrix designed to propel Earth into the Sun. His problem: he has no money left for a media campaign to tell everyone about their impending doom. On the other side, billionaire playboy Xander Crews has defeated every supervillain in the world as his superhero alter-ego, Awesome X. He soon realizes that without any villains he can’t goof around the world fighting crime and, even worse, sales of his company’s Awesome X toy line will go down.
You can probably guess what should happen next, with Xander Crews funding Killface’s media campaign so he can create a high-profile villain for Awesome X. Yeeeeeeaaah, except things don’t shake out that way, mostly due to the incompetence of the main characters. Xander Crews is an idiotic, easily-distracted sociopath, more interested in chasing women than following through with his plans. Killface just cannot get anyone to take him seriously, abuses the few people loyal to him, and has his hands full as a single dad parenting his maladjusted son Simon. Throw in some wrenches from Awesome X’s squad of cyborg mercenaries The Xtacles, who mutiny when they find out Xander has mismanaged their retirement savings, and the seemingly straightforward plot gets derailed after the first few episodes.
Even though each episode is only 12 minutes long, Frisky Dingo’s story twists like a yoga class in a hurricane. Those twists also trend toward the absurd, as Killface goes on a Regis and Kelly-esque morning talk show to promote himself, Simon becomes involved with an underground rabbit fighting ring, and Xander Crews’ girlfriend Grace Ryan mutates into an ant-themed villainess named Antagone (pronounced ‘ant-agony’ and, in my opinion, the most impressive superhero/villain name pun ever written).
This wouldn’t be impressive by itself (being weird just for the sake of weird doesn’t deserve any accolades), but like the superhero comic books it parodies, Frisky Dingo is slavishly devoted to continuity. Ridiculous events and strange lines of dialogue are almost always called back to, which irons them into the world of the show. Scenes will often transition to the next with match cuts or one character finishing another’s line of dialogue, drawing parallels between different characters’ situations and grounding the story even as it becomes more chaotic and unwieldy. Additionally, like Archer, Frisky Dingo exists in a world where catchphrases constantly rise and spread, unifying the cast with lines like “I’m just now getting that”, “Love me some Darcel Jones”, and “Boosh!”
The total effect is less like watching a serialized TV show and more like riding on a Disneyland ride for a movie you only saw once a long time ago that’s also moving at double speed. You’re constantly mining your memory for references while looking around and wondering “how the hell did we get here?” Once you’re deep into the show, it is intensely gratifying to hear a character spout a line of dialogue that on the surface makes no sense, and understand every word of it as you get the string of callback jokes.
If you’re a fan of Archer, or fellow Adult Swim cartoons Sealab 2021 and The Venture Bros (a show that similarly gets deep into its own crazy and convoluted lore), Frisky Dingo is definitely something you might like. Just make sure to pay attention, or you could quickly find yourself lost in the mayhem.