The misadventures of Ed Grimley were mental, I must say

One year before The Simpsons debuted in 1989, The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley appeared on NBC’s Saturday morning line-up.  It starred Martin Short’s character of Ed Grimley, a nerd with a gigantic cowlick who is an oddball nerd.  He’s typically flashing a rictus grin,  plays the triangle, and speaks with a unique patter that goes down an octave at points.  The character takes advantage of Short’s skills in physical comedy, where he bends his arm so the back of his hand touches his forehead and he crosses his feet and twists his hips.  Grimley often breaks into song and often utters a familiar catchphrase (“I must say” and “mental”).

In other words… Ed Grimley is a modern day Gomer Pyle.

Short debuted this character on SCTV.  When he moved to Saturday Night Live, he brought the character with him.  I wasn’t really familiar with Martin Short’s portrayal.  I was most familiar with the character when Mike Nelson riffed on him on MST3K.

Oh yeah… and the Saturday morning cartoon.

Short voices his animated counterpart in one of the most offbeat shows to arrive on NBC in 1988: The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley.  It’s Ed Grimley trying to live his life — flirting with the attractive neighbor, going to his lessons in playing a triangle, returning a library book — and through outlandish plot contrivances he gets sucked into  a surreal adventure.  Short, by the way, seems to know the Pyle connection.  In one episode, Grimley joins the marines (which leads to him becoming a huge comedy star in France… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves).

Despite featuring a plethora of funny animals, this show feels like it wasn’t aimed for kids at all.  There’s nothing objectionable, really…. though I won’t tell you that risqué things didn’t happen.  I’m sure that the crew tried to sneak a few things in. There was a scene that may have been a handjob joke. Also… there sure is a lot of gags about weiners. Likely that’s just a product of my own dirty mind.  Surely, Martin Short would not be party to such tawdry ribaldry!

Over at the Mothership, Noel Murray called it “one of the most original shows around, animated or otherwise”. Each episode is Martin Short performing a new Grimley monologue with the Hanna-Barbera animators trying to catch up.  It’s fun stream of consciousness stuff.  Talking about his Aunt Noni segues into his opinions on Monopoly: “I suppose that would be decent of me arriving late for my weekly Monopoly game with Aunt Noni.  I doubt that very much, no way.  Cuz isn’t Monopoly like the best game in the world?  It’s like a joke how good it is.  It’s so strange.”

The visual style is more mature, too.  The backgrounds are rendered fairly realistically and in a watercolor style like the New York cityscapes from The Critic.  The characters visually resemble King of the Hill.  (Mostly.  The Freebuses and their friends look like they stepped out of Mr. Magoo.) When Cartoon Network started up adult programming in 1996 (pre-Adult Swim), Ed Grimley aired at late night alongside Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.  Thus, it gives one pause when one realizes that this show aired in that lazy weekend spot between breakfast and lunch.

Can kids truly relate to the struggles of an actress who has discovered that although she’s still young, she’s aged out of a role?  Or to the landlady, Mrs. Freebus, who goes crazy over a tin-pan alley songwriter  (another character that Short created for SCTV)?  What of the anachronistic references to Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, and Jack Webb? Seriously, if you remember being young and enjoying Ed Grimley (and a quick browse of the internet show that plenty of you folk out there do exist), drop a line in the comments about why that show spoke to you.

My theory is that adult cartoons just weren’t a thing yet.  The Simpsons would be airing regularly for another year.  No one knew what to do with adult-skewing cartoons yet. Had the show debuted five years later, it’s almost certain it would have aired primetime.  Younger me didn’t find this show much appealing, despite its similarities to Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.  (The irony is that despite being animated, it was no way nearly as cartoony as Pee-Wee Herman.)

And now the voice talent.  Having Martin Short run the show means that you are going to have some comedy legends on board.  The most formidable is Catherine O’Hara.  She plays “the very decent” Miss Malone, the pretty neighbor who has a completely indecipherable accent. (I think O’Hara is doing a Zsa Zsa Gabor impression.) Miss Malone may appear reasonable when placed next to Grimley, but she’s not immune to her own odd quirks… such as standing atop a dining table where she works to belt out a song, then assuring diners that it’s OK because her shoes are new.

O’Hara comes closest to matching Short’s vocal delivery. “I thought you had to be French to win one of those freedom things,” she says disdainfully while brushing her tights in one of the live-action segments opposite Short. She’s playing an news anchor who has no idea the cameras are on her. Have I mentioned how much this show reminds me of Tim & Eric?

Every time a doorbell rings, an angel gets his wings!  Attaboy, Claren-… ow! I’m sorry, Jim.

There’s also Jonathan Winters, who plays Grimley’s gruff landlord. He’s good too, but he’s basically just playing Jonathan Winters.  Other great comedians showing up in Ed Grimley are Eugene Levy (doing a Bing Crosby impersonation), Dave Thomas (doing a Bob Hope impersonation), and Christopher Guest (a werewolf).

