Thursday, July 31, 2014

Homestar Runner was the greatest web cartoon ever, and it's back

Homestar Runner, the man himself homestarrunner.com

As announced by co-writer Matt Chapman himself on The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show podcast, popular character Homestar Runner and all his pals are returning to star in more internet video things, most likely starting in the fall. The last Homestar Runner update was on April Fool's Day of this year and turns out to have been a trial balloon by Chapman and his brother Mike (who created the characters with Craig Zobel). The success of the video, the first on the site since 2010, convinced the Brothers Chaps (as they call themselves in directing gigs) that there was still an audience for Homestar content. And, yes, the new stuff will probably include at least one new Strong Bad email.

To fans of the influential program (which should include all right-thinking individuals), this is a pretty big deal. But the crazy thing about it is that Homestar Runner first began to attract serious attention way back in 2001 and hit its peak between roughly 2003 and 2006. This means that a) it's one of the few web series that people can actually feel nostalgic for and b) many of the people who watched this program as high school or college students now might have children of their own.

Fortunately, the childlike whimsy of the program is perfect to share with kids. They just might have some questions, which we have enumerated below. Please pretend the subheads are being read to you by a small child, if you don't have one handy. (Though, actually, if you are going to explain Homestar Runner to a small child, maybe leave out the parts about "unrestrained id" and "surrealism." Your 4-year-old is unlikely to be familiar with these concepts, as you surely know.)

First, however, some techno music, courtesy of Strong Bad.


What is Homestar Runner?

It was a website that collected a series of weird internet cartoons, animated in Flash, in the days when pretty much nobody was doing online animation or video (much less finding success at it). The cartoons were short and silly, and they were terrific at generating memes before people used the word "meme" all of the time. Just mention the word "Trogdor" around anyone who had access to an internet connection in the mid-2000s to understand what we mean.

Also, specifically, Homestar Runner was the site's main character, a basically good-hearted doofus who wandered around a vaguely suburban neighborhood with his friends and enemies.

But I haven't seen Homestar Runner in the clips you've posted, not really

That's because Homestar's popularity was quickly outstripped by his ostensible antagonist, Strong Bad, a guy who wore boxing gloves and a Mexican wrestling mask. Viewers could email him, and he would sometimes respond, in pithy, hilarious fashion. It was a whole thing.


Strong Bad was the unrestrained id the internet had always needed but didn't know it required. What made him palatable was that he lived in a world where he couldn't really accomplish much of anything. He might have been a "bad guy," but he lived in the middle of nowhere, making it that much harder to be truly villainous. He was the very definition of raising heck. Also, he had two hilarious brothers, named Strong Mad and Strong Sad, the latter of whom may be the Brothers Chaps' most vital contribution to the culture at large.

And all of this was before YouTube?

Yeah, basically. You can find all of Homestar and Strong Bad's adventures on YouTube now, but when the shorts were truly lighting up the web and appearing in more traditional media sources like Entertainment Weekly, the Chapmans were limited by hosting Flash cartoons on their own website. That they accomplished so much without a readymade platform (to say nothing of the fact that social media basically didn't exist yet) was an early testament to the ability of the internet to create entertainment of its own.

So the series was important and influential?

You betcha. In fact, it was so influential in the world of web video that the only concern worth having about the return of Homestar is whether the brothers (who've mostly been working in children's television in the past few years) will be able to stand out amid the huge number of shows that they've influenced. In particular, the show's voice — best described as influenced by pop culture, but not beholden to it, while embracing weird and whimsical surrealism — pops up all over YouTube. And that's to say nothing of television itself, where so many kids' shows feel like slightly longer versions of Strong Bad emails.

But the Brothers Chaps are smart, innovative dudes. It would be dumb to bet against them.

What's the best Homestar cartoon?

Unquestionably the Strong Bad email "Crazy Cartoon," which is the series at its most inventive and most hilarious. There are so many great jokes packed into a video less than three minutes long.


Wait. "Eh, Steve." Is this why my name is Steve?

You're very observant, son, and thank you for remembering this article was supposedly meant to be a dialogue between parent and child, a gimmick we didn't really keep up, come to think of it.

Let's watch one more video.


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