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Kathleen Barr, Michael Benyaer, Gary Chalk, Tony Jay
Bob, Enzo, and Dot are sprites living in a computer, in a town(ish) called Mainframe. Bob is a guardian whose job it is to play games against the user (a.k.a. God). Dot and Enzo are brother/sister combo that help him out sometime. Together they fight the evil virus Megabyte and try to survive the sadistic whims of the user. If anything could make an eight year old feel guilty for playing video games….
I’ll admit right off the bat that Reboot brings the unexplainable, insatiable lust of nostalgia out of me. Saturday morning cartoons were so important to my eight year old brain that all these years later I still get that Pavlovian tingle when the title music kicks in for a show that was part of my rituals. Reboot reminds me of Battle Toads and Nerf Guns, nostalgia so strong it essentially turns me into a John Irving character. So, for some reason buried deep in my synapses, watching Reboot was a sentimental experience for me. I’m as prone to cynicism as I am nostalgia but I found it easy to look past the dated visuals and worn plots to see the positive in Reboot. Possibly, entirely because the show reminds me of cereal and Demolition Man.
I loved Reboot because it gave me an excuse for sucking at Golgo 13 and explained why no one in Monkey Island would ever give me a straight answer. With Captain N long dead, 1994 was the perfect time for Reboot. Playstation and Saturn were birthed during its run on ABC, computer labs and home computers were becoming more common place, and no one young enough to watch cartoons cared about Tron. Dudes inside your SNES, that was somehow mindblowing and obvious to us at the time. And it looked just like a video game. Well, just like we wanted video games to look. When everything polygonal was ugly, Reboot looked slightly less ugly. And that was awesome.
The animation, character designs, background work, it’s all dated in Reboot. It is, without a doubt, a product of its time. The choppy, restricted character animation can be attributed to the power of the technology at the time. But, the design of the world and characters is harder to overlook. Even with limited resources, Bob, Dot, and Enzo are odd looking creatures who may very well have been the first dip into the uncanny valley for a lot of people. All television kids in the mid-90’s had to be victims of a Mountain Dew overdose, so Enzo is hyper and extreme. His two emotions are crashed and fucking excited. He’s a dated concept, but his height and slightly exaggerated features fit in with the larger world. Dot and Bob don’t fit in that world as well. They stiffly walk around and mimic human emotions with their three frames of animation. It’s kinda creepy and took me a while to get used to. The decision to make the heroes humanoid in sharp contrast to the rest of the world is easy to understand, but it really fucks with the overall aesthetic of the show. The villains are easy to turn into toys and everything is as detailed as it needs to be and not a pixel more. These were common practices with the animation of my youth, but now just serve as a glaring roadblock.
Luckily, it’s not all bad. Even though it comes from an era when most video games were palette swaps with whatever was popular at the time, most of the references still hold up. If you’ve never played Doom, you still know what Bob means when he pulls out a guitar and exclaims BFG. Music cues lifted from Zelda, question mark boxes, these things are still recognizable and relevant today. Marathon and Gradius get their due too. The references fly fast and often, and after a while move away from just games and start covering everything nerdy. The X-Files gets it’s own episode, complete with Gillian Anderson cameo.The best of them are cute, rewarding, and a little contrite in that way getting an obscure reference is. But the video game theme did more than provide a little trivia to pass the time, it gave Reboot license to muck around in any genre it wanted. What The Muppet Babies could do with their imaginations, Reboot did with video games. And video games are much cooler than lame imaginations.
Children’s programing is a strange beast storytelling wise. Your audience isn’t the most adept and the show is ostensibly filler for toy shilling. As long as you have bright colors and screaming to keep the kids from switching the channel, you’re gold. Reboot didn’t change the game, it just entertained hyper kids the honest, old fashioned way. With decent storytelling. The plotting is easy on the attention span. The conflict and stakes are set up and then off our heroes go. It rarely ventures from that formula, but the show is imaginative enough to avoid becoming stale. Outside of some cultural references, the storytelling is timeless because of this simplicity. Simple and fun sounds easy enough, but my recent ventures into young adult programing has me thinking it is a lost art.
Without the hazy gloss of nostalgia Reboot is hard to recommend. It looks like a lost Surge ad, the animation is vacant, and most of the characters look like rejected Ninja Turtle figures. It’s like you put 1994 into a blender and added a dash of 1989. But, Reboot has solid craftsmanship behind it. There is some excellent work on display here, good writing and some progressive (but seriously dated) CG. If you don’t already own this set, you’re probably no interested. If you have fond memories of Reboot, no need to revisit the past. It isn’t looking so good these days and it’s been through a lot, you both have. Just be glad it’s doing good for itself and keep those memories happy.
I don’t know the source on this set, but it looks analogue. It’s not pretty, but I’m willing to chalk that up to age and the nature of the beast. The single extra is a commentary that runs over the first couple of episodes. It’s not scene specific but it is a good listen. A few staff members are interviewed by the disc’s producer. Everyone is surprisingly candid. Some good talk of breasts, fucking over standards and practices, and tax dodging. Since Reboot was already antiquated, the commentary provides a nice frame and history for the show. The commentary is sadly bugged from the menu, so the only way to listen to it all the way through is switching the audio and hitting play all.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars