As pleasant as it is to see the characters again, “The Looney Tunes Show” represents a miscalculation — and basic misunderstanding of the franchise. Popularized through slapstick-laden shorts, this new Cartoon Network series (synergistically provided by Warner Bros. Animation) reconstructs the characters into a half-hour sitcom, with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck as mismatched buddies, and other players popping in along the way. Bugs thus becomes Daffy’s straight man in a program that proves short on sight-gags and action, static, and nearly crumbles under the weight of warmed-over stories despite the odd amusing moment.
Bugs and Daffy (both voiced credibly by Jeff Bergman) share a house (platonically), and in the premiere, Bugs grudgingly agrees to go on a gameshow with the self-absorbed duck — “Besties,” in which best friends seek to prove how much they know about each other. This produces a bit of a crisis, since Daffy is stumped even by softballs like “What is your roommate’s favorite vegetable?”
A second episode, meanwhile, has the two crashing a hoity-toity country club, where Bugs begins dating a tennis-playing rabbit, Lola, who quickly goes from dream hare to nightmare.
While the individual episodes are broken up by little “Merrie Melodies” vignettes — an Elmer Fudd rap in one, a Marvin the Martian ditty in another — they basically follow slim sitcom storylines throughout. As such, the producers have managed to recast their animated treasures as a wannabe live-action comedy, the main difference being the protagonists don’t wear clothes.
OK, so it’s kind of funny when the rodent-under-the-fridge problem turns out to be Speedy Gonzales. The bottom line is the original cartoons were built around slapstick and chases, and probably to avoid all that violence (even of the animated variety), the new version feels inert by comparison.
“The Looney Tunes Show” certainly isn’t dethpicable, but it has to go down as a disappointment — more for adults than kids who aren’t as acquainted with the full-strength shorts. Because while puns and wordplay have always had a place in “Tunes”-ville, building an animated show around sitcom-style one-liners is looney for all the wrong reasons.