Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon: Tiny Toons "Acme Bowl"
Original Air date: 11/16/1990
Director: Ken Boyer
Writers: Steve Langford, Debra Blanchard, Tom Ruegger, Paul Dini
Tiny Toons was the first of a wave of Warner Brothers Animation shows produced by Steven Spielberg. Each episode began with an opening title sequence complete with theme song.
It’s no small feat to create a next generation of characters to interact with, and follow in the footsteps of, the Looney Tunes. Perhaps what made this show successful was that it incorporated the notion that these characters were learning and being taught the ins and outs of being toons by the old guard who act as teachers and mentors at Acme Looniversity. So they play a supporting role for those who don’t want to see only all new characters. Another function this show served was a continuation of the Warner Brothers canon following the death of Mel Blanc.
The episode opens with a Wacko World of Sports newsreel, which is a reference to an eponymous episode earlier in Season One, which itself was a riff on ABC’s longtime series ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
The segment sets up the rivalry between the Acme Looniversity Toonsters and Perfecto Prep. The term rivalry is used loosely here because Acme is winless on the season (a montage shows their loss to the University of Woodpeckers, Santa Ana Barbarians, and the Metropolis Marvels.
Elmyra plays nurse to the team, her character originated on this show before joining both Animaniacs and being teamed up with Pinky & the Brain. Little Sneezer is established as the team’s super-fan and his involvement is pivotal later in the episode. Babs, Fifi, and Shirley the Loon are the cheerleaders and Buster has just been named the new quarterback of the team.
Then there’s an ominous introduction to Perfecto, the antagonists. Even the building looks foreboding. It’s also the first part of the episode that requires a little suspension of disbelief as they are cited as being undefeated in their 200 year history. A would-be record in actual college football and if the implication they’ve played that long—well, college football only turned 150 in 2019. However, that information, the whole opening captured my imagination as a child and serves as a great lead-in to the story.
Next, we go into a pep rally where Bugs, the team’s coach, introduces Buster to the student body. The cheers from the cheerleaders are the comedic highlight here and they’re jokes I relate to better as an older sports fan.
“ARE WE GONNA WIN?”
“ARE WE GONNA LOSE?”
“ARE WE GONNA LOSE BIG?”
“WE’RE GONNA GET ANNIHILATED!”
We move to Perfecto who sing their fight song in this scene and it includes the lyric “because, you see, we always cheat,” this is both fitting for sports at the moment and the honesty is refreshing.
Aside from the new QB Acme is also unveiling a new playbook for the big game.
The playbook, “filled with razzle-dazzle,” is coveted by Perfecto. When they Acme players go their separate ways we see that Plucky is not headed toward his house but is covertly meeting with Perfecto. In an Eight Men Out kind of twist, Plucky has with him the playbook they so desire. He enters a limo, hands over the book, and visits campus. In exchange for relinquishing it and throwing the game he’s being promised the ability to transfer there.
Plucky’s courtship includes video games and a seductress by the name of Margo Mallard who induces a rather Daffy-like reaction from Plucky; the first of many successful sight gags in the episode. The combination of classic bits with modern motifs was one of the things that drew me to this show aside from old favorites still being there.
One of the best running gags of this episode is Perfecto’s cheerleaders being disaffected Valley Girls (“Perfecto…rah”). When Plucky first signals Perfecto a play during the game he says “Am I a louse or what?”, which is a very Looney Tunes kind of aside. Later, there’s an anthropomorphic football gag that despite nearly being mandatory is well done.
Football fans will appreciate some of the trick plays Acme tries to run like the Statue of Liberty play. The most famous example of it can be seen below.
Recently, I was watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit with my son, and during the opening animated sequence, he asked something to the extent of “Why are there so many windows in that kitchen?” What he was commenting on was the subtle gag at play in that scene that it took me many views to pick up on—animated shorts played with space to conserve how many backgrounds they needed to create in the cell animation days and Who Framed Roger Rabbit exaggerated that.
There’s an instance of that technique which may not have been intentional in this episode. After a kick Acme is pinned at the one-inch line (A good call by Sylvester doing play-by-play in the booth; his flooding the booth with spit and Porky trying to avoid it is another great running gag in this episode. On the next play after that kick, Buster drops back to pass about twenty yards and doesn’t even enter his own end zone much less run out the back of it like he should have.
The only other football-related SNAFU is that no extra points being kicked were shown, one was arbitrarily awarded to generate the closest possible result.
