The Sam & Max cartoon series premiered on Fox Kids in 1997 (and aired on YTV in Canada) under the full title The Adventures of Sam & Max: Freelance Police and lasted only 13 full-length episodes, with 24 individual stories. The show faced some inevitable Bowdlerization in heading to children's television, but make no mistake: it was made for fans of Sam and Max first and for kids second.
During the initial 2006 run of the first season of episodic Sam & Max games by Telltale Games, the portal/publishing partner Gametap aired the episodes for free online (no longer available for viewing there). They were released on DVD in 2008 by Shout! Factory and can still be bought through the Telltale Games website. It's also available to watch on Youtube legally.
Tropes featured mainly in the cartoon include:
- Accidental Misnaming: The crazed Col. Kurtz-esque squirrel from "We Drop at Dawn" continually mislabels the duo as "Sam & Dave."
- Adaptation Expansion: Darla "The Geek" Gugenheek is a cartoon-only creation filling the role of gadget provider. She works in the basement of the office.(Sam and Max are being sucked into Darla's school science experiment)Max: "That's COOL!"Sam: "Wanna come live in our basement, devoting the rest of your life to fighting crime?!"Darla: [flat] "Okay."
- And the Adventure Continues: How the show ended. Sam and Max defeated their entire rogues gallery by dropping them off an airplane and it's implied they, well, died. Sam is concerned that having no more mortal enemies means their adventures are over. Max, however, reassures him that the nearby phone will ring any second, with another call from the commissioner for another important case for them. After a few tense seconds, the phone does ring and we hear Sam and Max fight over who gets to pick it up while the plane flies off into the sunset.
- Animation Bump: The episodes worked on by Philippine Animation Studio Inc..
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:Refrigerator Repairman: [Inspecting a fridge] What seems to be the problem?
"The Geek": Well, for starters, it's possessed by some unearthly presence, it sneaks up behind me a lot, and it doesn't keep my soda cold.
- Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: the episode AAIIIEEE Robot has a host of 50-foot whatevers invading Tokyo and the Moon Cockroaches from the adaptation of Bad Day on the Moon.
- Badbutt: Both main characters in this adaptation.
- Bait-and-Switch Comment: Max's comment that spending Christmas at Granny Ruth's has "never been better" turns into this:Max: "I mean we keep showing up year after year, but it never gets any better!"
- Barefoot Cartoon Animal: Sam, as usual.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: At least Once an Episode.
- Canon Foreigner: The Geek, who has yet to appear anywhere else.
- Christmas Episode: Christmas Bloody Christmas.
- This episode formerly qualified as Keep Circulating the Tapes, as it only aired on Fox once, and was never included in the syndication reruns. Eventually averted with the DVD release.
- Clip Show: Parodied and lampshaded with The Final Episode, which is a Clip Episode composed by clips which are original material for the episode.
- Comedic Sociopathy: They still manage to get some in at least.A refrigerator monster morphs into a basket of kittens making Puppy-Dog Eyes to try and avoid being roasted by flamethrowersSam: Gee, I don't know anybody who could firebomb kittens...Max: Here, let me!
- Continuity Nod:
- In one episode Sam mentioned how his grandma said "Idle hands are the devil's monkey bars". A couple episodes later we see her herself and she instead says "Idle hands end up in the machinery.".
- We see one of the Mole Men with a Mole Woman underground a couple episodes after they were featured.
- Convenient Eclipse: How Sam and Max get out of pretty much every situation. Hilariously lampshaded at one point."I think I'll just close this window for no good reason."
- Creepy Circus Music: Used multiple times in the episode "The Friend For Life", such as when the funhouse lights turn on, and at the ending of the episode.
- Cryptid Episode: "Little Bigfoot" has Sam trying to rescue a young Bigfoot working as a busboy and return him to the wild. It turns out he isn't a Bigfoot, just the son of a sideshow freak.
- Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Max offers up an especially funny threat to Arlo over his annoying verbal tic:Max: "I'll make you a deal: you end one more sentence with the word 'Man,' and I get to remove one bone, of my choosing, from your body."
Sam: "Two bones if you refer to me as a cat again."
