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Remembering ‘Mission Hill’ – Hipster Culture Before Hipster Culture

Do you remember Mission Hill? It’s ok if you don’t. You’re not alone. Most people don’t. It could be that you’re just not familiar with the name. In recent years I’ve learned that people know of Mission Hill but they just don’t remember the name.

Mission Hill was an animated show that lasted one, 13-episode season. It wasn’t a standard season. We didn’t get 13 straight weeks of Mission Hill. It debuted in September 1999 on the duba-duba-duba-ya-B. Yes, the WB. From the Fall of ’99 until July of 2000 six more episodes would air on WB. Of those seven total episodes to air on WB only four would air in successive weeks.

Let’s break that down, shall we?

The pilot aired on September 24, 1999. That was a Friday. The second episode to air didn’t do so until two weeks later on October 8, 1999. That’s not so bad. The first episode was just the pilot after all. They didn’t know how it would do. Surely that third episode aired October 15, right? No. Not. Even. Close.

The third episode of Mission Hill hit the airwaves on June 9, 2000. This was still a Friday but it was eight months later. 35 weeks. 245 days. Let’s give the WB the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they were gearing up for a big summer push? Nope. Instead of airing episode four the following week, it didn’t air until June 25. This was a Sunday. The final three episodes to air on WB would air the following three weeks concluding on July 16, 2000. And like that WB was done with the show.

To recap WB only aired seven episodes of Mission Hill. The first three episodes aired on Fridays with no two episodes airing on back-to-back weeks and an eight month gap between episode two and three. I won’t even touch base on the lineups and shows Mission Hill was paired with. In short, WB set Mission Hill up to fail.

Mission Hill 4

How amazing are these colors?

A 13 year-old Chris Coffel watched that pilot episode and loved it. I thought it was hilarious, even though I didn’t get all the humor at the time. Somehow, someway it spoke to me. One episode in and I knew the show. It didn’t hurt that the look of the show has a wonderful comic book quality. The color palette was so vibrant and full of life. I would later learn that signature came courtesy of Lauren, excuse me, Oscar nominated Lauren MacMullan.

At this point, if you haven’t seen or heard of Mission Hill, you’re probably wondering what the hell the show was about. Here’s the amazing synopsis you’ll find on IMDB:

The misadventures of a group of disparate roommates who live in a hip neighborhood in a major city.

That’s somewhat accurate, I suppose, but there’s a lot more to it. The main focus of the show is Andy French. Andy is a 24 year-old would-be cartoonist. He grew up in the suburbs, went off to college (Borchmore Caveman!) and now he lives in a hip loft, in a cool downtown neighborhood. He works dead-end jobs trying to figure out what he wants to do with life. He’s a slacker and aimless, but he’s a super cool dude who means well.

Living with Andy is his best friend, Jim Kuback. Jim is the coolest of the cool. He’s a bit eccentric but very laidback. He just wants to head to the roof and smoke some pot. Also living with Andy is Posey Tyler. Posey would be best described as Phoebe Buffay if she lived in Portland instead of New York. She may seem ditzy but is actually rather smart and very much into spirituality and living an organic lifestyle.

Andy’s life takes a turn upside down when his parents trick him into letting his 17 year-old brother Kevin move into the loft. Kevin is an extreme nerd and very much a goody-goody. The show’s pitch notes actually describe him with the phrase “like that brother in Welcome to the Dollhouse,” which is pretty spot on. Kevin is kind of annoying at times but so relatable because he’s just a high school kid trying to fit in.

Jumping back to those first seven episodes that aired on WB – I don’t know if I watched all seven on WB or not, but I definitely watched at least three because I remember them vividly. Like I said earlier, the pilot spoke to me. Not just because it’s this cool cartoon that has adult humor (although at 13 that was assuredly part of it) but because it’s an incredibly well written pilot.

