Hanna-Barbera produced this Animated Series for ABC in 1961. Unlike the studio's earlier series, Top Cat was set in the midst of New York City. Even before the first episode was broadcast, Bill Hanna knew that Top Cat was going to be popular.
Top Cat is a Lovable Rogue who leads his gang of alley cats through one Zany Scheme after another, keeping the cats ahead of Officer Charlie Dibble, the local beat cop. The series took a page from The Phil Silvers Show, with "T.C." (as his gang called him) based on Phil Silvers' Sgt. Ernie Bilko. Maurice Gosfield, who played Pvt. Doberman on The Phil Silvers Show, provided the voice of Benny the Ball.
In the late 1980s, Arnold Stang reprised his Top Cat role in the syndicated series Yogi's Treasure Hunt and the Made-for-TV Movie Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats (part of the "Hanna-Barbara Superstars 10" series). In 1990, T.C. and Choo-Choo had an entry in the Fender Bender 500 segment of Wake Rattle And Roll. Top Cat and his gang have also appeared on Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.
A Flash animated Top Cat movie with CGI backgrounds has been released in 2011 in Mexico, where the show has been especially popular in the past decades where it's known as Don Gato y Su Pandilla (Don Gato and His Gang). A sequel was made which uses CGI entirely and released in 2015. The cast also appears as recurring characters on the 2021 HBO Max animated series Jellystone!.
This series provides examples of:
- Accessory-Wearing Cartoon Animal: Spook and Fancy.
- Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The Sri Lanka dub has a completely different theme created by Titus Thotawatte.
- Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: The cats have interesting fur colors.
- Annoying Patient: T.C., in the episode The Late T.C.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In one episode, Officer Dibble is replaced by an even stricter police officer, who is so zealous that he is drawing public complaints to his superior for being excessive. To get rid of him, T.C. convinces said officer that the city's mayor is Cha-cha Charlie, a gangster wanted by police for extortion, smuggling and leading a dance school without permission.
- Big Applesauce: The setting.
- Black Bead Eyes: Benny. Also Dibble in the show, but he gained sclerae in modern depictions, as seen above.
- Brilliant, but Lazy: Though not the laziest bum in the box, T.C. tends to rely on the others to do the manual work while he does the mental work.
- Buffoonish Tomcat: Brain, in stark contrast to most of the rest of the gang.
- The Butler Did It: "The Missing Heir" and "Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats".
- Butt-Monkey: Dibble and sometimes Benny.
- Captivity Harmonica: Lampshaded in one episode. The gang is tricked into robbing a warehouse, and are sent to prison. Choo-Choo whips a harmonica from hammerspace, and begins playing it. When T.C. questions it, Chooch explains, They always play harmonicas in prison movies, upon which T.C. reminds him that This Is Reality.
- The Casanova: Fancy-Fancy, in a PG-rated sort of way.
- Casting Gag: Benny's voice actor had previously starred in The Phil Silvers Show as Private Duane Doberman, and was fittingly voiced by Doberman himself, Maurice Gosfield.
- Cats Are Mean:
- Averted—Top Cat may be a con artist, but he's also a pretty decent guy. He once helped an immigrant hot dog vendor who had been conned (unbeknownst to the vendor) by another pair of swindlers (although he was planning on scamming him himself...)
- The movie makes his decent side clearer, as he not only saves an old woman from being squashed, he makes it clear to his gang when they suggest stealing someone's tickets to an event that they will only steal from someone who deserves it. He is also shocked to learn that he has been accused of stealing from an orphanage.
- Cats Are Snarkers: T.C.
- The Charmer: TC, big time.
- Coin-on-a-String Trick: Seen in the opening credits.
- Cool Cat: Top Cat and company, particularly Spook.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Officer Dibble. Top Cat can make him look like a moron, but Dibble proves himself a very brave, competent cop whenever facing a seriously dangerous criminal; he actually gets into gunfights with bank robbers and other delinquents, usually arresting them in the end.
- Depth Deception: Twice in the opening credits.
- The Ditz: Brain.
- A Father to His Men: Top Cat is hinted to be this to his gang.
- Friendly Enemy: T.C. and Dibble. The former will always find a way to humiliate the latter, while the latter is deliriously happy at every opportunity to arrest T.C. But they'd give their lives for each other just as quickly.
- The Fettered: Officer Dibble. He's passionately devoted to his duty, even when his duty causes him great grief and makes him the butt of all jokes.
