Netflix totally preserved my sanity last weekend, as I got to sit and watch the wife get poked and prodded for nearly 72 hours straight by a wide range of medical professionals. Not only that, but I’ve been able to re-enter modern society to a degree thanks to the amount of time I’ve been spending watching cartoons that came out years ago.
It’s no secret that I’ve got a kid on the way – I just mention it every damned chance I get after all – and this means that in a couple of years I’m going to be bombarded with all sorts of horrors when it comes to children’s television programming. Despite the fact that we’ve got plans to keep our kid away from Mr. Television for at least a couple of years so we don’t give her ADD, there’s plenty of good, high-quality children’s programming out there for when she’s ready. You’ve got your Sesame Street and your Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood – all things that are either still being broadcast or are available on DVD – but there’s all kinds of non-educational crap out there that’s primarily designed to simply numb a child’s mind in order to reduce them to a zombie-like state. This past generation it was a certain goofy-voiced purple dinosaur. You know the one; the less said about that violet bastard the better.
Since I figured I should know what I’m going to be dealing with – and since I’m barely more psychologically developed than an adolescent teen myself – I decided to use my time spent incarcerated in a tiny little hospital room to my advantage by seeing what kinds of animated cartoons the kids are watching these days. I had originally planned to take a survey of as many shows that I could find, but I made the fatal mistake of stumbling across a show that grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go, a nanopunk adventure cartoon called Generator Rex that ran from 2010 to 2012 on Cartoon Network. Apparently Generator Rex was pretty popular during its initial 60-episode run to the point where there was actually a crossover with Ben 10, that other perennial Cartoon Network favorite and horrifying source of Rule 34 child molester porn (don’t ask).
Set in one of those “five minutes in the future” settings where the entire world has been exposed to a plague of nanomachines that can cause horrific mutations in human, animal and plant life – turning them into monsters known as EVOs – athe world of Generator Rex kind of resembles a world where the apocalypse came and went but left most of civilization intact. The main force for good in this world is Providence, a global paramilitary outfit funded by world governments to deal with the EVO threat.
Providence’s secret weapon in their crusade against EVOs is the eponymous Rex, a teenager who happens to be unique in that he’s an EVO, but he’s not a rampaging monster – he can control the nanomachines inside him instead of the other way around. Rex’s powers allow him to construct short-lived partial mechanical exoskeletons, and uses his powers to create weapons and vehicles like a pair of oversized robot fists that he uses to pummel EVOs or a hoverbike that he can use to get out of (and into) trouble. The rest of the cast is rounded out by the typical foils for a show like this: Rex’s handler at Providence is an Agent-Smith-from-The-Matrix look-alike simply called Six, his sidekick is a talking chimp named Bobo Haha (voiced by Futurama and Gears of War alum John DiMaggio), the sexy-yet-unattainable compassionate Doctor Holiday, and the normal-as-white-bread best friend Noah (played by Fred Savage of all people).
The key demographic is probably around the 11-14 year old male range, which is right around my maturity level, but I was also surprised by the relatively high production value for the show in addition to the fun, lighthearted action. There’s a rich mythology at work in Generator Rex with the origin of the nanomachine plague – something that ties into Rex’s backstory and explains why he doesn’t remember anything but the last five years of his life – and on top of that many of the main characters are given the room to develop and aren’t just cardboard cutouts set in place for the main character to react to. The animation style is cinematic, which suits the action-adventure genre, and the writing quality is surprisingly high – most episodic cartoon shows wouldn’t take the risk of beginning an episode in medias res in the fear that it would be too hard for a young viewer to understand what was going on, but Generator Rex makes a common use of the tactic.
In other words, it’s actually a pretty tight little show, kind of like a comic book come to life, and if you’re a goofy science-fiction nerd like me you’d probably enjoy it as much as I did. Considering how long we were in the hospital, I managed to watch the whole 20-episode first season, which is all that was available; hopefully Netflix and Cartoon Network will strike a deal to make more of this show (and others, like Samurai Jack) available in the future.