If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Being a child of the 90s, I grew up with some great shows. While most of them had little influence on me, some of them stood out and help shaped my world views and interests. One such show is none other than ReBoot.
ReBoot is about the world inside your computer. Everything has a different representation in the show. Computer viruses are seen as super villains; anti-virus programs are shown as a kind of super police force; sections of a hard drive are shown as town districts based on what kind of data is associated with it; and even the data itself are represented by little blocky or orb creatures known as Binomes. The more complicated functions of the computer, such as the COMMAND.COM and spam, take on unique characteristics of their own. Video games are represented by purple game cubes that the characters have to enter and prevent the user/player from winning in order to save their home from deletion. Why us winning the game means deletion of data? I don’t know, but I do wonder if Nintendo ripped off this series by calling one of their systems a Game Cube as well.
Airing in 1994, ReBoot was the first Saturday Morning CGI show to air weekly on television. During this time, Pixar was still a software company and not the heavy-hitting animation studio is became today. Their short, Luxo Jr. paved the way for ReBoot to be made. Luxo Jr. himself is even given a cameo in the show as a Founders Statue, with a plaque that reads “JL Senior.” (See? Even they knew Lasseter was going to be big back then.) And just so you know where we are on the timeline, this show debuted a full year before Toy Story! While it’s not fair to compare ReBoot to any of the Pixar films, it should be worth noting that they had to pop out these episodes on a television budget and keep it on a regular schedule. So as dated as some of the earlier episodes may be as far as animation and even graphics, the fact that they were learning the medium as they were producing the show can be—and often is—used to forgive the quality of it.
Thankfully, as the show went on, the quality improved as well. The stories got more attention, with several foreshadowing elements thrown in that help set up stories that they had planned for later seasons. The overall tone of the series also got darker as the virus take-over began to spread throughout the computer system it was showing us. Characters go to war, grow up, and die. You get attached to certain characters for one reason or another, and when the shit hits the fan, you begin to worry for their safety and their future. This may be taking place inside of a computer, but who hasn’t become attached to their computer after using it for so many years?
The show had a surprising influence on me that I didn’t realize until I watched the show again now that it is on DVD. The episode titled “Painted Windows” would end up being the driving force behind my interest and use of Photoshop. In that episode, a virus named Hexadecimal hacks into the system and begins messing around with the on-board Paint program in ways that reference how Photoshop worked at that time. Later on in the series, they introduce the internet and even teach the viewer in a very clever way how a firewall works. Over time, this entire episode would be the starting point for my interest in technology in general.
As with most shows I grew up with, revisiting them also opened my eyes to a surprisingly large number of adult jokes in the series. Most of them are computer puns, such as software pirates being actual pirates or the word ASCII being used in place of the non-cartoon-friendly world ass. Others I didn’t get until I was exposed to what they were referencing, such as the episodes where they devote an entire section to Evil Dead and Mad Max. Hell, one of their episodes in season 3 opens parodying James Bond! And in another, they parody the X-Files, even going as far as to get Gillian Anderson to voice her parody character Data Nully! And to think, when I first saw that episode, I didn’t like it and thought it was boring.
Unfortunately, the show was cancelled in 2001 after they introduced a new threat to the system in the form of a Trojan Horse Virus (think Mystique, but with the ability to corrupt and enslave anyone she touches), and the final episode was left with an unresolved cliff hanger ending. They recently tied up that loose end with an online comic, but there was something missing from that resolution that left me unsatisfied with what they did with the series.
With the rumor that there may be a ReBoot movie coming out in the next few years, Shout! Factory has released the entire series out on DVD. Currently available are two versions. You can buy Seasons 1 & 2 in their own box set or you can buy the entire series in The Definitive MainFrame Edition. I recommend the later, because the Season 3 & 4 box set comes with it. If you are a fan of bonus features, then you will definitely want the complete box set.
Each paired season comes with four DVDs, eight in total. The slim cases have an episode guide complete with the date they originally aired to give you an idea of when in technological history these shows fall. The first half features audio commentary from the creators and producers explaining humble origins of ReBoot. The second half features commentary from the voice actors. Both of these have nothing to do with the episodes they play over, so listening to these are designed for the hardcore fans or those generally interested in going into TV animation or voice acting.
The complete collection includes an extra bonus disc with three more features on it. Again, this is only available on the Definitive MainFrame Edition. The three features included are a promotion reel showing early animation and concept art that the producers shopped around to get funding for the show, a Making Of feature that was produced after their first season ended showing behind-the-scenes interviews, and an interview with co-creator Gavin Blair as he looks back on the series 10 years after its last episode aired.
I’m a bit bias when it comes to this series. I recognize its faults, but surprisingly I don’t care. The series means a lot to me, as it is responsible for one of my core interests. It also help me understand certain technological events as they happened, such as the birth of the internet and what it meant to be hacked. I don’t regret buying this box set at all.
BUY ReBoot: The Definitive MainFrame Edition DIRECT FROM Shout! Factory