Because Perfecto is signaled by Plucky about the plays they are able to force two strip-fumbles that are returned for touchdowns.
Near the end of the first half Buster brings in the secret weapon he told no one about: Diz; Diz being the young counterpart to the Tasmanian Devil. Diz is told to go long. He does. Buster puts some mustard on his throw, cue sight gag. Diz catches it, by swallowing the ball, for a touchdown.
On Perfecto’s next series Diz creates some havoc on the defensive side and would have come down with an interceptions if Perfecto hadn’t put a literal rocket on the ball that carried him out of the stadium, the where we don’t know.
It’s 18-7 at the half (see, Perfecto missed their extra-points, Acme didn’t and we saw none of them).
The halftime show is the Wackyland Rubber Band a great homage to Porky in Wackyland.
During halftime, Ronny, Perfecto’s alpha, accosts Plucky in the restroom. He’s angry about the touchdown, having expected a shutout, and is adamant that Perfecto better win.
Sneezer was in a stall overhearing this and it prompts him to say “Say it ain’t so, Plucky,” in another Eight Men Out moment.
Coming back from the second commercial break, or fade to black on streaming (Hulu has it in the US), we’re thrown back into the action with another tried and true gag: the use of stock footage. Many more of these techniques can be used in a single narrative when aiming for 22-23 minute episodes than a 6-8 minute theatrical short.
Sneezer’s refrain of “Say it ain’t so” continues to assail Plucky. Buster is sacked and as other players fall to injury Buster accepts the cheerleader’s offer to suit up. His only protestation being “Oh, brother.” For 1990 that’s progressive indeed.
As one might expect the girls don’t just help the boys avoid forfeiture. About to get tackle Babs screams that she lost her contact lens—insert gag about her having brown eyes—she finds it first and runs for touchdown. Acme now trails 18-13, another extra point missed unseen.
Fifi, the new generation’s answer to Pepe, forces a fumble and recovers for Acme with 0:06 left in the game. Buster is drawing up a play for Shirley the Loon and Babs catches Plucky signaling Perfecto. Perfecto thinks they have the game won regardless. Plucky is sent to the bench.
For the fourth time Sneezer implores “Please, Plucky, say it ain’t so.”
After the snap Plucky steps back onto the field just inside the boundary at the line of scrimmage. Buster gets him the ball immediately. In football terms, excluding the trick element aside, this play became popular much later. It’s a smoke-screen—a quick, short throw to a wideout that relies on yards-after-catch. Because Perfecto believed Plucky out and not replaced they didn’t cover that area and couldn’t catch up to him. Plucky scores as the gun sounds, no extra-point needed, Acme wins 19-18.
Ronny complains: “That wasn’t in the playbook!”
“Sure it was,” is the response. “Check the last page.”
It reads: You’ve been had. Signed, Buster Bunny.
Aside from the only-as-cartoony-as-it-needs-to-be football action, the drama of the game on display in this episode captured my imagination when I first had it and has kept it since; more on that in a bit, but first the denouement.
Sneezer approaches Plucky in the tunnel. He is proud and never doubted the team. Sneezer offers him a drink, Plucky gives him his jersey in an homage to the Mean Joe Greene Coke commercial.
Perfecto laments their fate as Diz returns on the rocket-ball, from Hawaii it seems, and crash lands on them in a final bit of poetic justice.
A few times in my early teen years and twenties I tried to deny the sports-loving part of me thinking it interfered with my creative side. What I later discovered was I needed to find balance. Since I’ve gotten better and better at doing.
The notion of Tiny Toons not only learning their craft in school but being student-athletes captivated me. I drew my favorite characters—Warner, Disney, or otherwise—in Acme uniforms and based on when they debuted in theatrical shorts I plotted when their school days would have been. I’ve thought about it with modern characters also.
In that endeavor I also imagined what positions certain characters might play. I sated my sports interest, my creative impulse, and I also learned a little bit of film history. Little did I know at the time this was an activity all about balance.
For artists in any discipline you never know what kind of impact your work will have. I’m sure those involved in “Acme Bowl” didn’t know that I—and other kids like me—would still know the score of that game thirty years later, still have drawings they made inspired by it or the diary entry I wrote recapping the episode when I had just seen it.
One of the reasons I love this blogathon so is that to discuss a series or season in totality can be tiresome. However, some individual installments can stand the test of time even better than the show as a whole. It was a pleasure discussing this one.