'Clerks: The Animated Series': Ahead of Its Time & Ready for a Reboot
We live in a magical time, when thousands of new and old TV shows are available at the click of a button, thanks to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. But not every show has made the transition. In Stream This! we highlight a deserving series that’s not yet available on streaming… but should be.
Kevin Smith has plenty of experience with being on the end of the so-called “Long Tail” of entertainment. For example, after the success of his debut feature, Clerks, the born-and-bred Jersey boy watched his sophomore effort, Mallrats, play to empty theaters when it was released in 1995. After five years, though, the film achieved the status of cult classic. After ten years, it was discovered by a whole new generation of teen slackers thanks to DVD. And now, after twenty years, it’s become popular enough to get a sequel, MallBrats, which Smith plans to shoot and release next year.
If the same Long Tail trajectory can apply to all of Smith’s work, that means that in 2020 we might finally witness the return of another ahead-of-its-time Smith vehicle: Clerks: The Animated Series, the cartoon version of his breakthrough feature about a pair of aimless clerks manning the cash register at a New Jersey convenience store. Premiering on ABC in the spring of 2000, the series — a wild mixture of flashbacks, digressions and fantastical plot developments that Smith and his chief collaborator, longtime Seinfeld writer David Mandel, concocted — aired only two of its six completed episodes before being yanked off the air. (In 2001, the entire run was released on DVD.) “The Simpsons was our model,” Smith told Yahoo TV during a chat at the just-concluded New York Comic Con. “From the jump, the Clerks cartoon was never going to be the movie. Dave was the one who was like, ‘Since it’s animation, let’s go crazy.’”
And the animated Clerks did some pretty crazy things for primetime network television at the time. Take the second episode, which is designed as a “clip show” that’s filled with flashbacks to events that only happened in the premiere or that never happened at all. (Smith credits the idea to Paul Dini, one of the creative forces behind Batman: The Animated Series, among other cartoon favorites.) Of course, ABC kind of ruined the joke by airing another episode in place of the pilot, a clear sign that they didn’t really understand the series. “We were supposed to launch in March, but they didn’t debut us until May,” Smith remembers. “I think 7 million people watched the first episode, and they were like ‘That’s not good enough.’”
Meanwhile, the show’s fourth episode, which ABC wound up airing first, sends problem-plagued clerks Dante and Randal to court, where they stand before Judge Judge Reinhold (the Beverly Hills Cop star provides his own voice) and ends with an extended homage to Korean-animated cartoons. That’s the kind of cavalcade of crazy that would be right at home on Adult Swim today, but when Clerks: TAS debuted in 2000, that haven for adult-oriented animation was still a year away from launching. “When you look at Clerks, it’s kind of what they do now,” Smith points out. “I’m not saying it’s ahead of its time, but boy, today it would be right on time.”
Given that timeliness, it’s surprising that the series currently remains off the programming grid, only available on an extras-laden DVD. All six episodes aired on Comedy Central in 2002, and on Adult Swim on 2008, but Clerks: TAS has yet to grace the streaming realm where younger viewers would potentially discover and embrace it as they did Mallrats. Netflix would seem to be a natural berth, given the fact that it’s home to the acclaimed animated Hollywood satire BoJack Horseman, as well as select titles from Smith’s own filmography, including the live-action Clerks. “I’ve got to imagine there’s someone at some network out there who would pick it up. I can’t do it, because I don’t own it. The new Miramax consortium owns it.” (The fact that Miramax is currently up for sale probably complicates matters in regards to the show’s streaming license.)
If and when the show does wind up on a streaming service, Smith can then turn his attention towards the next goal: making more episodes. (He’s already working on a third Clerks feature, which could start filming as early as 2016.) “The nice thing about a Clerks animated show is that the characters are ageless. It’s not like ‘These f–kers are old now,’” he says, laughing. “We had so many stories we wanted to do. Dave had this Single White Female episode where Dante buys a car and it turns out to be KITT from Knight Rider. Then KITT starts becoming obsessive and wants to replace Dante; he locks him in the trunk, puts on his sweater and takes Dante’s place behind the counter. He made it sound so good.” And, as Smith points out, since Mandel is currently set up at HBO as the new showrunner on Veep — replacing creator Armando Iannucci — he might have the muscle to finally make that episode a reality.
Failing that, the Clerks: TAS team could also turn to AMC, where the Smith-produced reality series Comic Book Men kicks off its fifth season on Oct. 18. “I’ve never gone to them about this,” he says. “I gotta work there, so I hate it when I say, ‘Can we do this?’ and then they’re like ‘Nah.’ But that might be the place. You just need that one person in power to go, ‘Oh my god, I got laid to that show once.’ And that would have to have been one of the two times that Clerks aired! If it happens, I’ll give you an associate producer credit.”
Comic Book Men premieres Oct. 18 at midnight on AMC