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Mission Hill

When Mission Hill first appeared on the WB, viewers dismissed it. To be fair, most viewers dismissed the WB out of habit, as this was before the network became "the young girls' network," as series creators Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein put it.

And so it sank, an animated series a little bit too ahead of its time, perhaps. Spun from the minds of two former producers on The Simpsons, Mission Hill actually captured that mythical "slice of life." Maybe too well, as even though it's only five years old, already some of it feels dated.

The show found a bit of new life on Adult Swim, and it's a shame that Oakley and Weinstein hadn't had that as an outlet in the first place. Watching these episodes, it's hard to imagine anything else on the WB making a good companion show, except perhaps Home Movies, which also died a too soon death there only to be resurrected by Adult Swim.

Now the complete series is available on DVD, where perhaps it can find a new life and new viewers who don't really want to stay up and catch it late at night. Don't expect a Family Guy style machine gun crudity; this show has structure, depth and nuance, with occasional crudity thrown in as the situations warrant.

Cartoonist Andy French (Wallace Langham) lives a healthy slacker lifestyle with his roommates. He's right at the upper age where success can still be measured in partying, and that low-wage menial job is only until somebody gets his art.

Into his life comes ultra-uptight nerdy younger brother Kevin (Scott Menville), alternately worshiping and chastising him for his pseudo-bohemian lifestyle. Without hitting anybody over the head with it, Oakley and Weinstein have the two teach each other a little bit about life. But most of the time that warmth gets hidden underneath wacky yet strangely realistic humor, often stemming from Andy's roommates, Jim (Brian Posehn) and Posey (Vicki Lewis).

When characters start off as laughable, the show builds a respect for them. Case in point, the older gay couple that the producers claim provided the first gay kiss broadcast on network television. At first they seem an easy shot if not outright stereotypical, but by the last episode, "Plan 9 From Mission Hill," they've become deep, real and unintentionally or not, a fitting end to the series.

Four episodes on the 2-disc set have optional commentary from a variety of cast and crew. Oakley and Weinstein orchestrate the conversation along with designer Lauren MacMullan. The conversation stays surprisingly focused, with only one or two anecdotes actually losing their point as a sidetrack gets sidetracked.

The commentators strike a delicate balance between being informative to those discovering Mission Hill and acknowledging that their fan base has heard it all before. None of it feels repetitive, even when information does indeed get repeated on other extras.

You can take a little tour of the Mission Hill neighborhood and stop off in little features that highlight some of the show's quick jokes. Kevin's high school seems to have a strange fixation with STD posters, and the neighborhood itself advertises many products with great names - thankfully, we never see anyone drink a Semen Martini.

Corners of that tour also include behind-the-scenes looks. MacMullan takes viewers through the character design, including a bizarre thirties style alternative. Though no commentary gets made on the voice-over section, the disc provides short clips of the actors performing their roles side by side with pictures of the characters.

For such a sadly short series, this package is pretty comprehensive. It's also a series worthy of the treatment. As the producers comment, they took inspiration from comic book artists like Peter Bagge and Daniel Clowes, not realizing that though those artists get critical acclaim, they don't actually have a wide circulation.

The comparison is accurate. Mission Hill does its inspirations proud, and should find an audience on home video for those who like their entertainment dry and quirky, just like their lives.

Mission Hill - The Complete Series

Derek McCaw


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