Ren & Stimpy didn’t last very long. There were only 52 half-hour episodes spread over five seasons, and after the second season, Nickelodeon fired creator John Kricfalusi, leading to a notable downturn in quality and weirdness. But viewed today, the show looks uncannily ahead of its time — it could be a current show airing alongside Childrens Hospital on Adult Swim, or an Internet cartoon series beloved by the college demographic. (Conversely, some episodes of R&S almost look like demented Looney Tunes shorts that were banned from viewing for decades. “Space Madness” in particular feels like a Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck sci-fi spoof rewritten by Tristan Tzara after an absinthe binge.)
It’s almost impossible to understate just how weird Ren & Stimpy seemed in the middle of the SNICK line-up. Initially airing right after the justly forgotten Roundhouse and the terrifying-for-adolescents Are You Afraid of the Dark?, the show was a fascinating mix of tones. There were pop culture parodies, funny animal humor, odd-couple sitcommery, and flatulence jokes, but everything was always carried to a ludicrous extreme. (In one famous episode, Stimpy believes that he has given birth after he farts, and goes in search of his lost “son.” And this was a Christmas episode.)
But nothing better exemplifies the show’s multi-layered comedy than the songs, which achieved a proto-South Park mixture of catchy simplicity, stealth complexity, and slow-burning madness. “The Log Song” is a hilarious spoof of advertising jingles that is arguably more realistic than the things it’s spoofing: Listen to “Log,” then ponder the implications of this John F. Kennedy campaign commercial. “The Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen Anthem” twists “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” into a massive orchestral showstopper. I also have a strong affection for the theme song from “The Muddy Mudskipper Show” and “The Lord Loves a ‘Hangin” (which basically sums up the entire Western genre).
But the be-all and end-all remains “Happy Happy Joy Joy,” which, as sung by “Stinky Wizzleteats,” starts out as an adorable preschool song and devolves into random, terrifying musings like, “That’s very funny! A fly marrying a bumble bee!” I consider my first viewing of “Happy Happy Joy Joy” to be the end of my innocence. Watch and enjoy:
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