Hollywood has been adapting movies into television shows since the earliest days of the medium, and in radio for decades before that. As a result we’ve seen a wide degree of faithfulness in adaptation, from direct transplants to mutations that take a title or premise and use that as a launching point to create a unique environment in which to tell stories inspired by the original concept. Occasionally, it’s a little bit of both.
Clerks: The Animated Series falls into that lattermost category. The characters from the 1994 feature, Dante and Randall, are the same (and voiced by original actors Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson), and they’re still manning the counter at the Quick Stop while engaging in pop-culture obsessed chit-chat, and Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewed and Kevin Smith) are still hanging around having their own weird side adventures. That’s where the familiar ends. This new show being a cartoon, Dante and Randal find themselves in a weird, exaggerated world where they’re regularly annoyed by a lunatic millionaire megalomaniac named Leonardo Leonardo (Alec Baldwin), the mayor is perpetually dressed like Big Mac (the burger-headed police officer from the McDonald’s mythos), and their adventures lean toward the absurd (like the time Randal gets recruited into a Last Starfighter situation). Despite drifting so far afield of Smith’s no budget, slice-of-life indie feature, the show doesn’t feel like as much of a departure as it sounds. There’s always been a silly, whimsical sense of humor running through Smith’s dialogue, and thanks to the possibilities of animation Smith is able to take these flights of fancy out of the verbal and turn them into actual stories. (Episode 4, “A Dissertation on the American Justice System by People Who Have Never Been Inside A Courtroom, Let Alone Know Anything About The Law, But Have Seen Way Too Many Legal Thrillers,” in particular feels like an episode-length version of something like the independent contractors on the Death Star routine.)[As a side note: those titles! They’re one of the great, largely unseen gags in television history. They’re less titles than rambling episode descriptions with jokes of their own in them, and they’re magnificent]
Of course, when I say “stories,” the show was mostly an excuse for weird routines and wild gags. Episode 2, for example, “The Clipshow Wherein Dante and Randal Are Locked in the Freezer and Remember Some of the Great Moments in Their Lives,” is predicated on the joke of having a clip show as the second episode, meaning each “flashback” is one non-sequitur after another, including gags with Dante and Randal working at convenience stores in the United Kingdom and India. Episode 4 is built around a trial, only for a title card to tell us that the rest of the script was lost and the ending was entirely improvised by the overseas animation company, which results in a bizarre, anime-esque riff. (And includes the classic line “Who is driving? BEAR IS DRIVING?! THAT IS CRAZY!”) And Episode 6, “The Last Episode Ever” (and winner of Shortest Episode Title) is a spoof of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Dante and Randal find themselves unable to leave the Quick Stop) that eventually morphs into an homage to Duck Amuck. (Turns out Jay and Silent Bob have taken over animating the show)
There were 6 episodes of the show produced, and only 2 made it to air, initially. The remaining four premiered on DVD and eventually found their way to adult swim, and the cartoon gained a much-delayed cult status. It’s pretty vintage mid-period Kevin Smith, meaning there’s a fair amount of ironic humor that can feel weirdly straight at time. (There are a LOT of characters making gay jokes that are supposed to be rooted in character ignorance that just feel like straightforward gay jokes, as well as some ironic racism) These can be stumbling blocks, but for the most part it’s an extremely fun, silly affair.