Clerks: The Animated Series

After approximately a year of sporadic promotion and delays, Clerks: The Animated Series, based (somewhat loosely) on Kevin Smith's low-budget indie film classic, finally made it to Disney-owned television network ABC in the late spring of 2000. The first episode to air (5/31/2000) is actually the fourth episode in the series (Was this intentional as a super-hidden Star Wars reference? You decide!); the second episode to air (6/7/2000) actually was the second in the series, but it failed to make any sense for reasons that will become apparent when I discuss that episode.

Due to some potential sponsors being shaken by the 'edgy' content of the show (admittedly, Clerks was not a kids' show, but it was no worse than, say, The Simpsons or King of the Hill, as well as fairly poor ratings, the remaining four episodes were never showed. Some time after this, View Askew and Miramax released "Clerks Uncensored!," a two-disc DVD set containing all six episodes and a nice amount of bonus material, including a commentary by Kevin Smith, Scott Mosier, and the voice actors, but that commentary can largely be summed up as "THE NETWORK fucked us. THE NETWORK is a bunch of douchebags and we hate THE NETWORK."

Bitter commentary aside, the DVD set still proves quite amusing; despite the low ratings, the series (or at least as much of it as they made) was actually quite funny. It wasn't much like the movie at all, but it did have the voices of many of the actors from the movie, and was amusing in its own way.

The first episode, called, "The Pilot" or "Leonardo Leonardo Returns and Dante Has an Important Decision to Make," introduces Leonardo Leonardo (voiced by Alec Baldwin), evil millionaire and founder of the town of Leonardo, NJ where the show takes place. Leonardo Leonardo introduces a new, oversized convenience store, "Quicker Stop," as competition to the "Quick Stop" where Dante is employed. One of the few moments reminiscent of the movie can be seen early in this episode, during a brief "barrage of stupid questions." This, of course, is preceded by some explosions and fire to remind you that this is not the movie.

The second episode, "The Clipshow Wherein Dante and Randal Are Locked in the Freezer and Remember Some of the Great Moments in Their Lives," finds Dante and Randal, well, locked in a freezer. Randal points out that "If this was a sitcom, we'd flash back to all our old episodes" and this is followed by several flashbacks to the first and only episode to come before it, plus a few to THIS episode, within itself; it also flashes back to the day Dante and Randal met, the night Dante lost his virginity, a few of the times Caitlin cheated on him, and other parts of their lives. This episode really earns the "This television program is not endorsed by any celebrities" disclaimer that starts each episode by taking a few quick shots at Jerry Seinfeld, Gwynneth Paltrow, Martin Scorcese, Audrey Hepburn, Matt Damon, and Ted Danson.

"Leonardo Is Caught in the Grip of an Outbreak of Randal's Imagination and Patrick Swayze May or May Not Work in the New Pet Store" is the third episode, in which Leonardo Leonardo eats a rancid burrito and gets food poisoning. He doesn't realize there was anything wrong with the burrito, so he blames his sickness on being bitten by a monkey in a pet store in the same strip as Quick Stop and RST Video, where Patrick Swayze is being yelled at by the owner to do some menial task, but when asked about this by Dante and Randal, he claims to be filming a movie there. Meanwhile, the town of Leonardo is quarantined, the monkey goes missing, and silliness ensues.

Episode 4, "A Dissertation on the American Justice System by People Who Have Never Been Inside a Courtroom, Let Alone Know Anything About the Law, But Have Seen Way Too Many Legal Thrillers," has Jay slip in some spilled soda and fall down in the Quick Stop. Randal talks him into suing the store for ten million dollars, then harasses a lawyer from Manhattan until he agrees to take the case. This episode includes a variety of NBA stars serving as the jury, including Charles Barkley, who is one of the few celebrities who actually does his own voice and is something of a running joke in the series, appearing in all of these episodes except the sixth. The episode concludes with multiple endings and a silly, seizure-inducing anime parody.

The fifth episode has the longest name of all of them: "Dante and Randal and Jay and Silent Bob and a Bunch of New Characters and Lando Take Part in a Whole Bunch of Movie Parodies Including but Not Exclusive to The Bad News Bears, The Last Starfighter, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Plus a High School Reunion." It's hard to write about these episodes when the titles just about say it all. Dante and Randal attend their high school reunion; Dante runs into Leonardo Leonardo, who's there for the class that graduated ten or twenty years before theirs, and Randal runs into his old favorite video game, Pharoah. Dante ends up coaching a Little League baseball team, and the star player is Jay, who is allowed to play on a minor technicality: he never finished the fourth grade.

