Nothing about Kevin Smith’s 1994 cult-classic film Clerks lent itself to making an animated version for ABC. Not the maxed-out credit-card budget, not the grainy, black-and-white cinematography, and surely not the foulmouthed, esoteric nerding out about innocent plumbers dying on the Death Star or how much the average jizz mopper makes working a nudie booth. And yet, thanks to studio politics, the Disney-owned network is exactly where the animated adaptation landed. It was no surprise then when the premiere got bumped back to the pilot graveyard that is summer, only two of the original six episodes aired on the network, and Dante and Randal curtly got told that they weren’t supposed to be there today … or any day for that matter.
No, Clerks the cartoon dropped dead quicker than Julie Dwyer in that YMCA swimming pool, but the show wasn’t buried. The series found its intended audience on DVD, and Comedy Central — home of the even fouler-mouthed boys of South Park — finally showed the entire series, including the four never-aired episodes, in late 2002. Those who eventually found the show discovered a more fleshed-out Leonardo — home of the Quick Stop — complete with hometown villain (Leonardo Leonardo), new friends (“hey, there’s that kid in the helmet … look at him”), and, oh, yeah, the customers. It’s a day-in-the-life of two blue-collar schmoes turned into weekly episodic adventures clearly written by those who had watched as many movies and imbibed as much pop culture as Randal.
Now, 20 years later, Clerks: The Animated Series stands as a strange artifact of its time: a series that nobody asked for (and now some can’t get enough of) that aired for two weeks on a network that clearly didn’t want it. To learn more about how this unlikely project came to be and its chances of returning, check out our exclusive oral history. And in the meantime, take a look at how two Kevin Smith fans look back fondly (and not so) at the series.
Oh, yeah. Snoogans?
06. “Dante and Randal and Jay and Silent Bob…”
Full Title: “Dante and Randal and Jay and Silent Bob and a Bunch of New Characters and Lando, Take Part in a Whole Bunch of Movie Parodies Including but Not Exclusive to, The Bad News Bears, The Last Starfighter, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Plus a High School Reunion”
Episode: Season 1, Episode 5
Original Air Date: Dec. 14th, 2002
I Assure You, We’re Open (Plot): Um, read the title. Dante and Randal make an appearance at their high school reunion, where Randal finds the arcade game he used to play in the high school cafeteria and held the top score for. That discovery and a drunken night on the town with Dante that Leonardo Leonardo would rather forget lead our two favorite register jockeys through a series of plots you’ll swear were stolen straight from the movies.
Best Gag: For all the pop-culture hijinks involved in spoofing famous movies, the best joke comes when an exuberant Coach Dante gets pushed aside and cropped out of his little league team’s championship picture, leaving Randal front and center in the image next to the trophy. It wouldn’t be Dante Hicks and Clerks without a crash back to reality. This stinks.
The Quotable Quick Stop: “So Dante is naked in the adult section, bag of licorice in one hand and cooking oil in the other. That’s a true story … alright, see you guys in 10 years.” –Randal Graves telling stories about Dante’s high school days
Pardon the Allusion (Pop-Culture References): Again, see the title. And then toss in some more-subtle gags from Wolf and Jaws and Return of the Jedi among others.
Hey, the ’90s Called (That Didn’t Age Well): Randal concludes that he’s the “ultimate male” after he learns that all his old girlfriends turned into extremely “butch” lesbians after dating him. It’s a joke that wouldn’t fly today, but, as Smith has often cited in defense of his gay jokes, notice it’s the stupidest character in the show who promotes the idea. Really, it’s far more a joke on how no girl in her right mind would ever date Randal Graves. Still, we cringe a little whenever the ultimate put-down out of Randal’s mouth is calling someone gay. The running gag about Leonardo Leonardo hiding his sexuality also feels incredibly juvenile (not that it wasn’t back then, too).
View Askewniverse: We learn that Dante and Randal are not-so-proud alums of Leonardo High School and that Jay is still in the fourth grade (“He got left back a lot”).
All Sales Final (Verdict): Credit the writers for a script that seems like it came out of a bet about combining plots from three disparate Hollywood movies. There are some fun references there, and Jay as Kelly Leak — one of the few curveballs in the eppy — even feels inspired. But, at the end of the day, the episode really does feel like an exercise in merely mashing plots rather than a clever collection of parodies. Less gimmick and more nuanced gags about the films (e.g., Randal fleeing the slave drivers in a Temple of Doom mine car that leads to where the slavers take their coffee break) would’ve given the episode some meat — even if it was bad meat that Randal was suing the government over. Believe it or not, we actually like Dante and Randal more when they’re sitting around the Quick Stop talking about all the things they’d do if they weren’t humping such a lousy job. Go figure.
05. “The Last Episode Ever”
Episode: Season 1, Episode 6
Original Air Date: Dec. 14th, 2002
I Assure You, We’re Open: After being called sell-outs and “gay” by a near-empty audience of fanboys while on a panel at a comic-con, Dante and Randal pledge to make Clerks the cartoon more like the movie. That means title screens, hanging inside the Quick Stop (no matter what happens outside), and, oh, yeah, pining for Caitlin Bree.
Best Gag: The escalating chaos at the fair across the street is entertaining, especially Caitlin’s sexual escapades sans Dante as he and Randal wax Clerks-like about Star Wars and hockey. Luckily, Jay is there to push Dante over the edge by telling him someone keyed his car (by far the most normal thing that has happened all episode).
The Quotable Quick Stop: “Me and Silent Bob have an appointment at the gorilla cage. We’ve come to the conclusion that we need more gorillas in our lives.” –Jay on why he needs to get back across the street to the fair
Pardon the Allusion: As Jay (as it turns out) and the writers pace Dante and Randal through the episode, there’s plenty of time to allude to movies like Freaks (“One of us, one of us!”) and Alive, not to mention a running phone gag about The Matrix. Once they’re out of the store, the floodgates open to include, among others, Looney Tunes, Gilligan’s Island, and Josie and the Pussycats. Of course, the best references in the whole episode are back to the original Clerks.
Hey, the ’90s Called: It’s a well-behaved show until it ends with a barrage of gay jokes. At least Dante has the good taste to ask, “What is this guy’s fascination with gay jokes?” The Caddyshack III: Caddies in da Hood joke doesn’t land either.
View Askewniverse: A pop-culture-referencing series constantly referencing the movie it’s based on takes us back to ye olde Askewniverse for familiar gags, characters, and pop-culture minutia.
All Sales Final: The self-aware premise that there could be some blowback from fans over the sanitized Clerks cartoon has potential, and the escalating gag about what’s happening on the other side of those steel shutters across the street at the fair (which, of course, Dante and Randal can’t leave to see and must get the play-by-play from Jay) gets grins. But like the clip show before (read on), it’s the type of clever concept that doesn’t quite have legs for 20 minutes. Luckily, the writers have plenty of other “bad ideas” once the clerks finally leave the store. Yeah, that Jay’s a real stinka.
04. “The Clip Show…”
Full Title: “The Clip Show Wherein Dante and Randal are Locked in the Freezer and Remember Some of the Great Moments in Their Lives”
Episode: Season 1, Episode 2
Original Air Date: June 7th, 2000
I Assure You, We’re Open: When Dante and Randal get locked in a Quick Stop freezer, they flash back to different points in their lives. They spend a good amount of time revisiting Episode 1 (despite the fact that that episode hadn’t actually aired before this one did). They also touch on their first meeting, losing their virginity, and the last time they got stuck in a freezer. Once Silent Bob frees them with his crowbar, they end up locked in the video store, and the reminiscing recommences with memories of celebrity shoppers, working abroad, and Happy Days. When they finally get out, they tell the story to all their hockey pals — only to get locked in the rink. Jay and Silent Bob also teach a couple kids a magic trick — with no help from Charles Barkley.
Best Gag: Frankly, the whole episode is a gag. The idea of making Episode 2 of your brand-new series a clip show is brilliant in its stupid simplicity, especially when you’re a show that thrives on ridiculous moments. With no need for a real setup, it’s just a rapid-fire series of jokes.
