Like Dexter's Laboratory, and some other Cartoon Network series from the 1990s, the original pilot appeared as an episode of the series, What a Cartoon!. The Cow and Chicken series first broadcast on Cartoon Network from 1997 to the year 1999, with reruns airing prominently on the network until April 2006. Late into the series run, the characters I.M. Weasel and I.R. Baboon, who were part of the series recurring segment, I Am Weasel, were another counterpart into their own series. Reruns are played on Boomerang, which are rated TV-Y7.
As of March 30, 2012, this series has returned to Cartoon Network in re-runs on the revived block, Cartoon Planet.
Chicken and Cow are brother and sister, who have human parents whose faces are never seen in an episode. In the pilot episode, "No Smoking", their bodies have no upper halves. In the episode "Cow and Chicken Reclining", when Chicken is digging in the closet and pulls out what would be their upper halves, Cow refers to them as her science project. In the same episode, Mom's shadow appears with the upper half of her body cut off. In the episode "Which Came First," when Mom sits on the TV and laughs, her body appears to have an upper half. The creators were faced with the question of whether and how to explain the scenario of where Cow and Chicken came from. David Feiss approached this problem in the series's opening title sequence: Mama had a chicken/Mama had a cow/Dad was proud/He didn't care how. This is all that is ever offered in explanation, though there is one hint in the episode "The Day I'm Born" that Cow is adopted, and Chicken's parentage has been told about in the episode, "Which Came First?", when Mom sits on an egg and says, "Oh, boy, this brings back memories!"
Chicken and Cow's extended family consists of various other types of animals, including Cousin Boneless, who is a boneless chicken (unable to walk or get up from the floor); Snail Boy, a snail; Cousin Black Sheep, a sheep; and Sow, an evil pig. They have an uncle Longhorn Steer, who appears in "Professor Longhorn Steer". The episode, "Happy Meat" showed the ghosts of a pair of Cow and Chicken's ancestors, a male farmer married to a female chicken.
The show is set in Witchita, Virginia.
Later, Feiss was called to submit any ideas he had for the series What A Cartoon!, a series composed of various cartoon shorts from various creators and writers. Feiss submitted three ideas for the series to Larry Huber, the series' executive producer. One of the ideas was Cow and Chicken. Cow and Chicken premiered on the "What a Cartoon!" series in 1995. Although most cartoons in the series had never gone beyond one short, Hanna-Barbera had decided to turn Cow and Chicken into a full series (possibly since the Emmy Award nomination of the original short), following many letters from fans asking for more Cow and Chicken cartoons.
The Cow and Chicken series premiered on July 15, 1997, and ran for 52 episodes through 1999. Reruns continued to be shown on Cartoon Network until April 10, 2006. As a supporting segment, the show included a cartoon called I Am Weasel; this segment was spun off as an independent series late in the show's run. Typically, an episode would consist of two seven-minute Cow and Chicken shorts playing back-to-back, then followed by a seven-minute I Am Weasel short (with separate theme song) at the tail end, before the end credits. The exception to this structure was episode 105 ("The Ugliest Weenie"), which had the Weasel short ("I Are Big Star") play in-between the two Cow and Chicken shorts, possibly because said shorts were one storyline.
Cow and Chicken was notable in that a single actor, Charlie Adler, voiced three leading roles of Cow, Chicken, and the Red Guy (much like how Mel Blanc voiced many characters in the Warner Brothers' Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes series). Other actors provided supporting voices, including Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Earl). David Feiss himself did the voice of a clown in an episode called "The Great Pantzini". Additional voices in various episodes were provided by Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, and Seth McFarlane.
Cow (voiced by Charlie Adler) is Chicken's 7-year-old sister, with a weight stated as 600 pounds. Her trademark is her ironically exaggerated over-sized udder, from which she enjoys drinking her own milk. Cow looks up to Chicken, who she refers to as "Big Brother". She is often viewed by Chicken as infantile and stupid, and is quickly prone to emotional outbursts. She is the only character to appear in every episode of the show. Cow has employed blackmail to get Chicken to do what she wants and often attempts to get the other characters to do the right thing. Her frequent quote is "Fairy Princess!" whenever she sings in excitement.
