Few people actually recall that Maxwell Atoms’ iconic characters, Billy and Mandy, were first introduced as part of Cartoon Network’s “Grim & Evil” where they shared a series with the cast of Evil Con Carne. Though “Grim & Evil” only lasted 30 episodes, the pint-sized hell-raisers would soon live on in one of the most successful spin-offs of all time from Cartoon Network’s golden age: “Billy & Mandy” (as I’ll refer to it from here on out) is one of the last really great series from the CN’s “Cartoon Cartoon” era.
“The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.” Starring a (somewhat) moronic young boy named Billy (Peter Horvitz), and his devious megalomaniacal friend Mandy (the legendary Grey Delisle), the show’s pilot (part of Grim & Evil) involved the Grim Reaper (Greg Eagles) coming to collect the soul of Billy and Mandy’s dying hamster. However, Billy and Mandy aren’t prepared to let their favorite pet go just yet and challenge the Reaper to a wager: a limbo contest. If the children win, he will be required to become their slave for all eternity. If they lose, the Reaper gets to take the hamster and the kids. The children cheat (of course!) and, as we already know, they find a new best friend in the skull-faced “Grim.”
Grim’s presence, along with his magic scythe, allows the demented pair of kids to go on some truly horrific misadventures and confront all sorts of gruesome monsters, hideous ghouls and ugly underlings…most of whom want Grim’s scythe. Among some of the best episodes is “Brown Evil,” in which Billy and Mandy do battle with a horde of the walking dead (thanks to a batch of bad brownies Grim makes) alongside a cleft-jawed horror hero named Hoss Delgado. Another episode titled “The Crawling Niceness,” finds Billy accidentally fathering a giant spider (Jeff) willing do anything to please Billy…who so happens to be terrified of spiders.
The series was also never afraid to get epic, featuring multi-part episodes and hour long specials. For a long time Billy & Mandy made Halloween an event to behold, and they did so with great specials like “Billy and Mandy’s Jacked Up Halloween” where they do battle with an undead prankster named Jack who rises from the grave with a Jack O Lantern for a head, and plans to steal Grim’s scythe to help him rule the world. Another special holiday episode involved Billy and Mandy learning that Santa Claus is, in fact, a blood sucking vampire who was spawned by his wife Mrs. Claus, an omnipotent and very powerful head vampire.
A wacky and hilarious twist on horror/fantasy, the series pays homage to quite a number of films, TV series and directors including Dragon Ball Z, Harry Potter, Evil Dead and John Carpenter; although the show also created a myriad of memorable characters and twisted villains which were uniquely its own. Atoms was able to get as wild as he wanted with the series, often opting for morbid humor, edgy adult humor, breaking the fourth wall constantly, and was also never afraid to reference other network’s series. In one episode, Mandy’s happiness creates a rift in her dimension, and the trio of title characters somehow awakens as The Powerpuff Girls. Another hilarious crossover features the trio accidentally thawing out a caveman from a certain Hanna Barbera show about a “modern stone-age family.”
Through and through, Atoms always kept every episode fast paced and filled with laugh out dark humor that embraced the horror genre and created a very memorable, often hysterical amalgam for audiences of all ages. If you’ve never seen The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, it really deserves to be discovered this Halloween. And if you, like me, have seen it—it deserves to be re-visited, if only because it was just so damn brilliant.