90s kids’ favourite irreverent cartoon siblings, the Warner brothers and the Warner sister, are back for another 13-episode season of the rebooted Animaniacs series. Unlike the first season which needed to re-introduce the characters and their world, the new season jumps right into action with more adventures for the siblings, Pinky and the Brain, and a small cast of additional characters. Unlike the first season, this one focuses more on wacky stories than the biting political critique of the first season.
It’s been difficult for Animaniacs to do current event satire since the episodes have to be written months in advance, whereas other forms of satire such as late night comedian monologues or Saturday Night Live sketches trade in immediacy. During the Trump administration, a hefty amount of U.S. satire focused on picking apart Trump, which Animaniacs season 1 also did. While the last season aired shortly after Biden’s win, but before Trump’s presidency officially ended, the current climate in America has been pretty out-of-sight, out-of-mind about Trump. Nearly a year after Biden’s inauguration, Trump administration jokes don’t land as well, even though Trump is not fully out of the news. As some folks have argued, liberal satire comedians professionally flourish under more conservative administrations when there’s more current events to lampoon. Although I in no way want to suggest that Trump’s loss or the transition to a Democrat admin has had a negative effect on comedy, it does mean left-leaning comedy writers have to look for content elsewhere, and it feels like season 2 of Animaniacs tries to do this.
One of the best aspects of the Animaniacs is that despite the fact they’re just kids, they still have hyper-savvy knowledge of culture and society, and can critically examine them. In an attempt to avoid dated political jokes, the material in season 2 unfortunately swerves away from the Warner siblings’ cultural critique, relying mostly on quirky and culturally-decontextualized situations that will let down fans looking for potent parody. Although there are some segments that do take an acerbic jab at American politics and culture (particularly a sketch when the siblings’ use humiliation to level Christopher Columbus), these are few and far between. Dodging specific current events is a good idea for the show, but letting the Warners comment on broader, long-running issues would add some more power to their repertoire of jokes.
As disappointing as it is to say, even setting aside the lack of satire, season 2 doesn’t quite feel as creative or entertaining as the first season, and there’s not quite as much interesting metatextual play. There’s two different jokes about van Gogh cutting off his ear, which, when examined, aren’t really that funny (mental illness most likely drove van Gogh’s self-harm). Sex predator Pepe Lepew makes an appearance and in the premiere, there’s a questionable “grab ‘em by the pussy” joke (thankfully it’s at the expense of the one Trump stand-in of the season).
If the material isn’t at its strongest, then at least the voice-work from Rob Paulsen (Yakko, Pinky, and Dr. Scratchansniff), Jess Harnell (Wakko), Tress MacNellie (Dot), and Maurice LaMarche (Brain) is outstanding. This is a particularly great season for Paulsen fans, with Yakko and Pinky getting some of the best material. There’s also a good amount of new musical numbers, including a remix of the iconic “Yakko’s World.”
It’s also worth noting that the season really picks up and settles into a satisfying rhythm starting with episode 9. It moves from a mostly consistent Warner sketch/Pinky and the Brain sketch/Warner sketch formula to include sketches with other supporting characters like Starbox, Cindy, and Chicken Boo. More satire and historical sketches also feature from episodes 9 through 13. Since the episodes are not very serial, it’s possible to skip to these later episodes, but getting full-season context is worth it for the home-stretch of stories.
Despite some punch-pulling in the material, season 2 will still be worthwhile viewing for fans of the Warners. They siblings are still as zany and endearing as ever and the season will appeal to viewers content with situational comedy without much social critique. Hulu has greenlit a third season, and with the current one ending on something of a cliff-hanger, it will be interesting to see where the writers take the Warners’ stories and humor in the future.
Animaniacs Season 2 is now streaming on Hulu
by Bishop V. Navarro
Bishop V. Navarro (they/she) is a poet, writer, and media studies scholar from Tampa, Florida. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida and currently pursues a PhD in Communication at USF. Her scholarly work examines boundary vulnerability in horror and science fiction media. You can find her on Twitter, Letterboxd, Instagram, and Tumblr @vnavarrowriter