Volume 92, Issue 65
Friday, January 22, 1999
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Sociopath star of new comedy
By Christina Vardanis
Watch out Bart Simpson, there's a new kid on the block.
"I think we're the only half hour comedy where all the main characters are alcoholics, drift in and out of prison and are afflicted by violent episodes of mental illness," explains Greg Lawrence, the brainchild of Ottawa writer/director/animator of Kevin Spencer, the Comedy Network's first adult cartoon series. Following the footsteps of anti-heroes like Simpson and South Park's Kenny, Spencer's teenage, chain-smoking, alcoholic character breaks new ground in animation geared towards adults.
Lawrence credits the popularity of prime time cartoons to the mentality of their target audience. "It's a visual change. I think people are just getting bored with the conventional live action sitcom," he says. "There's also a generation of adults now who grew up on animation."
The context of the show is decidedly more twisted than its cartoon predecessors. Kevin, serving a life sentence behind bars, rehashes his childhood to the prison psychologist Mr. Franklin. Among his deranged sidekicks is his mom, a boozer and adulterer, his dad, an unemployed drunk who joins him in the slammer and Pete "Lefty" Wilcox, a narcoleptic with multiple personalities, one of which is a teenage exotic dancer.
However outlandish the characters and situation seem, Lawrence is still determined to create a likable character in Kevin. "Kevin's actions don't have to make sense in terms of how you or I may react. But they have to make sense for the believability of Kevin's environment," Lawrence explains. "His actions have to be justified otherwise he just becomes a prick and people don't like him."
Pushing the boundaries even further, Lawrence, the series' narrator, decided his main character would speak using thought bubbles instead of a voice. "We toyed with the idea of Kevin speaking and tried a couple of different voices, but we found that no matter which voice you pick, it automatically invests Kevin with emotion and character which may not fit how we want him to act," he says. "I wanted to see if I could create a sympathetic character who never spoke never gave anyone a reason to like him."
Although definitely dealing with adult themes, Kevin Spencer retains certain characteristics of a children's show including an upbeat theme song and voice over narration. These qualities may seem comforting, but as Lawrence points out, it's all part of the show's goal.
"The kid's story is recognizable to everyone. How it's narrated and how it's set up, viewers unconsciously feel a certain level of security because it reminds them of having a children's story read to them. So we put them in a secure little environment and then shake them up a little bit."
Lawrence's "shake" may be more of a throttle, but viewers have shown they can take the beating and may even enjoy it.
Kevin Spencer airs on The Comedy Network Sunday nights at 10:30 p.m..
Copyright © The Gazette 1999