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: The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.
Starring a (somewhat) moronic young boy named Billy (Peter Horvitz), and his devious megalomaniacal friend Mandy (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 which, if the children win, will require the Reaper to become their slave for all eternity. The children cheat and, as we already know, find a new best friend in the skull-faced “Grim.”
Billy & Mandy (as I’ll refer to it from here on out) is one of the last really great series from the CN’s “Carton Cartoon” era. 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 (“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…though the show also created a myriad of memorable characters and twisted villains which were uniquely its own. Atoms was also never afraid to reference other network series. In one episode, Mandy’s happiness creates a rift in her dimension, and the trio of characters somehow awaken 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.”
The series lasted seven whole seasons, about 139 episodes total, in addition to three television movies, two special episodes, and nineteen shorts. The series also garnered three awards and even received a video game adaptation as well, with a respectable line of merchandise for a modern date cartoon series. 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 amalgam for audiences of all ages. If you’ve never seen The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, it really deserves to be discovered. And if you, like me, have seen it—it deserves to be re-visited, if only because it was just so damn brilliant.