December 12, 2007

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.


Wow - I had forgotten about this series. Thanks for the post, my order for the DVDs has already been placed.

I watched this series again recently, and I was surprised to find that, rather than feeling dated, it still seemed to be ahead of the game. Really good stuff.

A classic man, I loved working back at MTV animation, NY hasn’t been the same since. Downtown will forever be one of my favorite shows.

I got the DVD and I love it, I wish there were more. I love the fact that it’s like real life, and is there any chance of a reunion?

Just wanted to clue you in on Nickelodeon’s “Hey Arnold!” which was an absolutely charming cartoon about grade-school kids in a new york setting (it’s either queens or brooklyn, though it was never confirmed)

This is another case of the Internet being an incedible treasure trove. But how does one find even a fraction of the treasure? Try going to Wall St on a Sunday; and then needing a toilet for a child. Or 42nd St with Automats, Penny Arcades, and the Laff Movie. How about the doughnut shop with automated doughnut machine and a train on which the doughnuts dried, by the 42nd st station of the Eighth Ave Subway. Any pictures?

Great article. I was 8 when this show came out but when I was in middle school around 2007 I found out about it after reading a Wikipedia article on old MTV shows. I absolutely feel in love with the show after watching two episodes that were posted on Google Video and instantly pestered my dad to buy the dvd’s.

This show is a complete masterpiece that like Mission Hill depicts the everyday life of young people living in the city during the late 90’s. It also has an amazing blend of realistic conversations and events that make it easy to relate to and some really good animation and background. I really wish this show would be remade or even made into a comic, it’s really sad to see another show that ultimately fell victim to Reality TV.