Written by M. K. Brown
Starring (voice): Julie Payne
In 1987, Fox started its foray into network television. It was a bold move: there hadn’t been a fourth broadcast network since Dumont died in 1956. So they had to pick carefully because they couldn’t afford to lose.
One idea was to give a comedy show to a British comedian, Tracey Ullman. Ullman had some different ideas for the show, most notably to create short animated cartoons for the transition into commercials. They hired two off-beat cartoonists and animated a series of short adventures based on their ideas. Of course, everyone now knows how one of them worked out: The Simpsons. This is about the other one: Dr. N!Godatu.
The episodes were the creation of M. K. Brown*. Brown was a fixture in the National Lampoon of the 70s, doing “Aunt Mary’s Kitechen” and various one-off strips. She had a very distinct style and sensibility. Her comic strips were more surreal than funny, but they always worked.
In the cartoon, Dr. Janice N!Godatu** was a cheery doctor who would talk to the audience about her daily life.
The actual episodes ran a minute or two, cut into even smaller segments. Janice would go about some mundane activity and things seemed to come out of the blue. Julie Payne voiced the character with a plenty of friendly warmth, especially as strange things happened.
I watched the Tracy Ullman Show from the start, and I recognized Brown’s style at once.
There were a half dozen episodes. By the second season, Dr. N!Godatu was dropped in favor of the Simpsons. It’s not surprising: The bits were just too strange to become a cultural phenomenon. People were were left scratching their heads instead of laughing.
Still, if you liked the weirdness, it was great TV.
*Married to fellow cartoonist B. Kliban.
**The ! was pronounced as a click. It’s a sound used by some languages in Namibia and South Africa.