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The Cartoon Insanity Of MTV’s 'Liquid Television' Warped A Generation

March 31, 2020 62.6k views11 items
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Liquid Television came to be in the early days of MTV's non-music programming. When it was first launched, MTV was all music videos all the time, but every once in a while, the network would slip in a game show or other kind of series. However, none were as innovative as this (mostly) animated series. 

MTV's Liquid TV was an irreverent collection of animated shorts, introducing audiences to future pop-culture staples like Æon Flux, Beavis and Butt-Head, and Rocko's Modern Life. The anthology also launched the career of Mike Judge (Silicon Valley, King of the Hill, and Office Space), among others.

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  • Photo: MTV

    Animator Peter Chung brought Æon Flux to Liquid Television in 1991. The show eventually became a standalone series with its own half-hour format in 1995 and lasted one season. In a world ravaged by environmental collapse, Æon is a leather-clad assassin who is heavily skilled in acrobatics and fights for her country. It became a live-action film starring Charlize Theron in 2005, and is being rebooted as a live-action series by MTV. 

    Æon Flux had no dialogue at all, which was a deliberate choice by Chung. As he explains

    That may have been influenced by spending a lot of time watching Japanese animation that wasn't translated, trying to understand the stories purely through the visuals. I found very often that I preferred to watch Japanese animation that wasn't translated. It kind of forces you to become more active in trying to determine what's going on. But a lot of my favorite directors work that way - Hitchcock and Kubrick and Antonioni. They work very precisely through their visual design.

  • Beavis & Butthead Found An Audience With The Shorts ‘Frog Baseball’ and ‘Peace, Love & Understanding’

    Photo: MTV

    Mike Judge got his start on Liquid Television through Beavis and Butt-Head. The segments centered around two rocking pals who offered dimwitted commentary as they watched music videos and beat each other to a pulp. It made its debut in 1992 and went on to be a smash-hit show for MTV as a standalone series. It spawned several seasons and a hit movie.

    Looking back on the series in 2018, Judge said:

    It's still probably my favorite thing I've ever done. I mean, not all of it is good. We did some of them so quickly. But the stuff that's good I look back fondly on and really like it. I got my foot in the door because of it, so it led to everything. For that reason alone, I'm still fond of it.

  • Mike Judge’s ‘Office Space’ Also Began Here As A Series Of Animated Shorts Featuring Milton

    Photo: MTV

    Mike Judge's Office Space has become a cult classic since its release in 1999, and it, too, got its start on Liquid Television as an animated short called "Milton."

    You may remember Milton as being played by Stephen Root. The meek, stapler-obsessed employee of Initech who wishes to burn the place down is pretty much the same character in cartoon form. 

  • ‘Black Hole’ Writer Charles Burns Got A Career Jump With His Live-Action Short ‘Dog-Boy’

    Photo: MTV

    Charles Burns's Dog-Boy first appeared in Art Spiegelman's RAW magazine in the early 1980s. This live-action tale of a young man with a dog's heart fascinated and frightened audiences on Liquid Television, due mostly to its weird rubber prosthetics. 

    Burns says that many people tell him that Dog-Boy disturbed them as children. He seems to credit that to the editing process more than his narrative intent: 

    It was a collaborative thing. My input was writing the script, and I know the director was a successful commercial director in England, and he had this idea that it was this visual thing. The narrative side of it really didn’t come through very well. There was a situation where I was like, "Wait, I wrote this whole episode, and this whole part’s missing." "Well, we ran out of money, so I can’t do that." It was just sort of edited together, and then someone else edited it some more. So that was my introduction to that world of collaboration in film.