The Darkest Animation: Monkey Dust
With animated comedies on the ascent, Emma O'Brien looks back at Monkey Dust, one of the genre's most overlooked gems
For a few years, adult animated comedy centred around one debate. A debate that would descend into bitter acrimony about precisely when The Simpsons lost it; or when South Park became too self-regarding to swallow. Animation seemed drawn only for sitcoms too gratuitously gross or filthy to get on TV otherwise. Across the pond, the Family Guy DVD sales were raising a few network eyebrows. But, hidden in the depths of BBC Three was a deep black gem that didn't trouble itself with talking animals or fart jokes.
Monkey Dust first screened in 2003. It ran for three series, notching up 18 episodes before the death of co-creator Harry Thompson brought it to a halt in 2005. Whispers online suggest that due to rights issues only one series is available on DVD. For the rest, we must thank the dark arts for YouTube.
A satirical sketch show, Monkey Dust tends less towards the nauseatingly scatological territory of the likes of Drawn Together or Ren and Stimpy. Instead, it heads straight for pitch black social commentary. Some of which is sharp enough to cut more than a decade later.
The sketches were animated by several different companies in notably different styles, but somehow this suits its tone. The centerpiece of the whole affair is the amorphous and blood splattered tale of Ivan Dobsky. He's a simple-minded Carlisle lad convicted, in the 1970s, of the infamous Meat Safe Murders. Only, he never did it, as he tells us through three series, and is released on DNA evidence.
Dobsky struggles to understand the world he's now in and seeks to return to the comfort of his cell by dint of several nasty murders. One of which includes DJ and presenter Stuart Maconie, seemingly in response to his anodyne appearances on nostalgia clip shows, which were much like pubic lice on TV at the time.
Storylines featuring other characters are no less unyielding. There's Clive Pringle, who has some explaining to do. His wife waits every night to hear him tell of where he's been since the office closed, or since last Wednesday, or since the weekend. His reported adventures take in the plots of pop culture cornerstones such as Hotel California by the Eagles and Humpty Dumpty before she extracts the shameful truth: he was "getting tag fucked in a pub toilet" and "spit roasting a hooker with your dad".
Elsewhere, there's often a deep level of emotional depth in the madness. For instance, there's Little Timmy, dropped off for an access visit. In a recurring theme, his dad is so painfully desperate for the visit to go well that the little boy's rejection sees him leaving the room – "just for a minute" – and taking his own life. Almost unbearably, once alone, Timmy breaks down and reveals that he misses his dad too. On one heart-rending occasion asking "can I come and live with you instead?" as blood pools slowly under the bathroom door.
Another theme throughout the series, because it was the nation’s major preoccupation at the time, is paedophilia and child murder. Evidently displeased with the tone of the national press, the writers give snapshots of press conferences seeking Daisy Harris, a teenage girl murdered by her unhinged stepfather, who unravels in public as the police cheerfully appeal for sightings of 'any local nutters'.
Locals online, trying to groom teenage girls to meet them at the park, are thwarted by the discovery that they've been grooming another paedophile. And a mother makes a booming media career off the back of her daughter's disappearance. So much so that when the girl turns up tearful and full of remorse, her mum pays her to go away again.
More mindful of the hands she may have fallen into is the Paedofinder General. He appears as an apparition in a witch hat to condemn and execute suspected paedophiles on scant evidence. Such as when he decries a woman for forcing a naked baby through her genitals "for your own sick amusement". She explains, to no avail, that this is how all babies are born.
Things often took an even weirder turn though. Such as when it transpires that Dobsky's beloved space hopper, Mr. Hoppy, is not only sentient but a terrifying psychopath. Hoppy goads his naive prey into increasingly bloodthirsty carnage. He becomes so jealous of Dobsky's pen-pal bride he pushes him into slaughtering her. This comes after the blending of their two selves at the conclusion of the first series, which sees Dobsky murdering all the prison staff he can lay his hands on, melding their corpses into a festering twin of Mr. Hoppy before riding off in the sunset as Pulp plays in the background. Try sticking Sunrise on a yoga playlist after that.
The final series sees a benefit concert held to secure Dobsky's release. It features the Manics and Billy Bragg, who even compose The Ballad of Ivan Dobksy (we must assume Nicky Wire had a good documentary on SkyPlanner that night). The night comes to a problematic end when he decapitates both guests of honour: Nelson Mandela ("very bad, Ivan") and Bono ("well, on the other hand...").
From the vantage point of a decade later, some of the reference points can seem somewhat dated. It's hard to remember now just how stupid with fear the tabloids were over child abuse. This may be because one such tabloid has since been shut down for hacking dead children's phones. But, the image-obsessed company rebranding anything they can seem much darker, in hindsight when it rebrands cancer as 'Closure'. Especially given the youthful demise of its co-creator from an aggressive and rapid lung tumour.
No social commentary is ever perfect. The general themes of human depravity and urban decay occasionally lean towards a clichéd modern-life-is-rubbish angle. The feeling that it's saying 'urgh, SOCIETY!' is off-putting for some on its first airing, making Monkey Dust appear too smug to get into. But, the bottom line here is that nowhere else would they have dared in 2004, or even now, to end an episode with an about-to-be-lynched paedophile looking directly at you, while observing calmly: "it's a fair cop, I do quite fancy my 14-year-old niece".
Noose tugged, credits roll. Sterling work, lads.