Mamma had a chicken, Mamma had a cow
Picture the scene - at the head offices of Hanna-Barbera (HB), the animation studio which gave us Yogi Bear, Top Cat, The Flintstones, and The Jetsons, the programme commissioners are listening to a pitch from an eager young man:
OK, I've got a great idea for a new show! Oh boy, you're gonna love this. It's a kind of animated family sitcom - Mother, Father, Son, and Daughter who all live in a suburban home in Anytown, America, except the son is... an 11 year-old, 4lb chicken, and the daughter is, well, she's a 600lb, seven year-old cow. And Mum and Dad? Well, you never see them above the waist. The kids have a couple of friends called Flem and Earl, and Cow likes to play with her dollies. She's got Crabs (the warthog), Piles, (the beaver), and Manure (the bear). Oh yeah, and there's this guy who kinda looks a bit like the devil. I mean, he's red all over, and he's got horns and a tail, and he's pretty darn evil... and, um, he never wears any pants. He doesn't have a specific role or name, but I thought we could call him something different in each episode to reflect his lack of lower garments, like 'Officer Pantsoffski', 'Larry Lackapants' or 'Mr Jeansbegone'. And did I mention that Cow sometimes turns into a superhero called Supercow, and when she does, she can only speak Spanish? And of course, no-one really knows that Cow is Supercow, even though she doesn't wear a mask. Yeah. And also, they've got a cousin called Boneless Chicken. He's... he's a boneless chicken. Y'know, like you get at the supermarket - no skeleton. No bones. He's like wet dishrag.
So, whaddya think?
Dad was proud, he didn't care how
Well, it might not have happened quite like that, and if it had, it would be a wonder that the show ever got made. The eager young man in question was David Feiss, and Cow and Chicken not only got made, but has become one of the most popular shows on The Cartoon Network cable tv channel since being first broadcast as a series in July 1997. At the time of writing, the show has run to four series and a total of 103 episodes, including the pilot1. Each episode is around eight minutes long - enough to fit three episodes and a couple of advertising breaks into a half hour slot.
Cow and Chicken first appeared in 1995 as a one-off animated short in HB's 'What a Cartoon' show on The Cartoon Network. 'What a Cartoon' was similar to The BBC's Comedy Playhouse in that it was intended to showcase new writers, and new shows from established writers. David Feiss had worked on HB cartoons before, and was invited to put forward any ideas he might have. Feiss submitted three cartoons. One of them, Cow and Chicken came from a storyboard he had made for his children. In much the same way that Comedy Playhouse spawned Steptoe and Son, Cow and Chicken was an immediate hit, and following a deluge of letters from fans asking for more, HB decided to commission a full series.
The majority of Cow and Chicken cartoons concern the Red Guy's efforts either to kidnap Cow and Chicken, to deprive them of something they covet, or to find out Supercow's real-life identity. Of course, he always fails, and those episodes usually end with a throwaway line from one of the characters, followed by hilarious laughter all round, rather like those hackneyed sitcoms based around a family - such as The Dick van Dyke Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, and The Munsters - which America churned out during the 1950s and '60s.
Cow and Chicken are a typical older brother and younger sister archetype. Cow is naive and innocent, thinks that being alive is just the best thing ever, loves Chicken, Mum, and Dad with all her huge heart, and is convinced that Chicken is 'The bestest brother a girl ever had'. Cow has morals. She's the 'straight man' of the pair. She likes to keep Chicken on the straight and narrow, constantly giving him advice, such as 'Remember what Mom says Chicken - you should never drive your head through a wooden plank.'
Whenever Chicken is in dire straits, Cow puts on her 'special' cape and becomes Supercow. Supercow's only super powers seem to be great strength, and the ability to fly. Supercow however, only speaks Spanish - Supercow a rescate! ('Supercow to the rescue!')
Chicken is the fall guy in this double act - he's a rather bitter and bad-tempered child who is at that particular age where a boy believes that he's the smartest and toughest kid on the block, and that no-one in history has ever done anything as cool as what he's doing right now. Cow of course, as is his little sister, is a constant inconvenience, and he dismisses everything she does as just too darn girly. He's always on the lookout for some easy money. Chicken is quite inventive however, and constantly comes up with new ideas, for instance building a submarine which just happens to be too small for Cow to get into. Chicken's best friends are Flem and Earl - two rather strange boys who don't have the intelligence to see the stupidity in most of Chicken's ideas - such as when Chicken came up with a 'Mission: Impossible' style plan to find out what goes on in the girl's bathroom at school, and who apparently live together with Flem's Dad, a scout leader by all appearances.
Cow and Chicken
Mum and Dad are only ever seen below the waist - Mum in a polka-dot skirt and apron, and Dad in striped green and yellow trousers. Whenever the action calls for them to actually manipulate anything, they do so with their feet. It's possible that when he first began work on Cow and Chicken, Davis Feiss wanted to show Cow and Chicken's world from their perspective (much as Steven Spielberg used a low angle camera in ET), and then extended the idea of them having no upper body as the show progressed. Or it could have just been that he was saving on animation time and therefore money.
