Adult Swim in a Box (DVD)

You can’t box Adult Swim in.

Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block is like nothing else on television. Shows on the block have included retro cartoons refitted with weird and sometimes filthy new takes, cancelled ‘toons from other networks given a new life, and edgy works from up-and-coming animators. Many have decried the Adult Swim programs as nothing but lowbrow “stoner comedy,” but I for one have always checking out what they come up with. Even if it’s something that doesn’t appeal to me personally (like The Oblongs), I know that it’ll still be just outside the mainstream enough to be interesting. Conversely, sometimes Adult Swim comes up with something that really amazes me with a show, one I can’t believe how great it is (like Home Movies).

Adult Swim in a Box is just that—a huge box set featuring DVDs of Adult Swim’s signature shows, as well as a number of pilots and specials never before released on home video. Let’s tear this thing open and let it to strange, frightening things to our brains.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Volume Two: Frylock, Master Shake, and Meatwad are three human-sized food items living in a house in New Jersey. Together, with their fat neighbor Carl, they have many adventures.

Space Ghost Coast to Coast: Volume Three: Intergalactic superhero Space Ghost hosts a barely-functioning TV talk show, with his sidekicks Zorak and Moltar. Celebrity guests, in live action, are interviewed. Or at least they manage an appearance with all the craziness going on.

Morel Orel: Volume One: Eleven-year-old Orel loves going to church, and he loves God and Jesus. In his attempts to interpret how best to please God and Jesus, Orel makes some well-meaning but questionable choices. Then, he usually ends up in his father’s study for a…lesson.

Robot Chicken: Season Two Uncensored: Co-created by Seth Green (Sex Drive) this stop motion-animated sketch comedy skewers anything and everything pop culture.

Metalocalypse: Season One: Metal band DethKlok rules the world of rock. No one is more hardcore. A conspiracy is under way to shut the murderous band down, though.

Sealab 2021: Season Two: At the bottom of the ocean, the crew of the futuristic Sealab tries to maintain order, which isn’t easy since most of them are insane, and all sorts of bizarre freakiness keeps happening all around them.

The Best of Totally For Teens pilot. Never before released on DVD. A long-lost early ’90s variety show for teens delivers all sorts of important messages, and a lot of graphics and fast edits.

Cheyenne Cinnamon and the Fantabulous Unicorn of Sugar Town Candy Fudge. Never before released on DVD. Whenever young girls need help, scantily dressed pop singer comes down from the sky on her flying unicorn and saves the day, while also dancing around in a slutty way.

Korgoth of Barbaria Never before released on DVD. In a nightmarish post-apocalypse, the “old ways” have returned to the Earth. Korgoth, the barbaric killing machine, might be mankind’s only hope for survival.

Perfect Hair Forever Never before released on DVD. A while back, Adult Swim spent weeks hyping up the premiere of its new show, Squidbillies. When the date finally arrived, viewers were instead surprised to see this, Perfect Hair Forever, a barely-comprehensible spoof of anime.

Welcome to Eltingville. Never before released on DVD. After getting thrown out of a movie theater, four geeks head to the comic book store, where an original Kenner 12-inch-tall Boba Fett still in the box is on sale. To determine which one gets to buy it, they compete in a “trivia-off,” which threatens to destroy their friendship forever.

First things first: the six season sets in this box are identical to the ones previously released. If you bought any of them previously, then you’re buying them a second time with this box. The five pilots are on their own disc.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force
As much as I love this show and these characters, this follow up to the brilliant first season is hit or miss. Some of these episodes are outstanding, such as “Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future,” which introduced the hilariously clueless Cybernetic host, and “Super Trivia,” featuring the guys trying to win a bar trivia contest against a competitor with a giant brain. Other episodes, though, are more weirdness for weirdness’ sake, or intent on repeating past plots or jokes. Overall, it’s a good season, but not among the show’s best.

Space Ghost Coast to Coast
Although this is the third volume, things are relatively lucid on the set of Space Ghost. Space Ghost actually talks to his guests, and a lot of times it’s almost like watching a real talk show. At other times, though, it starts getting crazier, as the show’s creators try new things. This is the show in transition, as it changes from a talk show spoof into the manic randomness it eventually became. There are 24 episodes on this set. That’s a lot of Space Ghost.

Moral Orel
I have mixed feelings about this one. Christianity is an easy target, and at times this show seems like the same joke over and over. Orel misinterprets what adults are telling him about God, and, in his confusion he does things that are horrible and shocking, but all in the name of his faith. Sometimes it’s surprising and hilarious, and at other times, it’s just odd and slow-moving. The show is mean-spirited, but never so mean-spirited that poor little Orel comes off as the bad guy. As the show progresses, we get more and more glimpses of the adults on Orel’s town, especially his parents’ troubled relationship, and we can see it’s no wonder this well-meaning kid is so screwed up. The character development gets surprisingly deep, and it left me wanting to see more, just to get a sense of where the creators were going with this. Visually, Moral Orel is a surprisingly good-looking show, created with gorgeous the stop-motion animation.

