Why Animated Episodes Are (Almost Always) a Good Idea
When a fan loves a show, it's not difficult to keep them interested, but throwing in a fresh approach from time to time definitely doesn't hurt either, and this would certainly include special animated episodes for live-action series.
It's not a format you see often, but when it pops up the excitement level shoots up because it's something fresh and unusual. In today's world, animation has become a tool necessary for continuing key plots in interrupted seasons. The Blacklist and One Day at a Time have both utilized the format to finish or create episodes for fans in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.
But the stay-at-home orders shouldn't be the only motivation behind this format, which could easily become just as successful as musical episodes found across various series like Riverdale, Grey's Anatomy, Scrubs, 30 Rock and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, to name a few.
While The Blacklist (which wasn't praised for its recent finale mixing live action and animation) and One Day at a Time may have been forced under the current circumstances to create and produce animated content, it is possible to do so without such constraints. Three episodes that serve as perfect examples are Supernatural's "ScoobyNatural" and Community's installments "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" and "G.I. Jeff."
In Supernatural's case, the Season 13 installment — which aired in March of 2018 — featured some famous cartoon faces which certainly helps as Sam (Jared Padalecki), Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Castiel (Misha Collins) are sucked into the same world as Mystery Inc.'s Scooby gang. As the highest fan-rated episode of the season on IMDB by garnering a 9.6/10 score, the response almost speaks for itself.
Seeing how the Winchesters interact with characters they know just as well as the viewers creates hilarious shenanigans as they provide their investigation skills in the two-dimensional world. As with most live action shows that have partaken in this format, the animation doesn't take up the full episode's run, but for the duration it's pure delight.
When it comes to Community, which is receiving a resurge in popularity thanks to streaming availability on Netflix and Hulu, the animated episodes aren't entirely surprising considering the show's creator Dan Harmon went on to create Adult Swim's uber-hit Rick and Morty. The first example of animation was presented in the Season 2 installment "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" in which everyone's favorite TV and movie-loving college student Abed (Danny Pudi) suddenly sees everything in claymation.
Concerned about their friend, the entire study group attempts to understand the reason behind Abed's psychological manifestation that pays homage to the style often found in Christmas specials of yesteryear like Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. The episode even won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation in 2011.
Apart from being one of the show's standout entries, "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" is also a favorite of Community's Joel McHale, who told us earlier this year, "That's just the best combination. It showed you Dan's incredible script-writing skills and the depth that the characters go to and will go to, dealing with very heavy subjects." Essentially the episode has heart as well as fancy claymation, "It really did the trick 'cause you can laugh while getting stabbed in the heart," McHale concluded.
The show also tackles another form of animation with the Season 5 episode "G.I. Jeff" which sees McHale's character Jeff animated alongside his study group friends in the style of G.I. Joe as the vain man has a difficult time coping with a big upcoming birthday. While revisiting a style viewers were familiar with in the '80s, the episode presents a fresh take on facing one's own mortality while utilizing something from their childhood — in this case, Jeff's connection with G.I. Joe.
While there's certainly more examples out there, this should be a clear enough argument that animation is a format that should be seen more in scripted live-action television, under the right circumstances and with enough time allotment. Animation has a place beyond animated shows and if done right, can make for memorable episodes within a series. Could we possibly see more in the future? Hopefully.