Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Celebrity Deathmatch

If you were ever looking for a show that was simultaneously enticing and repugnant, here it is. Parents hated this show, meaning as kids it was our antagonistic duty to like it regardless of its nausea-inducing violence. It could be sharp and witty, yes, but more often that sharpness led to puncture wounds. Very, very bloody ones.

In the days before MTV poured their limited resources into the Guidoful Jersey Shore, they had a few satirical animated shows in their lineup. Amongst these shows, Celebrity Deathmatch was undoubtedly the sickest and most twisted. The 90s were a pioneering time for adult-targeted cartoons. In a time before animated program blocks like Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, it was still a relatively novel concept to develop an animated program that was at best completely unsuitable for children.

Of course, Celebrity Deathmatch was not just animated. It was claymated, which has been scientifically proven to be the most nightmare-causing form of animation. Granted, this conclusive analysis is from my own research as a sleepless eight year old scared silly by a Gumby cartoon, but I stand behind my contention. Claymation is inherently disturbing, second only to Tim Burton-style stop-motion animation. It just leaves you with a bad aftertaste.

The show poked fun at both individual celebrities and the ridiculousness of professional wrestling, all in a convenient 30-minute format. As the name clearly states, the program showcased satirical fight-to-the-death matches between popular celebrities. Each episode usually featured three separate deathmatches, most of which culminated in the gruesome, bloody death of one of the participants. What, that doesn't sound like a comedy to you?

Whenever I saw the show as a kid I always had a distinct uneasy feeling that this was something I was not supposed to be watching. It was excessively violent, used crude humor, and was generally unsettling. It was certainly not meant for child audiences, as it usually aired in the later evening lineup. There were, however, occasional daytime repeats that led to my unending pondering of such deep questions as "Who would win in a fight for their life? Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera?" The question haunts me to this day. I don't think I ever caught the ending.

A short version of the show premiered in the late 90s on MTV's Cartoon Sushi, featuring a deathmatch between Marilyn Manson and Charles Manson. The concept was revived for the 1998 MTV Super Bowl Halftime show, featuring pressing real-life questions such as "Who is a more annoying band--Hanson or Spice Girls?"

Hanson vs. The Spice Girls. - kewego
The brothers Hanson take on The Spice Girls for the title of "Most annoying band in the world!", also featuring Marylin Manson.

In this warped reality, a deranged Marilyn Manson (is there any other kind?) cut the light rigging off the ceiling and wiped out both bands in one fell swoop. Tragedy or triumph? The quality of your music taste decides.

Following their Super Bowl appearance, Celebrity Deathmatch was soon picked up as a full series. The first full episode premiered in May of 1998 featuring the following 3 shorts:

Hilary Clinton vs. Monica Lewinsky

clinton_vs_lewinsky - MyVideo

It seems MTV used to be into topical political humor as opposed to simply scripting the dating of moms. This was a cheap and easy shot, of course, but it does get bonus points for referencing the Gennifer Flowers scandal as well.

Jim Carrey vs. Mariah Carey

I assume these two were judged fit opponents on the basis of their shared surname alone. As you can judge from the above video, the voices weren't always spot on but the show managed to capture the stars' most irritating mannerisms and tics. In the case of Jim Carrey, it didn't take much to expose these irritating mannerisms. The talking-through-the-butt gag is pretty straightforward. In a surprise twist, however, Mariah high-notes Jim to death. Didn't see that one coming.

Jerry Seinfeld vs. Tim Allen

Our premiere ended with a clash of the sitcom titans, pitting Jerry Seinfeld against Tim Allen. Neither of them shows an especially impressive command of deathmatch prowess, so the rest of the Seinfeld gang swoops in to finish the job. On Jerry, that is. Canceling the show obviously really got to these clay facsimiles of his costars.

The show was moderated by fictitious announcers Johnny Gomez and Nick Diamond, whose deadpan commentary almost made these ridiculous scenarios seem plausible. You know, if they weren't claymation. Mills Lane reprised his real-life role as boxing referee in the show, shouting his signature "Let's Get it On!" at the outset of each show. Creator Eric Fogel and team worked to make the play-by-plays as realistic as possible, save for actual subject matter. Shows contained a pregame show, postgame shows, interviews, and even press conferences.

It's certainly not a show to be taken seriously, though I imagine many parent watchdog groups were quick to voice their discontent. The brutal, consequence-free violence wasn't exactly appropriate for young viewers, but then again neither is alleged "real life" professional wrestling. True, it probably hurts less to beam someone with a folding chair than a blowtorch, but the premise wasn't all that difference. At least in this version, we know it's fake. I don't know how figured it out, but the clay mation tipped me off.

By the way, if you were wondering who won in the Britney vs. Christina showdown, you're in luck. Here's your chance to find out. Spoiler alert: it was inconclusive. They got pretty tangled up there in the Ponytail of Death.


// krissy ♥ said...

Aww I love this show! I continuously include this in my list of favorite TV shows :D

C.L. Young said...

The only good thing about MTV in the 1990s was the cartoons (at least for me). It was this show (until Stacy Cornbread died), Daria, and Beavis and Butthead (I didn't "get" Downtown [I might now, if I can find it], if anyone remembers that show). There were two other cartoons that I liked: 3-South [about a genius sent to a low-rent college (the animation sort of looked like pre-2003 cancellation "Family Guy")] and Clone High [about clones of famous historical figures as high schoolers], but both of those shows came out in the early 2000s and this blog is strictly 1990s.

C.L. Young said...

Oh, and to add, I liked Daria until she started dating Jane's ex-boyfriend, Tom. And Beavis and Butthead was good until the end (even though a lot of old reruns were edited because, like "Jackass," MTV doesn't want to be blamed for the injury or death of a stupid kid who thought it was a good idea to imitate what he sees on TV). The movie ("Beavis and Butthead Do America") was hit or miss.

Yelena R. said...

No way! I remember staying up and watching this show. So tacky, yet so fun :)

Melanie's Randomness said...

I've spent many many hours watching this show. Ohhh the Spice Girls vs Hanson one was one of my favorites!!

Dugaldo said...

You know I'd like to think I was a total Daria, but I have to admit, I had a little of Quinn Morgendorffer in me. Nice, imfortmative, memory dredging post. I think I've found my the Peach Pit of Blogs. Now I just need a handful of beautiful actors in their 30's playing my teenage friends.

Kris said...

now THIS SHOW was awesome!

Lisa said...

hahah, I remember this show! You should print hard copies of all your posts and sell it as a book...every 90's kid can relate to almost everything! :)

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