- Sam one-ups him.
- Demonic Dummy: Deadly Dangly Deever. However, the original Dangly Deever (who averts the trope) is still around, and he helps Sam and Max round up his evil doppelganger.
- Deus ex Machina: The Rubber Pants Commandos show up here, too.
- Diabolical Mastermind: Mack Salmon.
- Don't Try This at Home:Sam: Remember kids, we're professional cartoon characters. Don't try this at home!
- Doomy Dooms of Doom: One of the kidnapped repairmen in the first episode constantly yells "We're doomed man, WE ARE DOOMED!", much to the other characters' annoyance.
- His name is even Hudson, in keeping with the Aliens parody.
- Establishing Series Moment: In the first episode, there's a "Last time, on Sam And Max", showing them in a bottle being poked by a nerd, having a wedding (Sam as the bride and Max as the groom), fighting an octopus underwater, riding a boar in the jungle, and parodying the The Lion King intro just before the rock breaks, it's as if the show was saying, "Yeah, the intro didn't convince you this was gonna be crazy? Now do you think it's crazy?".
- Family-Friendly Firearms: The duo's favorite handguns are no-no in the animated series; flamethrowers and rocket launchers are kosher though.
- Like all the attempts at Bowdlerization, Purcell and company waltzed around this one, too; Sam is seen sporting his trademark giant revolver (albeit loading it with rubber bullets) in the opening of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, and normal firearms are shown numerous times throughout the series even if they are rarely fired.
- In Tonight We Love, the president's bodyguards openly fire on the Freelance Police, with real bullets. Well, one is a realistic bullet, the others seem to be a whole bullet, shell and all, fired, but not detonated, from the guns.
- In a cross between a lampshade and a parody, they put their fingers into a gun shape and brandish them as such, ala 4Kids' Yu-Gi-Oh!.
- Friend to All Children: A defining trait of Sam and Max in this adaptation. Although they rarely interact with kids in the rest of the series, here, they get along great with kids. Perhaps, like the creators of the cartoon themselves, Sam and Max realized that kids would love their antics, as long as they're toned down a little.
- Furry Reminder: Despite having jobs and an office, Sam & Max are still animals and are occasionally treated as such. In A Glitch in Time, Max even winds up in a cage at the vet's while Sam is busy running a pet wash. Don't think too hard on it.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: It's peppered with innuendo and Parental Bonuses. Some people have commented to Steve Purcell that they were surprised how much the show got away with.
Sam: The Prison Showers. If these walls could talk...Max: *shudders* I think it's best if they keep their mouths shut.(in the very same scene)Max: (bends over to pick up a bar of soap, a sign on his bum labeled "Do not open till Christmas")
- Purcell has also mentioned that in some small towns, Moral Guardians tried to get the show pulled for that reason.
- Some jokes would probably also go unnoticed by kids, if this applies here. Two stand out in Christmas Bloody Christmas
Max: Don't worry, miss, a boat will come along soon, and that means sailors. Yep, you'll get picked up, alright...
- The show is not able to depict blood when discussing the function of the heart. Sam informs us of this while standing in front of a red-colored background
- The lines spoken by Max as he and Sam are being picked up by a helicopter, leaving a stereotypical attractive secretary adrift on a raft in a major shipping lane.
Max: Thwarted by a clip-on tie. It's like prom night all over again!
- The hitman in The Final Episode.
- In We Drop At Dawn, Max finds Arlo in a bush. A cannabis bush.
- Max gets this one-off line in "The Glazed MacGuffin Affair":
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: No matter how intense the situation is, this is never subverted.
Sam: "We were to be air dropped into a virtual hell on Earth in order to engage in a life or death offensive in order to locate and retrieve the Commissioner's lost keys."
- Except, oddly, in We Drop At Dawn where Sam's narration contains the line
- Also, Max does say "God's Sake" at one point, even though in all the other episodes, "Gosh" seems to be the word that they can use. Ex: The extremely forced "Good Gosh" spoken by the Geek.
- Hammerspace: Max, naturally.Sam: (watching Max produce an object from seemingly nowhere) Wow, Max, I didn't know you were a marsupial.
