Saddle Rash

Two gunslingers face each other on a dusty lonely street. A voice-over just as dusty tells us who these enemies are, and how the townspeople will never forget this day. It's a scene out of a thousand westerns, and almost as many western parodies.

But wait - is one of the two gunfighters armless? Then things aren't quite what they seem in this lawless town of Saddle Rash.

Nor is the narrator. Keenly aware that he has only been allowed to narrate because no one else volunteered, he strains to come up with exciting imagery and breathless commentary. But deep down, he knows that most of the townsfolk don't hold him in much regard. At the barbershop they even cough "sidekick," the worst insult they can throw at an old coot.

And sidekick may be what he is, immediately taking a shine to the no-armed man who rides into town one fine afternoon, pearl handled pistols gleaming in the sunlight. Looking for Tommy Morgan, the town's outlaw, this laconic stranger gets dubbed Slim, but in the Eastwood tradition really has no name.

What he has is one really long, strong tongue. Is it enough to pull a trigger when justice must be done?

That's for you to figure out. In the meantime, enjoy this new show in the rotation of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Saddle Rash may seem like just another western, but by borrowing the relaxed attitude of some other Adult Swim shows, it puts a fresh spin on its attack.

In its dialogue and delivery, Saddle Rash has a lot of the sensibilities of Home Movies. Characters have a casual delivery even in quick-paced exchanges. They're not quite bored, they're just talking like modern slackers stuck in the old west, even though they all fit other stereotypes.

The town of Saddle Rash is just like any other western town. Mulehands mingle with troublemakers. They even have the requisite Mexican senorita, Inez, and her companion, a Chinese coolie. Except they both look suspiciously like buffalo. (Makes sense when you see it.)

The show also has a cool design, simple and bold, without being grotesque (not even with the armless Slim, though yes, he is even slimmer without arms). If anything, it's like a Jim Mahfoud comic brought to life. Artistically, it contrasts nicely with the Hanna-Barbera look that dominates Adult Swim.

Most importantly, the show is just funny. In addition to the undercover buffalo, there are many concepts and jokes that really fly.

On a sad note, this also features the last voicework of Waylon Jennings, whose character hangs around in the barbershop looking for witty banter and may have married his mule. It's a sly throwaway performance that will be missed in future episodes; Jennings was many things, but he wasn't a slacker.

Neither are the minds behind Saddle Rash. It's hard work making 23 minutes this consistently funny.

Derek McCaw

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