Home Movies was cancelled in 2004. By 2006,' Bouchard's collaborator Brendon Small had a new show on Adult Swim called Metalocalypse, which hit it big almost immediately. It got better ratings and much more press than Home Movies, its soundtrack became the highest charting death metal album on the Billboard 200, as of today it (supposedly) has a fifth season on the way, et cetra. Bouchard, however, would have to spend another few years wandering in the desert of late-night cartoon obscurity before landing a prime time network hit with Bob's Burgers in 2011.
Today we're going to take a quick look at the two shows Bouchard worked on between Home Movies and Bob's Burgers, beginning with...
Saddle Rash actually aired in 2002, when Home Movies was on its second season. It was Bouchard's first project not to have been produced under the banner of a Tom Synder company, the first for which he could claim complete credit as creator, and the first for which he was the primary writer (though he had help from Holly Schlesinger, who had worked on Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and Home Movies as a production assistant, and who returns as a writer in Lucy, the Daughter of the Devil and Bob's Burgers). It was also his first (and so far only) rejected pilot; Adult Swim didn't greenlight it for a series, but Saddle Rash was fortunate enough to be aired a few times instead of just getting stuffed into a Cartoon Network vault like some of the unluckier pilots.
Nevertheless, the Western is still coded into the genetic matrix of American pop culture. It's like a cell that lives and reproduces for so long that its DNA falls apart; it forgets what it's doing, what's it's supposed to be, and all that's left is kitsch and pastiche. Saddle Rash is pastiche, but it's as earnest as pastiche can be; it's not merely a sitcom dressed in a cowboy costume. (To give credit where credit is due: much of Saddle Rash's mythical Old West atmosphere emanates from its soundtrack, engineered by the Elegant Too out of harmonicas and drum machines, and its closing theme, a rocksy-bluesy take on "Home on the Range.")
So we have Saddle Rash, a remote frontier town with unpaved streets and buildings made entirely from wooden planks. On a day that might otherwise seem like any other in the sleepy little village, a stranger rides into town. A gunman. He's got two six shooters, the laconic swagger of a young Clint Eastwood, and a score to settle with local bandit boss Tommy Morgan. What he doesn't have are arms.
There's your twist. But after that it's back to the formula: the rugged avenger stirs up the coop, beats up Morgan's cronies and rallies the town's spirits, giving Morgan no alternative but to ride into town and take care of business personally. The stranger and Morgan duel in the street, and here's the twist you saw coming: the stranger reveals the reason for his grudge against Morgan. Justice prevails, Morgan and his gang are tied up and hauled off, and the stranger rides out of town alone.
Of all the chitchat in Saddle Rash, I'd say the highlight is the exchange between Todd Barry and Mitch Hedburg's outlaws as they ride into town to get drunk and start a fight. Excerpt:
Kitty the Kid: He's all pissy because now every time he leaves the hideout, someone's always trying to turn him in or kill him....It's outlaw stuff, man. Sometimes you gotta do it.
Muscular Mel: Yeah.
Kitty the Kid: There's downtime.
Muscular Mel: Yeah.
Kitty the Kid: There's hurry up and wait.
Muscular Mel: Yeah!
Kitty the Kid: I mean, when you look at "wanted: dead or alive," you can't just see "wanted: dead."
Muscular Mel: Naw, naw!
Kitty the Kid: You have to see "or alive," too!
Muscular Mel: You are so right.
Beyond its emphasis on conversation, what makes Saddle Rash a quintessential Bouchard production is the mixed success of its hero. Slim gives it a good try, but fails to shoot Morgan. He has to be saved by Saddle Rash's townsfolk, who come up and jump Morgan from behind.
Of the pilots that aired on Adult Swim during its first couple of years, the one that got picked up was Venture Brothers, and even as a Bouchard fan, I'm constrained to say it is/was the better choice. Saddle Rash is a superb one-shot; I'm not sure it had much potential as a series, especially if Slim was set to return as the protagonist. How many "armless badass" jokes is it really possible to make?
Adult Swim message board Q&A that it takes a year and a half to make a pilot. Can you imagine? Working a year and a half on something that basically amounts to an audition, only to have it turned down and get hurled back to square one. Back to the drawing board; draw up a new concept, fund a new source of funds, get a new team together, come up with a new pitch.
But Bouchard dusted himself off and got back on that horse, and went for one last ride with Adult Swim.
The pilot episode of Lucy, the Daughter of the Devil aired in October 2005; its ten-episode first (and only) season didn't make it to television until September 2007. Unlike Saddle Rash, this one was practically an oblation to Adult Swim. It's twelve minutes long, cheaply animated, blasphemous, bizarre, consistently rated TV-MA, and it has H. Jon Benjamin voicing not one, not two, but three major characters.
