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Saturday Mornings, 2.0

The Dragon Prince - characters

My fondest childhood memories involve Saturday morning cartoons. As a young boy in the 80’s, there was no better time of the week. The earlier I could wake up, the sooner I could get started. Cartoons aired as early as 6 a.m. and stretched on ‘til noon—that is, unless the Olympics interrupted.

I had a routine I’m sure many of you are familiar with: I’d roll out of bed and into the kitchen to prepare a ginormous bowl of Cap’n Crunch or Lucky Charms, then plop in front of the television for hours. This was what binging was, back then. It wasn’t something that just happened because Netflix auto-fed you the next episode; it was something you planned all week for.

Before streaming took over the world, shows came on at predetermined, weekly intervals. You could designate your watch-list with a handy publication called TV Guide. I loved TV Guide. With anticipation worthy of salivation, I’d mark the cartoons I wanted to watch in pencil the night before, ensuring I wouldn’t miss a beat by having to channel surf between shows. When the half-hour struck, I’d launch from my folded floor pillow to physically change the channel and readjust the rabbit ears as quickly as possible. Hard work required a game plan.

But oh, those decisions! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Muppet Babies? The Transformers or Dungeons & Dragons? InHumanoids or TranZor Z? Unless you or your dad could decipher the Mensa puzzle of watching one channel while recording another channel with the VCR, tough choices had to be made. Life before TiVo, for those of us who even remember TiVo, was a world of compromise and sacrifice.

I was at the top of my game in the Fourth Grade. I’d taken cartoon efficiency to a whole new level. Rather than trekking out to the TV, I’d bring the TV to me. My dad had this portable black and white television/radio contraption, the square screen no larger than five inches across. My alarm would go off, prompting me to pop up in bed and pop on the toons. The marked-up TV Guide was already placed on my nightstand, the bowl of Lucky Charms was prepared during the first commercial break. Every so often, I’d find a stale marshmallow beneath the sheets.

That micro-TV would often find itself in our Country Squire on Saturday mornings, powered by an orange extension cord siphoning power from the kitchen. Friday nights, my brother and our friends would crash in sleeping bags in the old, dilapidated station wagon parked in our carport and wake up to cartoons. Sure, we’d develop kinks in our necks and be a bit on the groggy side, but it was worth it. Our favorite show was Laff-A-Lympics, a brilliant Hannah Barbara production that grouped all their characters into three sports teams and pitted them against each other. Yogi Bear verses Scooby Doo at white water rafting, for instance—much more entertaining than those actual Olympics. Best of all, you never knew which team was going to win! My friend John once cheered the Yogi Yahooeys so vociferously, he lost a sock—it landed in his bowl of Froot Loops, along with his foot. And while this may go without saying, he finished the Froot Loops anyway.

I miss those days, and I have decided to reclaim them.

I have reinvested in cartoons. Not just animated movies or mainstream affairs, but actual cartoons. Having recently been introduced to Avatar: The Last Airbender, I had little choice in the matter. I mean, have you seen this thing? This undeniable work of art? This inarguable masterpiece? I’m sorry, but 80’s nostalgia not withstanding, these new toons pummel our old toons’ butts.

Need further proof? The Dragon Prince. A celebration of diversity, a masterstroke of character development, a thematically blended story of forgiveness, redemption, and love. Laugh, cry, cheer, repeat. If Game of Thrones, for all its glorious attributes, left a bad taste in your mouth, wash it out with this elixir. I have never been more entertained. And it just got renewed! For four more seasons. Because renewing it for a mere three more seasons would be insane.

But the indisputable quality of these new cartoons is only half of my rediscovery. To really set the tone? I intentionally limit my cartoons to weekend mornings. My Lucky Charms have adulted into Greek yogurt and coffee, but the feeling is the same, the thrill is the same, the reward is the same. It is the reward of waiting.

In a world where media is bingeable and ubiquitous, many of us have lost touch with the inherent payoffs of patience and anticipation. It isn’t fair to claim that everything was better in the olden days—if I did that, I never would have discovered these new cartoons. I’d still be watching TranZor Z. But that’s not to say we can’t reapply what we valued about the past to the present. We can do both.

If the idea of reigniting your childhood spark appeals to you, do yourself a favor and watch The Dragon Prince. And if you’re really feeling it, invite a friend to spend the night with you in an old station wagon and watch it when you wake up the next morning with kinks in your necks.

But watch it on your iPad, not on a five-inch, black and white, analog TV. Because that would be insane.

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