Max: Me neither! Whatever that means.
- Homoerotic Subtext: The series, in general, has quite a bit of it.
- Hong Kong Dub: Parodied in The Second Show Ever.
- Hypocritical Humor: Max is the one to tell Sam not to mess with the past, Sam agrees, only to find that Max is teaching his past self how to beat up a bully, Sam calls Max out on the hypocrisy.
- I Do Not Like Green Eggs and Ham: The Glazed MacGuffin Affair. Plus, half of the duo is named Sam, so you get two Shout Outs for the price of one.
- Instantly Proven Wrong: The Second Show Ever does one with a fourth wall break:Sam: Say, that reminds me. Feeling light-headed, kids? Are you suffering the ill effects of too many fast-paced hard-sell in-your-face adverts designed to compete for your parents' hard-earned dollar? Well, you're not alone!Max: The folks in programming are sympathetic to your plight, and as such, have agreed to present today's episode in its entirety without any commercials at all.Sam: You heard right, gang! One whole episode of Sam & Max without commercial interruptions of any
- It Came from the Fridge: The Thing That Wouldn't Stop It, a monstrosity born of Darla's leaky chemicals and a frozen steak dinner.
- Large Ham: Max gets his ham volume turned up somewhat. (Probably to make up for the parts of his violent side they couldn't show.)
- Let's Meet the Meat: It's what the monster of the first episode really wants. Sam is all too happy to oblige.
- Lighter and Softer: Due to the Animation Age Ghetto, the titular duo couldn't carry their realistic guns, the humor and plots were a bit more Looney Tunes slapstick, among other things. That said, fans still like it.
- According to some interviews, since they weren't allowed to be too Dark in the Cartoon, they decided to grab everything else which make Sam and Max, like the weirdness and the Parental Bonus, and upgrade them Up to Eleven.
- Steve Purcell has said that the show's use of bazookas and rocket launchers instead of handguns and firearms both placated the censors and brought the show closer to the spirit of the original comic.
- Loony Fan: Lorne, THE FRIEND FOR LIFE!
- McGuffin: The titular Glazed McGuffin from The Glazed McGuffin Affair
- Medium Awareness: They know they're in a TV show, all right...Sam: Looks like the party's over. I think we better cut to the chase.
*Cut to Sam and Max running from the tribe of angry New Guinea Pigs*
Max: Cut to the chase? So that's what it means!
- Mythology Gag: Bad Day On the Moon was based directly on a story in the original comic, which is, at the same time, based in one of the original comics Steve Purcell drew as a kid. The episode has Max lampshade this fact by holding up a copy of said comic which the original Bad Day On the Moon comic was based and proudly proclaiming "The preceding joke was originally conceived back in 1978."
- Never Mess with Granny: Max's, I mean Sam's Granny Ruth, who works at a maximum security prison on Blood Island. The duo visit her on Christmas Eve just as the prisoners attempt a jailbreak. True to this trope, Granny kicks seventeen types of ass to get the rapscallions back into place.
- Never Say "Die": Subverted with extreme prejudice, still unusual for a Saturday morning cartoon in The '90s. Sam and Max constantly talk about about cheating death, brushes with death, etc. Similar to the case under Family-Friendly Firearms, the show gets around the ban on directly using the word "kill" by simply going more over the top and putting Sam's penchant for dense, flowery analogies to good use.
- Nobody Can Die: Averted once, otherwise played straight thanks to unexplained recoveries. Max is vaporized in the adaptation of "Bad Day on the Moon".
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Harvey Atkin's Sam voice seems to be heavily based on John Astin's.
- Ominous Pipe Organ: The Mad Thespian from "The Friend For Life" has this as his Leitmotif.
- The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Lampshaded in The Thing That Wouldn't Stop It.
- Perma-Stubble: Max gains this while he has his helmet in We drop at Dawn.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: Being a kid's cartoon meant they had to tone down the Comedic Sociopathy a notch or two, but the show still retains the same flavor of eccentric, dialogue-driven humor that the comics and games do.
- Previously On: Spoofed in the very first episode.
