In December of 2000, The Cartoon Network created Adult Swim, a late-night weekend blast of animated irreverence and more-than-occasional mayhem that was aimed at older teens and young adults. Their first Adult Swim was Harvey Birdman, Attorney-At-Law, a reworking of the Hanna-Barbera Super-hero series, Birdman that found Birdman giving up superheroics to defend the right in a courtroom. Now, six-and-a-half years and thirty-eight cases later, Sunday’s double-length episode [11:45/10:45C] brings the curtain down on the first and longest-running Adult Swim series.
From Harvey’s opening case [Race Bannon suing Dr. Fenton Quest for custody of his son, Jonny and ward Hadji], Harvey Birdman-At-Law was an extremely-limited animation series [frankly, it made the poorest Hanna-Barbera animation look lush] that reveled in absurdity and non-sequitor. The series finale is, in that sense, no different.
Poor Harvey goes into a drunken depression when, for some obscure reason, all of his cases are ordered a “re-do.” While Harvey wallows, the Birdteam [Peanut, Judy Ken Sebbin and Avenger] tear into action to gather all the plaintiffs and defendants so that Harvey can re-try their cases – if they can get him to sober up!
One obstacle is Judge Mentok’s plans to go on vacation – hence his decree that Harvey has twenty-four hours to get through all thirty-seven cases… well, thirty-eight, if you count the one that has never been spoken of since… Another is the arrival of one of Harvey’s former clients, Nitron [they lost, and Nitron is might pissed!]. Then there’s the obnoxious Phil Ken Sebben’s commandeering of a bus to get home [and his “shortcuts” are a highlight of the ep].
With the Birdteam working to get Harvey’s cases in order, he’s left to face Nitron, and sheds his three-piece suit to once again become Birdman! Problem: Birdman is a Class 1 superhero; Nitron is a Class 5 villain. Can this be the end of Harvey Birdman?
The Death of Harvey is both a typical series ep and an unusual one. Typically, Harvey has a crisis of faith; typically, there is a question of law to be decided. Atypically, Harvey reverts to prime Hanna-Barbera form as a superhero. The absurd humor of the ep may be even more out there than usual, and there are scenes [Peanut/Judy and Phil/Judy] that don’t so much push the envelope as rip it wide open. In an odd way, one of the show’s touchstones has been consistent characterization, and The Death of Harvey is no exception.
The result is a half-hour special episode that ranks among the series’ best. Harvey may have been [as Adult Swim PR puts it] “a B-list superhero with bad knees before he turned in his cape and cowl to become the token cartoon lawyer at Sebben & Sebben,” but his heart has never been in question [though his intelligence, skill and wit may have been]. The Death of Harvey is a fitting end to one of the wackiest, weirdest, wildest, most poorly animated [though that was part of its charm] series in TV history.
Farewell, Harvey. We probably knew you better than we should have…
Final Grade: A
EM Review Posted by Sheldon Wiebe
Originally Posted 07/21/07