What happens to old, forgotten cartoon characters? If they’re lucky, they get to make a cameo appearance on Harvey Birdman, a zany meta-cartoon that runs Sunday nights as part of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming. That’s because Cartoon Network is part of Turner Broadcasting, which happens to own the rights to all those great (and not so great) Hanna-Barbera creations. Just as Ted Turner took liberties by colorizing black-and-white classic movies, Cartoon Network has pillaged the Hanna-Barbera archives. But I can’t complain, because the result is a bizarre, Monty Python–esque romp through animation history.
Harvey is a little-remembered winged superhero, back from the dumpster to serve as an attorney to characters in trouble. In a previous season, he was called on to save Scooby and Shaggy’s asses when they got busted for drugs; he was there to defend Fred Flintstone against charges that he was a mob boss; and he represented Yogi Bear’s buddy Boo Boo when he got accused of being a terrorist (the Unabooboo). This season, Harvey is back to help out Grape Ape, who is caught up in a steroid scandal during the Laff-a-Lympics, and to aid the Jetsons, who arrive from the kitschadelic 21st century with newfangled computer punch cards warning of an impending ecological crisis. (When Harvey questions how much a single person could affect the environment, George W. Bush zooms by in his limo.) The show’s pacing is breakneck and so dense with in-jokes that if you didn’t spend most of your childhood glued to the screen, you’ll probably miss some of the references. Even so, it’s well worth immersing yourself in this strange cultural soup.