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[MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD]
Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, one of Adult Swim’s foundational originals, starred ex-superhero Harvey T. Birdman alongside a variety of Hanna-Barbera characters as they worked at the Sebben & Sebben law firm. Premiering on the block from 2001 to 2007, the show built a solid following, who tuned in for everything from Hanna-Barbera references to endless blink-and-you-miss-it jokes. The program even had such staying power that in 2018, Adult Swim released the Harvey Birdman: Attorney General special, which combined the charm of the original series with a loose parody of Donald Trump. Following this airing, many fans were clamoring for a revival of the show, yet little did they know the spotlight would eventually turn to Birdgirl instead. First formally introduced to the Bird Team in the third season, during the episode “Birdgirl of Guantanamole,” Birdgirl’s secret identity was revealed to be Judy Ken Sebben, daughter of Sebben & Sebben co-founder Phil Ken Sebben. Throughout the rest of the show, much of the character’s motivation revolved around Judy balancing her personal and work life with her superhero aspirations, which is now the cornerstone of the Birdgirl series. Thanks to Toonami Squad’s access to screeners of the first and second episode, the hope is to create further excitement for the show by diving deeper into this aspect and more, with as minimal spoilers as possible.
As described in the trailer, the first episode, “Pilot,” introduces the premise and main characters of the show, such as Judy’s best friend Meredith the Mindtaker, following the death of Phil Ken Sebben. With Sebben & Sebben in disarray, it’s up to Judy to handle both the loss of her father and the future of the company. Now, if anything, the first episode makes it clear that other than various nods to the original series, this show is quite different from Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. Beyond the art style, the humor is geared towards a wider audience, far more action is incorporated into the show, and any legal aspects have been replaced with corporate life. On the other hand, the obvious remaining connection to the original series is Birdgirl herself, voiced by Paget Brewster, who continues to be a delight. I’ll admit, the pilot isn’t perfect, yet the energy that Brewster brings to Birdgirl shines throughout. This series even takes the character a step further by making Birdgirl even more dynamic and human compared to how she was in the original show.
With that being said, the animation and humor, as seen in the first episode, may be an issue for some viewers. First, the artwork really is fantastic, as it has a popular style, incorporates vivid backgrounds, contains a lot of details, and is used creatively such as with action scenes. Yet, there are segments throughout the pilot where the actual animation looks a little delayed, or just isn’t seamless. It doesn’t necessarily distract from the visuals, but those who are more particular about animation may have a problem with it. Second, the original series relied on inside jokes, Hanna-Barbera characters, rapid-fire fun, and arguably more of what viewers would now think of as typical Adult Swim humor for its comedy. If someone goes into Birdgirl expecting this, they may be disappointed as there are seemingly no obvious Hanna-Barbera characters, and the comedy goes in a different direction, particularly including humor that may be more appealing to women and an outside Adult Swim audience. This could ultimately allow the show to carve its own path and fan base, keeping the original concept of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law fresh and unique, but some older fans could feel alienated if they’re expecting what’s been done before. That said, the component that the new team kept was that fast comedy and blink-and-you-miss-it format.
The second episode, “ShareBear,” follows Judy’s first legitimate attempt to make the company her own while figuring out her relationship with Meredith and her other friends. This episode is an overall improvement from the pilot, with better jokes in the main plot, the introduction of a completely out there b-plot, far fewer animation issues, and more in-depth character interactions. It was during this episode that the show felt like it had potential to be something long term and leave its mark on Adult Swim. More specifically, it seemed that this show could do for Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law what Harley Quinn did for typical DC animated programming. Altogether, both series take the concepts of past standout shows, which were male-centered, and then reinvent them for a new audience with female characters at the core. Ultimately, this allows for programming with wider appeal, as well as characters who experience their worlds in a deeper way. For example, the pilot and the second episode each had their wacky plotlines that you might expect from something like the original show, but then they go a step further by featuring Birdgirl dealing with the emotional toll of her father’s death in a very human way. This extra layer allows the writers to tell new stories and tell different jokes, that stand apart from the original series, similar to Harley Quinn and let’s say Batman: The Animated Series.
Additionally, one of the most obvious changes from the original show that fans will notice is that court room cases have now thematically been replaced by action scenes—which was actually done by the finale of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. Since Birdgirl is coming into this series as an active superhero, Judy is forced to balance being a hero and running the company, which at times may even coincide. Despite some of the animation issues, the various instances of action fighting in both episodes were quite well done. For example, in the promo Birdgirl is seen fighting a robotic toilet with arms, and in the full episode the movement plays out vividly as Judy and her friends fight to save the city. Similarly, something that was not as common in Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, was that following this scene, there was actually continuity from the first to the second episode, and there will potentially be more fallout from “ShareBear” going forward. Thus, significant changes beyond the animation, humor, and feel of the show exist, which will almost certainly appeal to more potential viewers even if current fans may miss the legal cases or greater randomness.
Altogether, the first two episodes of Birdgirl demonstrate clear potential for the show, although it’s definitely different from the original series, with only Birdgirl, some references, and the occasional rapid fire humor overlapping. If you can go into the premiere with an open mind, there is something here for everyone to enjoy. I can even say that a lot of the humor resonated with me, especially the b-plot in the second episode, which makes no sense but works so well. Ultimately, this show could do well for Adult Swim, and if anything, it’s admirable to hear that so many women were able to work on this project for the channel.
Season 1 Episode 1: “Pilot” (7.5/10)
Season 1 Episode 2: “ShareBear” (8/10)
Birdgirl Season 1 officially premieres on Adult Swim tonight at 12:00am ET
(Early premiere on YouTube tonight at 7:00pm ET with members of the Birdteam)