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Dexter's Laboratory

Entry updated 16 August 2021. Tagged: TV.

US animated tv series (1996-2003). Cartoon Network, Hanna-Barbera Cartoons. Created by Genndy Tartakovsky. Directors include Robert Alvarez, John McIntyre, Rob Renzetti, Chris Savino and Genndy Tartakovsky. Writers include Walt Dohrn, Zeke Kamm, Seth MacFarlane, Cindy Morrow, Jason Butler Rote, Michael Ryan, Chris Savino and Genndy Tartakovsky. Voice cast includes Christine Cavanaugh, Kathryn Cressida, Eddie Deezen, Candi Milo and Alison Moore. 78 22-minute episodes, usually with three segments, plus a Television movie. Colour.

Boy genius Dexter (Cavanaugh/Milo) works in his vast Underground laboratory producing wonders of advanced science and Technology, including Teleportation, Cloning, Time Travel, Invisibility, interdimensional portals, Antimatter and Spaceships. Adopting a loose eastern-European accent, in the belief that is how Scientists talk, he works from his parents' suburban home; they are oblivious, but his older sister, the chaotic but balletic Dee Dee (Cressida/Moore), presser of buttons, is not; his attempts to keep her out of his laboratory fail and her cheerful (but perhaps tinged with malice) interference is the bane of his life. Little is said about how Dexter acquired the laboratory, but we do learn that he owes NASA $200m.

Adventures include Dexter building a Robot assistant that declares him obsolete ("... and all obsolete materials must be destroyed"); a journey to Mars; Time Distortion; a nod to Fantastic Voyage (1966) with Dexter undergoing Miniaturization and being injected into a dog; an attempt to move the Moon that has it crashing into the Earth; various interactions with Aliens; a giant Dee Dee (see Great and Small); age acceleration; everyone but Dexter and Dee Dee turned into babies; and being trapped inside a Videogame.

Though the first two series are fairly straightforward, some stories show the experimental touch that Tartakovsky would display in his next series, Samurai Jack (2001-2004; 2017): Dexter's journey into Dee Dee's room to retrieve a stolen bread slicer evokes Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (February-April 1899 Blackwood's Magazine; 1925); we also get Dexter's life story in operatic form; his visit to Japan as an exchange student becomes an Anime tribute, with Kaiju and Mecha. In a story never shown on television, Dexter and Dee Dee are split into their good and bad selves; the latter express themselves coarsely, with much bleeping of expletives.

The first two seasons also had occasional non-Dexter segments: Dial M for Monkey, about a Superhero monkey known as Monkey, and Justice Friends, about three flat-sharing superheroes. A television movie, Ego Trip (1999), intended as the series finale, had Dexter travelling to the future – firstly to where his rival Mandark (Deezen) has built a Dystopia, then onward to a Utopia built by himself, then journeying to the intervening period to see how Mandark was overthrown. Thanks to the show's continued popularity it was brought back in 2001 for two more (forgettable) seasons: by then Tartakovsky had other commitments and was no longer involved, save for two stories at the end of the final season.

As Cartoon Network's first original animated show, Dexter's Laboratory's initial two seasons were well received by viewers and critics, the eccentric Humour and oddity influencing many later series. Though characterization is one-note and the series suffers the innovator's unhappy fate of looking dated after others have taken up their baton, it is often amusing and there are many scenes that still impress. [SP]


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