Was That Real: Sam and Max: Freelance Police
June 16, 2015
(The shortened opening)
Nostalgia Critic: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. And welcome to another edition of WTR, a.k.a. Was That Real?
(The title card of WTR is shown, before showing clips from shows like "Small Wonder", "The Cowboys of Moo Mesa", "Count Duckula", "Dumb and Dumber, "Dog City", "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and "Star Wars: Ewoks")
NC (vo): This is where we look at TV shows that may be forgotten by some but remembered by others for just how strange they were.
NC: With that said, let's talk about a couple of characters called Sam and Max.
NC (vo): Though technically getting their start as a comic, Sam and Max became big names at the height of LucasArts Games' success in 1993 with Sam and Max Hit the Road. It was funny, quirky, and many would argue ahead of its time. But despite it's friendly looks, Sam and Max was mostly meant for adults. So it was kind of hard to figure out where exactly to place them for future projects, or even how. It was hard for adult audiences back then to get into a fluffy rabbit and a cute dog, but it was also hard for kids to get into those cuddly characters swearing up a storm. Well, okay, the parents; the kids were probably fine with that.
NC: And the crowning achievement of that... eeeeehhh... came out on Fox Kids with Sam and Max: Freelance Police.
(Clip from the opening is shown, before going to clips from show's various episodes)
Singers: Sam and Max! (Trumpets play)
NC (vo): Kinda like Small Wonder, this was a very bizarre show to get a handle on. Not to say that the game didn't have its weird moments, but it still had a mostly flowing narrative with our heroes trying to solve the problem. With Freelance Police, it always started out with an idea for a flowing narrative, but then derailed into something more similar to, say, Monty Python's Complete Waste of Time.
NC: Does anyone remember that? Does anyone remem- You should remember that!
NC (vo): Most of the episodes start off with the mission from either their faceless commissioner on the phone...
Sam: Yes! Uh-huh! Tenfold! Affirmative! Roger! Miller! Gotcha! Check! Ha-ha!
NC (vo): Or their maker of gadgets, simply known as "The Geek".
Geek: Secretary General, I'll look into that ozone thing right away.
Max: Over and out! (smashes controls with a hammer)
NC (vo): Granted, the problems were usually resolved by the end, but it clearly wasn't the focus. The focus was to partake in a lot of fast-paced surrealism. And honestly, it's so fast and so surreal that it's hard to even know if you're supposed to laugh at it half the time.
(The duo's car is shown in space)
Sam: You have nothing to fear but fear itself.
Max: And that big cranky alien cranium heading straight for us.
(A huge blue heart-shaped monster floats up to Sam and Max)
Galactose: I am Galactose, the Intolerant!
NC: So does that make it a bad show or a good show? (Beat) I really don't know.
NC (vo): It's so strange and hard to get a grasp on that, even years later, you can't tell whether it was behind it's time or ahead of it's time. Just listen to how they talk.
Teacher: Surely there's more to your occupation than just pummeling vaporous anomalies insensible.
Sam (puppet): No, that's pretty much it.
Teacher: I'm not sure the school board would approve of this field trip...
Sam: Based on my limited knowledge of school board officials being dull, colorless mama's boys, I'd have to agree.
NC (vo) That kind of dialogue goes on throughout the entire series. That vocabulary is way too advanced for a lazy kids' show. There's clearly intelligent people behind this. But then some jokes will be built up so much and seemingly go nowhere that's especially funny.
Max: Was it the commissioner?
Sam: Not exactly. It was someone not unlike the commissioner with all the intolerant intones of the commissioner who sounded remarkably like the Geek and, therefore, could very well have been the Geek.
Max: You have a long black hair growing right out of your nose.
NC: (looks around unsurely) How am I supposed to react to that?
NC (vo): Are we supposed to laugh because it's so funny, or laugh because it's so not funny? Is that the whole idea of the show, that some jokes work, but others are just kind of trolling us? The speed of the dialogue goes by so fast that it's legitimately hard to tell. And don't get me wrong, some jokes are definitely trying to get away with more than most kids' shows do.
Sam: The prison showers? Gee, if these walls could talk!
Max: I think it's best if they keep their mouths shut...
NC (vo): But what exactly does that prove? We know it has smart writers, so, why is it so tough to figure out if it's good or bad? Part of it is that the world it creates is odd, but not a total decent into surrealism either. For example, the Geek is a teenage girl living on her own. But they don't ignore that; they bring up that it's a weird thing that she doesn't have any parents around.
Repair Man: Is your mommy home?
The Geek: This isn't my home, it's my lab. And my mommy didn't call you, I did.
Repair Man: (chuckles) Well, aren't we all grown up.
NC (vo): But then, they don't really do anything crazy or funny with it either, so it's still kind of a strange mix to comprehend. What kind of feel or environment is this trying to make?
