This is the second of Cartoon Network's “Adult Swim” series that I've seen, the first being Aqua Team Hunger Force. I found ATHF hilarious, and so had high hopes for this show—which, alas, remained only partially fulfilled.
The premise of this show is to take characters and footage from a 1972 Hanna-Barbara cartoon, “SeaLab 2020” and dub in new dialogue, add new scenes and new imagery to the characters or backgrounds, (and change the 2020 to 2021), and thus have hilarity ensue.
Hilarity eventually does ensue, but not after several episodes have gone by. The first show presented, “I, Robot” is probably the worst on the disc. As a loud klaxon continuously blares warnings of destruction, and the lone intelligent character (Dr. Quinn) attempts repairs, the rest of the crew discuss how great it would be to place their brains in robot bodies. And that's all that happens, until SeaLab blows up at the end (SeaLab blows up a lot, but don't worry, just like Kenny from South Park, the lab is always back for the next episode).
This episode reminded me of those awful, dull “Saturday Night Live” sketches which were founded on a dumb premise but never seemed to end until the cast had wrung every last second from its scrawny concept and stretched into an ill-fitting time-frame. You know the kind I mean, they'd do some endless bit about some guy who shouted all the time, or collected pennies, or some unfunny trait, and you'd watch in horror as the cast dragged it on and on, getting only scattered “polite” laughter but never realizing the best thing to do was just end it and go on to the next bit. No, no, the punchline had to be done! Onward to the punchline! The only entertainment to be found was in speculating, “Who the hell would find this funny?”
First impressions are very important in a lot of ways, never more so than in entertainment. If a night club comic starts out with terrible jokes, you might feel enough cringing sympathy to manage a weak laugh or two, but his best jokes won't get the support they need and will come off at best as “well, they were better than those others he told.” On the other hand, if he starts out with strong material, the momentum will carry you past the occasional weak joke.
It's much like that here. Toward the end of this two-disk set, the episodes became progressively funnier, finally ending with material that is out-and-out hilarious. But it was a long, hard road to get there, and I'm not sure how I'll react when Volume Two hits the stores. Will I buy it? Dunno. I'm leaning toward “No,” but then, the arc of the set was from dull to hilarious—maybe that arc will continue to skywrite comedy gold. What?!
Well, back to the show, let's have a word on the characters. The funniest guy is Captain Murphy, an older man who is ostensibly in charge of SeaLab. He's kind of like a grown-up Beavis or Butt-head. He seems completely ignorant and is obsessed by the weirdest things. “Sparks,” the radio man, is an amoral megalomaniac who appears to be confined to...well, not a wheelchair. An office chair with wheels. Quinn, as noted, is the only intelligent, responsible member of the crew. As such, he doesn't get many funny lines, but when he does, they're well worth the wait. Marco is the macho crew member, frequently running around shirtless. Debbie is the main female aboard and is a sex-obsessed airhead. Stormy Waters has a great name, other than that he's not very memorable. He's sort of like a junior Murphy who doesn't get the good lines. Finally, Hesh seems to be a perpetually angry adolescent working in the reactor room, who speaks in MC Chris' voice. Points for using MC Chris.
There are twelve more episodes after “I, Robot.” The next program details the crew's attempt to return Captain Murphy's Easy Bake Oven (they don't call it that but that's what they mean) from a giant squid. This one provoked the first genuine chuckle, as two of the crew in a mini-sub approach the squid. The squid is non-aggressive, not bothering the sub, just lying there next to the oven (not trying to horde it or anything) until Stormy drops a small boulder on it, just to “see what happens” and the squid becomes the typical raging monster. Well, I thought it was funny.
The next program, about Captain Murphy running a pirate radio show, was another one that I found pretty damn tedious. At the start, Murphy roams the ship, moaning “Bored! Bored! Bored!” and I was thinking, I feel your pain, man.
In the next show, Debbie's biological clock goes off, and she tries to decide who among the crew would be a suitable father. Murphy provides the only laugh here when he misunderstands her question to mean, who would like to BE her baby? He's up for that. The rest of the crew prove their unsuitability, and Debbie gets (I think) her only chance to show some intelligence.
That's the first four episodes on this DVD, and after watching them (with rising disappointment) I took a break of a few days. When I returned to the set (with lowered expectations) I found more of the material to be actually funny.
The next episode featured an invisible, murderous alien and I found it fairly funny from beginning to end. “Lost in Time” is one of those characters-going-back-in-time-to-prevent-a-tragedy bits (the sort of thing that Star Trek did a lot), and I liked how the same characters kept accumulating (in the brig). “Little Orphan Angry” was less funny but passable, and “Waking Quinn” was a bizarre series of vignettes (which were pretty funny, mostly) in which Stormy throws various electrical things into a pool where Dr. Quinn is relaxing (despite Quinn's protests, and with the expected results).
Disk Two went in next, and the episodes were of a much higher quality. (I especially liked the Aqua Teens' cameo.) Remarkably, the first show deals with Captain Murphy trapped under a soda machine, and it had the potential to be another “I, Robot” (ie, unfunny talk-fest); instead, it was hilarious. Perhaps the writers had learned how to do this sort of thing (which, kudos to them, is a very hard thing to write). Perhaps they realized, as “Saturday Night Live” never did, that some things may strike you as funny, but they have to be worked on to hone them into actual comedy. Perhaps. We may never know. At any rate, these shows are so good I don't want to give away any details, they deserve to be freshly approached and appreciated.
Had this set opened with these shows, I think my opinion overall would have been much, much higher and I could overlook lameness like “I, Robot,” in the same way that one can overlook those long, lame, dull “Saturday Night Live” sketches, knowing there is something better coming when this thing's over.
So: overall, if you're a fan of bizarre humor, I would suggest checking this out. Start with disk two, however, and after enjoying those, you may find the episodes on disk one funnier than I did. This show certainly seems to have a lot of dedicated fans; maybe they're more tolerant than I am, or maybe I'm just not the target viewer for this. On balance, I guess there are more funny episodes than not, but boy did this DVD set lead with the wrong foot.
and one final thing. The title song is pretty stupid, and not in a
good way. In the opening music of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Schoolly D
raps about the three teens while the video shows you the characters,
demonstrates their powers and then shows some action scenes (which
never actually happen in any of the shows). It's nice and driving.
Here, they get the guitars right but the vocalist sounds like she
just woke up and would really rather go back to sleep, and the lyrics
are incredibly lame. (“If you're looking for me/You better
check under the sea/Cause that's where you'll find me/Underneath the
sea lab...” then mumbling. Thanks, lady, that helps a lot.) The
video just shows a number of underwater scenes and stills that look
like they came right from the 1972 show. This show could really use
Schooly D. (“Here's Capain Murphy, he's all Smurphy/Sparks is
next, he's power-obsessed/Stormy Waters is a man who worries 'bout
his tan/Dr. Quinn is a genius, in the future he's seen us/Lookin' at
Debbie and feelin' all webby...”) (Okay, now you know why
BeckoningChasm isn't hitting the rap charts any time real soon.) (Oh,
and sorry about that.) (They should really get MC Chris to do the
theme! Now that would totally
Emerging from the parenthesis forest, we just have to start over. The SeaLab 2021 theme is just lame and uninvolving. Maybe that's how it's supposed to be, but lame isn't always perceived as funny. Sometimes lame is just...lame.
Thought you'd like to know that.