TV, Interrupted: Clerks The Animated Series Deserved At Least 37 More Episodes (In A Row)

(Welcome to TV, Interrupted, a series where the /Film team remembers, eulogizes, and makes a case for the revival of TV shows we loved that were canceled far too soon.)

In the modern era of television, animated sitcoms are nothing new. "The Simpsons" is one of the longest-running shows in television history and it inspired a number of similar shows like "Family Guy," "South Park," and "King of the Hill." After that, when a whole wave of shows like "Rick and Morty," "Bojack Horseman," and basically anything on Adult Swim started to get more weird and niche, audiences started consuming adult-oriented animation more than ever before. But somewhere in between, prolific independent filmmaker Kevin Smith, his View Askew Productions, and Miramax joined forces with Walt Disney Television Animation to create the studio's first (and so far only) adult animated series.

Based on the New Jersey native's 1994 breakout film "Clerks," Smith would return to the legendary convenience store known as Quick Stop once again in the year 2000 for the Disney-owned network ABC. This time, however, it would be in color, in prime time, and in the form of a cartoon. It even managed to nab a coveted commercial slot during that year's Super Bowl to promote the series premiere. 

Unfortunately, despite the buzz of Smith's filmography and the Big Game spots, "Clerks: The Animated Series" barely had the chance to get off the ground. But if some of the circumstances had played out a little differently, maybe the show could have at least gotten a full season instead of only airing two out of the six produced episodes before it was unceremoniously pulled from the line-up.

Why Clerks: The Animated Series was great

Like the original film, "Clerks: The Animated Series" follows disgruntled convenience store workers Dante and Randal as they navigate their mundane late twenty-something lives by discussing various corners of pop culture and trying to keep up with the antics of their ridiculous customers (like Jay and Silent Bob). However, since the show was airing on network television, Smith and company had to eliminate the excessive swearing, the rampant drug references, and the ornately vulgar anecdotes that had become so synonymous with the View Askewniverse movies like "Mallrats," "Chasing Amy," and "Dogma." 

Instead, the show took established tropes from television and put its own spin on them. For instance, the second episode is a clip show consisting of "flashbacks" despite only having one other episode to draw from. Then, in a parody of "Stand By Me," the episode ultimately turns out to be a story narrated by an elderly Jay that ends by revealing what became of his friends from this time in his life.

As a contemporary to "The Simpsons," "Family Guy," and "South Park," it certainly felt like Smith was doing his own version of those shows, except he had a few more restraints on him thanks to the more family-friendly network. Yet he still managed to take things a bit further than Matt Groening, Seth McFarlane, or the duo of Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Similar to Russian nesting dolls, "Clerks: The Animated Series" often contained a gag inside of a pop culture reference inside of a classic sitcom story. 

An example of this is casting Gilbert Gottfried as Patrick Swayze, who works at the pet store selling the monkey that Randal believes is patient zero for the Motaba virus. It's so absurd that it was on a whole other level that those other series weren't touching at the time. Just an onslaught of references that benefit from multiple viewings, this show was really ahead of its time; a similar approach could be found in acclaimed shows that would come along later, like "Robot Chicken" and "Community."

Why Clerks: The Animated Series was canceled

Dante and Randall's stint on TV was a little cursed to begin with. According to Consequence of Sound's definitive oral history of "Clerks: The Animated Series," this short-lived series rose from the ashes of another failed "Clerks" show. Back in 1995, writer Richard Day was working on a live-action sitcom based on Kevin Smith's labor of love that turned into his award-winning first film. 

That sitcom would eventually star comedian Jim Breuer instead of Jeff Anderson as Randal Graves and Andrew Lowery rather than Brian O'Halloran as Dante Hicks — but not Jay and Silent Bob, as Smith wasn't involved in the creation of this show whatsoever. When he tried to get involved, the filmmaker felt that the vision for this pilot was so far off base that he just got frustrated and walked away from it entirely. Smith would eventually use some of the ideas he pitched for the failed pilot on the animated series, such as the bit with Randal and the "Outbreak" monkey.

In the end, the "Clerks" cartoon didn't fare much better than the live-action attempt. First, "Clerks: The Animated Series" wasn't testing well among older audiences. )What a surprise that a show based on a movie that defined Generation X didn't appeal to boomers!) Then, it didn't really fit with anything else on ABC's lineup at the time. Finally, ABC decided to present the show out of order, similar to what Fox did with "Firefly." The network aired the fourth episode first, but aired the second episode as intended. However, since the second episode references the events of first episode quite a bit, it didn't make much sense. All that, paired with low ratings, spelled death for the Quick Stop clerks at the House of Mouse.

