Dec. 21 – Nerds and Monsters – “Zanti-Clops”

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Original air date August 27, 2014 (how festive).

I was doing a lot of different things in the year 2014. It was a busy one, but one thing I was not doing was watching Canadian children’s animation. Which is why I had zero knowledge of the cartoon series Nerds and Monsters before today. Nerds and Monsters, from what I have read and the little I have seen, seems to be a show about four kids who have somehow become stranded on an island of monsters. The children are the nerds, though one of them is a jock, and the monsters are just monsters. The kids clash with the monsters since their culture is foreign to them and maybe some of the monsters want to eat them or something.

Nerds and Monsters ran for 40 episodes before wrapping-up in 2016. During its brief existence it won several Leo Awards and a Canadian Screen Award. It would seem it was a quality show based on those accolades, not that awards are necessarily the best way to measure the quality of a piece of art. The show aired in a variety of places outside of the United States, where I reside, though Hulu did pick it up eventually, though it no longer is shown there.

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This is not a show I ever really heard of, but it’s an interesting pairing.

Each episode of Nerds and Monsters comes in at a fairly typical 22 minutes without ads. Each episode is broken up into two roughly 11 minute shorts and it was during the show’s twentieth episode that a Christmas special was run. It’s called “Zanti-Clops,” and as you probably could have guessed, is about the monster version of the holiday with the Santa stand-in being a monstrous cyclops. The kids will learn about this holiday and have to judge it for themselves and surely some culture shock will take place that hopefully leads to laughs.

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Let me tell you a tale of a kid-devouring, poop leaving, magical being known as Zanti-Clops.

The episode begins with the leader of the monsters, Zarg (Brian Dobson), regaling the monster children with the tale of Zanti-Clops. He summons a small monster named Tiny Stink to sit on his knee as he begins his little story. Tiny Stink is clearly an homage to Tiny Tim for he’s missing a leg and has a crutch instead. Zanti-Clops is the monster version of Santa who enters your home and takes your unwanted junk. In return, he leaves the monster children with a pile of magical, green, dung which resembles the poop of Roger the alien from American Dad!, only green instead of gold. Monsters apparently prize dung, or at least the dung of Zanti-Clops, as this is a desirable outcome for them. The catch though is if they sneak a peek at the monster he’ll eat them in retaliation. Tiny Stink claims this is how he lost his leg when he glimpsed the monster’s shadow and he’s genuinely grateful to Zanti-Clops for only taking his leg. With the story over, Zarg barks at the kids to get them to scatter and it’s only now that I notice his festive hat is meant to resemble the magic poo.

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The main cast, as far as I know: (left to right) Becky, Lyle, Dudley, Irwin, and Stan.

On a beach, the human children are going about their evening. Becky (Tabitha St. Germain), the only girl in the group, is examining a bug with her magnifying glass until a tortoise eats it. She ends up breaking the magnifying glass and is heartbroken as a result. Lyle (Brian Drummond) a little monster kid, comes running over to share the tale of Zanti-Clops with the kids. They are surprisingly not grossed out by the inclusion of poop in the story and are really receptive to the idea. Irwin (Vincent Tong) has an action figure with a pair of busted legs he’d like to get rid of and Stan (Ty Olsson), the jock, would like to get rid of his football as it’s become deflated (he thinks the engine is busted).

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The only cartoon where kids literally get dumped on.

The only kid not onboard with this Zanti-Clops thing is Dudley (St. Germain). Dudley is apparently the holiday killjoy as he doesn’t believe in magical anything. He views the promise of death if Zanti-Clops is spotted as being rather convenient despite Lyle’s protests. His insistence on Zanti-Clops being a myth causes Lyle to cry and run away leaving the other children angry with him. He then details why he doesn’t believe in such nonsense as sometime ago he really wanted a specific protractor for Christmas. We’re shown a flashback of him doing lots of chores in order to make sure he was on the nice list, one of which involves him falling into a toilet only for his dad to come sit on it and apparently defecate upon his son. This show really likes poop jokes. When Christmas morning came, Dudley received many toys, but rather than get the metal protractor he wanted he instead received a plastic one – the worst thing ever!

He pulls out the device and waves it around as a symbol of what believing in magical things can do to you. The other kids are sympathetic, but  don’t allow it to dissuade them from participating in this holiday tradition. Dudley shouts out a warning as they run off and tries to snap the protractor for added emphasis, only he’s too weak so Stan does it for him.

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I know what I’m putting at the top of my Christmas list this year!

The next morning, they all awake to find their junk has been replaced with majestic piles of dung. They’re all really excited to have this unique dropping, and Lyle comes back to show off the dung necklace he fashioned using the poop from past visits from Zanti-Clops. Dudley is the only kid who did not receive anything, but he also may not have put his junk out for Zanti-Clops to take. He’s still skeptical and thinks Lyle just came into their rooms, stole their junk, and took a shit as thanks (my words, not his). Lyle doesn’t understand how Dudley could remain unconvinced and wants to prove to him Zanti-Clops is real. The only way Dudley will be convinced though is if Lyle takes him to the cave at the top of the island’s mountain where Zanti-Clops apparently lives.

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I’m not an advocate for bullying, but it wouldn’t bother me to see Dudley get punched.