- Furry Denial:
- The cats never really act like cats, nor are they ever treated like cats by any of the human characters.
- Averted in the Mexican dub, however, which would occasionally change lines to make more references to their feline nature, and had any of the gangs screams changed to cat yowls.
- Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal: Top Cat, Benny, Choo Choo and Brain.
- Half Hour Comedy: An animated example.
- Hero Antagonist: Officer Dibble
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: T.C. and Officer Dibble.
- Jive Turkey: Spook.
- Kitchen Sink Included: Humorously subverted, then played straight, in Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats. Top Cat and his gang are having a wild party and their neighbors respond by throwing a bunch of junk at them to get them to quiet. Fancy then remarks that the neighbors have thrown everything but the kitchen sink; the next object dropped is a grand piano. T.C. yells, "What's the matter with you up there?! He said, 'kitchen sink'!", with predictable results.
- Late to the Punchline: Getting the core joke of the series really required an understanding of period American street culture and of the likes of Damon Runyon. A lot of kids probably only understood that it was a show about a street gang full of colorful hoods some years later.
- Laugh Track: Like other Hanna-Barbera prime-time cartoons of the time, the show sports one. The Mexican dub removed it, however.
- Lazy Bum: The entire gang. Proudly so. They even simultaneously shriek in horror when Dibble suggests they find jobs.
- Lions and Tigers and Humans... Oh, My!: The cats are treated on par with humans and they behave like humans. No one thinks twice of a bipedal cat talking to a human.
- Literal-Minded: Benny the Ball is implied to have done this in "Rafeefleas" when Choo Choo tells T.C. that Benny was at the museum:Choo Choo: He was standing in front of a display with a big sign that said "Watch This Space."
Choo Choo: So, Benny was just standing there...
T.C. and Choo Choo together: Watching the space!
- Lovable Rogue: Top Cat and his gang, of course.
- Malicious Misnaming: A running gag on the show was Top Cat calling Dibble Dribble. However, it was more in a cheeky teasing sort of way, rather than malicious. This was carried over in the Mexican dub, where "Oficial Matute" would sometimes be referred to as either "Patute" or "Matate," depending on the episode.
- Meddlesome Patrolman: Officer Dibble provides the trope picture.
- Mistakenfor Dying: "The Late T.C." revolves around this.
- Mistaken Identity: Benny is subject to a few of these.
- Morality Chain: On a few occasions, T.C. is seen willing to go a little too far in his schemes, but the rest of the gang will object and convince him otherwise.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In the episode "The Tycoon", a millionaire in search of a needy person to receive a million dollars from him learned from Benny how badly off the gang was, so he wrote out a check to Top Cat. As a result, when all the merchants found out, Top Cat and his bunch were treated like royalty. But in the end, they lost everything again because Top Cat tore up the check, thinking it was for a 25-cent raffle.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: If not for the butler's plans to get rid of Benny and inherit Mrs. Vandergelt's fortune, Top Cat and his gang wouldn't have found her missing niece.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed:
- Fancy's voice is basically Cary Grant.
- In Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats, Top Cat is playing pool, and when he sinks all of the balls blindfolded, the gang asks him how he did it. Top Cat then pulls out a picture of someone he claims to be his "teacher", whom the gang recognizes as "Minnesota Cats".note
- Non-Indicative Name: Brain is not very smart. In the comics, however, he's just as intelligent as his name implies.
- On One Condition:
Top Cat: Ah, Beverly Hills. When they try to kill ya, they do it with class.
- In "The Missing Heir", a rich person's disappeared cat had a deadline to reappear or else the butler would get the inheritance. Benny was mistaken for the missing cat, turning him into the target of the butler's ire. The real cat then appeared and got the money despite having missed the deadline. The viewers were left to assume that it was because it was the butler who caused the disappearance in the first place.
- Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats: With the disappearance of Mrs. Vandergelt's niece Amy Vandergelt, Benny was the next in line for the inheritance. (Mrs. Vandergelt had other relatives but despised them all for unspecified reasons.) Provided that Amy didn't return and nothing bad happened to Benny in the next 48 hours, he'd get the inheritance. If something happened to him, the butler would get the money.
- Out-of-Context Eavesdropping: Dibble overheard Top Cat's doctor saying the ticker was shot when TC tried to pay with a clock, and thought Top Cat was dying. Also, Dibble overheard the Chief talking about getting rid of the old wrecks (the worn out police cars) and thought he was going to be laid off.
