Animated Manhattan: Downtown
Part 19 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.
In 1999, MTV debuted Downtown, an animated series about a group of teenagers living in the Lower East Side. 13 episodes were produced, but only 12 were aired. Based on real people, and voiced by non-actors, the series was firmly rooted in reality. The New York depicted in Downtown didn’t feature the usual Animated Manhattan locations like Rockefeller Center and Times Square. Instead it featured places like that arcade in Chinatown with the chicken that plays Tic-Tac-Toe.
The characters work at locations which could easily be East Side Copy or St. Mark’s Comics. They go to Kennedy Airport. They get stuck in Staten Island. They argue over which subway gets to Coney Island quickest. The animators capture the subway experience realistically, including that phenomenon that happens when a local and express train are going in the same direction side-by-side, and you can see all the people in the train next to you for just a few moments until the local has to slow down. Or when you jump out of the local train at the station because the express is there, but you don’t reach it in time, and then you run back to the local, and the doors close before you make it, leaving you pissed that you didn’t just stay in the train to begin with.
These are the sorts of things that happen in the Emmy-nominated Downtown, just like they happen in real life. Due to licensing complications, the series was never officially released on DVD, but its creator Chris Prynoski of Titmouse Studio does have promotional copies of the series available for free. You just need to pay $25 for shipping, handling, the DVD media, and the box. Details on his blog.
Here are some more stills from the show, in all their muted color glory:
By 1999, MTV had already pretty much lost me as a viewer, so I never watched Downtown while it was on. But watching it now, I feel nostalgia for my own early years in New York, hanging out downtown in the late 90s. Those were the days.