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Yeah, this topic has been done to death on Dorkly for a while now, so I decided to put a little twist on this article.
You see, for every depressing cartoon moment featuring sad music and a depressing scene in a character’s life, there are scenes which attempt to parody the depressing scenes that cartoons will use to milk the tears from your eyes.
The problem is that sometimes these scenes are just as depressing as the scenes they seek to parody. This is a list of some of those scenes and episodes.
Clone High - Litter Kills, Literally
One of the most underrated cartoons of its time, and possibly of all time, Clone High only really started to achieve recognition after its creators found success after the show was cancelled.
Litter Kills, is one of the most memorable episodes of the entire series, and it attempts to parody shows that seek to make people miserable by killing beloved main characters. At the start of the episode it is announced that a character will die.
Clone High introduces a new character and pretends that he is a main character who was there all along. The audience gets the joke, but the characters in the episode believe that the character is one of their closest friends. It’s basically like that episode of Rick and Morty where Mr. Poopybutthole is introduced just so that he can be critically injured.
The death of the character and the supposedly depressing ending don’t inspire any emotion. Nobody cares about Ponce, and the audience refuses to grow attached to him because the audience is told that he’s going to die before the episode even begins. All of the depressing music and depressing scenes are so overdone and pointless that they’re funny.
Except, that isn’t entirely the case.
You see, JFK is the comic relief character and he is best friends with Ponce. We rarely ever see JFK get depressed throughout the series, but his character is someone who gets angry over mundane subjects and gets depressed in an earlier episode when he believes that he may be sexually attracted to one of his male classmates.
Ponce’s death affects him more deeply than any other character. He isn’t mature enough to handle the emotions that he feels after the death of his friend, and he receives very little support from his friends who don’t believe that he is capable of being depressed after the death of his friend.
Whenever any character gets a scene, we get to see a ridiculously over-the-top display of mourning. This becomes a running joke in the episode, which gives us great lines like:
“Your son will still be dead when you get back.”
“I just killed my dead friend!”
“Now Mario’s dead, i’m killing everyone.”
But it’s JFK’s mourning that really affects the viewer. JFK is a character who we have grown to like, and his over-the-top antics in the episode might be funny if they were the actions of a more mature character, but with JFK, it just comes off as a character who is too childish to express his grief in a less childish way.
To put this another way, when JFK punches his dead friend at his funeral to punish him for making him sad, then crawls into his coffin after saying “Ponce, i’m gonna sleep here next to you,” it’s heartbreaking. But, it’s only heartbreaking because JFK is the one in the scene.
Of course, this is immediately made apparent with a scene where Joan mourns for Ponce a short time later, which isn’t nearly as sad and is actually kind of funny.
I guess what i’m saying is that this show has depressing scenes that are actually quite funny peppered throughout nearly every episode. The reason why this episode is so depressing is mostly because of the character that they chose to focus on, not Ponce but JFK’s childish reaction to his inconsequential death.
2. Freakazoid - A Matter of Love
What’s interesting about this episode is that there is only a single depressing scene in the entire episode, and you get the impression that someone involved in the production of the episode tried to make it seem less depressing.
The episode features Freakazoid’s best friend, Cosgrove, spending less time with his friend because he’s found a girlfriend. In keeping with the usual humor of the show, a tender moment is interrupted by a black-and-white clip of a group of guys fighting on a train.
Freakazoid obviously doesn’t like the woman because he feels as though his friend doesn’t want to hang out with him because he would rather hang out with her. Also, the girl is actually a monster who wants to kill Freakazoid so that she can live for another hundred years, with Cosgrove.
You see, the monster actually does like Cosgrove and wants to share her immortality with him. Cosgrove would like to be immortal with her as well, but not if it means that his best friend will die.
As you might expect, Freakazoid saves the day and the monster is defeated. I expected that the episode would end with the two friends apologizing and going out for snow cones, but that’s not what happens.