NC: I try to figure out if this is the work of genius, madness or both.
(Clip from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is played)
Jack Sparrow: It's remarkable how often those two traits coincide.
(Clips from Animaniacs are played)
NC (vo): And I started to realize it reminded me a little bit of Animaniacs, which also had plots that seemed more focused around just telling jokes.
NC: So then I asked, "What did Animaniacs have that made it more relatable than Sam and Max had?" The answer: SUFFERING!
NC (vo): I still stand by "All comedy is based on some form of misery". And even though the Warners are happy and zany characters, they're still confronting someone who's going to suffer for their antics.
(Clips from Sam and Max is played)
NC (vo): Sam and Max rarely has those characters. It's usually just them working off of themselves and enjoying it. There's never really a smart one or a dumb one or a mean one or a nice one; they usually seem kind of on the same page. Once in a while, they come across a foil that gets smashed or verbally assulted, but, for the most part, it's just these two acting like nothing really hurts them.
Sam: Such a beautiful swamp. I almost hate to leave.
Max: Me, too, Sam, but let's do before we start blubbering like newlyweds over a scranger.
Sam: You crack me up, little buddy.
(Still from Earthworm Jim fills the screen, preceeding clipart with The Tick saying NEAT!!! in Comic Sans and a picture of main characters of The Tick, this time diminishing into the center)
NC (vo): Even other surreal shows like Earthworm Jim or The Tick still acted like they had something to lose. Either they, or the people around them were invested in things not going wrong.
Clips from Sam and Max play)
NC (vo): Sam and Max couldn't care if their place went up in smoke or if they won the lottery. They'd be happy and strange, no matter what.
Max: We return victorious! Out with the scars of battle! H- ha! Looks like I'm wearing polka-dot 'jammies.
NC (vo): So, with most of the time nobody reacting to the insanity that's going on, does it still work as a comedy? Because that seems like a big part of the equation to leave out.
NC: Well, while clearly not for everyone, I think you can still make the arguement, "Yeah, it can kinda work".
(Stills from anime Cowboy Bebop and Gravity Falls appear on the screen and diminish into the center)
NC (vo): Even famous characters that do work off the misery or confusion of others still have a certain charm to them about how much they're in their own world.
(Clips from Sam and Max play)
NC (vo): They're so removed from what you're used to that it can actually put you, the viewer, in kind of an awkward state. And a lot of times, that can be funny.
(Image of "Why Do We Love Stupid?" video appears on screen and diminishes into the center)
NC (vo): I did a whole editorial on this called "Why Do We Love Stupid," so you can watch that to get more of an idea of what I'm talking about.
(Clips from Sam and Max play)
NC (vo): Nevertheless, you can have a funny setup even if there's nobody's misery to work off of in the show, even if it means your expectations is what they're working off of.
NC: But with that said, that might be why the show only lasted one season.
NC (vo): I'm not saying at all that there isn't an audience or even an especially intelligent one, I think you have to be to follow all this; but for the average kid at the time, this was just a little too much to take in. The humor was so fast, so confusing and so strange that it didn't seem to find a big enough crowd for enough seasons.
(Still from Ren and Stimpy appears)
NC (vo): Its kinda like if you gave Ren and Stimpy really intelligent dialogue. It's just not what audiences were looking for at the time. Don't get me wrong, the Animaniacs talked intelligent a lot of the time, but nothing compared to this line.
(Clip from Sam and Max play)
Sam: These free-floating immense-headed space deities are getting real tired.
(Clips from Animaniacs play)
NC (vo): And on top of that, 90% of the time, somebody was getting hurt or getting what was coming to them.
(Clips from Sam and Max play)
NC (vo): Most younger audiences wanted silly without much thinking, or thinking without much silly. And I'd be lying if I said that a lot of older audiences aren't really like that, too. So this is another one that's hard to clarify who exactly would like it and who wouldn't. Because it's so odd and quick but doesn't focus that much on the suffereing angle, its hard to gauge the fanbase who would enjoy it.
NC: But, that's part of what makes it one of a kind.
NC (vo): It's different than any other show that's tried something like this. It has more anarchy than Animaniacs, but more vocabulary than Ren and Stimpy. It's complex, but simple. Quick, yet sluggish. Stupid, and smart, all at the same time. It's not the game, it's not the comic; it seems to just be its own unique thing. There's definitely people out there who love comedy that can't be categorized. And Sam and Max: Freelance Police is just a too strange not to be included.
(The ending of the intro is shown)
Student: It's Sam and Max, Freelance Police!
Sam and Max: Hi, kids!
(A black-and-white clip of woman screaming in the audience pops up in the show)
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to.
(He gets up and leaves. The credits roll)