Must-See Cult TV, From Danger Man To The Middleman

Samurai Jack

This dizzying animated series for all ages is far from obscure, having won a handful of Emmy awards and served as another impressive feather in Genndy Tartakovsky’s cap. But Samurai Jack is mandatory viewing for all ages, and it’s currently shelved while work that is infinitely more cynical and less ambitious is allowed to live. (Whether that includes Tartakovksy’s upcoming cartoon, Sym-Bionic Titan, due Sept. 17 on Cartoon Network, has yet to be determined.)

Samurai Jack — launched in 2001 and equally inspired by spaghetti Westerns and Frank Miller’s comics — has given as good as it has gotten. Tartakovksy’s mostly silent cartoon about a journeying samurai nicknamed Jack seeking revenge against evil incarnate Aku landed him work on Lucasfilm’s standout 2003 miniseries, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. A reportedly forthcoming Samurai Jack feature film, shepherded by geek king J.J. Abrams’ production company Bad Robot, could go a long way toward soothing the burn of the TV show’s absence.

But any movie will have a hard time matching the priceless heart, humor and action of the original, which remains a crossover model for animators worldwide.

The Boondocks

There may not be a more maligned cartoon on the air these days than Aaron McGruder’s astoundingly scathing The Boondocks. Its stunning third season just wrapped on Adult Swim, after taking the gin and juice out of everything from President Barack Obama and the swine flu epidemic to reality TV-addicted couch potatoes and thoroughly played-out bling-hop. But you would never know it, given the deafening silence. Which is a crime: The Boondocks is the roughest, toughest mature cartoon on television, miles ahead of anything trying to sniff its satirical fumes.

From its knockout action to its political wits and take-no-prisoners critique of a pop culture that has seemingly lost its mind, McGruder’s show has rarely failed to expertly dissect the new millennium’s hyper-real obsessions and disturbing fantasies. It deserves much more than a fourth season, which at last report has not been confirmed. Losing The Boondocks would doom Adult Swim, and television in general, to fail-safe mediocrity.

Who else is going to seamlessly mash Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer with All the President’s Men? Keep hope alive, loyalists and noobs. Keep hope alive.

The Colbert Report

This might feel like a cheat, especially since comedian Stephen Colbert’s deliriously hyper-real ego stream is a continuing Emmy-winning sensation that has yet to run out of cultural steam or air time. Also, he keeps getting stuff named after him, from treadmills on space stations to spiders.

Indeed, there are plenty of purely logical reasons not to include The Colbert Report here amongst superb shows that died after mere handfuls of seasons or episodes. But other than Firefly, Colbert is the only pick on this list who has actually spawned a cult of worship, which has leaped into action whenever its leader — whose name alone commands not one but two Wikipedia entries — has asked for help supporting or haranguing his friends or enemies. The fact that Colbert’s show openly encourages and reprimands such worship of a character who is simultaneously as dumb as a bag of Sarah Palins and America’s most potent cultural critic of the new millennium is irony icing on the postmodern cake.

So attack us if you will, but we’re standing firm on including The Colbert Report in this list of cult television classics. If only because, in spite of all its viral success, it still remains heinously undervalued and underrated. Colbert doesn’t deserve his own show; he deserves his own network. And until he gets one, we’re fine with putting him down as Earth’s reigning cult superstar until a hardy patriot with way more balls comes along and captures his freak flag. Images courtesy Comedy Central

This article appeared at Wired