[Note: Every Friday on First Thoughts we host a discussion about some aspect of popular culture. Have a suggestion for a topic? Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org]
In honor of yesterday’s golden anniversary of The Flintstones—the show first aired on Sept. 30, 1960—we’ve compiled a list of television’s essential animated series. While each of these series are worthy contenders for a list of the best of all time, they also have flaws are worth considering.
(Note: This list includes only cartoon series that were original television series that were not based on other media (i.e., comic strips). For that reason, cartoons from the WB canon (e.g, Looney Tunes) and those based on comic books (e.g., Batman, Superfriends) were not considered. We’ll discuss those in future posts.)
Here are our top twenty animated television series:
20. The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (1959-1964)
Why it’s great: Predating the Flintstones by a year, R&BS was the first animated series to try to appeal to both adults and children.
Why it’s not so great: It may be nostalgia fodder, but it’s also completely unwatchable.
19. Space Ghost Coast to Coast (1994-2004)
Why it’s great: Everything said by Brak. Like this.
Why it’s not so great: The human guests who made appearances were often unworthy of the show. (Bobcat Goldthwait? Sheesh.)
18. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1972-1985)
Why it’s great: Based on Bill Cosby’s hilarious stand-up routines about his childhood.
Why it’s not so great: The Junkyard Band was horrible.
17. Pinky and the Brain (1995-1998)
Why it’s great: Best opening dialogue—ever:
Pinky: “Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?”
The Brain: “The same thing we do every night, Pinky—try to take over the world!”
Why it’s not so great: Included too many dated pop culture parodies.
16. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969-1970)
Why it’s great: Set the standard for the animated comedic-supernatural-crime procedural.
Why it’s not so great: Every episode had the same stupid plot.
15. The Huckleberry Hound Show
Why it’s great: First animated series to win an Emmy.
Why it’s not so great: Introduced Yogi Bear, who would go on to get his own very annoying series.
14. Mighty Mouse
Why it’s great: The catchy catchphrase: “Here I come to save the day!”
Why it’s not so great: It’s basically Superman. As a mouse. A mouse. Ridiculous.
13. Underdog (1964-1973)
Why it’s great: It’s basically Superman. As a dog. A dog. Genius.
Why it’s not so great: Essentially a Mighty Mouse rip-off.
12. South Park (1997-Present)
Why it’s great: Blisteringly sharp satire. . .
Why it’s not so great: . . . that often degenerates into scatology and blasphemy.
11. The Jetsons (1962-1963)
Why it’s great: The Flintstones, set in the future.
Why it’s not so great: It really was just a Flintstones knock-off.
10. Tom and Jerry
Why it’s great: You could root for both of them . . . to hurt each other.
Why it’s not so great: More violent than a Quentin Tarantino movie.
9. The Ren and Stimpy Show (1991-1996)
Why it’s great: Unabashedly subversive, funny, and gross.
Why it’s not so great: Sometimes a bit too gross.
8. Beavis and Butt-head (1993-1997)
Why it’s great: Showed how amusingly stupid American teens could be.
Why it’s not so great: Inspired kids in ways that showed how stupid American teens could be.
7. King of the Hill (1997-2009)
Why it’s great: One of the most sympathetic—and conservative—portrayals of small town life ever on television.
Why it’s not so great: Had all the right ingredients to be great, yet never really gelled into a must-watch series.
6. The Powerpuff Girls (1998-2005)
Why it’s great: Awesome concept (kindergarten girls with superpowers who were created in a lab using sugar, spice and everything nice.), perfectly executed (earned five Emmy nominations).
Why it’s not so great: Some episodes didn’t include Mojo Jojo, the greatest monkey villain in history.
5. SpongeBob SquarePants (1999-Present)
Why it’s great: Engagingly silly.
Why it’s not so great: Silly turns to annoying after viewing more than one episode at a time.
4. Schoolhouse Rock (1972-2001)
Why it’s great: Made learning semi-complicated subjects fun.
Why it’s not so great: Thirty years later, I still can’t get the songs out of my head.
3. The Smurfs (1981-1990)
Why it’s great: Unexplainably addictive.
Why it’s not so great: The ubiquitous use of “smurf” as a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb.
2. The Flintstones (1960-1966)
Why it’s great: I’ll let my colleague Mary Ellen Kelly explain: “With the debut of The Flintstones, Hanna-Barbera broadened the scope and course of TV cartoons for all time by bringing them out of the early evening/Saturday morning kiddie ghetto and into prime time, for an adult audience. They did this, of course, by cleverly adapting the immediately recognizable, highly popular half-hour sitcom format of The Honeymooners into a cartoon set in an imaginary time and place no actor-populated sitcom of the day could hope to match.”
Why it’s not so great: The Great Gazoo
1. The Simpsons
Why it’s great: The Simpsons is the longest-running American sitcom, the longest-running American animated program, and in 2009 it surpassed Gunsmoke as the longest running American primetime entertainment series. Won 7 Primetime Emmy Awards, 27 Annie Awards and a Peabody Award. Time magazine’s December 31, 1999 issue named it the 20th century’s best television series. One of the best television shows of all time.
Why it’s not so great: Not as consistently funny as it used to be.
Which cartoon series should have made the list?