50 years of BIRDMAAAN! Hero of earth, failed talkshow host, and attorney
September 29, 2017 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Birdman debuted fifty years ago this month, on NBC on September 9, 1967, paired with unrelated segments of The Galaxy Trio. Three segments ran as a single episode, with a total of 20 episodes, and that was that. Except Birdman was revived through syndication and repackaged with other vintage cartoons in the 1980s, then being redefined not once but twice by Cartoon Network, first as guest host on Space Ghost Coast to Coast in the mid 1990s, then as the moderately competent attorney, Harvey Birdman, from 2000 to 2007. And it's all online, one way or another, linked up below the break.

Birdman, created by comic book artist Alex Toth, initially ran for 40 segments in 20 episodes, starring earth person Ray Randall who was given powers of the sun from Ra. Despite the promising premise, the end result was painfully forgettable (Google books preview) in reflection. But you don't have to take someone else's word for it, you can watch all of the Birdman episodes/clips:

Birdman segments (playlist of first 20 segments, in reverse order, on Daily Motion; segments #21-40 are on Watch Cartoons Online, where they are misnumbered and with left channel audio only; also available to buy on YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu)
  1. X the Eliminator / Morto the Maurader
  2. The Ruthless Ringmaster / Birdman Versus the Mummer
  3. The Quake Threat / Avenger for Ransom
  4. Birdman Versus Cumulus, the Storm King / Serpents of the Deep
  5. Nitron the Human Bomb / Mentok, the Mind Taker
  6. The Purple Moss / The Deadly Trio
  7. The Brain Thief / Birdman Versus the Constrictor
  8. Number One / Birdman Meets Birdgirl
  9. Birdman Meets Reducto / Vulturo, Prince of Darkness
  10. The Chameleon / The Incredible Magnatroid
  11. Hannibal the Hunter / The Empress of Evil
  12. The Wings of FEAR / Birdman Meets Birdboy
  13. The Menace of Dr. Millennium / Birdman Versus Dr. Freezoid
  14. The Deadly Duplicator / Professor Nightshade
  15. Train Trek / Birdman Meets Moray of the Deep
  16. Birdman and the Monster of the Mountains / The Return of Vulturo
  17. The Revenge of Dr. Millennium / The Ant Ape
  18. Birdman Versus the Speed Demon / The Wild Weird West
  19. The Pirate Plot / Skon of Space
  20. Murro the Marauder / Morto Rides Again
In 1998, Space Ghost Coast to Coast creator Mike Lazzo talked about making Birdman a low-energy follow-up to Space Ghost, which kind of what happened. Birdman was re-cast as a washed up would-be talk show host on Space Ghost Coast to Coast, and was featured in four episodes. In these stories, he was initially slated for Space Ghost's job, then popped up a few more times in varied roles. And it was on Space Ghost where Birdman got the new name of Harvey, with no mention of Ray Randall.

Space Ghost Coast to Coast episodes featuring Birdman As SGC2C wound down, Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law was winding up, and in a very adult [swim] sort of way.
Gruesome murder, skin cancer and drug addiction are not exactly the conventional stuff of children's cartoons, but they are the typical fare for Harvey Birdman, which gets a great deal of mileage precisely out of the seeming mismatch between its subject matter and animated programming. (Gbp)
In other words, this isn't something for the kids, but the kids who had grown up on Hanna-Barbera. Parodying many other shows and styles, among the many tropes of the show, the "classic 'toons in trouble with the law" show is considered for teens+ by Common Sense Media, and was part of Cartoon Network's successful catering to (and shaping of) a certain young (male) adult audience [dissertation by Hye Jin Lee at University of Iowa, 318 page PDF linked within]. Harvey Birdman was part of Cartoon Network's [adult swim] debut in 2001, which you can relive through the [adult swim] time rift.

