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30 Years of Cartoon Network: "Time Squad"

Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television, and games.

Background & Conception

This clip you just watched above is a prime example of how Cartoon Network cleverly marketed and promoted their shows back in the day. I remembered like it was yesterday when I was glued to the television and watched the channel. Then, there were these live-action promos featuring Eli Whitney and Abraham Lincoln (which I, unfortunately, couldn't find high-quality videos of) without displaying much of the cartoon till the end. It was one of those promos that caught you off-guard and made your curiosity grow.

Time Squad was created by animator Dave Wasson, who had previous experience working for Nickelodeon making shorts, such as Max's Special Problem and Tales from the Goose Lady, for Oh Yeah! Cartoons, which was the network's successful attempt of What a Cartoon! Show. It was the first Cartoon Network show where not only the studio was directly producing shows without Hanna-Barbera, but also the first where each shows' characters would annually interact inside the logo after the credits. Sadly, it was also the last show under Betty Cohen's presidency as she resigned due to creative differences with Time-Warner. Jim Staples would take over.

A Show With Historical and Comedic Proportions

The show is about a trio of time-cops from the distant future where they travel back in time to make history as accurate as possible. Right off the bat, this show has a creative premise with a sense of world-building. The mere idea of a futuristic world where no wars, all the nations forming into one, and "bacon is good for your heart" has a lot to be desired. However, that was only told through exposition during the first episode, which could be good for a laugh, I guess. The real meat of the setting takes place in the space station and the time periods that our heroes travel through.

Once we do travel back in time, this is where the historical context and comedic elements come into play and how it would affect the viewer. In almost every episode, each historical figure that the trio meets makes a different life choice that would potentially alter the future and must correct history by anything necessary. For example, Eli Whitney would invent "flesh-eating" robots instead of the cotton gin or Cleopatra would open up a shopping mall instead of ruling Egypt. Sometimes, they would change the formula where either there isn't a mission, one of the main characters is absent so the other characters try to succeed without them, or occasionally get help from other time cop characters to expand on the world-building. On rare occasions, a couple of historical figures would become recurring characters either as a cameo or a last resort to fix whatever problem they fail in doing.

As you can tell, the show decided to exaggerate these changes to an outlandish degree instead of properly educating these figures. In hindsight, any history buff would find this beyond historically inaccurate and any kid tuning in would easily cheat to pass a test or something. But when you think about it, this was never the intention. Coincidentally enough, this show acts more like a homage to another Jay Ward cartoon segments Peabody's Improbable History where the main characters travel through time and each famous person they encounter acts out of character. Basically, what Mr. Peabody & Sherman and this show have in common is comedically playing around with historical events to an extent that was never meant to be taken seriously.

Speaking of which, it is humorous seeing how these aforementioned figures would behave differently and the main characters would constantly try to knock some sense. For instance, Tuddrassel would take violent approaches while Larry would sometimes get carried away with his mannerisms that almost ruin their missions. While this show may not be homework for children, it is definitely entertaining with the right balance of history and laughs.

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Caricatured Figures

For those that remember watching the Tales from the Goose Lady shorts, Dave Wasson's character designs from those cartoons are carried over this show. As expected, the character designs have a heavy emphasis on shapes where the characters look like something out of a UPA or Hanna-Barbera cartoon. ...I think I am starting to see coincidences between this show and Sheep in the Big City: both creators previously worked for Nickelodeon and implemented their abstract character designs. Personally thinking, Otto kind of looks like Sherman's long-lost cousin. Even the Larry 3000 also appears to be a satirical version of C-3PO from Star Wars. Once our main trio comes across the historical figures, each of them has a caricatured look that benefits Wasson's signature style while adding their basic likeness down. The character animation is television quality but does kick up whenever an action sequence or comedic antics ensue. Not to mention some nice effects animation whenever the main characters travel back through time (though the whole sequence was only seen in the pilot) and usually act as the fade out to the end of every episode.

