Minorities in cartoons: “Clarence”

This week’s minorities in cartoons post is “Clarence,” an animated series that airs on Cartoon Network. “Clarence” debuted in 2014.

Background

The series focuses on the adventures of the titular character, a very cheerful, optimistic young boy, who believes in goodness in everyone he meets. Clarence is accompanied on his adventures by his two closest friends, Jeff and “Sumo.” Jeff is a cerebral kid who’s also a germophobe. “Sumo” is the polar opposite, a rather brash, wild kid. When not with friends or at school, Clarence lives with his mother.

In a rarity for children’s animated programs, Clarence’s mother lives with her boyfriend, Chad. Most children’s TV even nowadays usually avoid showing unmarried couples living together, and take a very traditional view of relationships. Parents tend to be either married (the default), divorced (still somewhat infrequent, and often with a “very special episode” tone), or widowed (see: Disney). If a single parent is shown dating, their partner is usually made clear to be living in a separate house. “Clarence” marks a big departure from this. Maybe it’s just reflecting current US population trends, which show a large rise in unmarried couple-led households. Many kids are increasingly likely to be living in a household similar to Clarence’s, versus traditional children’s TV family households.

Similar to “Steven Universe,” as part of yet another departure from more traditional children’s programming, “Clarence” presents same-sex couples. An episode altered thanks to Cartoon Network’s objections would’ve shown two men kissing. Jeff’s parents might be a more prominent example of a same-sex couple. His parents are two women named EJ (who looks like a heavy-set, older version of Jeff) and Sue.

Voice actors

Spencer Rothbell voices Clarence. Series creator Skyler Page originally voiced Clarence, until he was let go by Cartoon Network.

Sean Giambrone, an actor on the TV series “The Goldbergs,” voices Jeff.

Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, voices Sumo.

(Updated 11/12/16)

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