It’s the time again when critics start compiling their “best of” lists for the decade. We’ll probably do a few ourselves, though the roundup of American TV animation is looking fairly barren from this vantage point. How many shows debuted in the past decade that were entertaining, made a lasting impact on their audience, and have a shot at being remembered by future generations? A handful of American shows come to mind as standouts, most of which were cult favorites rather than mainstream successes–Invader Zim, Superjail, Venture Bros., Samurai Jack, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Yo Gabba Gabba. (A comprehensive list of TV shows can be found on Wikipedia.)
Compare this to the 1990s when we saw the debuts of TV shows that were cultural phenomenons like The Simpsons, The Ren and Stimpy Show, South Park, Beavis and Butt-Head, Batman: The Animated Series, Dexter’s Lab, Rugrats, The Powerpuff Girls, Spongebob Squarepants and yes, even Family Guy. It seemed like we were on the cusp of a new era of “creator-driven” shows that were free from the meddling impulses of network execs. It’s little surprise that these shows are the ones that audiences still discuss nowadays.
If the 2000s served any purpose, it was to highlight how unique the previous decade was; the Nineties were a genuine silver age of TV animation in which artists were allowed the freedom to experiment and the elbow room to fulfill their creative visions. The unfortunate byproduct of Nineties animation success was the introduction of a new breed of development and creative execs whose ignorance about animation art and process is matched only by their fearfulness of creativity and originality. These boobs spent the entire decade trying to come up with the next Spongebob, the next Simpsons, and the next Family Guy without the slightest inkling of how to foster the kind of environment that allowed those shows to exist in the first place. The dubious 2000s is their legacy, and it signals a depressing downward shift for TV animation in America.