Christmas With Adult Swim, Part 1
Every year Adult Swim dedicates at least one night of its programming to an extended run-through of Christmas-themed episodes. I make it a point to try to catch these curious, bizarre, often ironic and sometimes strangely heartfelt specials when they air, but the reality is that muddling through Assy McGee at 1:30 in the morning just to catch the Christmas episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast is much more a chore than a warm, seasonal reward.
This year, however, the Christmas marathon has been uploaded to the official website, leaving me free to view the episodes when convenient, and to record my thoughts on these postmodern, self-aware curios. I will be covering each of the holiday specials over the course of three articles, and I’ve decided to begin—understandably, I hope—with its two most popular programs: Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Robot Chicken.
So which of these specials are naughty, and which are nice? Which are shiny new firetrucks, and which are lumps of coal? Which (to carry our yuletide analogy one narrow step further) are peppermint-tinged blowjobs, and which are a kick to the jingle balls? Let’s tune in and find out.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Mail Order Bride
To this day I’m not sure if I like Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The “comedy of irrelevance” thing isn’t entirely lost on me, but the fact that I was exposed to the show later than most of its fans means that I had already seen it (and gotten bored with it) in other lame, free-association-stuffed continuity-free Adult Swim fare. As much as I enjoy the programming block, and as much as I preach its necessity, I’m the kind of fan who really only has patience for the true gems, such as The Venture Bros. or The Boondocks. I don’t care about meat, fries and a milkshake. And, yes, I understand that I’m not supposed to care about meat, fries and a milkshake, and that that’s the joke. Forgive me for not vomiting with laughter.
But all of that aside, the show (unlike its dire sibling Sealab 2021) can really make me reconsider my stance when it’s firing on all cylinders. I thought the movie was great, and a handful of episodes (the “Willie Nelson” Halloween one and a lot of the Mooninites stuff) are pure chaotic bliss. Mail Order Bride is kind of…in the middle somewhere, and it’s unique as it was produced as one of two Christmas episodes in the same season, without the two being linked in any way. (See the next episode below.)
It’s pretty standard Aqua Teen material, with Shake and Carl going halfsies on a bride from Chechnya. Part of my problem with this show is its consequence-free abuse of certain characters that really have no reason to be skinned, set on fire, or disemboweled in the Aqua Teens’ living room. (Call me old-fashioned.) Here, though, the neck-breaking of neighbor Carl feels right, because he had some downright horrible designs on the mail-ordered Svetlana. Of course, the further question must be raised of what Svetlana did to deserve the shameless gropes and slobberings of such awful characters in the first place.
Oh well. It’s Christmas, and there’s plenty of good comedy to be found in Meatwad’s childlike anticipation of Santa Claus, and the hand-made sunglasses Frylock receives on Christmas morning. It’s not one of the better episodes, but it’s certainly not one of the more dismal ones either.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past From the Future
Now this is how you do a good Christmas special while urinating all over the concept. It’s set in February, it raises the concept of Dickens reappropriation for the sole purpose of ditching it immediately, it weaves a preposterously self-aware tale of aliens and time travel, and absolutely every holiday expectation is dashed. Oh, and I should probably mention this, too: it’s very, very funny.
The Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past From the Future is one of the handful of truly great characters (among hordes of pointless and forgettable ones) we’ve been given by the Aqua Teens, and this is actually an episode that I never tire of seeing. The meandering, complicated and obviously false tales that the robotic “ghost” weaves never get old, and the fact that he irritates rather than assaults the characters is a welcome reprieve from standard (and lazy) Hunger Force violence.
Okay, it’s not entirely without a hitch. The Danzig stuff that closes the episode, for example, isn’t nearly as strong as what precedes it; it’s not a bad ending, but this one deserved a little better. As far as this type of programming goes, though, you really can’t ask for anything more. The voice actors are having a blast and, for once, the writers are actually doing something interesting with their disrespect for established tropes.
This was one of the first Aqua Teen Hunger Force episodes I was able to say I truly enjoyed, and that’s an assessment that holds true to this day. A cybernetic Christmas miracle?
Aqua Teen Hunger Force - T-Shirt of the Dead
I’m really not sure why Adult Swim keeps lumping this in with the Christmas episodes. It loses a lot of its comedy when the appearance by Santa Claus suddenly makes contextual sense. Oh well…I guess the fortunate thing is that it doesn’t matter; it’s not really funny whenever you decide to watch it.
The plot involves Meatwad wearing an ancient Egyptian t-shirt that manifests his desires. His first order of business is to manifest the Easter Bunny. His second is to manifest the Easter Bunny’s twin brother. Later he manifests a giant Easter egg. Soon after that he manifests a giant female Easter egg so that the first Easter egg can have a girlfriend. Is it just me or would this be just as appropriate an Easter special?
