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Everyone’s favourite late night, mostly animated television station is desperate for cash, and shamelessly looking to bleed your wallet dry. For your monetary consideration I present Adult Swim in a Box (or Cash Grab in a Box, depending on how you put the lid on said box) – a collection of the station’s best and most popular shows, covering a rather large scope of styles and eras. The set includes the following: Space Ghost Coast to Coast Volume 3, Sealab 2021: Season 2, Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Volume 2, Robot Chicken: Season 2, Moral Orel: Season 1, Metalocalypse: Season 1, and a collection of pilots that were mostly not turned into full series. Here are some quick rundowns.

Adult Swim in a Box

Space Ghost Coast to Coast: Volume 3


Seven years before the days of a proper, station identified Adult Swim (and Adult Swim is considered a separate station from Cartoon Network, according to Nielsen people), Hannah Barbara’s less than incredible super hero character Space Ghost made a come back as a talk show host. The show, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, premiered on Cartoon Network, and would become the Adult Swim template. Besides proving to Cartoon Network’s parent companies that an almost exclusively ‘adult oriented’ original series would work ( The Simpsons was a bit of a one-off for Fox at the time), the series set the channel’s early animation and comedy styles (most of the show’s crew ended up on other Adult Swim series). The ironic, often knowingly awkward humour (including some loooooong pauses) starts here, as does the cannibalization of old Hannah Barbara footage, which saved oodles of money.

This ‘Volume 3’ collection holds episodes from the show’s fourth season (apparently, if I remember correctly the airings were erratic), which originally premiered in 1997. The show was inconsistent quality-wise, and the best episodes were pretty evenly spread across a several year run, but there are some definite keepers here. Highlights include:  ‘Rehearsal’, which sees the crew preparing for their season opener (featuring Fred Schneider), ‘Pilot’, the ‘lost’ premier of ‘Harvey Birdman Coast to Coast’ (featuring Lori Fetrick and Steve Henneberry), ‘Zorak’, a ‘This is Your Life’ parody (featuring Dr. Maxcy Nolan and Steve Arnold), and ‘Dam’, which features Zorak and Moltar messing with a very confused Charlton Heston. The best episode on the set, and the one that makes the set a necessity for series fans, is the musical episode entitled ‘Boat Show’, with guests Steve Allen and Andy Dick.

Adult Swim in a Box

Sealab 2021: Season 2


Sealab 2021, along with the other Space Ghost follow-ups ¬ The Brak Show, and Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, represents the next step in re-appropriating old Hannah Barbara footage – interaction, and sometimes, plot. These shows (and Aqua Teen Hunger Force), were aired alongside re-runs of Home Movies (which then led to new episodes), and various English dubbed Anime. Unfortunately, like so many of Adult Swim’s shows, Sealab had a short shelf life, and began a steady decline once the first season was finished. The second season isn’t a wash, and isn’t as listlessly weird as the latter two seasons, but rarely compares to the loveably quotable first season. Highlights among the not quite bad enough to complain averageness include ‘Hail Squishface’, which lampoons Gremlins, Aliens and Trouble with Tribbles, ‘Tinfins’, an extra meta look behind the scenes, mixed with a potent action movie trailer spoof, ‘Vacation’, which takes the repetitive joke to the extreme, and ‘Fusebox’, which sees the Sealab losing power, and features almost zero animation. This season is notable for the episode entitled ‘7211’, which was a re-cut and re-dubbed episode of the original Sealab 2020 with almost no additional animation, and no blatant comedy until the very, very end.

Adult Swim in a Box

Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Volume 2


Following the stolen Hannah Barbara motifs that defined the pre-official Adult Swim era the next step was original characters. Logically it follows that those original characters should appear in the form of slightly anthropomorphic fast food products. Logically. It. Follows. Aqua Teen Hunger Force uses similar, Flash-based animation, but doesn’t feature nearly as much appropriated footage. The show was, and from what I understand still is, the most popular of the station’s originals, and lead Adult Swim to mainstream recognition. I admit that it took me a very long time to appreciate the ‘subtle’ brand of humour employed by the   Aqua Teen squad, but once I got the hang of the show it became a favourite. Once I got over the unbelievable weirdness of the series and recognize the character’s traits, which is a big part of why it took me so long to like the show. In the end I pretty much live for Carl, the Aqua Teen’s super sarcastic, super angry, super passive aggressive neighbour. Like Sealab, ATHF went downhill pretty quickly, but the crew had a solid three seasons in them, and the stuff included here in ‘volume 2’ (from seasons one and two) might actually be the strongest overall. There are oodles of quotable lines, gross-out visuals, and more pointed sarcasm than you can shake a Universal Re-Monster at.

Adult Swim in a Box

Robot Chicken: Season 2


Robot Chicken runs on an ingenious idea – animated action figures. What better way to reach deep down into the nostalgic recesses of Generation X and Y than to enact pop-culture memories with their favourite toys? Content is almost an afterthought, because concept alone makes the show worth a glance. Genius. Honestly, the creators might want to look into a child friendly version. Ah, but content, there’s the rub. Robot Chicken is a sketch show, and I normally I make it a rule to not like sketch shows, because they’re often frustratingly hit and miss. Adult Swim on the whole is pretty hit and miss, but Robot Chicken is slightly more hit than miss, and the hits are hard as frozen mud-balls with rocks in the middle. Sometimes it’s just ball kicking and fart jokes, but other times something as golden as Emperor Palpatine getting a collect call from Darth Vader slips out. The show’s channel flipping motif (which itself is probably some kind of comment on my generation’s attention span), and 11 minute runtime makes for some fast-paced sketching. You’re more likely to stick spaghetti to the wall if you toss it in torrents instead of handfuls. Season two is a solid sampling of the series, though the third season is probably the best.

Adult Swim in a Box

Moral Orel: Season 1


Moral Orel isn’t a perfect show, but it’s one of cleverest and pointed cultural satires on television, standing proudly along side South Park. Or it did for a while there before it was canceled. Like pretty much every show on the channel Moral Orel starts as a basic spoof, in this case the ‘classic’ ‘educational’ stop-motion series Davey and Goliath, but after a few episodes develops a voice outside of its more referential elements. The show’s creators rip into conservative Christian America with a particular affection for double standards and hypocrisy. The show is overtly shocking at times, like the time Orel masturbates into a frosting dispenser and impregnates several of the town’s women, but usually the really gross stuff is left to our imaginations, which isn’t exactly the norm for the strum und drang comedy stylings of Adult Swim. Frankly it’s very refreshing, especially following Robot Chicken and ATHF. This first season collection is a good place to start, but the second and third seasons were notably better, so the folks that buy this set may want to look into future installments. There are a few second season episodes at the end of this collection, which are notably brighter and better animated. The episodes are presented here in the intended order rather than the order they aired (the Christmas special was the default pilot).

Adult Swim in a Box

Metalocalypse: Season 1


In the spirit of this shameless set’s cash grab status, I’m just gonna recycle most of my thoughts from my Metalocalypse season two review, which I wrote assuming I’d never be reviewing the first season. Besides The Venture Bros. I personally enjoy Metalocalypse more than anything else that plays on Adult Swim. The show is more than brilliantly brutal metal, it’s also a brilliant lampoon of celebrity, and celebrity obsession. Spinal Tap is the obvious grandfather comparison, and there’re more than a few similarities, but creator/writer/voice actor/composer Brenden Small and company takes things to such delightful extremes that memories of Rob Reiner’s groundbreaking mockumentary begin to melt away about half way through this first season. First time viewer acceptance is a matter of getting used to the show’s sense of humour, which isn’t exactly average for mainstream television. Small was partially responsible for Home Movies which was largely improv based (not unlike Spinal Tap). Personally speaking Home Movies is second to nothing, but the style was distinct enough that there were a whole lot of detractors. Metaocalypse is also the goriest thing since Peter Jackson stopped making horror movies.

Adult Swim in a Box

Video


Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Sealab 2021[i] and [i]Aqua Teen Hunger Force all use similar computer aided animation styles, and are presented here in 480i 1.33:1 full frame. The whole thing was produced with standard definition broadcasts in mind, and quality was not really the number one priority. The colours are bright, with minimal compression noise, and the lack of film elements means artefacts are all the result of digital fiddling. All three series feature jaggies, especially when elements of zoomed, and interlacing effects, specifically combing on quick moving elements (mostly speaking mouths). Notably Sealab episode ‘7211’, which features original footage (which was likely shot from 35 mm) has a much bigger problem with combing effects than the computer animated episodes, though it features fewer interlaced images. ATHF looks the best of the three, with fewer interlacing effects and brighter colours.

Robot Chicken and Moral Orel are similarly produced, and shot with actual cameras. Both series are also presented interlaced rather than progressive, but neither features any obvious combing or interlacing effects. Robot Chicken features more colours, and apparently a bigger budget, so it’s the slightly more impressive transfer, but it also features a bit more noise during its occasional down moments. Moral Orel features a more consistent look. The whites are a little blown-out, but blacks and colours are rich and relatively pure. Details on both series are plenty sharp for a standard definition release, sharp enough to pick up on all the impurities on the puppets ( Chicken features a little more edge-enhancement, and Orel is a little flatter).
The difference in colour quality between the first and second season episodes of Orel is also notable.