- Pet the Dog: Dibble's repeated failures in "The Long Hot Winter" drive him to tears and thinking he should just quit his job. Top Cat feels so bad for him that he confesses to having had an overdue library book for a few months and figures that's gotta at least be a misdemeanor. He is promptly arrested.
- Playing Cyrano: Top Cat does it for Choo-Choo. As usual with this plan, it does not end well.
- Punny Name: The Mexican dub excelled at giving these to main characters and one-shots. The original version was more straightforward.
- Real Vehicle Reveal: In the opening credits, Top Cat appears to be riding in the back of a limousine. However, as the car turns a corner, it is revealed he is actually riding on the fender.
- Recycled Premise: T.C. and the gang's trying to put numerous schemes over on Officer Dibble is reminiscent of Sgt Bilko, with Maurice Gosfield appearing on Sgt. Bilko as Private Doberman and on Top Cat as Benny the Ball.
- Repeating So the Audience Can Hear: Officer Dibble, every time he speaks to his superiors (or someone else) over the phone.
- Ring Around the Collar: As typical of the Hanna-Barbera output, the character designs make use of this trick, which is why the cats wear clothing.
- Serial Romeo: Choo-Choo. Poor guy.
- Shout-Out: Lots.
- In Farewell, Mr. Dibble, Top Cat paraphrases Finian's Rainbow.
- In Rafeefleas, the cats sneak into a museum and see statues of Fred and Barney. Choo-Choo even says that he's seen the statues on television, but he can't remember where.
- In "King for a Day", Top Cat and the gang appear on the titular game show, which is basically a Gender Flipped Queen for a Day.
- Sliding Scale of Continuity: Closer to 1 than to 2.
- Sneeze of Doom: Almost a Running Gag. Dibble sneezes while disguising himself as a statue when a curator dusts his face (curator says "Gesundheit"), Choo-Choo gives the gang away when they are hiding from gangsters (T.C. stops him with the finger trick, but then lets go) and Benny sneezes thrice in the show: first time he explodes a barrel, second time he explodes a safe and the third time he explodes a building.
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Benny had four episodes dedicated solely to him, and there were several more episodes where something he did got the ball rolling. Not to mention that in Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats, he got the spotlight again.
- Talking Animal: The main cast.
- The Thing That Would Not Leave: "The Long Hot Winter" in a nutshell. With the city covered in snow and freezing cold, the gang needs a warm place to stay for the winter. With Dibble's wife out of town, Top Cat gets the idea to crash at his place by exploiting some an obscure law and Dibble's need to look good to his boss. Despite Dibble's best efforts to get out of this, T.C. and the gang spend four months living in his apartment.
- Villain Protagonist: T.C. is only this in the loosest sense of the term. He runs a street gang of cats and constantly schemes to get rich, but he rarely does anything evil.
- Violin Scam: An amusing variation happened in one episode, when a pair of con artists trick an immigrant hot dog vendor from the neighborhood into buying worthless stocks in a floundering Nova Scotia oil company. T.C. then tricks the scammers into thinking he's a Texan millionaire. While they are meeting in his "office" (the alley, only spruced up), T.C. leaves for a moment only for the "teletype" (the output of which actually comes from Benny hiding under a table with a typewriter) to state that the well struck oil and the value of the shares skyrocketed. The scammers then rush to the hot dog vendor and buy back the shares at triple the price. In other words T.C. managed to pull the violin scam for a worthless item the marks had previously owned!
- Wraparound Background: Well, this is Hanna-Barbera, after all.
- Writing Around Trademarks: The show was renamed "Boss Cat" in the United Kingdom since "Top Cat" was already used there by a then-popular brand of cat food and the show was broadcast on The BBC, which frowns upon the mention of trademarks. However, this applied only to textual mentions of the title in the opening and closing credits: a rather jarring and noticeable edit was carried on both to remove said mentions, with a title card using the revised name being inserted after the opening credits. The theme song and the dialog still mentioned "Top Cat", which led to the show being known as "Top Cat" by UK audiences anyway. By 1999, the cat food brand had been discontinued, making the point of the rename moot: the title was reverted to "Top Cat".
- Xanatos Gambit: T.C. is a master at these, even when they devolve into Xanatos Speed Chess. When his plans go terribly wrong, Top Cat never ends up worse than when he started, and someone, whether Officer Dibble or one of his gang, always comes out better off.