The Quotable Quick Stop: While recalling their time in London, Dante reminds Randal about learning what “fag” meant, to which he retorts: “You’re a fag!”
Dante: “No, a fag’s a cigarette, remember?”
Randal: “You’re a cigarette!”
Pardon the Allusion: Of course, Jay has to make a Star Wars reference about using Silent Bob as a tauntaun to stay warm in the freezer. When Randal and Dante find themselves trapped once more in the video store, they consider watching Steven Spielberg’s Flintstone’s List, a joke that we learned was essentially the basis for the entirety of Clerks: The Animated Series. After revisiting the film, the Clerks recall all the celebrities who’ve stopped in over the years: Jerry Seinfeld (voiced by Gilbert Godfrey), Gwenyth Paltrow (Paltrow herself), Samuel L. Jackson, Martin Scorsese, Audrey Hepburn, Matt Damon, and Ted Danson. Other flashbacks include Dante and Randal’s time on The Real World and their favorite Fonzi moments from Happy Days. The whole thing wraps up with an homage to Stand by Me, with Jay writing a book of their adventures and ending it, “Snooch to the nooch.”
Hey, the ’90s Called: Twice things get racially insensitive. The segment revisiting the time Randal got a mail-order husband is loaded with belittling Japanese stereotypes, right down to the music choices. And that’s not even mentioning Jay’s response of “Ew, you were married to a dude?” Then we learn of Dante and Randal’s time in India, where the latter says they were “amongst the living dead.” The subtitles on the Hindi signage read, “Bloobity blah blah blah,” and the big joke is that Indians are afraid of milk. Even with a quip that tries to flip the script on the Apu Nahasapeemapetilons of the world, that’s still pretty oof.
View Askewniverse: Weirdly, there’s a minor origin story here of Randal and Dante meeting for the first time. It’s not when they started working at Quick Stop and RST Video in 1985, as Randal thinks, but way back when they were kids in 1978. Randal probably doesn’t remember because it was the same moment he discovered porn, so you know, priorities. We also get to see Dante and Caitlin Bree’s relationship in far more detail than we ever did in Clerks the movie, especially all the cheating around with painters.
All Sales Final: The premise of a clip show episode without much series to flash back on is fun at first, but it wears a bit thin over 20 minutes of hyperkinetic comedy. Even some of the jokes set up within the trope drag, repeating inside repetition to Inception-ized ad nauseam. Still, there are some solid moments to be had in all the memories, and Randal’s indifference to paying close attention truly gets to shine in all the recollection.
Click ahead for more fun from the cartoon Quick Stop…
03. “Leonardo Leonardo Returns…”
Full Title: “Leonardo Leonardo Returns and Dante Has an Important Decision to Make”
Episode: Season 1, Episode 1 (Pilot)
Original Air Date: December 14th, 2002
I Assure You, We’re Open: As a good first episode should do, this one introduces us to the series’ primary antagonist, Leonardo Leonardo — which makes it even weirder that they wouldn’t have aired this one first. Voiced by Alec Baldwin, the billionaire returns to Leonardo, New Jersey, and opens a Quicker Stop (essentially, a mall) right across the street from the Quick Stop. It turns out it’s actually the first step in an elaborate plan to turn the town into a domed pleasure resort with the residents working as slaves underground. Phase 39 is robot chickens, so Dante and Randal hatch their own elaborate plot to stop Leonardo. Also, Jay and Silent Bob teach kids about keeping food safe while camping. Charles Barkley tries to help, but the stoners aren’t having it.
Best Gag: This has to go to Dante and Randal walking up a building with a rope a lá the 1960s Batman, only to have a flower pot fall and crash beside them. “Why are we walking like this?” asks Dante. It’s a cute bit, but made even better by its repeated appearance throughout the series.
The Quotable Quick Stop: Jay: (Sees Leonardo Tower) “It looks like a big bong!” (Sees a dog) “Hey, that looks like a bong too!” (Sees the Quicker Stop) “Now that’s the ugliest damn bong I’ve ever seen.”