Metalocalypse is the only collection in the set I have any distinct complaint about. The show is framed 16x9, but the first season is not presented anamorphically, which is, plainly stated, a bummer. The show isn’t the most expensive looking thing on Adult Swim’s docket (that would be The Boondocks, which is probably why a third season still hasn’t been instigated), but it’s more detailed and layered than most of the channel’s output, and using the ‘zoom’ function to fill the screen flattens and fluffs things. Even when watched letter-boxed the transfer is lacking detail, and features quite a bit noise. The blacks are a bit grey, and edges are pretty jaggy. The second season release corrected some of these mistakes, but was still interlaced.

Adult Swim in a Box

Audio


Space Ghost Coast to Coast and Sealab 2021[i] also mostly match on the audio front, featuring vocal friendly Dolby Stereo tracks, with minor sound effects, and little music. The vocal elements are relatively well centered, and plenty clear when intended as such. The sound effects are also clear (rarely convincing as part of the on screen action), and feature some decent right to left directional stuff. When present the musical tracks are of solid quality, with effective stereo elements and just enough bass support. There is one big fat exception to this rule, and it’s the [i]Space Ghost episode ‘Boat Show’, which is presented in glorious 5.1 surround, including a really deep LFE, and warm musical instruments. Moral Orel is also presented in stereo, but with a more naturalistic slant, and fewer standout moments. Robot Chicken is similar, but livelier and busier. The rapid fire action, and use of referential audio just leads to more audio dynamics and stereo effects. Both Orel and Chicken feature solid musical tracks as well.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force is the one part of the set that has been entirely remixed into 5.1 for DVD (one of two Adult Swim shows presented in the surround format, the other being Venture Bros). The mixes are pretty thin, but the 5.1 is not entirely wasted, mostly because the dialogue is perfectly centered, and the LFE ads some oomph to the music. The stereo channels are relatively busy, and if you listen real close like, you might hear some rear channel effects (the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past’s voice echo starts in the center and radiates all the way to the back). Metalocalypse could really do with a 5.1 mix to support all the epic scale and massive music, but the Dolby Surround 2.0 mix isn’t a total pushover either. The rear surround channel is mostly there for minor echo effects, but the ghost center channel works surprisingly well. Though lacking a discreet LFE, the track features a reasonably heavy low-end. The disc doesn’t feature an alternate track minus the language edits, but cursing isn’t everything.

Adult Swim in a Box

Extras


I’ve always wondered exactly what went into the live actor interviews made for Space Ghost Coast to Coast, and thanks to extra features I’m able to get a decent idea. Both discs of this two disc set feature commentary tracks (episodes ‘Zoltran’, ‘The Brilliant Number 1’, ‘Joshua’, ‘Pavement’ and ‘Boat Show’). The tracks are a bit disjointed, but relatively informative. Disc one features a few outtakes from the John Stewart interview (3:00), an alternate ending for ‘Zorak’ (:30), and two brief bits deleted from ‘Switcheroo’ (1:00). Disc two starts with ‘World Premiere Toon In’ (17:20), apparently some kind of mock awards show Cartoon Network aired in 1995, which was hosted by Space Ghost and his villainous sidekicks. Animation directors interviewed include Van Partible ( Johnny Bravo), Pat Ventura, Genndy Tartakovsky ( Dexter’s Lab, Samurai Jack), and Craig McCracken ( Power Puff Girls). The set is completed with the extended Bob Odenkirk and David Cross Interview (15:00).

Sealab 2021 starts with group commentaries on all 13 episodes. The tracks are listless, directionless, and for the most part everyone in the room kind of sounds like they’d rather be doing something else. The set’s second disc features a handful of additional extras including a genuinely touching tribute to Harry Goz (8:00), the voice of Captain Murphy who died after the second season, ’20 Questions with the Cast’ (12:00), featuring a bikinied woman interviewing the real cast in the form of their animated counterparts, ‘Tour of 70-30’ (:30), a tongue-in-cheek look at the studio with women in bikinis, a rough cut look at the episode ‘Der Dieb’ (actually a reenactment with puppets and bikini girls, 11:30), and a real rough cut of an unaired episode called ‘Ronnie’ (11:00).

Adult Swim in a Box
The Aqua Teen Hunger Force extras starts on disc two with four episode commentaries featuring cast and directors. The tracks have to be chosen from the episode select menu (episodes ‘Super Trivia’, ‘Meat Zone’, ‘Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future’ and ‘Baffler Meal’). These tracks are less listless than the Sealab tracks, and even feature a few technical details. The participants are having fun, but also looking to inform at least a little (when they aren’t singing songs). Speaking of ‘Baffler Meal’ (12:00), that episode is one of the extras. Apparently the show started as a gag episode of Space Ghost that never aired, and it is presented here. It’s weird, and followed by a music video (3:00) recorded for the end of the episode. Other baffling extras include ‘Future Wolf II: Never Cry Wolf: Origin of the Series’ (a joke making-of featurette, 6:00), and ‘Future Wolf III’ (a slideshow set to music from the series, 19:00). The set is wrapped up with deleted scenes.