Boneless Chicken is Cow and Chicken's older cousin - a rather sad character, who despite having no skeleton and therefore unable to do anything for himself, is a bachelor. He has a fondness for puns which can be sometimes irritating and sometimes rather endearing. His bonelessness is never explained, although one doesn't need to deduce too much to see that it's simply a skit on the pre-prepared boneless chicken which can be bought at most supermarkets and butcher's shops.
So what about The Red Guy? Is he The Devil? Well, yes, in the pilot episode he really was The Devil. After being defeated by Supercow, he swore revenge. Since then, while sometimes simply being himself, he usually takes a different role in each cartoon, always assuming much more authority and responsibility than is rightfully his, and often making up an outrageously absurd job description - an orthodontic police officer, a buyer and seller of used Grandpas, a Uruguayan meter maid, and The King and Queen of Cheese, for instance.
Character Voices for Cow and Chicken
- Cow - Charlie Adler
- Chicken - Charlie Adler
- Red Guy - Charlie Adler
- Mum - Candi Milo
- Dad - Dee Bradley Baker
- Flem - Howard Morris
- Earl - Dan Castellanata
- Teacher - Candi Milo
- Cousin Boneless - Charlie Adler
Guest voices on the show have included Dom Deluise (comedy actor), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker from Star Wars), Ed McMahon (veteran U.S. talk show host and entertainer) and Loretta Swit (Hotlips Hoolihan in M*A*S*H)
I Am Weasel
HB wanted a second cartoon to accompany Cow and Chicken in its half-hour slot, and from the title of a book, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, David Feiss came up with I Am Weasel, a cartoon about an intelligent, suave, noble weasel who spends far too much time with I R Baboon, a complete idiot with a penchant for smelling his fingers. Each half hour would then consist of two Cow and Chicken shorts, with an I Am Weasel short in between.
As you might have realised by now, these are somewhat surreal cartoons, and are in the same vein as 'Ren and Stimpy', 'Rocko's Modern World', and 'Duckman' not only for their artistic style and surreal humour, but also for the premise of humans living side-by-side with talking animals.
You Don't Need Pants for the Victory Dance
I Am Weasel - originally called 'IM Weasel' is similar to Cow and Chicken in that it's essentially a comedy double-act. IM Weasel is a fabulously wealthy, sophisticated, and internationally respected genius. Try to imagine a combination of James Bond, The Dalai Lama, Richard Feynman, and Geoff Tracy. He is constantly hounded however, by a jealous, uncouth, dim-witted, red-buttocked moron - IR Baboon. IM takes on different character roles in each episode - the world's foremost brain surgeon, the world's most generous philanthropist, an ambassador, a lawyer, a politician - all of whom have an unequalled nobility and generosity of spirit. Whatever IM does, IR either wants for himself or wants to destroy. Most of all he wants Weasel to look stupid, and for the world to believe that he is the smart one.
After the second series, The Red Guy was introduced to I Am Weasel, and I R Baboon's role became more of a sidekick to I M Weasel, as The Red Guy became the villain, although he appears much less often than in Cow and Chicken.
Character voices for 'I Am Weasel'
- I M Weasel - Michael Dorn
- I R Baboon - Charlie Adler
- The Red Guy - Charlie Adler
Fans of Star Trek might find it difficult to imagine at first that the dulcet tones of such a cultured and well-mannered character as I M Weasel belong to the same actor who plays the brash, aggressive Klingon Mr Worf in The Next Generation and Deep Space 9.
After the fourth series, Cow and Chicken was not picked up again by Cartoon Network, and has not been produced since April 1999. I Am Weasel continued for a standalone series of 27 episodes in nine shows, but ceased production in September 1999. It is unlikely that any more of either show will be commissioned in the forseeable future, as Cartoon Network feel they have enough for many years-worth of reruns. Neither series has yet been released on DVD.
Pilot episode (1995)
- 'No Smoking'
Pre-series special (1997)
- 'Orthodontic Police'/'Law of Gravity'/'Space Cow'
Series 1 (1997)
- 'Supermodel Cow'/'I R on Sun'/'Part-Time Job'
- 'Alive'/'Deep Sea Tour'/'Who Is Super Cow?'
