It’s the final season for Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, and the winged lawyer heads to the courtroom once again to “Take the case!” — this time defending the likes of Magilla Gorilla, Top Cat, and Atom Ant. He also faces a new boss, multiple selves, and job burnout. Good thing he’s got that whole superhero thing to fall back on.
Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law: Season Four 7.5
eyesores: almost NO Phil Ken Sebben. too much Potamus. too little court-related material.
“You’re fired! Ka-Downsized! You spend five hours a day Googling pictures of kittens in rain boots! Get out!”
Every good thing comes to an end. Or it doesn’t and then it goes bad. And chunky. Like milk. (Kids: don’t drink the Harvey Birdman milk if it’s past the expiry date; it be foul. As you can imagine Birdman milk would be.) (Parents: keep Harvey Birdman away from your children.) (Birdman: keep the parents -Phil Ken Sebben, in particular- away from their children.)
I honestly don’t know what happened to ‘Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law’, but after a rollicking good start it became wildly inconsistent – in its scheduling, its humour and its storytelling. And, on the fourth (and final) season, it got truncated to half its usual allotment of episodes – two of which were broadcast over eight months later than the rest.
What in !@#$ was going on in Birdmanland?
Were they having budget cutbacks? Did they lose some key writing staff? Where did the talent go (besides Comedy Central – Monday through Thursdays at 11:30pm, after ‘The Daily Show’)? Did they ever have any talent? Or were some of us just projecting? Did they just get lucky? And why are some of us not getting lucky? (Don’t answer that!) (Don’t even think it!)
I really wish that I understood what took place because it’s such a shame when you see something so promising squander it all and/or lose its way. Think ‘Heroes’, ‘Twin Peaks’, ‘Prison Break’, Macauley Culkin, or even ‘Happy Days’. Don’t you wish that ‘Happy Days’ hadn’t done the shark-jumping episode? Don’t you wish that Laura Palmer had never died (or died in a town with fewer incompetents)?
I’m not saying that ‘Harvey Birdman’ became a horrible show. Hardly. It remained a funny show, but it lost its way and didn’t seem to know what to do with itself (Ha! Ha! Ha! Onanism!). There have been some superb episodes from time to time (Season 2 has its fair share, actually), but they were fewer and farther between as the show wore on. ‘Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law’ had lost its crest.
Thankfully, Season 4, for all its truncatedness, became surprisingly more consistent:
Shazzan: “Enough with the wishes. no more wishes today. tomorrow we talk but today you done fresh outta wishes.”
1. Mufti Trouble (a.k.a. Shazzan): Peanut discovers a genie, Shazzan, in a vase. Shazzan accuses Mentok of imprisoning him under false pretenses and Peanut takes his case while Harvey takes on Mentok’s defense. Meanwhile, for reasons unexplained, Avenger starts to talk. Human talk. Not bird-speak. Just sayin’. This one was a little too madcap for me, but it was good. (As a side-note, I’m not sure why the episode was broadcast with one title, and was then renamed for home video, but it caused me some confusion as I tried to look it up online – there were often times two entries for it on the same sites.) 7.0
Peanut: “Hey Hippo! Wanna doughnut?”
Potamus: “Don’t make me hungry Mr. Peanut, you wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry.”
2. The Incredible Hippo: This episode is a parody of the old ‘The Incredible Hulk’ episodes featuring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, with Potamus as the central character. In this one, Potamus crashes his diet and turns into a big green monster. Oh, and there’s a side-story about Atom Ant, whom Harvey is defending, but that’s very much inconsequential. There’s too much happening at once here, but it’s a decent show nonetheless. 7.5
Birdgirl: “You realize there’s absolutely no chance we’ll be kissing, right?”
Peanut: “Yeah, d’uh, of course; you’re like my sister. Which given a little thought could be a very hot concept.”
3. Babysitter: Birdman goes off to his class reunion, a gimmick that doesn’t deliver whatsoever. But it serves the purpose of having Peanut babysat by Reducto and leaving Potamus to take over the office – now that Phil… has been run over. And is dead (or is he?). The most fun part of this show was how Phil talked about starting his own law firm, and that he will too busy for this current firm. Which is also his. It so happens that Stephen Colbert, Phil’s voice actor, was starting full-time with The Colbert Report back then. “Coincidentally”, there’s an ad for The Colbert Report on the bus that runs Phil over. Nice. Otherwise, it’s a paltry entry in the series.7.0
Debbie: “Two things: I’m going to lunch, and the office has degraded into sectarian violence.”