Robot Chicken features cast and crew commentary on every single episode. The participants change throughout (except creators Seth Green and Matt Senreich), but the content is a consistent blend of jokes and information, from technical details to stories from the writing room. Besides a few Easter Eggs, disc one also features ten deleted scenes with introductions (11:20), eight promos (4:20), ‘The Making of a Sketch’ (the ‘Inspector Gadget meets Terminator’ sketch, 13:00), ‘Christmas Special’ (a mix of previously released Christmas themed episodes, 11:00), and five raw vocal sessions (10:00). Disc two features the rest of the commentary tracks, four Seth Green animation reference videos (6:00), 20 deleted scene animatics with final dialogue, and introductions (31:00), an ad for a PS3 contest (1:10), a slide show with a funny four take intro (2:10), 15 video blogs (32:30), and ‘Freedom Rock’ (a mock ad for a Robot Chicken soundtrack CD, 1:50).

Moral Orel starts with a series of commentaries on episodes ‘God’s Chef’, ‘Charity’, ‘Waste’, ‘The Blessed Union’, ‘The Best Christmas Show Ever’, ‘God’s Image’, ‘Love’, and ‘Satan’. These tracks feature a roomful of cast and crew, and are largely quite informative. I didn’t get that the Christmas episode was a partial Cassavetes spoof until the animators pointed it out. The sets second disc features a few more extras, starting with ‘The Awkward Comic-Con Panel’ (27:20), which itself features two commentaries, one with creator Dino Stamatopoulos, and another with Venture Bros. creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer. This is a group panel for Adult Swim as a whole, including casts and crews of Robot Chicken, Moral Orel, Metalocalypse and Venture Bros., and things go really badly, really quickly, mostly because Stamatopoulous brought Vodka on stage. The disc also includes a series of promos and bumpers, a look behind the scenes (including looks at the recording sessions and animation, 10:00), an alternate Rev. Putty vocal track (1:00), a collection of the end credit animations (2:00), and six deleted scenes.

Adult Swim in a Box
All the Metalocalypse extras are hidden in Easter Egg form. Disc one extras include Murderface’s extended penis solo (1:40), ‘Skwisgarr Skwigelf Advanced Finger Wizard Master Class’ (5:30), the priest playing guitar (1:20), behind the scenes on the ‘Thunder Horse’ video (4:10), Nathan Explosion reading ‘Hamlet’ (20:10), and Murderface playing video games (1:40). Disc two features the band talking about their family (1:00), their fans (1:00), education (2:20), natural disasters (1:00), food (2:00), insects (2:30), the future (1:30), politics (1:10), and women (2:20), the Mordhouse tour video (5:20), a graphic violence reel (5:00), Pickles hung over (8:10), the Burzums menu (2:20), uncut animated boobs (:30), and more stuff I didn’t find.

This bring us to the Adult Swim in a Box exclusive pilots, which include The Best of Totally Teens, Cheyenne Cinnamon and the Fantabulous Unicorn of Sugar Town Candy Fudge, Korgoth of Barbaria, Perfect Hair Forever and Welcome to Eltingville. Totally Teens is clever in concept (it’s a spoof of those ‘90s, studio audience, sorta sketch shows that played on Nickelodeon), but not particularly funny. Cheyenne Cinnamon is a computer animated mixed spoof of shows like Strawberry Shortcake and Hannah Montana (by way of Britney Spears), and is a good standalone, but I can’t imagine sitting through any more episodes. Korgoth is the best of the five, spoofing Conan the Barbarian with a cell animation mix of Fire and Ice and Sponge Bob. It might’ve been a decent series, but a lot of its best jokes overlap a bit with Metalocalypse and Super Jail. Perfect Hair Forever, the only pilot here picked up for additional episodes, is an Anime spoof, and the comedic styles are similar to ATHF. Reasonably amusing. Welcome to Eltingville is more of a traditional sit-com, and more like Adult Swim pick-ups like Mission Hill. A delightful celebration of all things geek.

Adult Swim in a Box

Overall


Adult Swim in a Box is a good place to start for the aspiring Adult Swim series collector, and/or a fairly priced gift for friends that are unaware of what the channel has to offer (whether they like it or not). I have no idea what went into the selection of these five collections, but they represent a reasonable sampling of what the studio has to offer. I’d prefer a collection of only first season of volume collections, or maybe some kind of fan favourite collection, but at least we’re getting an exclusive extra disc of pilot episodes, and a hilarious box. Video and audio quality, and extra volume varies from collection to collection, so you know, be aware.


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