Unfinished business

While the show didn't have too many overarching storylines to be left hanging when the show was cancelled, there were still a few things that could have been explored further had "Clerks: The Animated Series" been given a proper chance. 

The first one would have to be Leonardo Leonardo. A new addition to Smith's extensive mythology created for this show, Leonardo Leonardo is a billionaire that returns to Dante and Randal's hometown to put their stores out of business and eventually enslave humanity. He opens up the Quicker Stop, the convenience store of the future that sells everything you could possibly need, much like a Target or Walmart. Originally, this character was modeled after "Die Hard" villain Hans Gruber because Smith wanted "Dogma" star Alan Rickman to voice Leonardo. However, when Rickman passed on the project due to his lack of desire to play that type of character again, the part went to Alec Baldwin.

Throughout the course of the six episodes, Leonardo's plan for world domination takes a back seat thanks to some tainted burritos and his company's little league team. But if the show went on, we could've gotten more silly shenanigans, potentially between Mr. Leonardo and the King of Canada. Instead, Baldwin moved on to "30 Rock" as Jack Donaghy, who is someone that Leonardo Leonardo probably would have gotten along with very well.

Also, it took six episodes, but another View Askewniverse resident finally made a cameo on the show. Though the character doesn't appear onscreen, Lisa Ann Spoonauer's voice can be heard as she reprised her role of Caitlin Bree, Dante's ex-girlfriend who was ready to leave her Asian design major finance to date Dante again until she accidentally had sex with a dead man in the darkened Quick Stop bathroom. With more chapters added to the Jersey Trilogy (which contains more than three movies) between 1994 and 2000, there was potential to have the likes of Jason Lee's Brodie Bruce from "Mallrats," Holden McNeil as played by Ben Affleck from "Chasing Amy," or maybe even the legendary Stan Lee set foot in the Quick Stop to visit Dante and Randal on network TV.

Will Clerks: The Animated Series ever return?

As the saying goes, nothing can kill the Grimace. Likewise, it seems like you can't kill Kevin Smith's "Clerks" either. After the cartoon was cancelled on ABC, the show found new life and a cult following on DVD. That led to all six episodes airing on Comedy Central in 2002 before popping up on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim and the El Rey Network for special occasions. View Askew also produced a number of figurines known as Inaction Figures, which recreated the beloved characters of Smith's films in the style of "Clerks: The Animated Series."

But in terms of the show making a full on comeback, there's a few complications. First, there's the matter of ownership. Disney owns "Clerks: The Animated Series," not Smith. In theory, they could all get the band back together on Hulu and pick up where they left off (if Disney is on board). And with programming like "M.O.D.O.K.," "Archer," and "Bob's Burgers" all available on Hulu, the Quick Stop gang could let loose a little bit and fit right in. If Disney isn't interested, then Smith would be able to use the characters, but not in the same animation style, which is how "Jay & Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie" came together in 2013.

The other issue is getting everyone to play nice. On the DVD commentary for the sixth episode of "Clerks: The Animated Series,' Smith mentioned his intentions to make a theatrical sequel for the show titled "Clerks: Sell Out." The idea was that Dante and Randal would make a movie based on their lives at the Quick Stop, which is how the original film came together in real life. Due to disagreements between Miramax, the Weinsteins, and Disney, the chances of this actually coming together seemed slim. 

Then the pandemic happened. Smith, producer Scott Mosier, and series co-creator David Mandel (of "Seinfeld" and "Veep" fame) all mentioned in the oral history how the landscape of the entertainment industry in 2020 might be the perfect time to bring the show back. With everyone in lockdown, studios starving for content, and the fact that creating an animated series remotely was 100% feasible, it probably wouldn't have been a huge ask if the team had called up Disney executives and brought it up.

And finally, there's the story. While it's hard to say whether those meetings actually took place, we do know that a live-action "Clerks III" did end up coming together during the pandemic when restrictions started to lift a little bit and filmmakers could safely return to sets. We also know that Smith repurposed the plot from "Clerks: Sell Out" and incorporated it into his upcoming threequel. 

But just because that one storyline is off the table, it doesn't mean that the team doesn't have more ideas for a "Clerks: The Animated Series" sequel if the opportunity arises. During the oral history they even shared a possible plotline where Dante and Randal buy the car from "Knight Rider" and it decides to "Single White Female" one of them by taking over their life.

Basically, it sounds like a revival could very well happen in the future. At the very least, it's on the creators' minds. My guess is that we could have a better idea of whether or not Disney is into that revival after "Clerks III" comes out. If it's successful, the Mouse might have a harder time saying no. So at this point, we just do our best to patiently wait and see what happens when the latest chapter of "Clerks" is open for business (presumably at some point in 2022 or 2023).