Despite his fear of being devoured, Lyle agrees to take Dudley up the mountain. And he literally has to take him for Dudley just stands still with his arms folded across his chest. He rides atop Lyle’s head through a cactus patch and has to be pulled up the steeper part of the mountain via a rope tied around Lyle’s waist. Eventually they reach the cave at dusk and find it’s empty. Dudley is ready to gloat and lets Lyle know he’s more than happy to say “I told you so,” at the sight of the empty cave. As the two walk out, Lyle hears the unmistakable sound of pain-deer, the screaming creatures that haul the sleigh of Zanti-Clops. They spot the monster flying through the sky and realize they went to the wrong cave.

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He’s real! He’s really real!

Once they get to the right cave, Lyle is too scared to enter. The two see it’s full of bones and junk forcing Dudley to concede that Zanti-Clops is real. He’s not willing to concede that he’s magical though, and just thinks he’s some monster running a junk for poop scheme. For some reason, he demands they have their junk returned and goes running in to confront the monster. Zanti-Clops (Lee Tockar) sees him and moves on him fast. The monster grabs Dudley and is prepared to eat him until Lyle comes running in. He has his eyes closed so that he doesn’t see Zanti-Clops and explains to him that Dudley doesn’t believe in magical beings. Zanti-Clops encourages Lyle to open his eyes. He’s apparently nicer than we’ve been lead to believe.

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And he’s also a monster with a reputation to uphold.

Zanti-Clops thanks Lyle for believing in him, and then turns his attention back to Dudley. Despite all that has transpired, Dudley is as stubborn as ever and perhaps foolishly brave. He tells Zanti-Clops he thinks he’s just a criminal, and explains his past holiday grievance while waving his busted protractor around. Zanti-Clops happily takes it from him, as it’s now junk, and seems to lose interest in convincing the kid the world possesses magic in it. Instead, he tells them a fact of his own:  if they tell anyone they saw him he’ll come for them and eat them! That’s enough to get the two to run away screaming.

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Looks like the little jerk got his Christmas…I mean, Zanti-Clops wish after all.

Dudley and Lyle return to the beach and see the other kids. They’re all in awe of the fact that their junk was returned to them in perfect working order. Dudley is confused, but Lyle knows this is the work of Zanti-Clops. Irwin then gives Dudley a big present he found outside his cave. When Dudley opens it he tearfully pulls out the protractor he always wanted. He proclaims that he believes, and soon the kids see Zanti-Clops flying overhead. They shout out their thanks, but Zanti-Clops screams back that they saw him and now must be devoured. He swoops down in his sleigh and the kids run away in terror. Elsewhere, some monster children are singing in a circle a festive, Zanti-Clops song which is capped off when a massive pile of green poop drops into the center of their circle. The end.

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And more poop.

So this one is a bit gross. I would expect a monster version of Santa to possess some nastiness about him, but I wasn’t expecting him to leave shit behind for other kids. It feels like a very 90s sort of gag, especially in a post Ren & Stimpy world. Where as Ren & Stimpy were able to be both clever and gross, a monster Santa that literally just craps is hardly what I would consider clever. I also found it odd that his poop really looked like Roger’s and it’s hard to believe one wasn’t influenced by the other. There’s not much of a holiday message here, besides advocating for the belief in magical beings, but I get a sense that sentimentality wasn’t something this show desired to achieve.

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How can you not love this guy? Just look at all the fun he’s having!

Some of the stuff in this episode was fairly amusing though. The Stan character is comically dumb and most of his jokes don’t land, but a couple did get a smile out of me. I would have liked to see more of the monsters as the opening scene had promise, but after the concept of Zanti-Clops is introduced we basically leave the monsters behind. The pain-deer legitimately got a laugh out of me, though I was disappointed Zanti-Clops only got to have two of them. Dudley is an easy to dislike character, a know-it-all with a very smug attitude. He’s the kind of character you want to see get punched. He doesn’t really get any comeuppance though, just some momentary fright. He even gets what he wanted in the end. I would have preferred if the final gag in the episode was Dudley holding up his precious protractor only to get nailed by that massive pile of poo.

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He may not be Santa, but Zanti-Clops knows you’re supposed to fly past a moon at least once. He even doubles up on this by flying past the north star as well.

The plot may not have been too clever, and the jokes just okay, but the production values otherwise are actually really good. This one comes from Slap Happy Cartoons Inc. and it’s a really nice looking piece of animation. There is some flatness to the characters, but the color palette is wonderful and I mostly liked the designs of the monsters. Zarg, in particular, had a My Pet Monster vibe to him that I appreciated and Zanti-Clops was nice and ugly. By comparison, the humans were less interesting and mostly fit into old clichés. The only one I did enjoy was Dudley, mostly because they successfully made a child seem punchable, which is impressively awful. The voice cast is also really good and I genuinely enjoyed all of the performances present here.

Once upon a time you could have viewed this on Hulu, but no more. Fret not though as this entire series is free to stream on YouTube in nice quality. I suppose it’s not available for purchase and that’s why it’s so freely available. Or it could be because it has no broadcast contract, in particular in the US, so there’s no one to make a claim against it. If you like monsters and want something a touch gross, this is fine. It’s paired with a winter themed episode that is also quite disgusting so I’m guessing that was the show’s M.O. It’s short enough that it warrants a look even if it’s just curiosity bringing you in.


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