Pardon the Allusion: The episode opens with a “previously on” bit that sees Randal and Dante playing a gag on a customer by hiding and asking, “Is it safe?” until he’s driven mad. That’s a reference to Marathon Man, and Dante drops a Silence of the Lambs quote in there for good measure. Later, the Clerks’ plot to take down the Quicker Stop (which features a Haunted Mansion-like ride) is inspired by The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, a real UPN series that stirred controversy for trying to make slavery into a sitcom. It failed, miserably.
Hey, the ’90s Called: This one doesn’t have too many questionable comedic choices in it (besides the fact you couldn’t write a “re-re” joke in 2020), but there are a few dated references. Besides Desmond Pfeiffer, there’s an actual plug for Two Guys, A Girl, and a Pizza Place — or as Randal calls it, A Pizza Parlor. You could also argue the whole “Canadians are dumb” joke has worn pretty thin by this point, so it’s hard to tell if it’s even technically funny here.
View Askewniverse: In a big way, we learn the history of Leonardo, New Jersey, the Clerks’ hometown. There are also a few direct movie references, like when Randal repeats a PG version of a line from the Clerks: “I always said this job would be great if it weren’t for the customers.” It also ties the city closer to Mallrats by bringing in Walt Flanagan and Bryan Johnson as Walt the Fan Boy and Steve-Dave, respectively. Then there are Jay and Silent Bob, who are drug dealers in the View Askewniverse but instead hawk fireworks in the cartoon to be a little more TV friendly. Thankfully, that pays off in the explosive finale.
All Sales Final: It’s truly a bummer this wasn’t the first episode actually aired, because it establishes the cartoon Clerks universe nicely. There are jokes about the nature of the show itself, Dante and Randal demonstrate some of their best chemistry, and Jay and Silent Bob are set up as perfectly random interlopers. We get a clear view of the absurd lengths these characters are going to go in animated form while also seeing them do the most as actual clerks. It’s a nicely balanced episode, which is precisely what you want from a debut.
02. “A Dissertation on the American Justice System…”
Full Title: “A Dissertation on the American Justice System by People Who Have Never Been Inside a Courtroom, Let Alone Know Anything About the Law, but Have Seen Way Too Many Legal Thrillers”
Episode: Season 1, Episode 4
Original Air Date: May 31st, 2000
I Assure You, We’re Open: When Randal opens for Dante to prove that he can handle running the Quick Stop, Jay slips on a puddle of soda and sues the store and Dante for 10 million dollars.
Best Gag: That might be the theme from The People’s Court, but the only Judge fit to rule over these proceedings isn’t named Wapner … all rise for the Honorable Judge Reinhold. It’s a name gag that gets better as Randal — a Reinhold fan — appeals to the Judge-turned-judge’s thespian ego. And let’s not forget about that visit from an old friend named Axel.
The Quotable Quick Stop: “I opened up, and everything was fine. Then people started coming in and buying things. It was horrible.” –Randal Graves on his first minute running the Quick Stop
Pardon the Allusion: Instead of defending Dante, Randal calls a who’s who of famous filmmakers like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Joel Schumacher, Spike Lee, and Woody Allen to the stand and demands refunds for movies he didn’t like. The browbeating he gives Lucas over Episode 1 makes his esoteric criticisms of the original trilogy seem like mere padawan’s play. Oh, and the dead-end JFK bench scene allusion was a nice touch.
Hey, the ’90s Called: When the NBA all-stars are sequestered during Jay’s case, the WNBA all-stars fill in and get booed to tears by the crowd. While the WNBA’s now a regular part of American sports culture, the league and its players endured a lot of cheap shots in its pioneering days from out-of-shape men who once scored seven points in their YMCA over-35 league. Of course, that’s nothing compared to Counselor Randal buttering up the all-black jury by assuring them that “Dante Hicks is just like you. He loves grape soda. He knows what it’s like when the guy at the super market won’t take your food stamps or how it feels to wait all month for your welfare check … hey, ho … hey, ho [waving hands in the air].”
