Christmas With Adult Swim, Part 2
My trudge through Adult Swim’s original Christmas lineup continues with four more episodes, one of which I had hoped never to see again. The things I’ll do for you people…
Squidbillies - Rebel With a Claus
I guess Santa got off pretty easy in T-Shirt of the Dead after all. This Squidbillies special features the jolly fat man being kidnapped, strapped to a chair, stripped, knifed, clubbed, headbutted, dumped in the snow and run over. Oh, and the main characters kill his elves and eat his reindeer in front of him.
Just stop to consider that for a moment, please.
I mean this. I’m being serious.
Stop to consider all of that.
In what conceivable way can this pass for entertainment? Listen, Squidbillies production crew…I understand the urge to undercut the myths and institutions of your youth. I really do. I enjoy it when it’s done well, and we’ve all dabbled in it ourselves.
But if you’re brainstorming ways to undercut the holiday and the first thing that comes to mind is the relentless beating of a fictional old man until he’s pleading for his life and spitting blood and teeth on the ground before him, there might actually be something wrong with you.
Well, either that, or you’re not good enough writers to come up with anything more interesting.
I’ll let you decide which is the accurate assessment.
The Venture Bros. - A Very Venture Christmas
Anyone who’s been reading my articles should find this hard to believe, but I never really enjoyed the Venture Bros. Christmas episode. I’m not really sure why…there are some great lines (“Baby Jesus is out of the manger!” has never had such troubling implications) and appearances from the best minor characters, yet, in the end, it just didn’t seem to come together for me.
I think, on some level, it has to do with the second fakeout that ends the episode. In the opening sequence Dr. Venture undergoes a very rapid Scrooge-like transformation, with some doses of the Grinch, Peanuts and It’s a Wonderful Life mixed in as well. Cut to the reveal of Venture sleeping on the remote control and having his dreams affected by the Christmas specials on television. That’s funny, and structurally sound. We got to see Venture experiencing a yuletide epiphany without having to deal with a major character change.
But the joke is used a second time at the end of the episode…everything after his waking up was a dream, too. Why? With the exception of the Venture compound exploding, there’s no reason Venture’s Christmas party can’t sit comfortably within the canon of the series. In fact, it seems almost like it was supposed to be canon (Brock giving Hank his bass guitar, Sally Impossible’s pregnancy and the science vs. magic debate with Dr. Orpheus all have an impact on later episodes) and the fakeout was tacked on for lack of a strong punchline.
Rewatching it now, however, I find I’m much more favorably disposed. Maybe it’s because I went into it this time being aware of its limitations. Or maybe it’s that it’s Christmas Eve, and I’m more inclined to enjoy things rather than find fault with them.
…or maybe it’s because, after watching Squidbillies, “it doesn’t want to be part of series continuity” is suddenly a much less vital concern.
Sealab 2021 - Feast of Alvis
I hate Sealab 2021. It isn’t funny. It’s annoying at best, and grating at worst. I thank the gods every day that I no longer have to suffer through it by virtue of its being wedged between two superior programs. (I mean no disrespect to the creators, however, as they eventually went on to bring us the painfully funny Frisky Dingo.) But Feast of Alvis is a decent one, and compared to much of Adult Swim’s original Christmas fare, it’s a decent example of how to do this kind of thing (mainly) right.
The episode begins with a distinctively Christ-like origin of the baby Alvis, for whom the titual celebration is named. This sets up all manner of excellent roads to explore, and the episode handles them competently for an 11-minute program. It deals with religious intolerance, commercialization, blind faith, and baking children under heatlamps.
It should have been funnier, I admit, but it at least achieves what it sets out to do without miring us in an extended bickering match between two annoyingly-voiced characters (as this show is so frequently wont to do). It’s not entirely humorless, though; Alvis turning the eggnog into whiskey got a big laugh out of me, and the credit-sequence spat between the Murphy and his Indian doctor was actually a great example of comedy that’s both smart and uncomfortable.
The Feast of Alvis asks us to question the stories we (Christians, specifically) have been fed from birth. It doesn’t dismiss them and it doesn’t mock them; neither Christ nor Christmas is mentioned once. The episode opens the door for discussion but leaves the followup in our laps. Would we like to pursue the issue independently, or would we just like to enjoy the question for a quarter of an hour?
The choice is ours. And it’s always nice to see a show like this taking a step back to give its audience at least a little bit of credit. What a shame that show is Sealab 2021, and not something funnier.
Tom Goes to the Mayor - Rats Off to Ya
This is one of the first episodes of Tom Goes to the Mayor, and it’s amazing just how strong it is. While the episodes that precede it in sequence all seem to be struggling to find their pace and attitude, Rats Off to Ya storms in to set the precedent for Toms to come, and it provides a genuinely good (and unpredictably adorable) Christmas special.
Poor Tom Peters can’t catch a break. His money-making t-shirt idea (a rodent lifting his top hat beneath the block-lettered phrase RATS OFF TO YA) becomes a hit and an instant holiday classic…but all of the profits go to a fellow vendor who stole his design. Tom loses his investment, has his boat repossessed, and then still has to buy the suddenly-popular Rats Off to Ya merchandise that his stepsons want so much.
It’s actually very easy to feel bad for Tom, but this episode doesn’t kick him while he’s down or ask us to participate in his humiliation. Instead it brings the Mayor to his rescue with a new idea for a Christmas shirt: the notably less sensational Hats Off To Ya. In the end Tom fails. He sits sulking in his yard while carolers extol the virtues of the now-iconic Christmas Rat, and trudges through the slush, finding a rat replacing Jesus in a live nativity scene.
But oddly enough, it’s that moment that rescues Tom’s Christmas, as he realizes how much joy his creation has brought to the people around him. He may not have anything to show for it, but he was the man who brought holiday cheer to Jefferton. It’s a rare moment of emotional triumph in this show, and it helps that we are not given a punchline. We can laugh at the absurdity of the situation…and without question we will. But we also have the chance to absorb the episode’s message, which fits surprisingly snugly beside more classic holiday specials. And the episode does all this without sacrificing the comedy inherent in the situation of the main characters. And that’s what elevates the best episodes of this show: it’s not just a good Adult Swim original…it’s good television.