“Rude Dog and the Dweebs” (1989)

You don’t have to have watched a single episode in The Simpsons‘ robust 47 season run to be familiar with some of its best bits. You know about Sideshow Bob and the rakes. You probably know who shot Mr. Burns. And you almost certainly know who Poochie was. As a refresher, though, Poochie was a rapping dog with an attitude, designed solely to draw a new, hipper audience to The Itchy and Scratchy Show. Despite Poochie hitting all the marks that supposedly appeal to young viewers–sunglasses, backwards baseball cap, heavy metal guitar riffs–he proved to be an immediate failure with Itchy and Scratchy‘s loyal fans, and was killed off in the next episode.

Though the episode was inspired by a FOX executive’s suggestion that Simpsons writers bring in a new character to freshen things up in its eighth season, I can’t imagine they didn’t lift a bit of it from 1989’s Rude Dog and the Dweebs, a short-lived Saturday morning cartoon meant to appeal to kids who were just too cool for Muppet Babies. Rude Dog, initially the mascot for a brand of surfer wear (worn largely by adolescents who had never been anywhere near a surfboard), was eventually brought to life and given his own TV show, wedged in between Garfield and Friends and The Adventures of Raggedy Ann and Andy. Everything you need to know about Rude Dog is right in the opening credits: he’s a super cool dog who’s “coppin’ a major ‘tude,” while wearing wraparound shades and driving a pink Cadillac.

If that’s not totally rad enough for you, Rude Dog also has his own gang, whom he refers to, sometimes affectionately, sometimes not, as “dweebs.” The gang consists of Winston, Reggie, Barney, Kibble, Satch, Caboose, and Tweek. That’s a lot of character for a kids’ show, and a lot of bad accents and differing degrees of stupidity to keep straight. Rude Dog also, of course, has some nemeses, including a stray cat named Seymour, and Herman, the local dog catcher. Herman is accompanied by a dog who repeats everything he says in the inimitably garbled, incomprehensible style of–who else?–Frank Welker. The creators of Rude Dog and the Dweebs seemed to go by what we would later come to know as the Family Guy method of comedy writing–if a joke lands once (or, hell, even if it doesn’t), do it again and again. The dog mimicking what his master says gag is repeated no less than five times in a two minute scene; shockingly, it does not get funnier each consecutive time.

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That is dwarfed only by the use of the word “dweeb.” A slang word that never really caught on in real life, despite how much pop culture tastemakers tried to convince young people that it was going to be the next “geek,” it is uttered somewhere between 18 and 432 times during the course of the episode, I lost count after a while.

In the first half of the episode, Rude Dog escapes capture by Herman after he’s accidentally sprayed by a skunk at the zoo. That’s literally all that happens, and Rude Dog explains, in a fuhgeddaboudit Brooklyn accent, “Ya see, dweebs, even when they catch ya, they can’t keep ya, if you’re rude enough.” Which isn’t exactly what “rude” means in this case, but fine, we’ll let it slide.

In the second half, the Dweebs, whom Rude Dog alternately treats like his gang, his children, or his wards in a home for the mentally challenged, try to convince Rude Dog to let them have a pet. He eventually agrees to a goldfish, upon which one of the Dweebs comes home with a cow that is unable to moo. Rude Dog somehow figures out that the cow can’t moo because it doesn’t know it’s a cow, the solution to which is–of course!–putting a flowered straw hat on its head. This rather existential problem now solved, Rude Dog says “Hey, you want a cow to moo, you gotta let her know she’s a cow. Rude but true, am I right, Bess?” Well, no, you’re not right, Rude Dog, because, again, that’s not what “rude” means. Rude is cutting a fart during a moment of silence. Rude is loudly, lewdly sucking on your fingers after eating hot wings. It has nothing to do with counseling a cow that has an identity crisis, and that might be the weirdest sentence I’ve ever typed here.

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At the end of the episode, Rude Dog puts on his sunglasses and says “Ciao. Dweeb ya later!” For a brief moment, I’ve never hated anything more.

I’ve mentioned it before, but there’s a gross cynicism in bad children’s programming, a palpable sense that minimal effort was expended because, really, kids will watch anything that flickers across a television screen as long as it’s loud and colorful. Rude Dog and the Dweebs certainly checks off those boxes. Everyone is appropriately wacky looking, in colors not usually found in real life animals (though the artistic decision to give Rude Dog a mouth full of razor sharp green teeth gives it a bizarre, Tim Burton-like touch). Rarely a minute goes by when someone isn’t falling down or crashing into something. On the most basic, bare bones level, it succeeds.

Beyond that, any notion of making the characters engaging, or giving them something to do other than be rude (though, again, it should be noted that no one involved in writing this show seems to know the definition of rude) was evidently greeted with a hearty shrug. This was an attempt at rebranding a clothing line to appeal to a younger market, nothing more, and if a dog driving a car wasn’t enough to convince them to beg their parents for it, then too bad. One suspects that if the creators could have just gotten away with cannon launching thousands of Rude Dog t-shirts into school playgrounds across the country, they would have.

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As it turned out, Rude Dog, who wasn’t rude so much as just incredibly irritating, didn’t connect with children of any age, and the show ended its run after just thirteen episodes. He disappeared as a mascot for a long while too, though, as per Wikipedia, he’s set to make a comeback later this year! Aw yeah, Rude Dog is back, baby, and undoubtedly updated for the modern consumer, taking selfies and doing parkour. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait.

Premiere airdate: September 16, 1989
Watch it here
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