Harvey Birdman episodes (Daily Motion playlist, [mostly] YouTube links below for redundancy; Wikipedia list of episodes with plots and trivia)
  1. S01: Bannon Custody Battle
  2. S01: Very Personal Injury
  3. S01: Shaggy Busted
  4. S01: Death By Chocolate
  5. S01: Shoyu Weenie
  6. S01: The Dabba Don
  7. S01: Deadomutt, part 1
  8. S01: Deadomutt, part 2
  9. S01: X, The Exterminator
  10. S02: Blackwatch Plaid
  11. S02: Trio's Company
  12. S02: The Devlin Made Me Do It
  13. S02: High Speed Buggy Chase
  14. S02: SPF
  15. S02: Back To The Present
  16. S02: Grape Juiced
  17. S02: Peanut Puberty (with darkened video filter)
  18. S02: Gone Efficien...t
  19. S02: Droopy Botox
  20. S02: Guitar Control
  21. S03: Booty Noir
  22. S03: Harvey's Civvy
  23. S03: X Gets The Crest
  24. S03: Bird Girl of Guantanamole
  25. S03: Turner Classic Birdman
  26. S03: Beyond the Valley of the Dinosaurs
  27. S03: Evolutionary War
  28. S03: Free Magilla
  29. S03: Return of Birdgirl
  30. S03: Mindless
  31. S03: Sebben and Sebben Employee Orientation
  32. S03: Identity Theft
  33. S04: Shazzan [adult swim]
  34. S04: Incredible Hippo
  35. S04: Babysitter [as]
  36. S04: Birdnapped [as]
  37. S04: Grodin
  38. S04: Juror in Court (Watch Cartoons Online)
  39. S04: The Death of Harvey (WCO; double-length episode, finale)
The show's schedule changed a number of times, which hurt viewership. Then Stephen Colbert, who voiced the fan-favorite Phil Ken Sebbern, was written off so he could focus on his own show. Knowing the end was coming, series creators Erik Richter and Michael Ouweleen "lead with [their] chin" in the finale, which was scaled back from their other plan to wrap up the series.

There was enough interest in the show to warrant bringing Harvey back for a video game (playthrough playlist) in 2008, with a glowing review from Greg Miller on IGN.

Seven years after HB:AaL ended, Michael Keaton was a different Birdman, which lead to a short Harvey Birdman/Birdman crossover/ tribute to both Birdmen.
posted by filthy light thief (28 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
I'm going to have to go through this deeper later, but for now I just have to say that I love the hell out of Harvey Birdman. The humor and the characters are great, and to this day I still quote random bits from it (favorites include "Did you get that thing I sent you?", "Blackwatch Plaid!", and really like half of what Phil Ken Sebben says).

Totally worth watching, for anyone who hasn't.
posted by tocts at 7:10 AM on September 29, 2017 [18 favorites]

I am completely unable to have an objective assessment of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at law because it's what my spouse and I would watch together when I was trying to unwind from law school on our weekend sleepovers at the start of the relationship. I will always remember it with rose tinted glasses. I'm excited to see the source material though, thanks filthy light thief.
posted by LegallyBread at 7:17 AM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Well, there go my weekend plans.
posted by rodlymight at 7:18 AM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Shrink ray!
posted by Foosnark at 7:20 AM on September 29, 2017 [9 favorites]

I watched my mom play most of the way through the linked Harvey Birdman game on the Wii. If you have ever enjoyed an Ace Attorney game or old Sierra adventure, it's really worth a few hours of your time. It's really well done, with quality voice acting from mostly the same actors as on the show, and good enough writing to actually feel like a couple of bonus interactive Harvey Birdman episodes.
posted by 256 at 7:21 AM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Ha ha, noses on dowels.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:24 AM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Shrink ray!

Time to get small!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:33 AM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by Fizz at 7:39 AM on September 29, 2017

I also fondly remember the old Cartoon Network "Shorties" bumper with Birdman delivering the immortal line: "AVENGER, GET BIRDMAN COFFEE!"
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:07 AM on September 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

I have always wished Steven Colbert had adopted the affectation of an eye patch in real life.
posted by blakewest at 8:13 AM on September 29, 2017


That Space Ghost Pilot episode with Lokar is a damn classic.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:48 AM on September 29, 2017

It's crazy to me how much Space Ghost Coast to Coast and the early Adult Swim period influenced pop culture and comedy while still flying so far below the mainstream radar. Ghost Planet Industries/Williams Street up to around 2005 had a very Velvet Underground kind of impact.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:53 AM on September 29, 2017 [14 favorites]

I couldn't stop thinking about this, so now I have to ask a question:

I haven't watched Harvey Birdman in years, but I have this impression that Phil Ken Sebben was always saying something, then laughing really loud, and then repeating one word or part of a word in a weird, soft way back to himself as he chuckled. I honestly don't know if this happened just once, or like a hundred times, and I can't even remember a specific line -- but I frequently encounter words and feel like I can just hear him doing precisely that.