"The Last Episode Ever" is the sixth and (obviously) final episode, and is arguably the silliest of them all, opening with a comic book convention where Dante and Randal take questions from the audience (of about 3 people) about the show and learn that no one likes it. I guess convention-goers just have no sense of humor. The episode goes on to depart from the usual Star Wars references, turning to The Matrix instead, and ending with a takeoff on a classic Warner Bros. cartoon.

Low ratings and cancellations or not, Clerks: The Animated Series was simply brilliant, and is fully deserving of a cable revival, possibly on HBO or another channel that has some balls. The crew had some great ideas for future episodes, which are mentioned in the commentary; in one of their plot ideas, Randal buys the car from Knight Rider; the car then becomes jealous of Dante and Randal's friendship, so it kidnaps Dante and takes over his job at the Quick Stop...and none of the customers notice anything is wrong. Even if no more episodes ever get made, though, give this series a day in court. You won't regret it.

Kevin Smith and the people at View Askew don't just make fantastic films, they also have a knack for creating some of the most entertaining DVDs in the business. Smith and company (usually Jason Mewes, Ben Affleck and producer Scott Moiser) have a knack for giving great audio commentary tracks. The discs are always jam packed with a good amount of special features. Such as Chasing Amy's "The Askewniverse Legend", a guide to all the characters in the New Jersey Trilogy, the visual commentary track on Dogma (something they pioneered) and no less than forty two deleted scenes on the Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back DVD.

Perhaps View Askew's finest DVD is the three disc "Clerks X" DVD. Celebrating the tenth anniversary of the theatrical release of Kevin Smith's first and arguably finest film “Clerks”.

Kevin didn't go light on the special features, it contains:

- The 93 minute "Clerks" Theatrical cut- All new HiDef transfer from 16mm IP supervised by Dave Klein with all-new 5.1 Skywalker Sound remix supervised by Scott Mosier. Will include the hilarious original commentary track from the initial laser disc/DVD release. Jason Mewes passes out in the middle of the commentary and wakes up to yell something incomphernsable over the credits (I think he says “Dave Pirner kicks ass!” but it’s been awhile since I’ve watched the commentary). That is something not to be missed.

- The 103 minute "Clerks" Independent Feature Film Market (IFFM) First Cut, which will includes an all-new audio/video commentary track with Kevin, Scott, Jeff Anderson (who plays Randal), Brian O'Halloran (who plays Dante) and Jason Mewes (Jay). A couple of new scenes are inserted, mainly everything leading up to a much more tragic end to the film.

- The 95 minute "The Snowball Effect: The Story of Clerks" Which is a brand new documentary that interviews almost everybody who ever had something to do with "Clerks." It's in the vein of Empire of Dreams as being a DVD documentary that's absolutely comprehensive to the subject matter. The production of this film has QUITE an amazing story.

- The MTV Jay and Silent Bob shorts that aired in the mid 90s on MTV. Great stuff.

- The Arclight 10th Anniversary Q&A with Brian, Jeff, Marilyn Ghigliotti (Veronica), Scott, Dave, Mewes, and Kevin.

- Lots of video intros with Kevin and company. Highlighted by Scott & Kevin riffing on Road House.

- "The Flying Car" short from The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, re-telecined in HiDef. For those who don't know "The Flying Car" was a short film with Brian and Jeff playing their characters of Randal and Dante and was the last official chapter in the View Askewniverse until it was reopened with Clerks 2.

- The original theatrical trailer.

- The video for Soul Asylum's "Can't Even Tell," which they wrote for the movie and Kevin Smith directs and appears in.

- The original Jeff, Brian, and Marilyn and Ernie O'Donnell (who plays Rick Derris) audition tapes

- A seven minute animated "Lost Scene" short by the same guys who did the underrated Clerks: The Animated Series. The "lost scene" is the events at Julie Dwyer's funeral and View Askew vet Joey Lauren Adams has provided some voice work for the scene.

- An expansive still photo gallery

- “Clerks” trivia track.

- The original 168-page original first draft screenplay (DVD-ROM)

- Kevin's “Clerks” Journal.

- Kevin's Sundance Film Festival Journal.

- Peter Broderick's 1992 article "The ABC's of No-Budget Filmmaking" that inspired the budget for 'Clerks'

- Peter Broderick's follow up article "Learning from Low-Budgets" a year later that does the same treatment on "Clerks"

- Amy Taubin's Village Voice article on the 1991 IFFM and 'Slacker' that inspired Kevin to take 'Clerks' to the IFFM

- Amy Taubin's Village Voice article on the 1993 IFFM about 'Clerks' being the gem of the festival.