Robot Chicken
What can be said about Robot Chicken that hasn’t already been said? The show is simply great sketch comedy. Unlike so many other sketch shows, the sketches are nice and short, so that once we get the initial joke, the creators don’t feel the need to stretch things out intolerably. Part of this might be the limits of the stop motion animation, and part of it might be the less-than-15-minute episode runtimes, but I’d like to think at least a part of it is the clever writing and nicely developed sense of comic timing. The show’s main targets are late ’80s/early ’90s pop culture, so if that’s not your scene, it’s possible you might not dig the show as much. You should also know that these episodes are uncensored, and the unbleeped f-bombs fly freely.

As I said above, any Adult Swim show is worth checking out, just to see what the creators have come up with, even if some of them are better than others. At the risk of angering its legions of fans, I have to admit Metalocalypse doesn’t excite me as much as the other shows. I think the joke is here to take the idea of “unlikable protagonists” to new heights. The band DethKlok is so popular that its members are wealthy beyond belief, and they enjoy success unimaginable. But wherever they go, they leave murder and destruction in their wake. Some of my favorite moments are when the DethKlok guys have to interact with normal folks in normal situations, such as when, during a visit to a grocery store, one of them calls it “the food library.” These moments are fleeting, though, and most of the episodes showcase the guys in their element doing horrible things. I get the joke, but I’m not sure it works for me. But, know that my opinion is the minority in this case. Metalocalypse is wildly popular, with an actual DethKlok band that tours the country.

Sealab 2021
It’s interesting that the second season is the one included in this set, because this is the season when the show went totally berserk. The first season was a very funny sci-fi/cartoon spoof. The second, though, is when the creators decided to experiment. Some of these experiments work wonderfully, such as the “Grizzlebees” episode, but others are just frustrating, like the “7211” episode. Other curiosities on this set are the “Blackout” episode and the “Uh-oh!” episode. Entries that go back to the sci-fi parodies are the popular “Bizarro” one, and the holiday-themed “Alvis” one. The first season is the show at its best, this is the show at its weirdest.

The Pilots
Seeing these made me realize just how tough it must be to create a pilot, one that not only introduces characters and settings, but also promises a potential for weeks and perhaps years of additional stories. Most of these pilots make a great one-off short, but I have to admit I don’t see many of them working as series. Totally for Teens is a fun and hyper takeoff of shows from that era, but is this really something you’d want to tune in for every week. The same goes for Cheyenne Cinnamon. The concept for that one is to take a Britney Spears type and contrast her onscreen cool celebrity persona with her wild child on a rampage real world persona. Cheyenne flies down from the sky to help a young girl with her magic, but then Cheyenne is more interested in getting high and partying than in helping. As a short film, it’s hilarious, but I can’t imagine how it could ever have been a series without just repeating this same gag every week. Korgoth of Barbaria, on the other hand, was astonishingly funny, and wide open enough that I could totally see it as a series. The violence and sex are so wildly over-the-top that I couldn’t stop laughing. That, plus how the fantasy setting is so widely open to satire, made me want to see more, week after week. It would be trickier to make Welcome to Eltingville into a weekly show, but I think it could have worked. The pilot is hysterical, especially for anyone who’s spent an afternoon hanging out at the local comic book shop. The inclusion of Perfect Hair Forever on this set is odd, because it actually did lead to a short-lived series. Its real notoriety is from the hoax where it took the place of the Squidbillies premiere. What’s missing from that historic night, though, is the follow-up, in which Space Ghost returned from commercials to host a panel discussion on what had just happened. Perhaps we’ll see that on an eventual Perfect Hair Forever DVD. As for the pilot itself, it’s so nonsensical it ceases to be funny, and instead just gets frustrating, as you keep waiting for the story to go somewhere, which it never does. Because it was originally created as a hoax, though, that’s somewhat understandable.

The picture and audio quality on the DVDs are good. Because these shows aren’t top-notch animation, these discs aren’t the ones to show off your home entertainment system. Still, the colors are bright and the sound is clear throughout. For details on the extras, see the individual reviews at DVD Verdict. The short version is that there are plentiful commentaries, featurettes and promo materials. Some of these are insightful looks at how the show is made, others are spoof extras, made in the same anarchic style as the shows. The disc with the pilots has no extras.

Let’s speculate. The case the pilots come in is marked “Adult Swim Pilots.” The actual disc, however, is labeled “Adult Swim on a Disc.” So, what do you think? Will this get a release as an individual disc sometime in the future? I can’t say for sure, but I’m guessing it will.

If you already own all six of these season sets, I’m not sure the pilots are good enough to warrant you re-buying them all. If, on the other hand, you do not own any of the season sets featured here, this box is a no-brainer for a purchase. The big head-scratcher is whether to buy if you already own some but not all of these sets. You must look deep within yourself to decide if what else is on here is worthy of being in your DVD collection. Only then will you have…perfect hair forever.

The Verdict

Not guilty in a box.

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