Time to punch the %&$# out of it!
It never fails: Whenever a TV show becomes a hit, the pressure is on for the producers to come up with another hit show. This is how spinoffs are born. At other times, though, producers use the opportunity to flex their creative muscles and try something new. Such was the case in 2009 when the creators of Adult Swim’s mega-popular Robot Chicken came up with a new series to follow up on their stop-motion sketch show. The result, Titan Maximum is altogether different. While it was created in similar stop-motion animation, it is not a collection of rapid-fire pop culture gags, but one season-long sci-fi spoof.
During an interstellar war, the galaxy’s enemies were defeated by Titan Force Five, five young pilots who were able to join their space jets together to form the giant robot Titan Maximum. That was a few years ago, though. In peacetime, the members of the team now enjoy a wealthy, celebrity life, except for one who disappeared and another who died. That one who disappeared, Gibbs (Seth Green, Sex Drive), makes a surprise return appearance with a plan to take down the government, using giant robots and monstrosities of his own. To stop him, the remaining members of the team reform Titan Maximum with two surprise new members:
• Palmer (Breckin Meyer, King of the Hill), the leader, whose ego is as huge as the whole galaxy.
• Sasha (Eden Espinosa, Ugly Betty), the partying hot rich girl.
• Jodi (Rachael Leigh Cook, She’s All That), the overachieving nice girl.
• Willie (Dan Milano, Warren the Ape), Palmer’s little brother, a nerdy genius, who joins the team thanks to expertise on how to fix the robot.
• Leon, a monkey, joins the team as well. We’ll likely never know why, because he’s completely expressionless.
Everybody loves giant robots, right? Heck, the “giant piloted robot” thing is practically its own genre. You know the ones—a more or less human-shaped robot piloted by a human or humans riding inside. Said robot is normally armed to the teeth, and is used to face off against various gigantic threats, such as dinosaur-like monsters, invading armies or other massive piloted robots. There’s been Voltron, Mechagodzilla (the second one), and even the Power Rangers’ cheesy-ass zords. Often, these robots are piloted by young people, including teenagers and even children. Then along comes Titan Maximum, which takes that convention and plays up its many absurdities for all its worth.
The members of Titan Force Five are—this is the show’s word, not mine—douchebags. Palmer sees himself as the ultimate alpha male. He believes all the women love him and the guys want to be him. In his view, he’s the life of the party. When he jumps into his jet to save the day, it’s not because he cares about saving innocent lives, it’s about making himself look all extreme and badass. Flashbacks to Titan Force Five’s glory days show Palmer leading the others in using Titan Maximum in various lewd comedic antics while reveling in their drunkenness. This is what Palmer is all about, his fun and his outrageous lifestyle. When he finally gets a chance to confront Gibbs, it’s not about defeating Gibbs for the greater good, but about taking down a rival to satisfy his own ego.
For as much as Palmer revels in his non-stop party lifestyle, he’s nothing compared to Sasha. An archetype of the “out of control celebrity rich girl” in the style of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, or whats-her-name from Jersey Shore, Sasha is all about looking good and having a good time. She has a rich, powerful father, and her fame, money, and good looks basically give her leeway to do whatever she wants. I have to wonder why she even bothers as a member of Titan Force Five. Given some of the jokes about how badly Sasha’s singing career has gone, perhaps on some level Sasha feels she needs to be a part of the team in order to maintain her celeb status. That’s only hinted at, though, as Sasha is mostly used to diffuse what little tension there is, as she can always be expected to show her superiority by taking the piss out of everyone else with her sarcastic rants.
Gibbs, the villain, is a dark mirror to Palmer and Sasha. In some ways, he used to be them. In the flashbacks, Gibbs is often shown as living in Palmer’s shadow, but at other times, he was definitely one “of the guys.” Now in pure bad guy mode, Gibbs is still similar in personality to Palmer, except more evil. His signature move is giving folks the middle finger. It becomes a running gag as to how he keeps doing it over and over. More than just a joke, though, it also, in its way, explains Gibbs’s motivation. He’s not out to rule the galaxy or amass great wealth. Instead, his goal is to give society the finger. Given the past and present behavior of the Titan team, not to mention the equally jerkish actions of the military and government in this show, could it be possible that Gibbs is in the right to do so?
