Do you remember having temper tantrums as a kid? Do you know what calmed you down? If your household was like mine, the answer was probably, eventually, cartoons.
Thinking back to that idyllic time, foggy frames of a colourful flying horse flick like an old film reel in my mind. I’m fairly certain this is my first memory of Rainbow Brite, but it’s faded with time. What I can recall is a wave of relaxation melting away my silly childhood frustrations. My anxiety would vanish as I immersed myself in an animated world of magic stardust, and whatever the hell that thing is sitting behind Rainbow Brite.
Fast-forward a couple decades, and here I am working and living in downtown Toronto where adulting is real. We all romanticized the freedom of adult life as kids, but let me hit you with some reality. Rent is laughably expensive. There’s finding work, and then there are lay-offs. There are weddings to plan and weddings to attend. Getting weird lumps checked out as your body changes with age. I’ve experienced them all, and I’m not yet 30. Childhood me had no clue that adulting would be a high-stress game. But childhood me got one thing right: cartoons are the answer to pretty much everything.
Don’t believe me? Well, cartoons have matured in humour, diversity, and storytelling, A LOT since Rainbow Brite. Older millennials, such as myself, who grew up watching the classics should be super stoked for fresh toons like Netflix’s BoJack Horseman (Season 4 just dropped on Netflix) and F is for Family, FX’s Archer and Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty.
Here are some reasons why I, a grown woman with a job, watch adult cartoons—and why you should start too. Let the shameless binging begin!
Adult cartoons calm my anxiety—and science backs me up on this
After a long day of work, we are all united in our desire to decompress the crap we’re voluntold to do throughout the day. Even if you love your job (like me), in my opinion, I still think you need at least an hour of true relaxation to recharge. Some people watch reality shows to unwind—and honestly, cartoons aren’t that far from reality TV either. You don’t need to invest in the characters like you do on epic series like HBO’s Game of Thrones. Even when a character dies in a cartoon, the world resets in the next episode as if nothing happened. Case in point: nearly every episode of Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty involves some form of gruesome/ridiculous death, like a contract killer/alien bug-man being randomly crushed by a spaceship.
Sometimes I just want to use a portal gun and teleport to another dimension with Rick and Morty, and that’s totally OK. The erratic shuttling from one world to another with a drunk, foul-mouthed grandpa/science genius and his neurotic grandson soaks up my anxiety like a sponge.
Vice recently interviewed Center for Anxiety founder Dr. David Rosmarin about how cartoons can affect your mental health. He mentioned a therapeutic practice called “behavioural activation” which basically means increasing the amount of activity that brings a patient pleasure. An example of a “pleasure activity” is watching TV shows that make you laugh. Rosmarin goes on to say that he could see how childhood cartoons could help people with chronic-worry and anxiety. It’s not such a far stretch to think that the same principle could be applied to adult cartoons. Can you imagine how stressful Rick would be IRL? He’s literally the drunk guy who ruins every family gathering, but cartoon Rick is hilarious.
Adult cartoons are highly relatable
For all the laughs they induce, adult cartoons actually deal with a lot of “adulting” stress too. And somehow seeing that stress played out on screen helps me put my own worries in perspective.
Take Netflix’s BoJack Horseman for example. Off the bat, it’s a far-fetched universe: the main character is BoJack, a horse voiced by Will Arnett, with a human sidekick named Todd (voiced by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul). BoJack’s a washed-up actor from the ’90s plotting a comeback in Hollywoo. Nothing about this show is relatable if you take it at face value. But escaping into the show, you come across overarching themes of depression, sexuality, age-associated illnesses, unqualified celebrity politicians running for office, and learning how to navigate career vs. motherhood—stuff that somehow works in a cartoon world because it’s treated with the kind of levity we need right now. In Season 4, BoJack’s former manager—a rose-coloured cat named Princess Carolyn (voiced by Amy Sedaris)—struggles with infertility too. Somehow watching her story unfold made me feel just a little less anxious about the ticking of my own biological clock as a woman approaching 30.
As another example, shows like FX’s Archer, a series about an arrogant yet highly-skilled spy who takes on espionage with his inept team (with the exception of his on-again, off-again girlfriend—and equally competent spy—Lana) makes me completely forget I’m watching a cartoon. The more I lose myself in a plot, the less overwhelming my troubles begin to feel. Crude jokes, profanity, drug use, and hilarious dialogue paired with high-octane car chases/explosions/chic murder-mystery storylines are hard to resist. You can try, but eventually, you’ll submit to the madness and soon completely forget how some jerk cut you off on your drive home from work.
Your fave celeb is probs voicing a popular cartoon character
If you’re still not convinced, just watch one of the cartoons mentioned and play “Guess That Celebrity Voice!” It’s a one-player game I invented, but it’s even more fun with friends because, bragging rights.
It’s pretty fun once you realize it’s Alison Brie’s voice in BoJack Horseman playing Diane Nguyen, or Justin Long voicing Kevin Murphy in Netflix’s F is for Family. Did you know Arrested Development stars Jessica Walters and Jeffrey Tambor reunite in Archer? It’s a treat experiencing actors in this medium. We can’t depend on their facial expressions to understand the emotion they’re trying to get across, they have to convince us entirely through parlance, which is no easy feat.
If you still think cartoons aren’t for you—even after all of these reasons why they are 100—I guarantee any of these cartoons will be a gateway to a new TV addiction.
A few awesome adult cartoons to get you started:
Synopsis: Bob Belcher, along with his wife and three children, run their last hope of holding the family together, which happens to be Bob’s dream restaurant.
Find it on: Fox, Season 8 Premieres Sunday, October 1 At 7:30/8:30c
Synopsis: Fry, a pizza guy, is accidentally frozen in 1999 and thawed out New Year’s Eve 2999.
Find it on: Netflix Canada
Adventure Time (with Finn & Jake)
Synopsis: A human boy named Finn and his adoptive brother and best friend Jake the Dog, protect the citizens of the Land of Ooo from foes of various shapes and sizes.
Find it on: Cartoon Network, Mondays at 7pm ET/PT
Mike Tyson Mysteries
Synopsis: A comedy about retired boxing champion Mike Tyson, his smart adopted Asian-American daughter, a friendly if wimpy gentleman ghost, and a perverse mean-spirited talking pigeon solving weird mysteries together.
Find it on: Adult Swim, Netflix Canada
The Venture Bros.
Synopsis: The bizarre animated escapades of pseudo-heroic scientist Dr. Rusty Venture, his competent, high strung bodyguard, and his two over-enthusiastic sons.
Find it on: Adult Swim
Synopsis: Follows the misadventures of four irreverent grade-schoolers in the quiet, dysfunctional town of South Park, Colorado.
Find it on: Comedy Central, Much.com or CraveTV
Synopsis: The random escapades of Stan Smith, a conservative C.I.A. agent dealing with family life, and keeping America safe, all in the most absurd way possible.
Find it on: TBS, Netflix Canada
Synopsis: Based on the comic strip, Huey and Riley move away from the city and out to the suburbs with their irascible grandfather. Biting socio-political commentary ensues.
Find it on: Adult Swim, Netflix Canada