Like ...

"He purloined that woman's purse!"
[ha HA!]
"... loin"

Is this my own personal version of the sitcom person painting someone else with a paint roller? Did this really happen like 20 times? Is there a supercut of these? Hope me Metafilter!
posted by tocts at 9:22 AM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't think you're crazy, that's definitely one of the joke formats they mined. I dunno if a supercut exists, but I would watch one!
posted by Existential Dread at 9:30 AM on September 29, 2017

I'm just here to say Leigh Lahav (of the crossover/tribute animation in the last link) is excellent. Also recommended: Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, Fantastic Holidays and How to Explain Them, New New New New Doctor.

Also, Phil Ken Sebben "Ha Ha Ha" supercut.
posted by a car full of lions at 9:42 AM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I always had a dream of a halloween couples costume where I would be Harvey Birdman and my cat would be Avenger. still haven't ever done it because my cat doesn't like to go to parties. but in my heart, that's who we are every day.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:44 AM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Tocts, your paint roller comment made me remember and rewatch Too Many Cooks, also by Williams Street. So thanks for that!
posted by 256 at 9:44 AM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Man, I watched reruns of the original Birdman as a kid. I remember the "BIRDMAN!!" yell was my favorite part. I used to run around the apartment yelling that while "flying" with my arms held straight out zapping my mum and sister with solar beams. After that I would tear outside into the sunny backyard to recharge. Then run back in and start yelling again.

Shortly after this our family moved into a bigger place. I don't believe these two things were connected.
posted by storybored at 9:54 AM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

posted by Kafkaesque at 10:01 AM on September 29, 2017 [9 favorites]

"I cannot ... enlarge." :(
posted by DrAstroZoom at 10:02 AM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Reducto is wonderful, but secretly we all know that the best villain is X! THE ELIMINATOR!

I don't know if Peter MacNicol has ever done a live action role where he uses his X voice, but I would love to see that.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:28 AM on September 29, 2017 [7 favorites]

“I’ll make you fun size.”

“‘Black Vulcan’ was Aquaman's idea. And I said, well, maybe we should just call you White Fish.”

My friends still quote Phil’s, “not there... THERE!”

So good...
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:39 PM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Birdman is part of the ensemble cast of Future Quest, a revival of the Hanna-Barbara superhero properties published by DC Comics. Writer Jeff Parker attempts to fill in some of the gaps in both continuity and characterization. He's working with too many characters to fully succeed, but the series is kind of a light and fun romp into classic superheroes.
posted by Eikonaut at 1:54 PM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

And it's all online, one way or another, linked up below the break.

More like linked up below the beak, amirite? Ha! Ha!!

You - the shark. No more from you today.
posted by petebest at 4:01 PM on September 29, 2017

Alex Toth's Hanna-Barbera work, with its practical requirements for simple character designs that can be drawn quickly and animated easily, is an absolutely staggering work of economy of line and streamlined graphic design. They work so well with so little flair, and every single line had to earn its place out of necessity. There are few things more fun to draw than Birdman & Space Ghost villains and Jonny Quest henchmen and robots.
posted by jason_steakums at 4:28 PM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Peter Potamus asking "Didja get that thing I sent ya?" never stops being funny to me.

The Sebben & Sebben Employee Orientation goes into it in an oblique way, and also contains the immortal words of the Sebben & Sebben motto:
Putting clients first by putting employees first immediately after prioritizing fiscal responsibility and leveraging profitability towards exceeding by empowering our employees to put clients (and themselves) first, in a diverse and respectful environment of only those that come first, first.

Ha-ha! Fiscal.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:44 PM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

I loved the original Birdman as a kid. Can't say I remember any plots, but a winged bird man soaring out of a secret volcano base made up for any other shortcomings the show could possibly have had. Thanks for the links! I know what me and my kid will be doing way too early in the morning on a rainy saturday!
posted by thefool at 5:02 AM on September 30, 2017

My startup will definitely offer BlimpShare and Bikram Filing employee benefits.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:22 AM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

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