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Wednesday, June 20, 2012


He's lactose intolerant, but that's hardly the only thing he's intolerant of as we discover when we watch the 3-disc DVD set, DAN VS.: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON.

In this half-hour animated series from Starz, Dan's a wiry, hyperactive little hothead (to put it mildly) with a scruffy soul patch and an ever-present black T-shirt that aptly sports the word "jerk."  He lives in a filthy apartment with his cute kitty cat Mr. Mumbles (whom he acquired while blowing up an animal shelter that was keeping him awake at night) and is constantly declaring all-out war against anything that he feels has committed an injustice against him or his barely functioning car. 

In the first episode, Dan awakens to find his car scratched, with the clues (paw prints, animal fur) leading him to the conclusion that the Wolf-Man is the culprit.  So, as happens at the outset of every episode, he throws his fists into the air and screams "WOLF-MAAAAN!" while the words "Dan Vs.", followed by the current target of his revenge, fill the screen.  Later perceived enemies will include dentists, baseball, the beach, magicians, George Washington, technology, Shakespeare dinner theater, family camping trips, and New Mexico.

As always, the first thing he does is grab his cell phone and call his best friend Chris, a semi-normal shlub who for some reason feels compelled to follow Dan on whatever irrational quest for "sweet, sweet revenge" he happens to cook up.  Chris lives in the suburbs with his beautiful wife Elise, who also appears normal but is in reality an agent for a shadowy government black-ops organization.  While tolerating Dan, Elise doesn't really approve of his activities except for those rare occasions in which they share a common enemy.

If you think this sounds like a one-note idea for a series, you're not alone.  I thought so at first myself, and indeed it took a few episodes of "Dan Vs." before I started warming up to it.  But it's actually a breezily entertaining series of frantically-paced adventures that often have a kind of modest epic quality to them in addition to loads of action-movie-style action and plenty of cartoon violence, explosions, and general mayhem and destruction. 

When Dan takes on Canada, for example, he manages to lay waste to the entire country by activating a dormant glacier.  In "The Dentist", Dan's childhood dentist Dr. Pullem (robustly voiced by Mark Hamill) turns out to be a Bond-style super villain who lives in a giant tooth and employs deadly dento-bots as sentries.  "New Mexico" gives us our first look at Elise in action when Dan's trip to the titular state for vengeance gives her an excuse to break into Area 52, blow it up, and steal a reverse-engineered alien spacecraft with which to destroy Santa Fe via death rays (as it turns out, she has a long-standing grudge against the state as well). 

The baseball episode not only has Dan kidnapping the commissioner of baseball in a hot dog cart during the World Series, but also features Elise trying to deactivate a nuclear device hidden under one of the dugouts.  Chris, sitting only a few feet away disguised as a batboy, typically has no idea of the danger as he chats with her on his cell phone.  "Orange or green?" she asks frantically with her clippers poised over the bomb's wires and five seconds to go.  "Err...they both have their good points," Chris wavers.

Dan and Chris are voiced by Curtis Armstrong ("Booger" of REVENGE OF THE NERDS) and Dave Foley ("Kids in the Hall"), who do a tremendous job bringing their animated characters to life.  Armstrong in particular throws himself into the vocal role with a manic intensity that keeps Dan interesting despite his one-note potential.  Foley plays off him perfectly--you can imagine these guys as a comedy team whether live-action or animated--and neither of them have that stilted quality that so many voice actors tend to display.  As Elise, Paget Brewster ("Criminal Minds") is equally good. 

Appearing in a few episodes are Elise's strict, disapproving parents Don and Elise, Sr. (Elise is referred to by them as "Junior", which she hates), who are voiced by Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter of "Family Ties."  John C. McGinley (PLATOON, SE7EN) is "Fake Dan", an impostor who steals Dan's identity and then ruins his reputation by performing selfless acts of kindness that endear him to the entire neighborhood. 

In "Technology", another "Kids in the Hall" grad Kevin McDonald is tech guru Barry Ditmer.  Henry Winkler plays traffic helicopter reporter Helicopter Hal in "Traffic", an episode which boasts both lots of explosions and some cool biological weapons cooked up in the kitchen by Elise and stolen by Dan to help alleviate the traffic congestion which causes him such mental anguish.  Tom Kenny of "Mr. Show" plays recurring character Crunchy, an addlebrained hippie whose inability to hold a steady job results in him working at just about every establishment Dan and Chris enter, including the hardware store where Dan buys or steals all of his explosives.

The show is done with flash animation rather than the traditional methods, which results in smoother movements although I sorta miss the old-style look.  Character design is a mish-mash which includes elements of Kricfalusi, Jay Ward, Ralph Bakshi, anime, and any number of Adult Swim cartoons all mixed together to create a not-very-distinctive visual style.  Still, the show looks great and the backgrounds are sometimes pretty impressive. 

(Note to parents: "Dan Vs." contains no foul language, nudity, or "adult" situations, so it's ideal for kids.  Except for the rampant misanthropy, extreme violence, and generally irresponsible behavior that is.)

The 3-disc, 22-episode DVD from Anchor Bay and Starz is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and English subtitles.  The sole extra is the preliminary animatics version of the "Burgerphile" episode (lactose-intolerant Dan is mistakenly served a burger with cheese and chains himself to the cash register when the owner refuses him a refund), which should be of interest to animatics fans although I don't personally find animatics all that interesting.

More than just a matter of "what will Dan get mad at next?", DAN VS.: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON is a frantically paced, unpredictable cartoon romp with surprisingly endearing characters and comic energy to burn.  If you like animation, slapstick comedy, and sweet, sweet revenge, this is the show for you.

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