Cow's alter ego is "Supercow", a superhero with the ability to fly. Supercow's powers lie in a green blanket and her outfit is purple with a logo on the chest which resembles that of Superman. Her alter ego Supercow speaks Spanish, and in several episodes exclaims: "¡Supercow al rescate!" ("Supercow to the rescue!") In the Spanish-language dub of the show, this works in reverse—Cow speaks Spanish while Supercow speaks English. Cow first became Supercow in the pilot, "No Smoking". She whistles musically as seen in the episode "Chicken Lips".
Chicken (voiced by Charlie Adler) is Cow's 11-year-old brother. He can be mean to his younger sister, and even to the rest of the family. He has a powerful ego, but in spite of this, a powerful conscience (usually only displayed when Cow is in danger). He is more intelligent (and sane) than most characters, and his selfish actions can actually come to others help. His speech is riddled with malapropisms and sarcasm. Despite being a male, he demonstrated the ability to lay eggs. Chicken is very fond of ice skating. Like other chickens, he cannot fly, and is afraid of flying. Chicken is the only character in the show who knows that his sister and Supercow are the same person. Chicken even once turned into his own alter ego, calling himself "Wonder Wattle" to save his sister. Whereas Supercow speaks fluent Spanish, Chicken required the help of a Spanish dictionary.
The Red GuyEdit
The Red Guy is a red creature of an unknown species resembling a demon, and in the pilot "No Smoking" episode he was shown as Satan. In later cartoons, he is no longer shown as that character, but instead as a being who is known for masquerading as different people with different occupations in order to harm, torture or scam Cow and Chicken for reasons never established in the series. Often, these characters are given pun names related to the Red Guy's bare posterior and lack of pants, and sometimes he has been known to disguise himself as more than one character in the same episode in order to continue bothering Cow and Chicken, and sometimes I.R. Baboon and Weasel. The Red Guy is voiced by Charlie Adler.
Flem, voiced by the late Howard Morris, is Chicken's best friend who has thick red lips. He and his father both wear glasses. Of the three (Earl, Chicken, and himself), he is the one most often sent to perform tasks because his peers consider him the ugliest or fattest. Flem is named after one of David Feiss's friends in middle school who was not good looking but was very loyal.
Earl, voiced by Dan Castellaneta (using a higher pitched version of the slurred, drunken voice Castellaneta uses when he voices Simpsons character, Barney Gumble), is Chicken's other best friend who wears a red baseball cap and braces. Like Flem, Earl is based on one of David Feiss' friends back in Middle School. He and Flem both have a secret crush on Cow. Earl lives with Flem and Flem's Dad.
Dad, voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, is Cow and Chicken's father. His brother is Professor Longhorn Steer. On screen, only his legs and waist are shown. He is identified by green pants and brown loafers. He boasts his manliness, stating that even the most mundane of tasks (such as driving in the snow) "bring out the man in him". Dad does not seem to know about Cow's birth and once stated she was born in a cabbage and claimed, "That was the best cabbage we ever had". Like his wife, sometimes he seems to be insane. For example, he once woke up his kids at 3:00 a.m. only to tell them how he and Mom met.
Sometimes he indirectly refers to himself as a woman (when talking about a clock passed down to all the girls to his family, he said that his mother gave to him, when he was giving said clock to Cow) or to Mom as a man ("start your day off like a man, just like Momma").
Mom, voiced by Candi Milo, is Cow and Chicken's mother. Like Dad, only her legs and waist are shown on screen and is identified by a white dress with red polka-dots, a yellow apron and red flat shoes. She is prone to giving her children rules applying only to a specific situation that can also be applied elsewhere, such as "never go to the carnival naked" or "never run around in a burning school auditorium". She is sensitive, as shown in one episode, crying when Chicken asked what would happen if a guy goes in a girl's bathroom (though it is hinted she might have been worried Chicken would commit voyeurism).
Teacher (real name unknown), voiced by Candi Milo, is Cow and Chicken's female teacher who is simply called "Teacher." Her catch phrase is "Basically". In class Teacher will say "Shut your pork traps!" or "Shut your pie holes!" to get her students to listen to her. She responds to Chicken's strange, even contradictory observations, such as realizing the Earth is cubic, with "That's why you go to school!"