All of the information I provided above you get from the pilot and then some. The magic is that it’s not in that pilot-y way in which characters are being force-fed at you, each one screaming the character archetype that they’ll represent. Everything unfolds in such a natural manner. To this day it’s the best pilot I have ever seen. The only thing that comes close is Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire but that’s not a fair comparison because The Simpsons were already established thanks to their earlier shorts. When the Mission Hill pilot aired it was something brand new.

The next episode to stick with me from that original run was “Kevin’s Problem (or Porno for Pyro),” which was the second to air. In this episode Kevin accidentally sets fire to a the local Mission Hill Market while trying to cover-up the fact that he was looking at a porno mag and happened to get caught masturbating by one of the high school bullies. Let me tell you, to a 13 year-old, just the word masturbating is the funniest thing, so you can imagine how hysterical I found this episode to be.

Since watching this episode I’ve never been able to walk into a little market or liquor store that carries porn behind the counter without laughing. This has happened at a mom and pop shop before right? Some young teenager has to watch the store for a couple hours for his parents and decides to sneak to the restroom for just a little bit? I bet it’s happened. Yeah, I bet it’s happened.

Mission Hill 3

Jim has a troll doll.

The last episode I distinctly remember watching on WB was “Andy Vs. The Real World (or The Big-Ass Viacom Lawsuit).” In this episode Andy goes on the Real World, which I suppose is obvious from the title. The beauty of this episode is that it basically mocks reality TV and it aired in June of 2000. This was still well before the reality TV boom exploded all over TV sets all across the world. Sure there was some, like the Real World, but nothing like today. Pretty forward thinking stuff.

Most importantly, “Andy Vs. The Real World” gave us this gem:

Andy Real World

Unfortunately this is the best picture I could find, but hilarious, right?

The show was wildly ahead of its time. If you watch the show today you’ll likely walk away and describe it using the phrase “hipster culture.” If you said that back in 1999 most people wouldn’t know what in the world you were talking about. Back then the word hipster was still more likely to be associated with Jack Kerouac, the beatnik generation and maybe Roger Corman’s dark satirical masterpiece, A Bucket of Blood. And the show had a gay couple. Like an actual gay couple. Not two stereotypes of two extremely flamboyant guys either. This was a gay couple that felt very real. They had the same issues that any other couple had, they were just gay. Oh and one of them was based on Lawrence Tierney. You don’t see gay couples this well written on TV now and you sure as hell didn’t see them in 1999.

Two years after the show was given the Old Yeller treatment by WB, it would be resurrected by Adult Swim. Adult Swim would go on to air all 13-prodcued episodes and repeat them quite frequently from what I hear. I actually didn’t watch the show once on Adult Swim. Lots of other people did though and it picked up a bit of a cult following. It would be another three years before I became reacquainted with the show once more.

On November 29, 2005 Mission Hill would re-enter my life. At this point I was 19 and this show that I already loved from those few WB episodes would become arguably my favorite show of all time. I remember the date because that’s the date the DVD set of the complete series was released. And the reason I know I picked this up on the release date is because I used to go to Zia Records on 19th Ave & Indian School every Monday night at about 11:30 PM. At midnight Zia would set out the new releases and quickly snatch up whatever interested me. On this particular night they set out Mission Hill.

It immediately caught my eye – not just because of the beautiful, vivid colors, but because I remembered the show! It was that show that I watched years ago that just disappeared one day! Once I actually picked up the DVD I saw something else – a sticker with the names Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein and some type of spiel about how they were showrunners on The Simpsons at one point. Hey, you don’t have to tell me who Bill and Josh are sticker, I’m well aware.

If you had told me the names Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein when I was 13 and first seeing Mission Hill I would have given you that look Portlanders give you when they find out you’re not vegan. At 13, those names meant nothing, but now at 19? They meant everything. By this time The Simpsons had already released six seasons worth of DVDs. Because of those DVDs I now knew the names of my favorite writers and Bill & Josh are easily my favorites (though to be fair, Mike Scully ain’t that far behind!). Not only did they write my favorite episodes, they provided commentary tracks for those episodes (roughly 10 by November of 2005).

