Childhood Cartoons Revisited

Cartoons from our youth dissected as a young adult

Johnny Test: A bright spot in a dismal era

on April 21, 2012

When I’m wrong I have no problem admitting it. And I will admit that I was wrong when at the beginning of the blog I said that cartoons of this generation have been awful. While I stand by the majority of that statement, there is one show in particular that has me eating some of my words this week. I am talking about Cartoon Network’s Johnny Test. To be honest, I wouldn’t have even stumbled across the show if I hadn’t accidently hit the up button on my TV remote one too many times while seeing what Comedy Central had to offer one afternoon. I don’t really know what interested me in the show, but there were all sorts of chaos on my television screen and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Whether it was the talking dog, identical twin sister scientists or the main protagonist, Johnny Test, himself, I had finally found a show produced by either Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon beyond 2004 that was actually watchable. It brought a tear to my mind (well, in my mind it did).

Cartoon Network debuted Johnny Test on Jan. 7, 2008, but the series premier of the show dates back to Sept. 17, 2005, when it appeared on The WB Television Network, which became The CW in 2006. The show ran on The CW from 2006 to March 1, 2008, before moving to Cartoon Network for its fourth season. Johnny Test is a comedy/comic science fiction cartoon created by Scott Fellows and produced by Cookie Jar Entertainment as of the second season. Warner Bros. Animation produced the first season.

Johnny Test focuses on an 11-year-old boy named Johnny, who appears to be just a typical trouble-making kid living in a suburban household in the fictional town of Porkbelly. However, Johnny’s life is anything but normal, as he lives with parents who are the polar opposite of society’s stereotypes and his identical twin sisters, Susan and Mary, who are self-described geniuses who are always creating new inventions. There’s also Dukey, Johnny’s talking dog that exhibits human intelligence as a result of one of the twin sisters’ experiments.

*Note: You’ll have to watch the video on YouTube itself because the video didn’t allow me the option to embed.

The aspect of the show that I like the most is that it understands its target audience and doesn’t attempt to do anything radical that may turn them off. The creators understand that after a certain age people are going to stop watching, and instead of trying to appeal to the audience as they age, they instead continue focusing on the specific age group they targeted from the beginning of the series. It doesn’t dumb itself down to appeal to seven and eight year olds and it doesn’t try to tackle controversial issues to appeal to those in their mid to late 20’s. Each episode centers around Johnny being used as a science experiment for one of the twins’ newest invention. However, something usually goes terrible wrong, whether it’s the invention’s fault of the aftermath of Johnny’s actions. Either way, it’s usually up to Johnny and Dukey to solve the problem with the aide of the twins. Each show follows that same format, yet it never seems to get dull. It also doesn’t make the crucial mistake of giving secondary characters too big of a role in the show. Johnny’s parents are secondary characters and thus that is what they remain in every episode. There aren’t special episodes where they are the center of attention and the rest of the characters are hardly seen. I never understood why shows chose to do that. If the producers wanted to make secondary characters the stars of the show then they would be the central characters and not secondary characters.

Speaking of Johnny’s parents, it’s quite interesting as to what the producers of the show have done to portray them. By that I mean they have the exact opposite roles that one would expect of a father and mother figure. Johnny’s mother, Lila, works from morning to night and provides the income for the family, which is what the stereotypical father would do. Johnny’s father, Hugh, is a stay-at-home dad who enjoys cooking and cleaning. Hugh is what most people would think of when describing the stereotypical mother. This appears to be a slight jab at the idea of society’s stereotypical view of how a family works. It sends the message that a mother can work and a father can raise the kids and it doesn’t end in catastrophe.

My favorite character, or characters, in the show are the twins just because of some of the things that they say when describing an invention that they have just come up with. As a 22-year-old watching this show, I can only laugh when they describe how a portable black hole works or how they have managed to transport Johnny into his favorite video game. It clearly makes no plausible sense, but yet they make it sound so scientific that a younger viewer may actually think that what they are saying is scientifically correct. Like most female characters on cartoon shows, the twins deal with the everyday struggles of beauty, fashion, boys and aces all of their classes. While they are super-geniuses, they still possess human characteristics that make them a fun part of the show.

Johnny Test is currently in its fifth season with eight more episodes remaining. The show has already been picked up for a sixth season, which will be comprised of 26 episodes, being Johnny Test to 117 episodes, which would be the most ever by a show aired on Cartoon Network. There is currently a full-length animated TV movie in the works as well.

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3 responses to “Johnny Test: A bright spot in a dismal era

  1. deanna says:

    You know I think it’s funny that the one show you like is one of the ones I really didn’t like. Normally I find your negative opinions about shows a bit harsh but this week I was disappointed that they weren’t harsh. Honestly I just could never get into this show. I don’t really know why.You make it sound so great but I remember only ever being bored with this one. I watched a couple episonde one day when I was bored and have never watched another one since. I admit that cartoon network has done poorly with it’s shows recently and I think this one was poor too honestly. I like it when you talk about shows you like better than when you talk about the ones you didn’t like. It’s not so harsh sounding.

  2. Mike,
    I really liked this post because it felt like you were discovering it as we were and you were seeing it with new eyes. The show actually sounds really interesting and I think I’ll give it a try. It reminds me of Jimmy Neutron and power puff girls or something. I think the part about the stereotypical roles of the parents being switched was what really pulled me in. I think you’re very right about how cartoons need to focus on the actual age group that’s watching. Trying to add contemporary issues or inappropriate jokes doesn’t really come across well since most kids don’t understand and if they do, they really shouldn’t be hearing it. It seems like a cute concept though and I think I’d be interested in checking it out on cartoon network.

    -Molly

  3. bissell89 says:

    You give a really good overview of the show here. I’m always impressed at how your blog posts usually run pretty long, yet they never feel dry or wordy. Nice.

    I’ve said it before, but I know very little about cartoons. And I know even less about modern day cartoons. So you did a good job keeping my interest and summing things up (as usual).

    -Alex

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