Out of the first group of shows from Adult Swim (Space Ghost, Sealab 2021, Aqua Teen, and The Brak Show), Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law was my favorite. The premise was in the vein of Space Ghost and Sealab, where old Hanna-Barbera characters are thrust into the modern day after their superhero careers have ended and live a life of middle American job mediocrity.
Harvey (Gary Cole) is now an attorney for the law firm Sebben & Sebben. “I’ll take the case!” His boss is Phil Ken Sebben, voiced by Stephen Colbert. “Ha Ha Ha!” Phil Ken Sebben is actually a play on words from his original name, Falcon Seven. Harvey ends up representing many other old cartoon characters in either civil or criminal defense cases. Fred Jones retains Birdman’s services after his friends Shaggy Rogers and Scooby-Doo are arrested for resisting arrest and possession. Droopy Dog has Birdman represent him as he sues his plastic surgeon for malpractice. Race Bannon & Doctor Quest have Birdman assist as they sue for the right to marry. The series continues with other 60’s and 70’s characters making appearances as they need legal assistance.
I love meta humor like this, going back to poke fun at the ridiculousness of these old shows. Not every episode was a hit (The Dabba Don), but the series overall was incredibly creative. Much of humor was referencial, meaning if you didn’t have an idea of who these characters where, some of it might be lost on you. This still doesn’t negate the quality, just lessoning it slightly.
This was the first show from Williams Street (makers of all the shows listed above) to actually have a running plot line. It wasn’t serialized by any stretch, but there were continuing threads, particularly with the final episode, where Harvey was forced to retry all his cases. Another theme of the show is characters having catch phrases. One, proving the Matt Groening school of thought that something that was funny can be run into the ground and eventually funny again, is “Did you get that thing I sent ya?” This is frequently asked by Peter Potamus. The other is the “Ha ha ha!” laugh from the Phil, often said along with a double entendre. “Ha ha! Dangly parts.”
One of the best episodes of the show, “Turner Classic Birdman”, is supposedly an old episode of Birdman and the Galatic Trio (redubbed), explaining how/why Birdman became an attorney. My favorite episode is “Babysitter”, where Stephen Colbert (Sebben, Reducto), makes his exit from the series. Sebben was going to start his own law firm, a spin off firm if you will., though we would return as a senior correspondent… in law. This was all in reference to the Colbert Report. Thankfully Colbert returned for the final episode, reprising his roles. “Ha ha ha! Final episode stunt-casting!” Considering there were only three episodes between when he left and the finale, I don’t really understand what the point was, though his exit was hysterical.
Going back to watch some of these old Adult Swim shows is hit or miss. The humor can be sophomoric, or just doesn’t hold up. That’s not the case with Birdman, mostly. Your mileage may vary, but for me, this show is still awesome.
Yes, that’s me as Birdman.