Review by Ian Keogh
If you consider it, The Flinstones as a vehicle for satirising 21st century social values and obsessions transforms from an extremely unlikely idea to a logical progression from the 1960s animation, and it’s one brought brilliantly to fruition by Mark Russell and Steve Pugh. It mixes the eccentricity of the cartoons with a look at modern life, but filtered through the prehistoric lens.
This is the familiar Fred, Wilma, Barney, Betty, Pebbles and Bam Bam with their regular preoccupations, just recalibrated to have a greater resemblance to us. The satire is more focussed than Russell’s also noteworthy reworking of Prez, taking on just a couple of topics per episode. A Flinstones hallmark is the replacement of modern machinery with captive animals adapted for purpose, and that features most heavily when consumerism falls into the spotlight. The new lawn mower is a goat bound to an old fashioned plough handle, Wilma has an octopus dishwasher, and a dodo comes with a whisk attached to its beak. Pugh revels in the whimsy.
Other chapters concern appalling spring break behaviour, introduced when aliens descend on Bedrock, social condemnation of Fred and Wilma being early adopters of marriage, the superficiality of organised religion, and labour exploitation before the end of the world. Everything is cogently considered by Russell, but given the tenor of the times, it’s the late episode about political process that has the strongest teeth, with the origins of Bedrock blood sodden. An enemy is identified and demonised, the troops are sent in, the forest is razed, the tree people removed, and the development space is achieved. Fred and Barney’s war memories cleverly run concurrently with school elections in the era’s present day. The story was produced during the vindictive Presidential election campaigns of 2016, and the parallels are not hard to find. What raises this, however, apart from a high joke ratio, is Russell’s sympathetically treated sub-plot of Betty and Barney being unable to conceive, and its tidy solution.
Pugh’s art is great. As The Simpsons have long displayed, biting satire works just fine with a cartoon cast, but there’s a greater reality about this Fred and Wilma, echoing the John Goodman live action film. It’s a conceit that works better on the printed page, as Pugh creates convincingly bulky forms for Fred and Barney, while keeping their wives slim and voluptuous. There are hints of Kevin O’Neill in the graffiti asides with which Pugh splatters his work, as Bedrock is a home for inventive sloganeering.
The Simpsons is a definite reference point for Russell, who expands the small Bedrock cast in a manner similar to Springfield, with the nutty scientist, the grasping boss, the cynical TV host, the school bully and the local pastor, but does so in an original manner incorporating different personality traits. All those mentioned recur along with several others. They’re a means to an end, however, as Russell requires a large cast to cover all the topics he pokes with his sharp stick. At times this is laugh out loud, sputter your coffee all over the page funny, and even when it’s not quite reaching that level it’s still hitting the spot. Don’t be a late adopter.