Lucy, the Daughter of the Devil is undoubtedly (and by design) Bouchard's most cinematic project. More precisely, it is the most cinematic vis-à-vis the film sensibilities of Home Movies' young filmmaker Brendon Small. Lucy exists in the ludicrous world where Brendon's films are situated. The hinges are off, thrown out the window, and smelted down in hellfire. Home Movies had to return to something like reality when the camcorder was turned off, but Lucy gets to be grotesque and batshit insane from beginning to end.
he can best explain it himself:
I guess my feeling is that I want it to feel like these little events. I want it to feel like these little movies. We’re doing a different open for each show....Each episode has a little [cold open] and then a little unique theme song with unique graphics....
It’s gonna be like that every episode. It turned out to be obviously a little bit of work, but they’re sort of low-fi and goofy. For me, I just love that when you’re watching James Bond or whatever. It’s a series, but it’s also a movie. That unique little theme song is kind of our way of making each one, rather than a sitcom, like ‘here you go, here’s your favorite characters and they’re sitting on the couch just like you left ‘em last week,’ hopefully this feels a little more like these 11-minute movies that happen to have these kind of characters across all of them.
Okay—it isn't straightforward at all. Let's try to clear this up with another round of bios in brief.
The Antichrist. Twenty-one years old. Recent art school graduate. Works at her father's Mexican restaurant, but is uninterested in doing any of his other work. DJ Jesus's main squeeze. Kind of inconspicuous and mild-mannered, but can be scary when she's mad. Voiced by Jessi Klein (swoon) in the pilot; voiced by Melissa Bardin Galsky in the series.
The Prince of Darkness. The Father of Lies. The Archenemy. Responsible for all evil in the world; has recently expanded into the casual after-work bar and grill business. Malevolent and dangerous, but easily distracted. Wishes his daughter would get with the program and help him get his end of the world plan moving forward. Voiced by—who else?—H. Jon Benjamin.
The Second Coming. Lucy's new boyfriend. Wants to take DJing to the next level by doing something that's more than DJing and also less than DJing. Is also an escape/performance/food artist, and dabbles in writing. Not a bad guy, but kind of self-absorbed. Voiced with too-cool-for-school mellowness by Jon Glaser.
The Special Fathers
Paramilitary clerics dispatched by the Vatican to kill the Antichrist before she can fulfill her terrible destiny. Sometimes they moonlight as exorcists and vampire hunters. Father Cantalupi (H. Jon Benjamin) is the field leader; Father Benetti (Sam Seder) is the quiet one; Sister Mary (Eugene Mirman) is the loose cannon.
The Devil's Advocate. Satan's personal assistant. Very serious and committed. Frustrated by Satan's lack of focus. Has a fetish for carnage. Voiced by Melissa Bardin Galsky.
DJ Jesus's unctuous toady. Follows Jesus around religiously (so to speak) and helps handle his PR machine. Tries way, way too hard. Might not be as loyal as he lets on. Another character voiced by H. Jon Benjamin, but sounds very little like the other two.
An influential United States senator who calls Satan master. Has presidential ambitions and a throbbing lust for Lucy. Knows how to grandstand for the media, but his monstrous temper is a liability. Voiced by Sam Seder, who has white-hot small man rage down to a science.
But with the exception of heart, it has all the other familiar hallmarks of a Loren Bouchard project: an emphasis on conversation, H. Jon Benjamin making up his own lines, and tight parallel narratives that overlap conceptually, if not directly. Managing to cram three individual and complete plots into twelve minutes is not an unimpressive feat, and Lucy makes it possible. Though she's ostensibly the protagonist, she usually doesn't do very much (because she's a lazy millennial); she's merely the point of intersection between Satan, DJ Jesus, and the Special Fathers, who are the ones moving the stories along. Lucy sits at the center of the apocalyptic whirlwind (more literally she's sitting on the couch), but she isn't the one stirring it up.
reviewing the DVDs. But it evidently didn't get the ratings Adult Swim required for a second season, and that was that. (Robert Frost said that hell is a half-filled auditorium, and that's pretty much what Lucy got.) Maybe that's why it never quite amassed an appreciable cult following, even though it's just the type of show that deserved one: there's just not enough of it to fall in love with. Counting the pilot, there are eleven twelve-minute episodes, which amounts to a miniseries spanning roughly two hours. Watching it all the way through is just enough to hook you and make you want more; but like Lucy's unfortunate boyfriends, it got killed off before people had much of a chance to become enamored of it. It's no surprise that after Lucy, Bouchard looked towards places other than Adult Swim to host his next project.
We've only got one left, but there's going to be a bit of a delay. April is coming up, and you know what that means. We'll wrap this up in early May.