- Janet Maslin's 1994 New York Times review of 'Clerks' entitled "At a Convenience Store, Coolness To Go"

- The entire John Pierson 'The Odd Couple: Sundance 1994" chapter from his book, Spike Mike Reloaded.

- The original Kevin-penned IFFM program note

- The original Bob Hawk-penned 1994 Sundance Film Festival program note.

- Mae Day: The Crumbling of a Documentary. Which is the only thing Kevin Smith made in his short time studying at Vancouver Film School.

Yet sadly, the horrificly awful pilot for the live action "Clerks" television series is not part of this collection. Although there is a fantastic summary of the one episode they shot (and never aired) at

Regardless, it's one of my favorite, if not my all-time favorite DVD collection.

Clerks. was written, directed, and acted in by Kevin Smith. It was released in 1994 after performing very well at Sundance. It’s one of those movies which has a substantial cult following, a less substantial body of normal people who like it, and a large pool of people who just don’t get it. It was followed in 2006 by a sequel, Clerks II.

Clerks. follows a day in the life of Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and his best friend Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson), who are, respectively, clerks at the Quik Stop convenience store and RST Video store in the (as the protagonists see it) nowhere town of Leonardo, New Jersey. The movie slowly spirals in towards its ending, gyring past a number of recurring themes and pop-culture musings.

Also introduced with the movie were Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith), drug dealers who deal outside the Quik Stop, much to Dante’s annoyance. Kevin Smith went on to make a series of movies with Jay and Silent Bob (and the death of Julie Dwyer) as the links between them. These were Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, together comprising the misnomered “New Jersey Trilogy.”

One of the central themes of the movie is the for some painfully existential depiction of Dante’s inability to change his own life. He is forever at the mercy of everybody else in his life: the entire day is the result of his being unable to refuse his boss, who demands that Dante come in on his day off so that (as it turns out) he can leave the state without having to worry about the store. Dante wants to go back to school, to make something of himself, but cannot bring himself to do it, and will thus be trapped at the Quik Stop forever. His high school girlfriend cheated on him so frequently that their relationship became an appalling joke to everybody around them — but Dante still wants her back, believing that she’ll change of her own volition. There is a never-ending stream of customers coming in and taking advantage of Dante’s weakness. He tells a story towards the end of the movie about soiling himself as a child because his mother did not lift the toilet seat for him.

Randal, however, represents exactly the opposite. He comes in late to work, closes the store repeated times so that he can enjoy his day and hang out with Dante, and at one point goes so far as to spit in a customer’s face to show Dante that he can get away with it. Randal always gets the better of his customers, and in the end, is far more realistic about his situation — he stays where he is because he likes his life and doesn’t have any reason to change it.

The movie was shot in black and white on a shoestring budget of about $27,000 (£15,000). Licensing the soundtrack cost more than the combined cost of making everything else associated with the movie. Several of the characters in the movie were friends and relatives of Kevin Smith; some of them had never acted before. Interior shots were entirely done at night in the convenience store where Kevin Smith was working at the time that he made the movie.

The movie is divided into seventeen parts — Dante, Vilification, Jay and Silent Bob, Randal, Syntax, Vagary, Purgation, Malaise, Harbinger, Perspicacity, Paradigm, Whimsy, Quandary, Lamentation, Juxtaposition, Catharsis, and Denouement. Internet rumor mills will tell you that this is meant to parallel Dante Alighieri’s journey through the spheres, but this is most definitely a rumor, the result of a comment by Kevin Smith very early in his development of the script.

The movie was originally shot with a very different ending than the final one. Rather than leaving us with the idea that Dante has a new sense of purpose in life and a commitment to bettering himself, we are treated to the following. Randal leaves the store with the comment “You’re closed!” as he does in the “real” ending, tossing Dante the sign reading “I ASSURE YOU WE’RE OPEN.” As Dante prepares some paperwork so that he can leave, a customer enters, shoots Dante to death, and leaves with the contents of the register. Another customer then comes in, takes a look at Dante’s body, and steals a pack of cigarettes. (A running theme in the movie is the customers’ categorical denial of the link between their cigarette habit and the damage it does to their bodies.)

In my opinion, Clerks. is just about a masterpiece of a movie. Most of the people who complain about the movie do so because it’s in black and white, or they think the existentialism is too heavyhanded, or because the humor is not enough like slapstick. To these people, I say, you did not understand Clerks. Go back and see it again. Try to understand the message, to appreciate the humor, to consider the meaning of the movie with the different ending. Don’t let yourself miss out.

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