- Punny Name/Stealth Pun: Ms. Givens, the overly cautious and nervous schoolteacher. You might say she has some "apprehensions" about the Freelance Police showing up for Career Day.
- There's also Kent Standit, the ban-happy Snack Food & Drug Administration head responsible for getting Glazed MacGuffins pulled from the shelves.
- Reality Warper: The spoiled, nigh-omnipotent Gary, based on Anthony from "It's a Good Life", is a young boy kept in an underground base by a group of scientists desperately trying to keep him placated so that he doesn't unleash his powers on the world at large... or them.
- Recycled Soundtrack: During the scene where Max stops Sam from choking on a wallet at a church, the same organ music from Stickin' Around is heard, as the music was composed for both shows by John Havelock Tucker.
- Running Gag: The fighting over who gets to answer the phone is also expanded to answering the door as well. In We drop at Dawn they fight over who gets to open their mission instructions at the appointed hour. Also, Max manages to actually win twice. But there ware extenuating circumstances. First was A Glitch in Time: he'd messed up time so that Sam had become a monk. It's especially funny because he cringed right before he picked it up, insinuating he expected to lose. The second time, the caller is Lorne, THE FRIEND FOR LIFE.
Monkey: "Monkeys on skates? This truly is the dawn of evolution!"Monkey Elder: "And we have Sam and Max: Freelance Police, to thank for it!"Monkey: "Sam and who?"
- Also as a Couch Gag of sorts, every intro sequence in the first episodes featured a character that had no idea who Sam and Max were.
- Shout-Out: Sweet caviar nestled into the fur of a giant moon bear, are there shout outs. There's at least a couple every episode. There are just too many to name. From a whole episode of spy shout outs, to the monster movie shout outs, you have to watch the show if you want to know all of them.
- The Glazed Macguffin making machine looks like Mr. Bonestripper
- A Dalek statue appears in the background◊ for a few frames in "The Trouble with Gary".
- And from The Friend for Life, the Crimson Bonehead. (Ironically, Fox Kids was supposed to air a Captain America series the year after this show, but Marvel's bankruptcy put an end to that.)
- The New Guinea Pigs chant is "Ooga-chaka-ooga-ooga!"
- "Little Bigfoot" is something of an internal Shout-Out to Sam & Max Hit the Road, what with the duo interrupting a tour of kitschy roadside Americana to rescue an exploited sasquatch (or so they think).
- Slipped the Ropes: Sam and Max do this repeatedly in the last episode of the series, because they're bored.
- The Smurfette Principle: Darla the Geek (even she was originally meant to be a boy).
- Stylistic Suck: Sam and Max's failed pilot "I Dream of Weenies", which is done in the style of an old Hanna-Barbara cartoon, complete with corny Laugh Track.
- Super Not-Drowning Skills: It's part of their abilities as Cartoon CharactersSam: It's a cartoon, jarhead! We have remarkable lung capacity!
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: From That Darn Gator:Max: We visit him many times after thatSam: And not because he swallowed our keys and we're waiting to the nature to do its thing!
- On a sign: Perfectly Normal Industries (And By No Means A Military Complex)
- They Called Me Mad!: Mocked, of course:Dr. Cerebri: "They laughed at me at the academy! They laughed at me, at the institute!"Sam: [to Max] "He must've been a lot funnier then."
- Time Travel: A Glitch in Time, which include a bit Set Right What Once Went Wrong flavor and the obligatory meeting with their soft, marketable younger selves.
- Title Theme Tune
- To Serve Man: The Uglions
- Totally Radical: Brought up during Aaiiieee Robot, where Max says that "Extreme Freelance Police" sounds like a rebranding cooked up for the next season.
- Villain Team-Up: All of the villains from the previous episodes team up in the last episode to ensure it was Sam and Max's "last episode". Sam and Max, however, calmly took it as a compliment that several villains would take the time and effort to plan their demise.
- Whole Plot Reference: A few episodes provide some surprisingly esoteric ones for what is (nominally) a kid's cartoon, such as It's a Good Life, Apocalypse Now, and The Man Who Would Be King.