Cosgrove says a few last words to the pile of dust that was once his girlfriend. Freakazoid, recognizing the seriousness of this moment to his friend, doesn’t even make a joke. He simply walks with Cosgrove into the sunset in silence.
A funny song plays in the background during the scene, but the scene is so powerful that even the song doesn’t derail the emotional weight of the scene. Cosgrove lives in a wacky world where every girl that he is likely to meet and form a relationship with is likely to be a monster.
The lack of continuity between episodes means that any relationship he forms is likely to be ended when the episode ends. The only friend that he is allowed to have is Freakazoid, and he’s not mature enough to truly understand what Cosgrove is going through at the end of the episode. But, the fact that he makes the effort to comfort his friend and doesn’t even attempt to make a single joke, is genuinely heartwarming.
3. Sealab 2021 - Joy Of Grief
Does Sealab 2021 have depressing moments? No, is the only answer that anybody who is a fan of the show could give. Sealab 2021 rarely features characters grieving, and when it does it’s usually for comedic effect. Thanks to Sealab 2021s excellent writing, it manages to take the idea of grief and explore it in a way that it hasn’t been truly explored in a cartoon before or since, that i’m aware of at least.
The episode starts with possibly the only funeral seen on the show. Anybody familiar with the shows canon is aware that characters die all of the time on the show, so the death of a main character is nothing new. As a result, the characters don’t grieve for the death of their friend, the notion of feeling sad for the loss of their friend is dismissed by the captain, who instead tells the story of how Marco died. This is followed by a scene featuring Marco having sex with a shark, then being killed after the shark makes comments like “Get your human penis out of my wife’s sharkgina.”
It’s a standard way for an episode of Sealab to open with, and like a standard episode of Sealab 2021, it gets weird pretty quickly.
A grief counsellor appears in the episode, except she might not have appeared at all. The premise of the series is that all of the characters have gone insane as a result of being in a research facility at the bottom of the sea for a year, so she could simply be a shared hallucination amongst the crew members representing their need to grieve for their friend.
Anyways, it quickly becomes apparent that all of the crew members are either unwilling to grieve for the loss of their friend, or unable to grieve for their friend. Tornado Shanks is unable to mention how depressed he is about his friend’s death, and instead he makes jokes about his friend’s death. It sounds terrible out of context, but the only way that Shanks can express any emotion about his friend is by making jokes.
Sparks is just as unable to express his emotions, claiming that expressing his emotions is something that a homosexual would do, not a straight man like him. Debbie forgets about Marco’s death and gets over Sparks’ death alarmingly quickly, focusing on having sex with an amish man instead of focusing on her grief over the loss of her friends. Doctor Quinn is so used to seeing his friends die that when the grief counsellor actually starts murdering crew members, he merely criticises the way that she kills his friends.
To put this in context, it’s like Rick Sanchez becoming so used to fixing all of his problems with science that any problem he has becomes meaningless. When he ruins his world, he simply goes to another universe and assumes the role of his dead counterpart without any emotion. Or like Pinkie Pie being unable to mourn the death of a friend in any way other than by smiling or throwing a grief party.
The crew of Sealab don’t know how to grieve or even that they should grieve for the loss of their friend. They aren’t sure if they should believe that he’s dead when they know that it’s possible that he could return in the next episode, and even if he is dead forever like Captain Murphy, they don’t know how to mourn for him. The only things that they know how to do are tell jokes and hurt each other.
As a result, the grief counsellor who is probably a shared hallucination, represents their shared psychological desire to be punished for their inability to grieve. When they don’t grieve for their friend properly, they are killed, it’s only when a remnant of their friend appears that the grief counselor disappears.
When Sharko, Marko’s son, appears as a half-shark half-man hybrid, everything returns to normal. This is is because the simple death of a friend is a normal thing that the characters of Sealab 2021 don’t understand, but a half-shark half-man creature is something that makes sense in the bizarre world of Sealab 2021. That is actually a pretty depressing thought.
4. Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Party All The TIme
This isn’t the first or the last time that Aqua Teen Hunger Force attempted to make a depressing episode. The humor in these episodes usually stems from the fact that they are rarely, if ever, the last episodes in a season, so the audience knows that the character who dies will be alive in the next episode. A more depressing episode might actually be the fake series finale where Frylock is killed due to Meatwad’s stupidity.
However, this episode should be mentioned simply for the fact that it features a depressing premise for the sake of making extremely dark jokes about depression and grief.
The episode is admittedly pretty heavy, Frylock gets cancer and slowly dies in front of his friends. Lots of hugs and sad music appears throughout the episode as the characters prepare for Frylock’s death. The unusually somber mood permeates the episode, and some parts are actually kind of difficult to watch.
“Oh god, he looks like he’s dead already.”
The idea behind the episode is that the depressing theme is so overdone that it’s supposed to be funny. An episode focusing on death can’t be depressing if other episodes have had more horrific deaths right?
Except, no other episode has featured a character slowly wasting away due to a disease that can’t be cured. Weirdly, the theoretical parody of depressing episodes ends up being played oddly straight, it almost feels like the script was taken from a depressing episode of a television show, and simply had ad-libbed jokes thrown in to lighten the mood.
Except, the jokes don’t lighten the mood, and they actually make things a lot worse. Frylock stops caring about the wacky world that he lives in, and is so depressed that he accepts his fate and simply waits for death. When he comes home after a visit to the doctor and sees Andrew WK in his living room singing a song about partying, he ignores him and goes into his room. He is so depressed and ready for death that he doesn’t even want to use his time machine to attempt to cure himself.
You get the impression that the animators wanted this episode to be funny in a dark way, but it rarely comes across as being funny, just depressing. Every joke is undercut with either an image of a sick Frylock, or a quote from one of the characters about Frylock’s declining health. It’s such a jarring shift in style from the episodes usually presented by the show, simply because it takes a more serious approach to the concept of death.
5. Futurama - Jurassic Bark
This episode wasn’t actually supposed to be as depressing as it was. I think that every person who reads this will have memories of the first time that they watched this episode and were greeted with the infamous ending scene of Seymour waiting for his master.
Originally, the episode was going to feature one of Fry’s parents being fossilized, but the idea was scrapped in favour of having his dog being fossilized. The episode was also originally supposed to feature a different song for the ending, but I think that everyone can agree that a big part of the scene’s emotional impact was the result of the music played at the end.
Now, I won’t write down the reason why this episode is so depressing, instead I will say the reasons why it wasn’t meant to be.
For starters, as I already stated, the premise of the episode was changed to make it less depressing. The ending of the episode was also changed later, in one of the movies, to make it happier, with it being revealed that Seymour was with Fry all along before he was fossilized by Bender.
What makes this episode so emotional is the fact that it wasn’t meant to be nearly as emotional as it was. While other cartoons and tv shows tend to go to great lengths to achieve the desired effect on the audience, which Futurama would do in later episodes, Jurassic Bark is depressing simply because it doesn’t try too hard to make the audience cry.
To put this another way, Rick and Morty made the audience cry by having Morty experience an existential crisis after he buries a corpse from an alternate reality version of himself after he helped destroy the entire world. That’s pretty heavy stuff, and Futurama could have easily done something similarly heavy with the concept of Fry discovering a fossilized parent. Instead, this episode set its sights far lower with the intention of not upsetting the viewer too much and ends up being arguably more effective as a result.
To put this metaphor another way, it’s not likely that anyone will ever bury an alternate reality version of themselves after destroying their planet with a love potion. But, a lot of people can relate to saying goodbye to a beloved pet.
All that the episode does is make you care about a dog, which isn’t hard because most people in the world love the company of a dog and can relate to the thought of being separated from their beloved pet. The sad music at the end only highlights an emotional scene that is filled with subtle comedy.
The fact that this episode was nominated for an Emmy award, but lost to a kind of forgettable episode of The Simpsons, is also kind of depressing.