Cow and Chicken drew on several types of cartoon humor through its run. The series often made use of cartoon violence; Cow and Chicken were frequently placed in dangerous situations and the Red Guy was frequently pummeled and beaten (usually by Supercow). The series also made fun of the clichés of cartoons. For example, Cow has an alter-ego: Supercow, who is a superhero with different characteristics to her normal character (such as flight, and the ability to speak Spanish); and the Red Guy tries in vain to discover Supercow's secret identity so he can "die happy". Another cliché made fun of in the series is that the children's parents, who are called Mom and Dad by everyone, exist only from the waist down, and can be seen to stop at the waist (whenever their shadows appear, they are cut off at the waist). A picture even exists on the wall of the parents from the waist down. Cow can disguise herself as Dad simply by wearing Dad's pants. This makes fun of the idea of partially unseen characters and cartoons in which adults are seen only from the waist down (e.g. Muppet Babies). Many jokes of the series use adolescent humor, which made the show somewhat controversial.
Recurring jokes and gagsEdit
In some episodes, the missing upper bodies of Cow and Chicken's parents are used as a gag. For example, in one episode ("No Smoking"), the cartoon "camera" accidentally zooms out too far, and shows Mom and Dad cut off at the waist. In another episode ("Cow and Chicken Reclining"), Cow and Chicken search through a closet by throwing out everything inside, and for a small moment, the upper (human) bodies of Mom and Dad are visible as part of a discarded science project by Cow (however, considering the absurdist nature of the show's humor, this may be a throwaway gag). They are occasionally seen driving a car with their feet, writing and grabbing on to things with their toes, and dialling a phone by kicking the numbers. Mom and Dad's shadows are shown as being cut off at the waist in several episodes like "Cow and Chicken Reclining". Mama's body can be seen cut clearly in one scene when she laughs sitting on a TV in the episode "Which Came First?". In one episode, Cow disguises herself as Dad by wearing his pants, which nearly cover Cow's face.
Whenever the scene showed Cow and Chicken in the school cafeteria they always ordered "pork butts and taters."
When disguised, The Red Guy often is without pants or disguise names reflect this in puns or more literal references such as "Mr. Likenopants", "Officer Pantsoffski", "Mrs. Bare Derriere", "Ivan Panced", "Lance Sackless", "Ben Panced," "Rear Admiral Floyd", "The Great Pantsini", "Larry Lackapants", "Mr. Jeans Begone", "Dr. Laxslax" and "Dr./Mr./Prof. Heiniebottom"; Supercow will refer to the Red Guy's incarnations as "El Diablo sin pantalones" (literally, "the Devil without pants").
Within the show, the characters often refer to everyone else as ladies, girls, gals, or men, regardless of their gender, as well as constantly peppering their speech with malapropisms and using sarcasm.
Mom and Dad will often say things to imply or outright say they are of the opposite gender. ("It's time you started off your day like a man. Just like Momma!")
The show often breaks the fourth wall. I Am Weasel exists as a cartoon in the fictional world of Cow and Chicken, however, this is contradicted in "I.R. In Wrong Cartoon" (a crossover between the two cartoons), when the Red Guy, disguised as a bearskin rug, says to Cow when she wants to take Weasel out of the TV to make him real, "He's just as real as you and I." In "The Laughing Puddle", when the entire population of Folsom has gone into the titular puddle, Chicken states, "Is anything in this cartoon ever going to make sense?" A few times throughout the series, some characters (usually the Red Guy) request for the cartoon to end.
The segment "Buffalo Gals", which aired initially on February 20, 1998 along with the follow-up segment "Cow and Chicken Reclining," was banned by Cartoon Network because of its innuendos implying that the Buffalo Gals were lesbians and its stereotyping of lesbians. The episode contained obvious sexual humor, which includes Mom's line "It's the Buffalo Gals, a biker group that randomly breaks into people's houses and chews on their carpet," the name of one of the bikers being "Munch Kelly," the Buffalo Gals singing "Buffalo Gals" (Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight?), and the Buffalo Gals playing softball and talking about "pitching" and "catching", slang terms for sex.The episode aired only once, and was replaced with the episode "Orthodontic Police" in future airings.