Created by David Sacks
Produced by Carsey-Werner Productions
Aired on UPN for 1 season (6 episodes, 1 unaired) from March 10 – April 22, 2004
Patrick Warburton as Rip Smashenburn
Lucy Liu as Raquel Smashenburn
Rachel Dratch as Alice Smashenburn
Elizabeth Daily as Billy Smashenburn
Artie Lange as Turbo
This is a show that, similar to Disney’s Wreck It Ralph, asks the question, “What do video game characters do outside of the video game?” Unlike the film however, this series focuses on an average family of video game characters known as the Smashenburns. The family is made up of father Rip, a Grand Prix race car driver from an unspecified racing game, mother Raquel, a Lara Croft type from an artifact scavenging adventure game, daughter Alice, who is an activist that sometimes goes boy-crazy, son Billy, who is trend-obsessed with becoming a rapper, and lastly Turbo, their talking purple pet dog who indulges himself in unwholesome vices.
The series plays out more like a standard family sitcom more than it does a video game. The show centers on the family dynamic and draws conflict from them trying to understand one another and resolve problems together. It’s light-hearted, with nonthreatening low stakes.
In the early 2000s, there were very few successful attempts at bringing animated series to primetime television, especially on network stations, yet UPN tried four times. First they tried to bring the comic strip Dilbert to the small screen, but that ran only two seasons. Then they tried Home Movies, which lasted only five episodes before its cancellation (the show was later revived to air on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim). After that came Gary & Mike, which lasted just one season. The network’s final attempt at animated television fare was with Game Over, a TV series that was aimed at the video gaming audience that, at the time, appeared to have lost interest in television programming. Computer Generated Image animation had been building momentum with the popularity of Shrek and the Pixar films and David Sacks and his team intended to be a part of that rising trend. The series was made up of episodic narratives, much like The Simpsons, with little to no serialization. The writers would introduce characters that could return if needed, but not much seemed pre-established, other than the five family members. The series took little advantage of its video game roots, with very limited and broad references to video games or gaming, and instead was fueled by standard family sitcom humor. The CGI animation for the series was impressive for the time, with a quality that was unlike any other animated show on primetime television. Perhaps it was due to UPN being an underseen network, or the series not being heavily promoted, but the show drew very low ratings, resulting in its cancellation after its fifth episode.
Game Over had a great voice cast, charming premise, and a virtual video game world that was animated very well. The problem with the series is that it may have been too broad to draw in the audience it needed. This is a family sitcom with video game references, some of which are very funny, but that isn’t necessarily enough to hold the attention of a discerning viewer. The Smashenburn family featured parents from two clear and distinct video game types, but the kids were not as defined in their roles. This may very well have been a purposeful choice by the creators, but it’s one that cost the series the opportunity to work in more video game references. Along with being undefined, some of the characters were also very hard to relate to. It’s important for a sitcom to have characters that are funny, but it is just as vital to give the characters motivations that an audience can get behind. Sometimes these characters do things and it’s unclear as to why.
One of the main problems of this series is that it claims to be about the lives of video game characters while outside of their video games, but it does very little to simulate the video game experience with any thought towards or understanding of actual game play. It’s pretty clear that this show was made by people who didn’t fully understand what makes video games appealing. For a fan of video games, this show doesn’t have much to offer.
Despite not appealing to the gamer audience, Game Over does have some good qualities. The voice cast is great, with Patrick Walburton as Rip Smashenburn, with his witty, winning delivery, Lucy Liu as Raquel, serving up feisty and motherly-toned voice work, Rachel Dratch as Alice, spewing teen angst with hilarity, and E.G. Daily as Billy, who is amazingly able to portray a 13 year old boy with honesty and humor. The most interesting and entertaining voice performance is that of Artie Lange as Turbo, the talking purple dog. Most of the more hilarious gags come from Lange’s vocal delivery and the visual of the animation of Turbo. The cameo voice cast is pretty impressive as well, with turns from Jennifer Coolidge, Danica McKellar, Tom Kenny, and Jan Hooks.
Apart from the weak game references, the actual writing of the episodes is pretty good, albeit familiar, predictable, and simple. For instance, in “Basic Win-Stincts,” the main conflict comes from Rip feeling like he’s in competition with his wife Raquel, and the resolution comes with the understanding that they aren’t competitors, but on the same team against the rest of the world. It may be overly sweet, but it still works. There are also some attempts at speaking to issues relevant to the gaming community, such as when the show sort of addresses the sexist characterization of women present in most volleyball video games, also in “Basic Win-Stincts.” Alice sets an example for the girls on her team after she makes them aware that wearing bikinis allows them to be objectified, which they, being characterized as bimbos, take to mean that they should dress in camouflage sweaters like Alice. By the end of the episode, the bimbos take it too far and start wearing burqas, until Alice teaches them that they have the freedom of choice and can dress in bikinis and be objectified if they want to. The show isn’t interested in making a statement either way about the objectification of women in video games, but instead makes the issue about the autonomy of its characters.
With only six episodes to the series, Game Over hardly had the chance to fully explore the potential of the world of video games or even build on its mythology. The final episode of the series, “Monkey Dearest,” offers some backstory to Raquel and hints at some explanation as to what drives her to retrieve monkey idols from across the world. This could’ve been set up for more world building and character definition, but the series’ cancellation did not allow it that chance.
There are not that many television series that feature video games concepts at their core, but Game Over lacks the specificity needed to make its premise work. For those looking for a great series that truly speaks to their gamer side, this is not that show. Game Over is more of a saccharine family sitcom that puts familial relations and humor at the forefront. If there is any reason to check into this series, it is to experience the voice cast, and maybe some of the better-executed visual gags featuring Artie Lange’s Turbo.
Series creator David Sacks went on to work on Malcolm in the Middle, Nickelodeon’s How to Rock, and is currently in production with Pig Goat Banana Cricket, created by notable cartoonist Dave Cooper.
Patrick Warburton can currently be heard on Family Guy, The Venture Bros., and seen in the upcoming Ted 2.
Lucy Liu can currently be seen as a regular on Elementary.
Rachel Dratch can be heard on the Hulu original animated series The Awesomes.
After the series was cancelled in 2004, there was a DVD release that included the unaired sixth episode, which was released the following year by Anchor Bay. It’s a 2-disc set with a few extras that include character bios, a short featurette revealing production secrets, a trivia game, and an animation process reel. Unfortunately, these discs do not feature the unaired pilot where Marissa Tomei voiced Raquel Smashenburn in place of Lucy Liu, which would’ve been interesting to see.
Other than the now-out-of-print DVD, there are no other means to view this short-lived series. There is a trailer on the Carsey Werner website, but no streaming site currently carries the series. The DVD is not mentioned in the Anchor Bay catalogue either.
The DVD is available for purchase at Amazon.