Cartoon Network fires the latest salvo in the ever-competitive kid programming war with “Sheep in the Big City,” an amusing tale of a shy but determined woolly creature on the lam (ahem) after government bad guys try to kidnap and use him as a critical component of a high-powered weapon. Adults who also happen to be in the TV room while the elementary school students are glued to the set may find themselves chuckling as well at the satirical pop culture zingers series creator Mo Willems intersperses throughout.
Willems, an Emmy Award-winning “Sesame Street” writer, is obviously a fan and student of television and has no qualms about tweaking a beloved program or character as is done several times in the first episode. When Sheep escapes General Specific, the leader of a secret military organization, and has established a life in the metropolis, he peels off his wool and tosses it into the air as the narrator blurts out, “Sheep’s gonna make it after all.” Mary Tyler Moore must be proud knowing her signature moment has now been mocked using the animal kingdom.
The reason Sheep has headed off to the city is that Specific — with sidekick Private Public — has determined that Sheep is the perfect fit for a new gun that can’t function without the animal being placed as part of the firing mechanism.
In his search for the perfect-fitting sheep, Specific has gone to the country and ends up at the home of Farmer John, who’s quite a sensitive guy for a man of his profession. John leads group therapy sessions with all of his herd, and it’s obvious that Willems enjoys making fun of those with a more “sensitive” side.
When Sheep decides to run away to escape Specific’s clutches, he ends up far from those tranquil, grazing fields, arriving on the sidewalk jungle. Eventually, John comes to rescue him and look for “closure” to this highly emotional incident.
Not accustomed to life in the fast lane, Sheep steps up to an ATM and, not knowing what to do, eats the cash instead of pocketing it — but then again, animals have no pockets so what’s a sheep to do with money? — and soon lands a job as a telemarketer.
Over time, Willems finds time to mock infomercials, politics and home shopping networks, among other easy targets. Even Little Bo Peep takes a couple of shots to the midsection.
Viewership for the Cartoon Network has increased dramatically over the past year, and many of those who catch the “Sheep” pilot will make a ewe turn back to the net the following week for episode No. 2 and the entire series.