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Adult Swim’s Birdgirl: Why You Should Be Watching the Harvey Birdman Spin-off

Birdgirl just came out with a second season, and you should definitely watch it. Last year, Adult Swim created a spin-off of one of their oldest and most successful shows, Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law.

The old series took an even older Hanna-Barbera superhero and put him behind a desk at a law firm filled with all of his old friends and enemies. Mr. Birdman’s law firm was called Sebben & Sebben, owned and run by Phil Ken Sebben – the eyepatch-wearing, mysterious government agent Falcon 7 from the ’60s cartoon. It’s worth noting that the role of Phil Ken Sebben was one of Stephen Colbert’s first (and most hilarious) acting jobs in the entertainment industry.

Birdgirl is actually Judy Ken Sebben, Phil’s daughter and, in the old Adult Swim show, Harvey Birdman’s spunky assistant. In her classic role of nearly carrying the entire law firm while the male characters either goofed around or were too emotional to do the job, she was an ironic parody of the strong female lead in the early 2000s. When Stephen Colbert left the show for bigger and better things, the series went downhill quickly and was canceled in the next season.

Now Birdgirl has a chance to carry the whole series in more than just a parodic way, and you should definitely check it out.

Birdgirl starts at the death of Phil Ken Sebben, who really was the star of the old show, even more so than Birdman. It was a running gag in Harvey Birdman that Phil never knew that his daughter was actually Birdgirl. She would go on these insane internal monologues about how she could never reveal her true identity. These might have seemed normal, being used for exposition in the ’60s, but in Harvey Birdman, they were crafted to make Birdgirl’s character hysterically neurotic. The Birdgirl series brings these moments back as Birdgirl continues her adventures with her best friend, Meredith the Mindtaker.

Related: The Funniest Adult Swim Shows, Ranked

Meredith is obviously meant to be somehow related to Mentok, the judge/villain from the old show. Where Mentok would regularly read and control minds and brag about the artistry of his mind-taking technique (“mind-takery”), Meredith has a mind-taking consent form, which appears before a victim when Meredith uses her psychic powers. Where Mentok was a supervillain playing with his courtroom attendees like dolls, Meredith is a just super-powerful woman living an ironically mundane life and trying to make the best of it. Both characters are equally absurd, and Meredith’s role as Birdgirl’s friend and psychic therapist creates a dynamic for the main character that is more meaningful than in the old Harvey Birdman show.

But the absurdity of the old show continues through just about every new character. While using slightly updated techniques, the animation style is still reminiscent of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon and stays true to the parody spirit of the series. The secondary characters still perform insane stunts that seemingly come from nowhere. In the second episode, a woman who has only had a few lines since then but has been nicknamed “Strongarm,” rips a revolving door out of a wall and throws it up to the second floor. She does this for reasons that make sense in the plot, but the whole thing still comes off as completely insane.

Aside from some serious meta-nostalgia, because in reality, the show is a spin-off of a spin-off of a ’60s cartoon parody, the show offers a lot more than Harvey Birdman did. The old show was based entirely on abstract craziness, which was great, but eventually became too big of a crutch for the series.

Stephen Colbert’s character became the source of all the comedy and loose plot points the show had, and when he left, the show died almost immediately. It tried to solve the problem of bringing in another voice actor and making a joke out of it, but really, Stephen Colbert was the heart of the show. The Birdgirl series even revolves more closely around his character than it does even acknowledge Harvey Birdman.

Related: Why Adult Swim’s Ninja Kamui Is Expected to Be an Impressive Anime Series

When Birdgirl inherits the Sebben & Sebben company (which has been rebranded from a law firm into a company that does literally anything), Judy Ken Sebben is offended and saddened because her father never really knew that she was Birdgirl. He just had an enormous and hilariously creepy crush on Birdgirl. But with Judy receiving the majority of the shares of the company she ends up crafting a way to take control as her alter ego. And it’s this kind of actual conflict that makes the show good on its own merits.

Where Harvey Birdman had a meaningless court case that substituted for a narrative, Birdgirl has characters that have feelings and depth, which gives the show real stakes to deal with. It isn’t just a spin-off of the show you remember. It isn’t even just a female reboot of an old series. It’s a brand-new show that coopts an old aesthetic to do something genuinely creative.



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