Robot Chicken, the brainchild of co-creators Seth Green and Matthew Senreich is, to many, an utterly tasteless show with the comic sensibilities of a stoned 14 year-old. Well, for the most part, that’s true. But unlike almost every lame and insipid animated show that can only dream of entertaining a generation of stoned 14 year olds, Robot Chicken is more a wolf in shiftless youth’s clothing. It’s brilliantly written, brilliantly animated, brilliantly executed. Dare I say, it’s brilliant! Bloody, gory, shamelessly juvenile, amazingly sexist and unflinchingly inappropriate. But brilliant. Everyone else is a mere poser.
All 20 episodes of Season 6, along with a slew of behind the scenes featurettes, unreleased and never aired storyboards and scenes cut for one reason or another, are now available on Blu-ray DVD. Head character fabricator Tennessee Reid Norton says it best when he tells viewers, “For Season 6, the tagline is less rape, more masturbation.” Sounds like progress to me.
Featurettes spotlight staff writers, animators, puppet makers and other artistic types commenting almost apologetically about the work they do, often looking down at the ground as they describe, for example, trying to keep a straight face while discussing whether or not to animate an old women’s sagging breasts flopping about or just show them attached to her body. A fair question for a production meeting I would think. One young female staffer described her job rather sheepishly as “body fluid replacement specialist.” With the vast amounts and varied types of body fluids employed over 20 episodes, it makes perfect sense to have such a specialist on staff.
The laundry list of famous actors who have been cajoled or blackmailed into guest appearances is impressive: Allison Janney, Olivia Wilde, Liev Schreiber, Christopher Lloyd, Stanley Tucci, Joss Whedon, Jon Stewart, Patrick Stewart and Sam Elliot are just a few of the stars who agreed to moan, groan, growl, scream, fake orgasms and perform all manner of embarrassing bits for the show. Many amusing outtakes from the recording studio are shown. Watching Malin Akerman talk about her cock was exceptionally funny. If you’ve seen Watchmen, you know without a doubt Malin Akerman does not have a cock.
First and foremost, it’s safe to say, compared even to a show like South Park, Robot Chicken seems like the most enjoyable animated show to work on in the history of television. There is something about watching stop-motion animators doing ghastly things with puppets that makes even the oldest kid smile, harkening back to days spent playing with army men, Woolworth display mannequins (well, maybe best leave that one be) and poseable Hazel dolls. Featurettes showing actual sets complete with iconic pop culture character puppets (like Captain Kirk, Doc and Marty McFly as well as the Teletubbies) along with blood, urine, internal organs and severed limbs, illustrate the point that on this show, unlike most others, people get paid to hang out and film stupid shit all day long. Honestly, it’s amazing any finished work ever gets done.
Plus, how can you not be fond of a show that put a Disneyland handjob sketch on the air, a truly inspired notion if there ever was one.
It’s easy to cite a show like Robot Chicken as clear evidence of moral decay of the very fabric of our American way of life. But that criticism is misguided. I contend that laughing at ourselves, our institutions, our cultural icons and societal norms is not only entertaining, but an important part of our unwritten system of checks and balances by which we reflect on our how we act as a society. America has become quite uncivil of late, our voyeuristic media shifting more and more attention on deriving entertainment from the misery, humiliation and failure of others. Which, inherently, is much nastier, much more sinister and way more fucked up than anything you’ll see on Robot Chicken. And, for the most case, not even remotely funny.
But I digress, as I often do, to the dismay of readers and members of my immediate family.
Robot Chicken is unique, inventive and often enough, funny. It’s stupid and thought provoking at the same time, a creative pairing quite difficult to achieve. But, the show does it brilliantly, which is their saving grace. If you’re stepping out onto the precipice to offend everyone, best be careful lest you fall. Be damn sure you’re doing it right. Anything less is just stupid, lame and offensive. And not funny. And therein lies the show’s true genius.
Dan Sarto is editor-in-chief and publisher of Animation World Network.