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Fostering adult imaginations

''Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends'' has fans of all ages. ''Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends'' has fans of all ages.
By Jenara Gardner
Globe Correspondent / November 27, 2008
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Good television often transcends age. "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends," a Cartoon Network animated series aimed at 5- to 8-year-olds, has an adult following unashamed to proclaim it as good television.

The show begins to wrap up its final season tonight at 8 with the premiere of its second made-for-TV movie, "Destination: Imagination." The series wonders what happens to the imaginary friends a child conjures when the child no longer needs them. A lucky few end up at Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, where another child can adopt them.

For 71 episodes - the series is slated to end in February - fans have laughed at the adventures of 10-year old Mac, his imaginary pal Bloo, and the other residents of Foster's. Created in 2004 by Craig McCracken, the artistic mind behind "The Powerpuff Girls," the show has expanded its target demographic to include teenagers and adults.

"I couldn't figure out why my daughter was laughing so much during this silly half-hour show," said Amy Talijan, 26. "Once I paid attention I realized that there was an actual story behind the show. In my eyes it isn't just a cartoon. It's a story. A story I would watch during prime time if it was on."

McCracken said he was not surprised by "Foster's" adult fan base. When creating the series he thought of his own childhood, and how his family enjoyed watching "The Muppet Show" together. "I wanted to make a show that was universal for all ages," he said.

Avoiding clichés of cartoon violence, McCracken grounds his fantastical concept in everyday realities, whether a trip to the mall to buy a birthday present for Madame Foster, the home's feisty elderly founder, or the welcome offered a new friend.

"Through these premises you learn about the characters and their day-to-day lives," said Tracy Majka, 35. "It's innocently funny."

Certainly other cartoons have developed an adult fan base, most notably "SpongeBob SquarePants." And just as "SpongeBob" fans show their affection by creating websites and wearing series merchandise, so, too, does the smaller "Foster's" faction.

They include 24-year-old Kendall Lyons, a "Foster's" Facebook group member.

"Over the time the show has been on, you have seen the characters become more rounded," said Lyons. "We know their weaknesses and we know how they'll react in certain situations. We've gotten to know and love them for who they are."

Subtle references to adult-themed TV shows like "Lost" and movies like "The Big Lebowski" emphasize that "Foster's" isn't just for kids. These allusions are mixed with juvenile toilet humor in a way that doesn't alienate either audience.

"We give kids more credit than some people, and we also realize that adults aren't so grown up and stuffy," said McCracken. "By hitting that middle ground you appeal to the maturity in the kids and goofiness in the adults."

Fans say the show's roster of characters is the key to this balance.

"There are things I recognize about myself and other people in them," said Brad Bellmore, 41. He pointed to one episode in which Mac and Bloo are having a squabble.

"Halfway into the argument you realize this is a 30-something couple fighting about an affair," he explained. "It's the same conversation, just different context, and it's outrageously funny instead of outrageously sad."

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