Comfortably dumb like children’s television, art collective Paper Rad’s Problem Solvers hides the smart stuff. But it’s in there. There’s irony, sure, but more: they open this 22-minute animated kids’ show with this disclaimer: “It’s more like how we remember TV from our childhood.”
I remember it the same way: deadly serious and hypnotic. Full of gentle hippies past their due dates (why were there so many hippies?) and dayglo fads, like the Trolls in “Give Pizza a Chance” and T-Bubbles’ clothes. The details have a queasy accuracy, like the redheaded hippie’s tuft of chest hair peeking from his tank top. Such nostalgia pervades “adult” animation, but if half the shows on Adult Swim bleed contempt for childhood, Problem Solvers uses the same sources to make something kids can enjoy. If I were 6, I wouldn’t get the quips, but I’d quote them all day.
And that’s one of Paper Rad’s concerns. For instance, Riviera, an “imaginary friend, but he’s real– REALLY real–” won’t shut up. Stuck with a mute duck, he fills the space with:
…this is the best day… of our lives! …forget it, man, I don’t have to place value on it… I’ll just say it, it’s like– it’s my favorite day and I’m not comparing it to other days…
Words fail him, but he won’t shut up. He’s trying to talk about something transcendent. Likewise, the stuff of childhood, at least this 80s detritus, fails to meet its viewers’ lives. That doesn’t mean it won’t infest and inform them, or that people won’t use it as props.
In my reading, that’s why Paper Rad transcends flat irony. Their characters, even the idiots, sense the ineffable. It’s not their fault their world’s full of pop. Just as the hippies mistook acid trips for spiritual insight, Problem Solvers hints at test pattern-as-mandala. The loops, in both the Groundhog Day story structure and cheap computer animation, underscore it. Problem Solvers could induce a trance state in consenting adults, but like Pokemon, it could cause seizures in thousands of kids.
Problem Solvers comes with The Ganzfeld #7, edition of 1000. After that you’re stuck with YouTube: