A walking, talking skeleton with a Jamaican accent is friends with a boy with an abnormally large nose and a cold cynical girl who wears a pink flower dress and who never ever smiles. That was my childhood, people. I am, of course, referring to The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy, my personal favourite show on Cartoon Network that ran from 2001 to 2007, before they began losing their touch. The early-mid 2000s really were a sacred time period.
I remember back in 2016 binge watching many of the cartoons I grew up with from that phase in my life - Ed, Edd ’n Eddy, Teen Titans, Ben 10, Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends, Codename: Kids Next Door, The Powerpuff Girls - but was Billy & Mandy as good as I remember it being? This semi-review aims to explore any meanings the show may have, how its characters work and what they could represent to the viewer. Will my raw, unfiltered nostalgia overcome me? Or will I end up picking the entire show apart piece by piece and discovering that it was never perfect?
The pilot episode, “Meet The Reaper”, establishes the premise concisely and swiftly, and Season 1 generally leaves the viewer with a good impression of what each of the main characters are like and what kind of drama they go through. The Grim Reaper has come to reap the soul of Billy’s pet hamster, Mr Snuggles, as he has approached old age. Billy mistakes Grim for Santa Clause, which distracts and baffles him. After much annoyance, Mandy sits Grim down to make a bet with him: If Grim wins a game of limbo against Billy and Mandy, then he can keep Mr Snuggles’ soul; If he loses, then he must become their best friend forever. I’m sure you can imagine where it goes from there.
Much like classic Simpsons, Billy & Mandy’s entertainment value usually stems from the characters and their key traits rather than being a string of random gags. So it is only appropriate to analyse the show through each of the main characters.
Let’s begin with the Grim Reaper, or as he’s often referred to in the show, Grim. First and most obvious, he is clearly upset having lost the bet, spending much of the show complaining about being with Billy and Mandy, which only leads to him wishing more and more that everybody would suffer. From as early as the third episode, “Opposite Day”, he begins to fantasise about murdering Billy and Mandy with his scythe, a response to the latter ordering him to carry out chores. In “Mortal Dilemma”, one of Grim’s friends from the Underworld finds him in Billy’s home, and when Grim tells them about the bet over the soul of a dying hamster, they return with more friends who all point and laugh at him. Grim is later lauded in the series by Hoss Delgado, the Spectral Exterminator, and Eris, Goddess of Chaos. Being acquainted with Billy and Mandy has ridiculed his reputation and damaged his wellbeing. We must realise that he is the Grim Reaper, master of the forces of life and death…brought to his knees by two young kids.
Grim professes to Mandy that he longs for his former grimness, perhaps to evoke compassion from her, only for her to sarcastically reply “That’s so sad” and fake cry. “Mortal Dilemma” centres around Grim roaming Endsville and saving people in distress, but only ends up scaring them away because he’s a walking talking skeleton. This leads on to his realisation that he is not good at being a good guy. At the end of the episode, Mandy locates Grim and has her dog bury him in her backyard for fun, and Grim says to himself “Eh, everybody needs a purpose”. He has despondently accepted that he cannot do anything particularly exceptional, and realises that he can’t do anything to go back and prevent his new fate, but this doesn’t stop him from saying nasty things about Billy and Mandy in future instalments, or seizing the opportunity to make them suffer as he does in “Beasts & Barbarians”, an episode where he teleports them both to a treacherous video game realm.
Secondly, despite being the Grim Reaper, Grim very rarely comes across as scary, and is often intimidated and abused very easily by the other human characters, especially Billy and Mandy. Neither of them appear the least bit frightened by him when he makes his appearance to take Mr Snuggles away, and when Grim reminds Mandy that she’s dealing with forces beyond her, she remains unscathed by his demeanour. The only person that Grim petrifies is Billy’s Mum in “Skeletons In The Water Closet”, but even then in “Grim vs. Mom” she is able to strike back at him by throwing food containers of all things at him, which is enough to make him collapse. In “Recipe For Disaster”, Grim bakes cookies using his Aunt Kali’s recipe, and Billy and Mandy sell them as scouts in an effort to win a school prize. The cookies end up selling like wildfire, and Grim is honoured with the opportunity to give a speech at Billy and Mandy’s school. Now, if the Grim Reaper came up on stage at your school to give a speech, you would no doubt be bewildered beyond belief, or be incredibly scared. Yet here, all the kids act like it’s every day that they see him. This makes Grim feel less like a formidable, fearsome, supernatural force to be reckoned with, and more like an average person. In “Billy & The Bully”, Billy uses Grim against Sperg, the token school bully character, in an attempt to scare him away, but when Sperg calls Grim a real bonehead, it makes him cry and he runs away. How could the Grim Reaper allow himself to be insulted that easily? Being Billy and Mandy’s property must’ve really broken him and given him crippling depression. It’s worth pointing out that in “Meet The Reaper”, he has a rather pretentious attitude towards Billy and Mandy as they play limbo, as if he knows he’s definitely going to win against them, but in every episode afterwards, this trait is pretty much non-existent. This reinforces my suggestion that his defeat against them must’ve crushed him badly.
In some episodes, it’s hinted that Grim may seem to actually care about Billy and Mandy, despite wishing bad things would happen to them. Or he must have a general desire to be shown compassion by a partner. In “Fiend Is Like Friend Without The ‘R’”, Billy and Mandy are kidnapped by Nergal, ruler of the centre of the Earth, and Grim lets him get away with it, understandably so. But when he goes into Billy’s room and sees drawings that Billy’s made of them being best friends, he has a rethink about them and returns to the centre of the Earth to retrieve them. Even though it was never a fully developed trait at this point, this episode made me wonder: despite his scepticism towards Billy and Mandy, why did Grim go back for them? Does he honestly value them regardless of the torture they’ve put him through?
In “Grim Or Gregory?”, Grim is mistaken for another boy, Gregory, dressing up as him for Halloween by his Mum and taken back to her house. At Gregory’s house, Grim tries to confess that he is not really Gregory, but when he is treated to a bath and his Mum says that she loves him, exacerbating it by kissing him on the forehead, his face transitions from stern and skeletal to pleasureful and loving, as if he has finally found something that he’s been longing for. But the episode ends with Billy and Mandy returning Gregory back home and reclaiming Grim, making him go back to his grumpy old self, a way of expressing his disappointment that they took him away from being truly loved. In “A Grim Surprise”, however, Billy confesses out loud that Grim is the best friend that he’s ever had, which makes him happy again in the same way that it did in “Grim Or Gregory?”.
Based on the insight that Season 1 has given us, Grim is depressed that he is now a joke of the Underworld society, and only wants to be respected and loved by anybody. He represents the main running gag of the whole show that scary things, such as demons and monsters, aren’t actually scary at all, and can be brought down easily by a couple of young kids. His character encourages the audience to question what it actually means to be fearsome and powerful in nature, and what we’re truly scared of in this world. That’s my best interpretation anyway.
Then there’s Billy. Quite obviously, Billy is the token idiot character of the show, mistaking Grim for Santa Clause upon meeting him for the first time. However, he is revealed at later stages to be mildly more layered than that. He may not be as relatable or as intricate as Bart Simpson, but he comes in a close second by representing just some of Billy & Mandy’s key themes.
I will begin to analyse Billy’s character through his most glaring characteristic: he is optimistic, so much so that he never outwardly considers the negative repercussions of his actions. In “Get Out Of My Head!”, my favourite favourite episode, Grim and Billy are watching a bad horror movie on TV where a woman is possessed by a ghost. The movie gives Billy the idea to ask Grim if he can possess people’s bodies, and he demonstrates that he can on Milkshakes, Billy’s pet cat. Grim claims that anybody can easily jump into somebody’s head, even a braindead monkey such as Billy. This scene demonstrates that Billy’s optimism originates from his eagerness to take part in an activity. He is high-functioning, so to speak. However Grim insults Billy, calling him a braindead monkey, yet he seems unfazed by it, oblivious to the fact that Grim doesn’t have confidence in him. Billy tries it out on Mandy, and for the whole episode proceeds to do stupid things as her for fun, including playing in a puddle of mud, doing silly drawings on Mandy’s maths test sheet, and eating insects. As these acts of idiocy ensue, the music becomes more and more chaotic and daunting, indicating that Billy is imposing a lot of sheer terror onto Mandy’s life. Eventually Billy bangs his head and ejects from Mandy’s body. At the end of the episode, Mandy takes over Milkshakes and proceeds to claw at Billy, telling him “Y’know Billy, you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose”. “Get Out Of My Head!” thoroughly displays how invasive Billy is, and that he clearly didn’t wonder if there would be any consequences for taking over Mandy’s life.
In a much later episode, “Tastes Like Chicken”, we are given hints that Billy probably knows that nobody really likes him. The episode begins with Billy trying to phone his friend Irwin, whom we see resisting the urge to answer the phone, indicating that he wants to avoid him. Billy then tries to find his Mum in the kitchen and wants her to make him a sandwich, but she is missing. He searches for his Dad in his workshop in the garage, and he too is missing. Billy finally finds Grim, and being that he is the only other person around, begins to think that he murdered everybody. We are greeted to a fantasy sequence where Billy pictures Grim decapitating his parents and Irwin, but in this fantasy, the floating decapitated heads say to Billy “Stay away from my power tools” and “Stop calling me you dweeb”. These imply that, deep down, Billy knows that everyone thinks he’s irritating, but chooses not to show it because he most likely wants to remain happy.
A good showcase of Billy never considering the consequences is in “A Grim Surprise”. While he and Grim are making Mandy a birthday cake, she walks in to the kitchen at one point and wonders what they’re up to. Billy uses Grim’s cloak to cover up the cake, and hurriedly makes up a lame excuse that they were playing pick-up sticks. Mandy says that she doubts it. It’s made very clear that Billy never thought that Mandy might walk in and notice what they were up to, and only when she did he decided to try and find an excuse to cover things up. It seems here that he got too wrapped up in his own excitement to think about anything else. Another strong case is in “Billy & The Bully”, whereby he attempts to stand up to Sperg by asking him not to pick on Irwin, although when Sperg inquires what would happen if he doesn’t stop, Billy struggles to think of anything to say. The bell goes off, much to Sperg’s dismay, and promises Billy that he’ll settle things with him after school…which he does by administering him a wedgie. Much like in “A Grim Surprise”, Billy’s over-confidence has got the better of him, resulting in him not thinking things through.
In “Grim Or Gregory?”, Billy’s excess eagerness strikes again. Here, he dresses up as a mummy for Halloween and puts on a scary attitude, but when they approach a house with elaborate, over-the-top Halloween decorations, he cowers out. This further reinforces his over-optimistic nature and how he never considers if anything bad might actually happen. Mandy remarks that she thinks the house is bound to have jumbo candy bars, wherein Billy reclaims his excitement, seizing an opportunity to get something that he likes.
Billy’s second most significant trait is that he is obsessed with having a friend to play with, an obvious attempt to nullify his isolation. In “Fiend Is Like Friend Without The ‘R’”, we learn that Billy watches a series called Dinobonoids, where their catchphrase is “Full-On Friendship!”. He also owns a helmet and a frisbee with the brand on it, further revealing that it is a brand that he adores very much, one that particularly revels in the notion of friendship. Later in the same episode, Grim discovers drawings on Billy’s bedroom wall that depict the two of them as being best friends. This tells the audience that Billy would go as far as to befriend a supernatural force such as the Grim Reaper, indicating how desperate he is. It also harks back to his over-optimism, being as Grim is associated with death.
In “A Grim Surprise”, Billy manipulates an ignorant Grim into helping him throw a birthday party for Mandy by crying and whinging as loud as he can when Grim initially refuses to take part. Grim recognises that he has made Billy upset, and promises to do something else with him. Billy reminds him that his Mum said it was about time for him to clean his ears out, but Grim imagines doing that and is disgusted, giving in and deciding to help Billy throw the party. They start off by making a cake, Billy using Grim’s head to crack open the eggs, his scythe to cut up the other ingredients, and his arm to stir it all together. Billy clearly only wanted the opportunity to do something with Grim, and happily confesses at the end of the episode that Grim is the best friend that he’s ever had. This shows that Billy is being genuine towards Grim, and doesn’t just view him as a mere tool to carry out his bidding. Billy also uses the same whinging technique on Grim again in “Tickle Me Mandy”, an episode where Mandy goes away on a trip for one evening and Grim offers to make him a new Mandy in order to cure his loneliness.
It seems that, in “Billy’s Growth Spurt”, Billy is so so keen to make friends with whoever may be around. In this episode, Grim concocts an antidote to Billy’s toxic junk food syndrome which unintentionally causes a clone of Billy to grow out of his back. All that the clone can say is “Yob-Yob!”, and Billy names him Yob-Yob and befriends him through snack food. This continues Billy’s optimistic nature of making friends in a positive light, no matter who they may be. But Mandy sees Yob-Yob as a problem and the ending has Grim dispose of him, making Billy sad.
To add to his extreme habit of friend-making, Billy is undoubtedly the most compassionate and sympathetic character in the entire show, even towards characters that mostly do bad things. The moment anyone else reveals that they just want to be loved, Billy is there to do what he can to cheer them up. This action is evident as far back as “Opposite Day”, when Billy wonders if Mandy is being too harsh on Grim. In “Something Stupid This Way Comes”, Nergal, who tried to kidnap Billy and Mandy in “Fiend Is Like Friend Without The ‘R’”, sets up a carnival on the surface for everybody to come to. Grim, Billy and Mandy know that Nergal is unpleasant to be around, but after getting candy floss thrown at his face, he declares that he’s just trying to make friends and that it’s all he’s ever wanted. Out of the blue, Billy shows compassion towards him, and promises to show Nergal how to make friends by teaching him what he calls the 5 Cs of friendship: Cleanliness, Consideration, Compliments, Conversation and Sharing. Billy appears to have sufficient knowledge on how to make friends and approach people, evident in his own 5 Cs technique. The 5th and last one, Sharing, is only there to reinforce the notion that he is the token idiot character. Despite Nergal being regarded as a foe, Billy seemed incredibly insistent to befriend him, perhaps a method to save him from his own loneliness like in “Tickle Me Mandy”. Perhaps Billy is the “something stupid” of the episode title, since Nergal has been established as a villain so why anybody would try to befriend him out of nowhere is beyond me. Even in “Billy & The Bully” when Sperg confesses that all he wants is to be loved and cared for, Billy brushes his wedgie-related acts aside in favour of befriending him. Billy never addresses people for their flaws. But as “Billy & The Bully” closes, Sperg gives Billy a wedgie, defying his expectations and the premature build-up of their friendship, demonstrating a con of being too optimistic.
Now that Billy has been thoroughly established as the show’s heart of optimism, it’s very bizarre that the other characters remark that he ought to suffer. While this was understandable in “Get Out Of My Head!” with Mandy, she exacted her revenge at the end of that episode and moved on, yet she still expects he’ll continue to be an idiot. In “Fiend Is Like Friend Without The ‘R’” (the episode immediately afterwards) when Grim and Mandy discover the hole that Billy has fallen down, Mandy goes “Billy must’ve fallen in” in a rather pessimistic manner, but not the concerned kind of pessimism; more like “Eh, as I expected”. Furthermore, whenever Billy is actually getting physically tormented, Mandy appears to be concerned that something bad might happen to him. In “Recipe For Disaster”, Grim lets Billy try one of his new cookies, and at first Mandy warns him that it could be poisoned, grabbing his arm as she does, but then lets go and says “Ah, go ahead”. It’s as if Mandy doesn’t care if Billy risks it for a cookie, then when it looks as if he is choking to death (he doesn’t really, and actually enjoys the cookie), Mandy suddenly becomes worried. She must’ve been joking about Billy getting hurt, and thought that what she said wouldn’t hold any meaning, otherwise why would she express concern when he’s actually in pain? This happens again in “Billy’s Growth Spurt”. Mandy asks Grim if he has a remedy for Billy’s toxic junk food syndrome, which he does, but since he cannot find the right ingredients, he reckons that Billy will just have to suffer. Mandy and Grim eventually obtain the ingredients, and once Billy drinks the remedy, he starts acting up, which makes Mandy concerned. Mandy consulting Grim for a remedy out of her own volition suggests that, deep down, she cares about Billy’s wellbeing and doesn’t actually want him to die. If that’s the case, then her remarks about his suffering must be a joke, perhaps due to her knowing that Billy likes to be oblivious to anything negative.
To add to this point, the notion of Billy being the token idiot character comes across as a cheap throwaway gag to me, not a solid characteristic. Billy himself even acknowledges at times that he’s not particularly intelligent, which implies that he is self-aware and cares about being smart. In “Opposite Day” when Grim tells Billy that he and Mandy are insufferable, Billy confesses that he doesn’t know what that word means, and in “Something Stupid This Way Comes”, he states, in his own words, “It’s fun to exchange ideas and opinions with congenial people”. These demonstrate that he wishes to expand upon his knowledge, contradicting the idiocy that everybody else usually associates him with. The main subject of “Tastes Like Chicken” is that everybody disappears to prepare a surprise birthday party for Billy, who starts to think that the whole world has been abducted by aliens. Maybe the reason that it was a surprise party was because everyone knows that Billy gets fooled very easily.
Lastly, Billy is an unashamed risk taker, and is usually the one that sets the plot in motion. Furthermore he is unafraid to be acquainted with the Grim Reaper of all people, and as has been established genuinely sees him as a friend. In “A Dumb Wish”, it is Billy who opens up Grim’s secret trunk and discovers a lamp with a genie inside of it. The genie promises Billy, Mandy and Grim one wish each. Billy is unsure what he wants to wish for, the gag that it builds up to being that he wishes he knew what he wanted to wish for. This represents how open to the world he is, and wants to take on a lot of possibilities in life but isn’t entirely sure what he specifically wants. Even in “Beasts & Barbarians”, the episode where Grim transports Billy to a video game realm, he instantly begins squashing enemies with his warhammer, showing how much he wanted to get stuck into it as soon as he possibly could. This explorative trait, however, is only fully realised in one of my all-time favourites, “Big Trouble In Billy’s Basement”. In this episode, Billy takes notice of ‘The Bad Book’, a book which Grim claims is the official illustrated handbook of the underworld. Billy takes it behind his back and reads it in the basement of his house, whereby he turns into a mage and steals Grim’s scythe in order to open an inter-dimensional portal to summon a supernatural master. In doing so he turns his house into a massive skeletal fortress. This reveals how easily Billy’s curiosity and high-functioning attitude can get the better of him, as if he is a naive young child who embraces the joy of discovery. Grim reads from ‘The Bad Book’ that the only way to seal the portal is to throw the book itself into it. Billy eats the book to prevent them from doing so, glowing stronger than before…only for Mandy to push him into the portal, sealing it and turning the house back to it’s normal state. This episode feels like a statement that sacrifices need to be made in order to make new discoveries or prevent more disasters, Billy in this case being the sacrifice that solves everything. He set all the disaster in motion, and in the end prevented it. But Billy is thrust back out, revealing that the other dimension didn’t want him, and they all figure that that’s because he’s a total loser, another cheap gag to reinforce the fact that Billy is an idiot.
In a show where much of the characters are depressed, psychotic, or just generally cruel, Billy is the one that provides the positive side to everything, yet is usually held back by the fact that nobody really likes him and like to accuse him of being an idiot because he is loud and overblown, although they often never mean him any harm. His character represents ambition, invasion and lack of fear in an environment where nobody has any high hopes for each other, which in turn forces the audience to wonder what their high hopes may be.
If it isn’t obvious by this point, Mandy is usually the source of the show’s pessimism. The sight of a little girl in a pink flower dress has never felt more intimidating. What I mean is that Mandy is, for the most part, the main antagonist of the show. Many of the other characters fear her, including Grim. Especially Grim, in fact. From the moment she meets him and strikes a bet in “Meet The Reaper”, it demonstrates that, similarly to Billy, she is unafraid to approach anybody, even a supernatural being of the Underworld, and usually gets her way. In “Recipe For Disaster” when they are selling cookies to a reluctant household, she orders Grim to scare them into buying, but they only try to fend Grim off and it ends up being a waste of time. Mandy decides to confront the couple herself, and it is her who ends up scaring them into buying cookies. It shows that she has a more serious, confident edge than Grim, maintained through her mild empathy with other humans, being one herself.
Later in “Beasts & Barbarians”, Grim sends Mandy down a trap door that falls into a cave, where a Gollum parody asks if she’s there for a ring. The creature tells Mandy that whoever has the ring will have the power to summon vast and horrible armies of the undead that obey their every command. Mandy consults diet Gollum sternly, asking if he has a ring, backing away as she approaches him, but isn’t afraid to reveal that he is the keeper. Mandy must answer the creature’s riddle of “What is black and blue and red all over?”. Mandy answers “That would be you if you don’t get me that ring pronto!”. She eventually obtains the ring, primarily as a result of her scaring diet Gollum into handing it over. This scene implies that Mandy doesn’t like to be tested around by others.
In “Billy & The Bully” after Sperg insults Grim, Mandy decides that she should take matters into her own hands, confronting Sperg herself. Sperg insults her aswell, to which Mandy urges him to come closer and say it, calling him a chicken when he doesn’t. When Sperg clearly gets nervous to confront Mandy face-to-face, he freaks out and charges right at her, but stops upon reaching her and confesses that he’s afraid of her, running away crying. Mandy was scary in this case because she exposed Sperg’s attempt to conquer his personal weakness, that being physical confrontation with others.
Whereas Billy regards Grim as his best friend, it’s blatant that Mandy only wants him as a tool to carry out her deeds, never wanting to lose sight of him. This begins in “Opposite Day”, when Mandy successfully deceives Grim into carrying out her chores while she lays back, which is what triggers Grim to fantasise about murdering her and Billy in the first place. Later in “Mortal Dilemma” when Grim professes to Mandy that he longs for his former life back, she sarcastically remarks “That’s so sad” and fake cries, expressing her disregard for Grim’s needs. The episode ends with Mandy retrieving Grim so that her pet dog can bury him in the backyard. This serves as a cold reminder that, because of the bet he made, Grim is now Billy and Mandy’s property.
In “Beasts & Barbarians”, Mandy orders Grim to break Billy and Irwin’s video game habits somehow. Grim responds by giving them ‘a dose of the real thing’, ie. transporting them into the realm that the game takes place in. But Billy ends up enjoying himself, to which Mandy ends up disappointed that Grim clearly hasn’t broken his addiction.
An interesting part of the series is when in “Hoss Delgado: Spectral Exterminator”, Mandy orders Grim to make the dinosaur bones dance. The dinosaurs not only do that, but they sing about wanting to do all kinds of things in the world, but can’t because they’re extinct. Being as it was Grim that made the dinosaurs come to life, it’s possible that their song about extinction ruining their potential in life is a representation of Grim’s feelings towards being Mandy’s property, as if Grim is covertly saying to the audience “Help me”. Mandy’s demeanour is expounded upon when Hoss Delgado himself congratulates Mandy for bringing the Grim Reaper down. Eris also praises Mandy in “To Eris Human” when she is informed that she tricked Grim into becoming her best friend.
Aside from being intimidating, Mandy has proved to be generally intelligent. She is great at scheming and orchestrating plans, fully taking into account how easy certain people are to manipulate. This attribute is particularly prominent in “Tastes Like Chicken”, where she organises a surprise party for Billy by tricking him into thinking that everybody has disappeared. When Billy spies on Mandy trying a birthday cake from a box, he thinks that it’s a brain, and when he runs away, he ends up in a yard with Tiki decorations, where Grim knows that it’s a cannibal party to eat neighbours. When Mandy emerges with the box, Billy pursues her. She remarks “Just in time”, while Billy yells “Whose head is in the box, you cannibal?!?”. Billy is ambushed by tribesmen, where upon crashing into Mandy’s box it’s revealed that there was a birthday cake inside for Billy, and all the tribesmen are revealed to be Billy and Mandy’s parents and friends. Because she’s Billy’s friend, she must know him inside out and how easy it is to trick him into certain things, demonstrating that she knows how to organise a strategic approach. This asset returns in “Grim Or Gregory?”. When Billy approaches a house with elaborate Halloween decorations, he cowers out, but Mandy manages to coax him back into the spirit by remarking that the house is bound to have jumbo candy bars. In “Something Stupid This Way Comes”, Mandy displays an awareness of the army term ‘shellshock’, further hinting that she is knowledgeable about things outside of the town of Endsville.
“Big Trouble In Billy’s Basement” brings out her more strategic side. After Grim gets his scythe stolen by Billy, who has been converted into a mage, Mandy is the first to decide that they’ll need support from Hoss Delgado, the spectral exterminator. She did this in direct response to Grim losing his power, and immediately realised what to do in said event. Mandy ends up solving the problem of the episode by pushing Billy into an inter-dimensional portal, proving that she is also a decisive thinker and knows what to do when.
In addition, Mandy is always the first one to point out a problem that the episode focuses on. In “Grim vs. Mom”, she admits to Billy that she thinks his Mum is still cracked after her first encounter with Grim in “Skeletons In The Water Closet”, but Billy appears to ignore her because he’s too occupied teasing Grim that he might be scared of her. Mandy must’ve pointed this out because she wants Billy to show some kind of concern for his Mum, which hints that she has a caring, non-pessimistic side to her. It was also her in “Beasts & Barbarians” who was the first to point out Billy and Irwin’s obsessive video game habits and demand that they be stopped. So whereas Billy is extremely optimistic, it is Mandy who is constantly trying to remind him of the reality of things and that the world is not a completely happy place. They do live in a universe where monsters and spirits are commonplace after all.
The reality that Mandy inhabits, however, doesn’t prevent her from growing a sense of humour. Mandy’s humour is dark, mellow and cynically witty. In “A Dumb Wish” when Billy writes ‘Gewd morning Mandy’ in the snow for her to see from her bedroom window, she replies “Nice try Billy…but not ‘gewd’ enough”. This is to evoke a slight chuckle from the audience, as well as serve as a reminder that Mandy is not only clever, but that Billy isn’t. Her gravitation towards reality is probably what she uses to try and encourage Billy to be less of an idiot. In “Grim Or Gregory?”, while Billy dresses up as a mummy, Mandy dresses up in a suit and wears monster claws, claiming to be a ruthless, high-priced prosecuting attorney, the claws for rending human flesh. This satirical moment not only pokes fun at the subject of law in an amusing light, but further demonstrates that Mandy’s character is firmly embedded in an awareness of a reality that many people would consider tedious and boring. It also proves that she likes to remain the most dominant, since she understands law terminology.
Another trait of Mandy’s that contradicts Billy’s extroverted nature is that, on occasion, she values her privacy very much. This is most evident in “A Dumb Wish”, where we see Mandy watching a silent movie on TV, perhaps to represent her longing for peace and quiet. Once Billy and Mandy have made two wishes from the genie, Grim and Billy won’t stop arguing over who should get the last wish, to which Mandy decides it will go to whoever makes her the happiest. Grim and Billy’s competition to gain the last wish only ends up in them fighting, which only makes Mandy frustrated and wish that everybody in the whole wide world would go away…which they do. This makes Mandy sad at first, but then realises that it means she can finally be left alone. This episode suggests that what Mandy desires the most is world peace. Later in “Little Shop Of Horrors” when Billy asks if Mandy wants to play, she is busy reading, and tells him to go and play in traffic. This demonstrates that she values her alone-time, using her gloomy wit to encourage Billy to leave.
But despite everything. Despite her pessimism and domineering presence, despite her cynical humour and mean spirit, deep down, Mandy may actually care about Billy’s wellbeing, similarly to how Grim might. In “Recipe For Disaster” when Billy tries one of Grim’s cookies for the first time, Mandy lunges forward to grab Billy’s arm and warn him that it could be poisoned. Then when he does try it, he appears to choke at first, which makes Mandy raise her eyebrows in concern. This suggests that she cares whether Billy lives or dies, but why would that be? Then in “Billy’s Growth Spurt”, it is her who asks if Grim has a remedy for Billy’s toxic junk food syndrome, and once Billy drinks it, he initially acts up, and in response Mandy, much like in “Recipe For Disaster”, shows signs of concern. These may only be brief moments in the series, but they are effective at hinting that Mandy has a secret innocent side that wishes no harm would really come to anybody.
In conclusion, Mandy is the main character that is most grounded in reality, and serves as a reminder to Billy especially that the world isn’t always a nice place. While she may appear to do this just to exert her dominance, it is hinted that it may be because she is concerned for how Billy sees the world.
I have been saving the final episode of the first season, “Dream A Little Dream”, until the very end. It is a very interesting episode because it reveals the inner psyche of Billy, Grim and Mandy as characters. In the episode, the three of them eat a pizza in front of the TV, unaware that it expired long ago. When they all fall asleep, the pizza induces to them very abstract dreams, and each dream sequence tells us the mindset of each character.
Billy has a dream where he’s lying in a peaceful meadow full of woodland creatures, but his presence scares them all away. A rabbit retaliates by shooting him out of the sky. This further suggests that Billy is indeed an invasive person, but one who wishes to get on with others. Billy falls down a rabbit hole and into a burrow where some eggs hatch. They hatch bunnies, all of which mutate into hideous beasts that begin to pursue Billy. He escapes the burrow but is eventually surrounded by mutant bunnies, and the shock causes him to wake up. Perhaps this is to symbolise that Billy simply cannot embrace negativity, but must learn to if he wants to get by. After all, it is his positivity that usually gets on other people’s nerves.
In Grim’s nightmare, Mandy takes over the TV and states “Resistance is useless”, ordering Grim to obey her every command. Grim breaks the TV with his scythe, symbolic of his longing to get away from Mandy, but clones of her emerge from the TV, and whenever he chops them up they only multiply and overwhelm him. This sequence reaffirms the notion that Grim is not scary, and that no matter how hard he tries he will never get his way over Mandy, the young girl who owns her.
In Mandy’s dream, she is dragged underneath the sofa by a goblin to a volcano in Hell, where birds with pizza slices for beaks fly overhead. She falls into the volcano…where she emerges as the ruler of Hell and proceeds to command all the creatures there. This confirms that Mandy is undoubtedly the scariest character in the show, as she is unafraid of any evil spirits. Mandy is the only one of the three that ends up sleeping well that evening.
Billy & Mandy has a plethora of interesting characters, characters whom I could go into immense detail on: Irwin, Billy’s Parents, Jeff the Spider, Nergal Jr., General Skarr, The Boogeyman, Fred Fredburger, and so on. Although Grim, Billy and Mandy should give you a versatile impression of what the show as a whole is like.
The characterisation in Billy & Mandy is, for the most part, consistent, and the dynamism between the three main characters does slowly grow and change. Grim resumes grim reaping on occasion, which suggests that he’s become more comfortable in Billy & Mandy’s ownership (although he still hates them and wishes bad things upon them); Billy grows a pessimistic side to him that fluctuates depending on the scenario he’s in; and as for Mandy, she has rare moments whereby she has difficulty expressing love and gratitude towards others. Their friendship becomes more solidified over time. Billy may be the most complex out of the three, but honestly, Mandy is my most favourite. Still now when I watch Billy & Mandy, I get the impression that Mandy is invulnerable to almost everything, and as a kid it’s what made her such a badass to me. Then again, in episodes such as “The Nerve”, it was fun to watch her go through the intense drama that Grim and Billy are usually exposed to. At times, Mandy’s friendship with either Billy or Grim reminded me an awful lot of Shinji and Asuka’s friendship, which may be because, similarly to Asuka, Mandy enjoys toying with and winding up those who she perceives to be below her.
Billy & Mandy’s biggest problem, however, is that despite the characters having easily identifiable traits, some episodes are never interconnected. “Look Alive!” of Season 1 is a good example. In this episode, Grim tells Mandy that he has always wanted to be a swimsuit model, but when going to a model agency, he is rejected for being too dead, later telling Mandy that, being as he’s the Grim Reaper, he’s supposed to be scary and ugly. This only begs the question: Why has Grim always wanted to be a model if he claims that he’s supposed to be fearsome? Mandy and Billy decide to give Grim a makeover, putting a wig over him and giving him billiard balls for eyes, which he accepts. When the swimsuit commercial that Grim stars in comes on, it is revealed that Grim plays a model that is accused of being ugly and ridiculed for it. This makes Grim so shocked that his jawbone falls off. Yet earlier in the episode he claimed that he’s supposed to be ugly…so what is he so startled about? Despite what I claimed about the entertainment originating from the characters’ personalities, Billy & Mandy’s comedic aspects are sometimes too random and only feel thrown in for the sake of a cheap gag. When gags such as this occur, it leads me to believe that Billy & Mandy doesn’t have that much of a clear focus. Thematic consistency is important in achieving an overall intention or tone. Ed, Edd ’n Eddy is about a group of friends trying to prevent their boredom over the Summer holidays; each episode links back to this idea. Courage The Cowardly Dog is about fears and not knowing what is out there in the outside world; each episode addresses these subjects. Johnny Bravo is a comedic insight on what not to do when trying to hit on women; that is the point of the whole show.
Most episodes of Billy & Mandy usually resolve with either one or all of the main characters meeting some horrific fate, such as in “The Halls Of Time”, “Toys Will Be Toys” and “My Fair Mandy”. Grim’s origins are always different in each episode: In “A Grim Prophecy”, we learn that being the Grim Reaper is in his bloodline, yet in “Wrath Of The Spider Queen” it’s revealed that the Grim Reaper is chosen through what is called a Scare Election, and that anybody can become the Grim Reaper regardless of species. The way Grim’s scythe works always changes aswell; there is a joke in “Fear And Loathing In Endsville” that the scythe runs on a battery and needs charging. It feels like an element that was only introduced for a cheap throwaway gag, since it is never brought up again.
Nevertheless, the concept of each episode is always very engaging, and it’s seeing how the three main characters react in the given setting that make it all the more appealing. The mythos, albeit inconsistent, is always interesting, and it gives Billy & Mandy a bizarre child-like wonder, which is funny given the show’s overall heartless vibe.
I may have commented that the humour in Billy & Mandy consists of cheap gags, but during the later seasons it evolves into more of a social commentary. Much of the monster characters in the show, such as Dracula, are made fun of and compared to modern monsters. Even Principal Goodvibes, a character introduced in Season 5, pokes fun at otakus and the culture they inhabit. Speaking of which, Billy & Mandy parodies many things, not just within the horror genre. Hoss Delgado is an Evil Dead parody, Nigel Planter is a Harry Potter parody, Hokey Monsters rip off Pokémon, Yogi Bear is satirised in “Here Thar Be Dwarves”, and in the spirit of many 2000s cartoons there is a Dragon Ball Z parody episode. There are also a tonne of Star Wars references (which is a very obvious thing to do). These parodies often feel pointless as all they seem to be doing is mocking the original material for no reason, although the Fred Flintstone cameo in “Modern Primitives” was very clever, and “Chicken Ball Z” was very well articulated.
The animation and episode structure gets better with each season. The main characters’ features began to feel more defined, although it did mean the movement of the characters became less fluent. I’m not a huge fan of the static storyboard-esque animation of Billy & Mandy, which is rather similar to The Powerpuff Girls’ art style, but it is what it is and I wouldn’t change it. The character design for the show is brilliant and memorable anyway.
What Billy & Mandy’s animation excels at is building upon visual gags in a very seamless manner, much like a Monty Python sketch whereby the humour layers up in relation to its environment. The sound effects are also very abstract and nonsensical, such as when a character is shocked you’ll hear the sound of a monkey screeching, or if a character is struggling to get up they’ll make the sound of a heavy door being pushed. This serves to remind us that we are, in fact, watching a cartoon, and it makes Billy & Mandy very fun to watch because it knows how to utilise its medium effectively.
From Season 3 onwards the episodes were extended to 10 minutes each, some being special episodes of 20 minutes. This made way for more evenly paced beats throughout the episode, thus helping them feel more complete. Season 2 suffered from bad editing at times, mainly because of the episode time limit of 7 minutes, “Son Of Nergal” especially being bad in this regard.
So do I recommend The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy to others? Given that I have uncovered just how mean spirited the show can be, you’d think I wouldn’t, but the characters are what keeps it’s universe alive and vibrant. It’s been said that Billy & Mandy isn’t a show with any virtues or good morals to teach, but I would argue that the characters of the show are morally ambiguous. The show never tries to state that Grim, Billy and Mandy are right or wrong in their ways. Their actions all have a multitude of outcomes. You may notice that I’ve compared Billy & Mandy to The Simpsons. Well, they are very similar: They make parodies and satires on elements of our society, both have a blatant disregard for authority, and their humour is always grounded in the nature of the characters, each of which represent a raw feeling or idea.
Jordan Underneath. (2015) The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy - Jordan Underneath (Part 1). [online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0eB5mwRFvE (Accessed 6th Jan 2018)
Jordan Underneath. (2015) The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy - Jordan Underneath (Part 2). [online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xE0KhHqq-oA (Accessed 6th Jan 2018)
pablo2by4GotBanned. (2016) The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy - Season 1 (Grim & Evil). [online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKgeJPs7Gts&t=9135s (Accessed 6th Jan 2018)
pablo2by4GotBanned. (2016) The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy - Season 2. [online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8Oq5Ml3UO8 (Accessed 6th Jan 2018)
pablo2by4GotBanned. (2016) The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy - Season 3. [online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dUX1LQ6ODQ (Accessed 6th Jan 2018)
pablo2by4GotBanned. (2016) The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy - Season 4. [online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_6eBuXmSgI (Accessed 6th Jan 2018)
pablo2by4GotBanned. (2016) The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy - Season 5. [online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edlUWziRrFI&t=17397s (Accessed 6th Jan 2018)
pablo2by4GotBanned. (2016) The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy - Season 6. [online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9rsZ7L9Tl8 (Accessed 6th Jan 2018)
pablo2by4GotBanned. (2016) The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy - Season 7 (Final). [online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37rkuDI3giE&t=22141s (Accessed 6th Jan 2018)