Liquid Television is Back to Inspire a New Generation to Spend Borrowed Money on Film School

Hello, Dad? Happy birthday! I'm in jail!
Lesley Kinzel
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Hello, Dad? Happy birthday! I'm in jail!

We are a nation drunk on nostalgia, and it seems the 90s are our current libation of choice. To that end, MTV has seen fit to revive their fondly remembered cartoon anthology, "Liquid Television," which along with 120 Minutes was one of my favorite TV series as a sullen and misunderstood teenager. Liquid Television was best known as the launching pad for both "Beavis and Butt-head" and "Aeon Flux," but oh, it was so much more. It was deranged, irreverent, funny, and terrifying.

Last week, MTV launched a Liquid Television archive, which is sadly incomplete for those of us with particularly acute memories. For one, it lacks Stick Figure Theater, one of my favorite series.

Stick Figure Theater took audio from old movies and television and recreated the scene using surprisingly expressive stick figures drawn on 3x5 index cards. The result is wildly entertaining, especially when one is familiar with the source material.

Other things haven’t held up so well. I remember thinking Winter Steele -- a stiff and slightly inept series of puppets representing a scary “biker chick” -- was hilariously genius when I was a teenager and now... not so much. Hey, remember when saying “bitch” on TV was semi-scandalous? It’s worth noting that this was the era in which “ugly animation” -- a la the aforementioned “Beavis and Butt-head” -- was all the rage. 

Dog Boy, on the other hand, is far more brilliant than I ever realized. This series was not animated at all, but instead took live action and dressed it up to look like animation by using props, prosthetics, and special effects. The title character receives a transplanted dog heart in the first episode, and, well, you can guess where that goes.

And some shorts are as resonant today as they were to teenage me.

Liquid Television was a minor influence in my decision to spend my undergraduate degree learning the incredibly non-lucrative art of filmmaking. There was -- and still is -- something inspirational about what an individual in a basement apartment can do with a little money and a lot of passion and a surplus of free time. I never studied animation myself, but the possibilities it offered were always intoxicating to my already-overactive imagination.

Some of what’s on Liquid Television’s new site offers the same inspiration I received as a teen -- the more haphazard and unrefined shorts continue to demonstrate that this is an art form that is open to experimentation by anyone with the desire and drive to do so.

And some of it, like the short below, are inspirational because of their sheer intensity, and their ability to transport the viewer so thoroughly. “The Wonder Hospital” is a 2010 film made by Korean animation artist Beomisk Shimbe Shim, and it reads like a shivering fever dream of beauty and self-perception. I won’t pretend to be cool about this: The ending simply blew my mind.

Have you checked out the new archive? Do you have a favorite short? Is your spoon too big? Let us discuss in comments.