Like Nickelodeon before it, Cartoon Network eventually set out to create its own original work. While they’ve dabbled with a few shorts or new shows that aired on multiple networks, the only original work they had was Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, which aside from recycling animation, wasn’t meant for kids. After airing a pilot in early 1995 that garnered audience acclaim, the first CN show, Dexter’s Laboratory, was put into production.
The show had a simple premise. It follows Dexter, an intelligent young boy who is essentially a super scientist. His lab, filled with all manner of gadgets and inventions, is kept secret in the basement of his house. His parents are oblivious to its existence. Despite the many security measures he’s put into place, his sister, Dee Dee, is able to access the lab whenever she wants, wreaking havoc. Aside from his sister, Dexter’s true adversary is rival scientist Mandark.
This show, along with sibling CN shows, had a powerhouse of talent behind it. First, it was created by Genndy Tartakovsky, the man behind Star Wars: Clone Wars, and Samurai Jack. Writers on the show not only included Butch Hartman, the creator of The Fairly Odd Parents, but some guy named Seth MacFarlane.
Debuting proper in 1996, the show ran for three years, ending with a TV movie in 1999. After, Tartakovksy and the writers went on to work on other projects. The show was resurrected in 2001, ending again in 2003. There were a few superhero homages, Dial M for Monkey for example, as Tartakovsky used comic books to help teach himself English. While there were plenty of great episodes, like “Mock 5” and “Lab of the Lost,” there was one controversial episode that never aired. “Rude.”
“Rude” saw clones of Dexter and Dee Dee that were their antithesis. The point of contention was the characters swearing, though it was censored. The episode, after some fan garnering, appeared on YouTube briefly before being pulled again. Today, I’m sure such a thing wouldn’t be a problem.
Dexter’s Lab was a great first start to original programming on Cartoon Network. This eventually paved the way for bolder steps like Toonami and Adult Swim, viewing mainstays of my youth. While the animation has certainly dipped, the quality has not. I recommend this one still today.
What was your favorite episode of Dexter’s Lab? Think the latter half was of poorer quality? Comment below!