Does the above mean every character on this show is a—again, this is their word, not mine—douchebag? Not necessarily. Jodi is the heart and soul of the team, and possibly the series. When we first see her, she’s in martial arts training, taking down several opponents at once, her striving to better herself stands in sharp contrast to the others partying and carrying on. She’s often portrayed as the “straight man,” existing so characters can hurl jokes and insults at her. She gets a genuine arc, however, in that she and Gibbs once had a romance, so their conflict is more personal than the mere ego-clashing between Gibbs and Palmer. When Jodi and Gibbs reunite in private, Jodi ends up embarrassed and heartbroken. She carries these feelings with her throughout the rest of the season, and she must then face them during the big finale.
Willie is mostly played for laughs because of his nerdishness, first for his admiration for the other members of the team, as he believes they’re a lot more heroic than they really are, and then for his awkwardness in discovering parts of the adult world he’s not familiar with, such as alcohol consumption and Sasha’s sexiness. Leon the monkey is almost always at Willie’s side, but we don’t know why. In the bonus features, the creators state the concept behind Leon is that he never has an opinion. No matter what’s happening, Leon responds with the same blank facial expression. This of course leads to some of the show’s funniest moments. When all hell is breaking loose, there’s a quick cut to Leon, who maintains his silent stare.
As you might have guessed, Titan Maximum is unlike many of the other Adult Swim comedies, in that it’s serialized, and has a fairly complex backstory. It’s closer in tone to The Venture Bros., with its own continuity and fictional world-building, than it is to, let’s say, the random weirdness of Sealab 2021. In addition to our main cast, there’s a considerable number of supporting characters to follow. Billy Dee Williams (Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back) plays a general frustrated with the Titan team’s lack of respect for authority, Tahmoh Penikett (Battlestar Galactica) plays a rival to the team who wants to build a better robot and become the new celebrity hero, and Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights) plays a wonderfully demented assassin working with Gibbs. Additionally, the writers have worked a little bit of real-world science into their sci-fi, by having Titan Maximum visit real planets, such as Mars and Mercury, and real moons of Saturn, including the titular Titan. Little touches like this make the show and its world feel more expansive than the stop motion puppets we see on screen.
After writing all of the above, it becomes apparent that the characters and setting appealed to me far more than the actual comedy. This is a comedy through and through, however, mustn’t forget that. Most of the humor comes out of the fact that the characters you expect to be heroic are really jerks. At other times, the comedy gets surprisingly dark, as random folks meet unfortunate and sometimes shocking ends during action scenes. There are a few satiric jabs at the government, but nothing major. Also, the planet Mercury is depicted as a Florida-style retirement community, so expect a lot of “make fun of the old folks” gags as well. Viewers should note that this is the first season uncensored, so the f-bombs fly freely, and there’s even a glimpse of stop motion puppet nudity—if you’re into that sort of thing.
Most of the second half of the season is spent on Mercury, where, to depict it as a hot environment, every scene is bathed in harsh red light. If it were just one scene or two, that wouldn’t be a problem, but it feels like every episode is all red, all the time, and it really bothers the eyes after a while. Earlier episodes use a variety of colors and lighting effects, so I don’t see any reason why everything had to red for episode after episode, and it really distracted from the buildup to the big finale.
This disc contains all nine episodes of the show’s first season. The picture and audio on the DVD are good, making the most of the colors, even the reds (more on that below), with the dialog, score, and sound effects all coming through clearly. The disc comes with a ton of bonus features. The “Behind-the-Scenes” and “Anatomy of a Scene” featurettes are the best, giving a good look about how the show was created with a small group of people on a tight schedule with little money. Along similar lines is the text commentary on one episode, which goes into more detail about how the show is made, while also explaining some of the writers’ decisions and revealing some fun trivia. There are some deleted scenes in animatic form, with introductions by the producers, and clips from the first table read, with different actors trying out different characters. Less impressive extras are a series of photos of the crew done up like police mugshots, a design gallery of art made for the show, and an “episode redub,” in which the actors and producers try to improvise hilarious new dialogue for one episode. It’s a little funny, but I would have preferred a real commentary. Included in the package is a four-page Titan Maximum comic book, which serves as a mini-prequel to this season.
Titan Maximum isn’t for all tastes. The heroes are mostly unlikable, and some of the humor and references will be too geeky for mass audiences. On the other hand, if you like your comedy with a mean streak, and with some sci-fi action on top, then by all means check this one out.