The show includes recurring segments.  The first is an animated one featuring the Gustav Brothers, who look like they stepped out of Schoolhouse Rock.  Typically, this part of the show is very dry as they attempt to connect Grimley’s latest mishap to a scientific principle.  (Though, if you give it more than a cursory look, it is rather a lot of nonsense.) It comes across as a spoof of children’s cartoons in the 80’s needing an educational portion to be aired on network television.

The second portion is my favorite: the live action Count Floyd’s Scary Stories.  Like Ed Grimley hismelf, who is a big fan of this show within a show, I find myself looking forward to when Count Floyd appears on screen.  The show makes a running gag of stopping in front of a TV as an excuse to cut to the segment. (Even prison can’t stop Grimley from watching the show!) Count Floyd is played with bug-eyed exasperation by Joe Flaherty, who originally introduced the character on SCTV.  He’s a horror host straight out of public access television who performs in front of bored, unimpressed kids who are not buying into his act.  There’s a backstory, too. Flaherty plays a straight-laced news anchor on SCTV, and Count Floyd appears to be his side gig.

Typically, Count Floyd will read a scary book to them or put on a scary movie. Things never go as he expects, such as when the book he picks ends up being a travel brochure.

You know, these pamphlets can get pretty scary too! With the high prices in here. WoOooooOooOo!

This is where I remind you that The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley debuted a year before Krusty the Klown became a common sight.  Like an undead creature of the night, Count Floyd managed to gain a life beyond the show.  They were re-aired as part of Cartoon Planet.  The difference is that Space Ghost, Brak, and Zorak look upon these segments disdainfully.  A great Ed Grimley running gag is that after each “terrible” Count Scary show, the people watching with Ed will agree that they saw a pretty great episode.

The Count Floyd segments are where the animators can get creative, too.  Each “scary story” is animated in its own style.  One looks like a black and white EC horror comic.  (A style so scary it spooks even the good Count himself!) Another feels like it could fit in the style of Courage the Cowardly Dog.

The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley is worth watching, though, just to see first-hand why Martin Short is considered such a comedy legend.  Like, if you only know his from Clifford, this show will reverse your opinion.  There’s his great comic timing while playing Ed Grimley.  But then there are all the other tricks up his sleeve.

I’m quite AWARE they’re Earthlings, Draco! I’m not BLIND you know!

On one episode, Ed and his young friend Wendell visit an alien planet. They are spied on by an alien queen (who had a big oval head with lips and four eyes on stalks, but also is quite leggy). Short voices her as Bette Davis. A really hungover Bette Davis.

“Bring them to me, Draco!” the queen says. “Bring them to ME, I say!”

Draco, who sounds like Edward G. Robinson, responds, “Why not just destroy them, your majesty?”

To which the queen replies, “Like the way you destroyed OUR LOVE?  No Draco, not this time!  NO MUTTERING IN ME COURT.”

Short’s voice is loud and with random pauses, which I am failing to convey with my lapses into ALL CAPS. It is such great delivery, and I could not stop laughing.

When Martin Short appears in a live-action role, the entire project jumps to another, more surreal level.  Especially when he’s playing a dangerous lunatic with multiple personalities.  Live-action Martin Short is far more cartoony than his animated version.

By the way, it seems like the last time we saw Ed Grimley was in a 2015 SNL parody of “Hotline Bling,” a skit that also included… Donald Trump.  Oh, crap.  Are we really living in a world created by Count Floyd’s Scary Stories?

The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley such a delight. I’m sad it only got 13 episodes.  It’s so far ahead of its time, and so oddball and unpredictable.  You have no idea if a Wizard of Oz episode is going to turn into a Jerry Lewis parody.  Or if a Gomer Pyle plot is going to turn into a Jerry Lewis parody…. Actually you’re pretty safe assuming the Jerry Lewis thing.  He seems to really relate to a comedian who’s most famous for playing a skinny nerdy buffoon, for some reason.

But who knows, maybe that’s all that Short and Co. had time for.  Busy people they all are, I must say.

NOTE: Apologies for the poor image quality.  I had downloaded the episodes via iTunes, and that doesn’t allow for screen captures.  Screenshots for this show are pretty scarce on the internet, it seems, and the only screen captures I could get were from YouTube uploads of poor quality.

NOTE 2: Also I have created an all new tag for all my animated retrospectives: the very standard sounding #MADE ANIMATED. I finally arrived at this common tag after weeks of soul searching; attempts to convey cartoons that are forgotten and maybe remembered fondly still; many different iterations of “toon,” “animation,” etc. until I finally threw my hands up and said, “Screw it… Let’s go for brand continuity.” So if you want to scroll back through all my thoughts on Fish who are also Police, click on the tag!

NOTE 3: Also, check out these custom colored blocks. WordPress Block editing is scarrrryyy exciting!!! WooOooooOOoooooooo!