Not only did the DVDs let me know the names of the writers, the commentary tracks introduced me to them. Every new commentary provided more insight into the episodes but also revealed more about the writers. In way that I’m sure most Simpsons’ nerds can relate to, I now felt like I knew the writers. Owning Mission Hill on DVD would allow me to watch the rest of the series but in a weird way catch up with old friends. And watch the series I did. Over and over again, including the few commentary tracks that was included.

Despite being unceremoniously swept under the rug, Mission Hill proved to be a great influence on me. The show, and really just Bill & Josh, helped shape me into the writer I am today. In fact the first spec (and honestly only spec) script I wrote was a Mission Hill script. Being the horror fan I am it of course centered on Halloween. In every other script I’ve written since, and it’s a lot despite none of them going anywhere, the work of Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein has played some kind of role.

So why write about this now? A number of reasons actually.

For starters, any time you can write about something you love, you should. Provided you love to write of course. Fortunately I do and I love Mission Hill so it was only natural for me to finally write a lot of words about it. Maybe doing so will encourage some new people to seek the show out. You really should. The DVDs are still available, or honestly, you can watch every episode on YouTube. I’d normally advocate for buying the DVDs but I’m pretty certain Bill & Josh don’t get a penny, so go ahead and watch away on YouTube.

Another reason is that in the Fall of 2014 Mission Hill made a resurgence of sorts. Oakley noticed a lot of people talking about the show on Twitter and it caused him to create an official Mission Hill Twitter account (@MissionHillTV). Being the annoying fanboy I am, I somehow convinced Bill to let me assist in the running of that account. I even manage to get Bill to read my spec script. He said he liked it, I think he was just being generous.

In running the account I see new people every day talking about the show. As I said up top, they don’t always seem to remember the name, but I’m there to remind them. It’s pretty cool that a show that got the shaft has managed to stick around in some fashion or another for so long. It’s even inspirational in a way.

A few months back Bill & Josh even managed to get merchandising rights from the WB. Now, for the first time ever, some 16 years after the show was cancelled, you can buy official Mission Hill merchandise. And you should absolutely buy it. There’s some great stuff out there and more down the pike (up the pike?).

Perhaps if there’s enough interest the show will make some type of a comeback. It couldn’t go the Kickstarter route if that’s what you’re thinking. The show wasn’t cheap to make because it was of great quality. The animation was superb and the cast included the likes of Wallace Langham, Scott Menville, Brian Posehn, Nick Jameson, Tom Kenny, Jane Weidlin, Tress McNeille and a whole lot more. They even got Jennifer Jason Leigh to guest star as a character named Weirdie. So if the show was going to come back as a show it would need to do so with network support (Amazon, Netflix, get to it!). There’s no point in making the show if it’s not the same quality as before. Old shows are coming back all the time these days, so maybe it happens.

Maybe it gets a rebirth as a comic book. It would be a natural fit given the look and style the show already has. It would also allow for some interesting flexibility in terms of storytelling. Honestly though, the odds of a Mission Hill revival aren’t very likely. I get that, but it’s fun to think about. And like a wise Canadian man said, “never say never.”

Although it didn’t factor into why I chose to write about Mission Hill now, it’s worth pointing out that Andrew Kreisberg served as a staff writer on the show and even penned the episode “Andy Joins the PTA.” Kreisberg has gone on to have great success with the DC universe, co-creating Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. Ironically three of those shows are on CW, which I’m sure you remember was once the WB. Maybe if CW was around Mission Hill would have been given a chance to succeed.

The main reason I wanted to type these words onto this screen though, is to simply give a shout out and thanks to Bill & Josh. Despite how poorly it may have been treated, the duo created a show that will live on forever in some fashion and continue to influence others, I’m sure of that. And that’s pretty cool.

I should point out that it’s not like Bill & Josh or dead or anything or stopped working. Since Mission Hill they’ve worked on a number of great things both together and separately. Josh has worked on Gravity Falls and Strange Hill High and Bill has been busy with the likes of Porltandia and an awesome gem known as Flower Teen Kill Team GO!

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