The most creative background animation is the space station where our characters reside. Each room has a futuristic aesthetic that represents good and bad aspects of Tuddrassel and Larry's living conditions and duties. One provides information like a high-tech computer that displays a live-action portrait of the historical figure and time period and a teleporter that sends you back to the designated time. There are rooms where Larry has that are clean and elegant, like the kitchen and the botanical gardens. Tuddrassel's rooms are rough and unsanitary, like a shooting gallery and an outdated prison for repeat offenders. What's the future without neat and inventive-looking gizmos, such as Tuddrassel's weapons or Larry's robotic capabilities. As for the time periods, their backgrounds look historically accurate with a hint of a contemporary flair, such as Woodstock in the Revolutionary era or a modern company building during 18th century England. As surreal as these descriptions sound, they do fit the comedic tone.

There are two visual highlights in the show's animation. One is the episode segment "Recruitment Ad" where the characters and setting were given a more realistic design with a decent of shadows to give them depth. The second is an entire episode that plays out like an episode of Scooby-Doo! Where are You? Not only that they made the White House look like a haunted mansion but they also used the soundtrack from the original series. And I don't mean by their own rendition, they've used the exact music from the show! I remember how blown away I was that episode aired since I watched a lot of Scooby-Doo around that time. The animation may continue the network's signature abstract style but Dave Wasson and his team of animators would think outside the box to create visuals this inventive and historic.

Time-Traveling Trio vs. Corrupted Historical Figures

If there was any problem in any time period, they would have to be solved by these three heroes...with varying results. Buck Tuddrassel is the macho yet ignorant officer of the team who would always take action first without thinking straight. Partnering with him is the Larry 3000, a tech-savvy robot whose cultured behavior would sometimes get on Buck's nerves. As a result, these two are inept cops that would constantly bicker at each other and would potentially fail missions assigned to them. Until they recruited/adopted an orphan from the 21st century named Otto Osworth. Beforehand, Otto lived in a miserable and broken-down orphanage ruled by the cruel nun Sister Thornly. However, upon meeting the Time Squad, he decided to join them, not just as his new family, not also due to his expertise in history. In other words, Otto is considered a straight person and the only member with common sense. With everything said, they are not bad characters. Their contrasting personalities definitely help set off the humorous adventures but also act as a dysfunctional yet charming family.

With so many missions they embark on, there are many iconic historical figures that do things beyond what they are supposed to do. I've already mentioned Eli Whitney and Cleopatra, but other unfitted figures include Ludwig Von Beethoven as a wrestler, Buffalo Bill as a conspiracy theorist, Ivan the Terrible as a dog, and so much more. Once in a while, certain figures would appear more than once during the series, like Geroge Washington, Sigmund Freud, and Blackbeard.

Occasionally, the trio would get help from other units in Time Squad, such as Tuddrassel's tough ex-wife Shiela, her robot assistant XJ5, and the professional yet jerky duo J.T. Laser and Lance Nine Trillion.

Another component that helps give the characters more personality is voice-acting. While we have some talented gems like Rob Paulsen and Tomy Kenny, the best among the cast is Mark Hamill as Larry 3000. It is very ironic that he is voicing a robot character based on a franchise he is famous for. Pamela Adlon also does a solid job portraying Otto as a knowledgable yet kindhearted kid. There are many characters that aren't historically accurate, but with these characters around, it can be a fun and memorable time.

Conclusion & Legacy

Overall, Time Squad remains an overlooked piece in Cartoon Network's history with a resourceful yet zany concept, a bit of historical context, good laughs, and a solid cast. Again, it is not recommended for those that would write a school report about. It's intentionally made for entertainment purposes and they know it. Even though the show ran for two seasons and was nominated for a few awards, the people involved did go on to bigger projects, such as composer Michael Tavera later wrote music for Mucha Lucha! and the Lilo & Stitch series. Recently, Dave Wasson developed The Cuphead Show on Netflix.

Though no DVDs and home media releases were made, Time Squad recently made cameos in O.K. K.O.! Let's Be Heroes and the Latin America-exclusive series, Villainous.

For those that want a more interesting and memorable time-traveling adventure, it's time to go back...back to the past.

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