View Askewniverse: Other than the fact that Judge Reinhold becomes manager of the Quick Stop at episode’s end, not much light is shed on the Askewniverse other than we learn that Randal should never be left in charge and that we’ll never have an answer to the most mysterious question of all: “Why the hell is he called Silent Bob anyway?”
All Sales Final: While I’m pretty sure the entire reason this episode exists is because Kevin Smith once wondered in a daydream what it would be like if Judge Reinhold really were a judge, the fun here comes through the interplay between Dante and Randal. Dante, as always, serves as Randal’s straight man (insert late ’90s gay joke), fall guy, and voice of reason. The episode’s ending — redone by Korean animators — is a silly (and slightly troubling) way out of an even sillier scenario, but the real joy of Clerks will always be watching Randal push the envelope with the quips and shenanigans, always to Dante’s detriment. “This stinks,” Dante sighs after “two giggling girls” question him under oath about his love life. We agree, Dante, and that’s why we still love this episode.
01. “Leonardo Is Caught…”
Full Title: “Leonardo Is Caught in the Grip of an Outbreak of Randal’s Imagination ,and Patrick Swayze Either Does or Doesn’t Work in the New Pet Store”
Episode: Season 1, Episode 3
Original Air Date: December 14th, 2002
I Assure You, We’re Open: After opening with a fan mail segment in which the Clerks introduce the show’s only black character, Lando, Randal becomes concerned that the monkey at the new pet store on the block will lead to an outbreak of the deadly Motaba virus. When Leonardo Leonardo gets sick from eating some microwave burritos Randal left out in the sun, he’s sure it’s the monkey’s fault and calls in the government. Led by Major Baklava (James Woods), the military decides to bomb the whole town, and Dante must tell the world he’s gay in order to save everyone. In a bonus segment, Jay and Silent Bob beat the snot out of Charles Barkley for trying to do the science segment without them.
Best Gag: At different points, the Leonardo Mayor (Al Franken) and Police Chief give statements to the press, the former dressed as McDonald’s character Mayor McCheese and the latter as Constable Big Mac. Turns out they were on their way to separate costume parties and can’t get out of their suits for different reasons. When asked if the virus could kill the Grimace, the Chief responds severely, “Nothing can kill the Grimace.”
The Quotable Quick Stop: “You’re victims of an overactive imagination of a pop-culture junkie loudmouth.” –Dante Hicks, trying to convince the military that Randal cooked up the virus hoax. Major Baklava responds, “Quentin Tarantino?”
Pardon the Allusion: So there are a lot of era-specific cracks made about race and women throughout the whole episode, but there’s something particularly off-putting about the “solve” of the plot. Dante’s forced to “out” himself to a pilot (Bryan Cranston) on live television to save the city, something that’s presented as a struggle as if the world thinking you’re gay might be worse than an entire town’s distruction. Dante is “brave” enough to do it, but then gets laughed at by his friends and “a pair of giggling girls” while his dad expresses disappointment. At least the army dudes seem to be supportive.
Hey, the ’90s Called: So there are a lot of era-specific cracks made about race and women throughout the whole episode, but there’s something particularly off-putting about the “solve” of the plot. Dante’s forced to “out” himself to a pilot on live television to save the city, something that’s presented as a struggle as if the world thinking you’re gay might be worse than an entire town’s distruction. Dante is “brave” enough to do it, but then gets laughed at by his friends and “a pair of giggling girls” while his dad expresses disappointment. At least the army dudes seem to be supportive.
View Askewniverse: Jay and Silent Bob’s obsession with monkeys is a common thread throughout the movies, right up till it becomes the center plot point of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
All Sales Final: It opens and closes with some retrospectively cringey -ism jokes, but the fact is it’s still the series’ most solid episode. The quips are fast and funny throughout, and it’s one of the rare instances of the plot actually playing out logically (uh, relatively) over the course of the full episode. Unlike heavy-handed referencing in Episode 5, Episode 3 nails its homage with a much simpler approach.