4. Birdnapped: Believing that Phil intended him to run the office in his absence, Harvey loses control of the office after he fires a bunch of people – all based on Phil’s wishes. Thankfully, Phil’s will is read soon thereafter and he actually leave the firm in the capable hands of his daughter, Judy (a.k.a. Birdgirl). That’s probably the best scenario for me, given that I like Birdgirl. Perhaps Phil’s twin brother, Bill, could have been alright, if the personality played off of the others nicely. But Birdgirl is my fave. 7.5
Perfectionist: “Hi. I’ve changed my menu options, so please listen carefully. For landscaping, press one. Dog walking, press two. Nude housecleaning, press any key any time…”
X, the Eliminator: “Come on, come on, come on…”
Perfectionist: “If you need an Evil Life Coach, press four.”
5. Grodin: For some reason, the show’s writers decided to bring back Devlin. Here, Birdman has to defend him (again!) after Bobby (again!) sues Devlin due to an injury related to a product he’s hocking (again!). Meanwhile, X decides to take Perfecti-onist’s 14-step program for becoming more evil. It’s an alright episode but it’s missing something. The highlight is a cameo by Birdgirl, who transforms her office desk into a laser canon. Ha! Ha! Ha! I expect you to do die, Mr. Birdman! 7.5
Harvey: “$27.90? But this meal voucher they gave us is only good for three dollars.”
6. Juror in Court: Harvey is forced to do jury duty on his own case by Mentok, who has The Deadly Duplicator double him so that he can also defend his client at the same time. There’s a mistrial when Mentok realizes that there’s been the same jury for each of Harvey’s trials since day one – which in turn releases all the guilty parties from the previous episodes. Meanwhile, Potamus lodges a sexual harassment complaint against Judy, who is now running the firm, over a gross miscommunication. Frankly, this seems totally out of character for Potamus, much like the Peanut Puberty episode was. This was an alright episode, but it wasn’t great either. 7.5
Phil: “Ha! Ha! Ha! Last Laugh!”
7. The Death of Harvey: A double-length final episode, and follow-up to the last one, Harvey is forced to re-try all of his previous cases. Meanwhile, though, the former-guilty parties have been released and are causing havoc downtown, so Birdgirl is rounding them up and bringing them to court for their retrials. But there’s one case that remained unaccounted for: Harvey’s first, Nitron, and he will be the catalyst for an epic superbattle (I guess the producers decided that big and action-y was the best way to end the series?). Meanwhile, for reasons that escape me, Phil has returned, high-jacked a bus and is on his way back to town. The one-liners aren’t as quick and/or clever in this one – and while it’s an exciting episode, it feels like a regular superhero cartoon in many ways. And Harvey’s death? Don’t ask… 7.5
Bizarrely enough, but completely in keeping with my theory that the creative spark had left the show, as of episode 6, the new character designs are really crappy (it may have started earlier, but this is when I noticed it). They really looked like bad doodles, as though the artists weren’t even making an effort anymore. Some of the voices aren’t the same, either – as though the show couldn’t get their old voice actors back.
Honestly, in many ways, it feels as though the creative team behind ‘Harvey Birdman’ limped to the finish line with this season – but tried to grin and bear it, to hold up the false pretense of “everything is well and good on the home front”. But they clearly struggled with the final stretch, throwing in what little they could muster into bringing the show to a close.
Season Four of ‘Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law’ isn’t a terrible show. In fact, it’s quite okay. But it had lost most of the magic that had made the series so brilliant in the first place. It became a show like most others, and I suspect that if someone had watched some of the first few episodes and skipped Seasons Two and Three altogether, they would have been astounded by the change over the years.
Harvey Birdman himself would probably not recognize… uh… himself if he took a good gander at what ‘Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law’ looked like in its final stages. Not that he’s in it as much. So maybe he would no longer care. He certainly doesn’t now, now that he’s dead (the !@#$). Thanks to his utter inability to dodge a bus, there’s very little chance that we’ll get new episodes in the future.
Mary: “HOW DARE YOU BLAME A DEAD MAN, YOU BASTARD!!!”
And maybe it’s just better this way. Let dead Harveys lie, I say.
Date of viewing: November-December, 2013