- 'Confused/'I R Gentlemans'/'The Molting Fairy'
- 'The Ugliest Weenie, Part 1'/'I Are Big Star'/'The Ugliest Weenie, Part 2... or 3'
- 'Crash Dive'/'Power of Odor'/'Happy Meat'
- 'School Bully'/'Ping Pong at Sea'/'Time Machine'
- 'Orthodontic Police'/'Disease Fiesta'/'The Cow With Four Eyes'
- 'Cow's Instincts... Don't It?'/'I R Plant Life'/'Ballerina Cow'
- 'Field Trip To Folsom Prison'/'This Bridge Not Weasel Bridge'/'The Girl's Bathroom'
- 'Space Cow'/'Happy Baboon Holidays'/'The Legend Of Sailcat'
- 'Chicken's First Kiss'/'I Am Ambassador'/'Squirt The Daisies'
- 'Lawnmower Chicken'/'Law of Gravity'/'Cow Loves Piles'
- 'Headhunting In Oregon'/'I R Architect'/'The King and Queen Of Cheese'
Series 2 (1998)
- 'Fluffy The Anaconda'/I R Mommy'/'The Laughing Puddle'
- 'Pirate Lessons'/'I M Deity'/'Halloween With Dead Ghost, Coast To Coast
- 'Tongue Sandwich'/'I Am Crybaby'/'Dream Date Chicken
- 'Sumo Cow'/'I R's Phantom Foot'/'Comet!
- 'Dirty Laundry'/'Queen of DeNile'/'Grizzly Beaver Safari
- 'Boneless Kite'/'I Are Music Man'/'Which Came First
- 'Buffalo Gals'2/'I Am My Lifetime'/'Cow And Chicken Reclining
- 'Free Inside'/'I R Pixie Fairie'/'Journey To The Center Of Cow
- 'The Karate Chick'/'I R Ice Fisher'/'Yard Sale
- 'Meet Lance Sackless'/'I R Role Model'/'Who's Afraid Of The Dark?
- 'The Bad News Plastic Surgeons'/'I R in Wrong Cartoon'/'The Exchange Student (Originally 'The Holy Cheese War')
- 'Child Star'/'My Friend, the Smart Banana'/'Perpetual Energy
- 'Bad Chicken'/'I R Wild Baboon'/'Stay Awake
Series 3 (1998)
- 'Can Cow Come Out and Play?'/'Time Weasel'/'Horn Envy
- 'Goin' My Way?'/'The Hole'/'The Babysitter
- 'Cow Fly'/'I Stand Corrected'/'Where Am I?
- 'Sergeant Weenie Arms'/'I Am Bush Pilot'/'Sow and Chicken
- 'Cow Dream Catcher'/'Dessert Island'/'Me and My Dog
- 'Grandma At the Mall'/'The Unsinkable I R'/'Chicken In the Bathroom
- 'Chickens Don't Fly'/'I Am Vampire'/'P.E
- 'Playing Hookie'/'Honey, I Are Home'/'Chicken Lips
- 'The Day I Was Born'/'Driver's Sped'/'Factory Follies
- '101 Uses For Cow and Chicken'/'A True Story'/'Intelligent Life
- 'Be Careful What You Wish For'/'I R Do'/'Lost at Sea
- 'Night of the Ed'/'I Are Good Dog'/'Cow's Pie
- 'Professor Longhorn Steer'/'He Said, He Said'/'A Couple of Skating Fools
Series 4 (1999)
- 'Chachi, the Chewing Gum Seal'/'Enemy Camp'/'Black Sheep of the Family
- 'The Full Mounty'/'I Am Clichéd'/'Mall Cop
- 'Cow's Toys'/'I Am Gladiator'/'I Scream
- 'Cloud Nine'/'Revolutionary Weasel'/'Send in the Clowns
- 'The Big Move'/'IR Ghost'/'Cow's Magic Blanket
- 'Snail Boy'/'The Magnificent Motorbikini'/'Penalty Wheel
- 'Invisible Cow'/'I Am Hairstylist'/'Monster in the Closet
- 'Chicken's Fairy Tale'/'I Am Whale Captain'/'Magic Chicken
- 'Major Wedgie'/'Dream Weasel'/'The Loneliest Cow
- 'Cow's Horse'/'The Baboon's Paw'/'Red Butler
- 'Cow's a Beauty'/'The Sackless Games'/'Piano Lessons
- 'Duck, Duck, Chicken'/'Who Rubbed Out Cow and Chicken'/'The Great Pantzini
- 'The Cow and Chicken Blues'/'I Are Good Salesman'/'The Ballad of Cow and Chicken
'I Am Weasel' solo series (1999)
- 'I Are Terraformer'/'I Am Viking'/'Drinking Fountain of Youth
- 'Leave it to Weasel'/'Fairy Godfather'/'Robin Hood
- 'The Incredible Shrinking Weasel'/'Baboon Man and Boy Weasel'/'I M N. Love
- 'I R's First Bike'/'The Sorcerer's a Dentist'/'The Wrong Brothers
- 'I Am CaveWeasel'/'My Blue Hiney'/'Mission: Stupid
- 'Back to School'/'I Are a Artiste'/'Fred: Last of the Idiots
- 'I Are Bellhop'/'Take I R Out to the Ballgame'/'I Bee Weasel
- 'I Am Franken-Weasel'/'A Troo Storee'/'Rodeo Weasel
- 'Legend of Big Butt'/'I Am Dragon Slayer'/'I Are Legend