It’s the Aqua Teen show, so, of course, things go sour. Baby-brained Meatwad wants to meet Santa Claus, therefore poor old St. Nick is summoned from the North Pole in the middle of summer to have his flesh burned off by Meatwad’s fire-breathing monster. Are you laughing reading this? If not, then you probably won’t be laughing watching it, either. It’s the sort of needlessly cruel agony that passes for comedy whenever the writers can’t be bothered to come up with dialogue. Merry Christmas, everyone.
And I know what you’re thinking…I’m just turned off by violence. But, no, I assure you, that isn’t the case. I am, however, turned off by lazy writing, and it’s not my fault that the former is frequently called upon to mask the latter by certain Adult Swim programs. Meatwad’s wish-granting t-shirt should have given us a lot to laugh about. Instead we get Santa Claus weeping in pain and Master Shake being raped by a reindeer. Is it really out of line to be critical here?
Robot Chicken - Robot Chicken Christmas (Season 1)
You know, for a long time I’ve been saying that if Robot Chicken would just release an hour of its strongest material each year, rather than 13 or so hit-and-miss-mainly-miss episodes, it’d be one of the best things on television. But this limp assortment of Christmas-themed and Christ-themed skits from season one has me reconsidering that theory.
Now I do want to say that I have a great respect for what Robot Chicken tries to do. I have a personal weakness for sketch comedy, an insatiable thirst to relive my childhood, and an almost unhealthy fondness for toys. Really, I should be exactly the viewer Robot Chicken is made for. And while I do laugh, it’s nearly always just laughter of recognition. The show isn’t particularly clever, on the whole, and any isolated moments of brilliance are couched in protracted segments of the Muppets reimagined as drug addicts or Rainbow Brite farting. (Neither of these examples are theoretical.)
It’s just cheap. I’d be the last one on Earth to say that these things can’t be funny, but Robot Chicken typically doesn’t bother to work beyond introducing the concept itself. If you’ve seen the first ten seconds of a sketch you might as well turn the television off and imagine the rest for yourself; you’ll have a 99% hit rate, I guarantee it.
And so here we have such hilarious moments as Dragonball Z characters getting hit in the nuts (with the utterly unpredictable punchline of “Ow, my Dragonballs!”) and some stop-motion Christmas-special icons discussing murder and substance abuse. “It was all about the coke, maaaaan!” Ho ho ho!
Robot Chicken doesn’t actually come across as the result of writers with a fondness for their youth; it comes across as an unearned and malicious assault on things that have brought us so much more joy than this show has. In order to point at those franchises of yore and poke fun at them, is it too much to ask that you’re producing a passable product yourself?
Maybe it is, because as of right now I’d rather watch the corniest episode of He-Man or Inspector Gadget than Seth Green’s insufferable recreations.
Robot Chicken - Robot Chicken’s Half-Assed Christmas Special
Well, I guess half an ass is better than no ass at all. This Robot Chicken Christmas fares a small amount better than its predecessor. Which does actually make sense, I guess, as it was written intentionally to serve as a complete yuletide package. (The previous attempt, in comparison, was just a bunch of existing skits plucked from other episodes, taking content into account over quality.)
Even so, the essential problems remain: Green and co. crack themselves up over a concept but never seem inclined to actually take it further. Is it funny that horses fart on The Virgin Mary when she’s about to give birth? Maybe and maybe not…it shouldn’t matter, because that’s not what the sketch should actually be about. I’m not opposed to a sophomoric moment or two, but why am I watching the horses fart continuously for several minutes? Did they really think that was enough to sustain a sketch? The horses fart, then Mary farts, then the pig farts, then the sheep fart, and before you know it everyone in the manger is farting. And it’s not disgusting, and it’s not clever, and it’s not funny. It’s not even intelligent enough to be considered offensive. (Which, I guess, is a kind of achievement in itself…) It’s just lazy writing.
I’ll admit that Sally and Linus reenacting the plot of Misery got a few chuckles out of me, but, again, it was just the laughter of recognition. It’s okay if they want to milk our memories, but shouldn’t it actually be funny? As of now I think I can safely break the whole of Robot Chicken’s oeuvre into three possible sketch categories: a) two franchises with nothing in common are brought together for a laugh, b) a Where Are They Now? style roundup of expired figures in popular culture, and c) a room full of animals farting. (Well, those and “all of the above.”)
This episode gets a two, mainly so the overall Robot Chicken review can average out to a star and a half, which is about what I think is fair. It’s not that I feel the show needs to grow up…but it does need to start enjoying a less mean-spirited childhood.