For my money, the freshest and funniest take on the high school experience to be found on TV right now has main characters with fins and scales. Disney Channel’s Fish Hooks may not be the first cartoon to take the phrase “school of fish” literally, but its approach is unique and well worth checking out (and a brand new episode airs tonight).
Fish Hooks is largely centered around the students and faculty of Freshwater High, which has enough of the trappings of real high schools that it’s instantly recognizable, but enough big differences to keep it interesting and funny. At least, that’s my take on the series — I suppose you might feel differently about the subject matter if your high school was located in a fish tank at a pet store, too. Since most of the characters in the series are in fact fish of one kind or another, this makes some amount of sense.
Lest you think the series is s a ripoff of Spongebob, you should know that even though both are cartoon shows largely set underwater, that’s where the similarities end. Just for starters, the main characters in Fish Hooks — Milo, Bea, and Oscar — have some depth to them (pun intended), in that they occasionally experience emotions that they don’t immediately display outwardly and obviously. And the art style is very, very different from Spongebob, though I’m not entirely sure how to articulate the differences — let’s just say that there’s no mistaking one for the other.
The main characters, and most of the supporting ones, are teenagers, and they go through many of the same experiences real teenagers do — e.g., unrequited crushes, acne, sports, and partying — but, typically for Disney shows, always in a way appropriate for pretty much any age kid to watch. The show isn’t shy about delivering messages about interpersonal relationships and life in general, but it always does so with tongue firmly implanted in cheek. For instance, one episode sees Milo become a bully as he attempts to rid the school of bullies — but he gets the ability to do this via a ninja he’s befriended (who is actually a Siamese fighting fish).
The show’s core voice cast is very good, and they have a seemingly-constant stream of awesome recurring voices, including such people as Richard Simmons, Edie McClurg, and Rachel Dratch, and some great guest voices including John DiMaggio (best known as the voice of Bender on Futurama), Chris Parnell, ubiquitous voice actors Tress MacNeille and Lauren Tom, and even George Takei and Ozzy Osbourne.
The writing on the show is very clever. sprinkling in-jokes and pop culture references in where they fit without seeming too contrived. Many references are likely to go over most kids’ heads — often a hallmark of good animation — including, for instance, one episode that sees a character makes an analogy in which he’s a plumber rescuing a princess from a barrel-throwing monkey. Sound familiar?
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Noah Z. Jones, the creator of Fish Hooks. From the excitement in his voice when discussing the show, it was very clear how much he loves it and is committed to making it as good as it possibly can be. The show was picked up for a second season back in December, and, he said, they’ve been working feverishly since then to make sure the new season is even better than the first one. The last episode of the first season will air in September, and according to Jones will be a takeoff on Disney’s High School Musical franchise (and will therefore also be a musical). Jones did promise the addition of several recurring characters, including at least one who will be in most of the season, when the second season begins airing later in the fall.
In short, this is an excellent show that for many good reasons has been only a little bit behind Phineas and Ferb in ratings. The show lacks some of the cross-generational appeal of Phineas and Ferb, but I’d be surprised if most kids 8 and up (and quite a few younger) didn’t enjoy most episodes.
A brand new episode of Fish Hooks premieres tonight on the Disney Channel at 9:30pm ET/PT (immediately following a new Phineas and Ferb, in fact). The two stories tonight are titled “Mascotastrophe” and “Two Clams in Love.” If you haven’t seen the show before, I highly recommend giving it a chance tonight, and if you have — well, then, you’re probably aware of how good it is.