While it's been nice to see notice paid to the recent animation renaissance, it's also been interesting to see how little of the attention discriminates between styles. It's impossible to imagine South Park or Futurama as anything but cartoons, but much of the current crop of animated series could conceivably exist in live-action form. Shows like Dr. Katz use animation not because their stories couldn't exist in the universe as we know it, but because the medium allows for a certain tone and for liberties that live action can't provide. In its earliest forms, the movie that eventually became Beavis And Butt-Head Do America was to be a live-action transplantation of the cartoon. Doing so would have been possible, but it also would have missed the point: Watching two moronic cartoon teens watch television is funny, while watching two real moronic teens watch television would just be pathetic. Ultimately, a cartoon's style creates its own rules and its own reality. Two relatively recent series, both of which just made their home-video debut, serve as great examples of how the mundane and the fantastic can serve as equally potent animation fodder. Developed from a popular cartoon short, Comedy Central's Bob And Margaret follows the adventures of a married English couple pushing middle age. There's nothing extraordinary about Bob, a dentist, and Margaret, a chiropodist, which is part of the characters' appeal. It's a series dependent on quirks, both of its leads and in the series' distinctive animation, a cartoony take on modern-day London. Rather than partaking of grand adventures, Margaret and Bob suffer through such mundane indignities as obnoxious Canadian relatives and friends who spend too much time doting on their newborn, and the series' droll, understated approach improves with familiarity. Trading in sarcasm rather than drollery is Daria, a two-year-old MTV series that began its existence as a Beavis And Butt-Head spin-off but quickly found a voice of its own. Like Bob And Margaret, Daria concerns itself with the dull details of its environment, in Daria's case high school. Its humor, however, has a sharper edge. Though a borderline misanthrope, Daria herself is a likable protagonist, and the show does a beautiful job of illustrating the misplaced priorities that run rampant through high-school society and society in general. That it's filled with instantly familiar characters, recognizable as types but also well-developed as characters, makes it a consistent bright spot—not only of the animation boom of the late '90s, but of the television schedule as a whole. Like Bob And Margaret, its low-key appeal helps make it worth preserving on video.
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