Superjail!: Season One (US - DVD R1)
Gabe settles in for a little Willy Wonka in a giant prison action from Adult Swim...
Welcome to Superjail, a state of the art, privately owned and run penitentiary located inside a giant volcano, which itself is located inside another, larger volcano. Brutally run by The Warden (David Wain), a sadistic mix of Willy Wonka and the Mad Hatter, and Jared (Teddy Cohn), the large-headed and uptight recovering alcoholic accountant, Superjail houses literally billions of inmates, and is guarded by Alice (Christy Karacas), a hulking, violent mess of ‘woman’, and the unstoppable Jailbot. Within the time and space displacing walls The Twins (Richard Mathar) create chaos using their unexplained teleportation abilities.
Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block, these days considered its own station for more purposes, definitely owes something to the underground animation boom of the ‘90s, championed by ‘Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation’. The festival, which toured yearly, and popularized the animation styles of artists like Bill Plympton, Mike Judge, Craig McCracken, Nick Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and John Lasseter, was a big item for video store brats like myself. My friends and I would regularly bootleg the tapes, and re-watch them during birthday party sleep-overs after parents fell asleep, along with violent horror films, and other forbidden fruit. The hand crafted nature of these shorts personally inspired me to create shorts of my own, which I did throughout my adolescence. Though I’ve adored many of Adult Swim’s programs (I’d count plenty among my all time favourite television shows), I rarely recovered that specific raw, hand crafted feeling from the channel’s output. Perhaps it’s the use of computers, or even the referential nature of the shows, or simply the fact that the ‘Spike and Mike’ era belongs to the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Superjail certainly isn’t the station’s best, but it’s one of the most stylistically and artistically satisfying to my inner teenager. The imagery conjures memories of early MTV animated music videos, punk rock tattoos, and hair metal LP art, like a series of a 1980s teenager’s Trapper Keeper illustrations come to life. It feels like the forbidden ‘Spike and Mike’ stuff, running on visual concepts, graphic violence, offensive humour, and intricately detailed chaos. I’ve never dabbled in hard psychedelics, but I have a feeling the insane visuals that close out each 11 minute episode are a pretty close approximation of the hallucinations I’d experience. The plots and language based jokes are pretty amusing as well, but the already brief runtime is halved by these climaxes, along with a series of ADD nightmare inducing scene transition, which often qualify and ingenious mini-films themselves.
The question here becomes one of nostalgic purity versus modern eyes. Part of me likes the fact that this DVD release features a less than perfect transfer because it recalls those crudsy Spike and Mike VHS bootlegs I used to watch as a kid, but the transfer is overall good enough that I’m more concerned with the loss of detail, because oh my God is there a lot of detail. Each frame features about ten million pencil miles from foreground to back, and the sheer quantity of stuff is simply too much for this anamorphic transfer to handle. The liveliest scenes are saddled with compression noise. The wild mix of colours certainly doesn’t help matters, though even compressed these hues are pretty delightful. The warmest colours suffer the most blocking, but the bigger problem is the edge enhancement that follows the sharper black outlines. These are mostly nitpicks, as it’s pretty clear Adult Swim isn’t going to re-release the series on Blu-ray. My biggest complaint is that the last episode is noticeably more compressed and artefact wrought than the rest of the disc.
I’d really love Superjail to see an HD release, and while they’re at it they could up the scale on this Dolby Surround soundtrack to a nice, 5.1 enhanced mix. Each episode features an aggressive array of quick cut chaos, leading to regular directional flipping and zipping, dynamic change-ups, and musical madness. Even more insane are the climatic psychedelic sequences, which take everything to an abstract extreme, and coupled with nightmarish music that pushes the overall volume much higher. The vocal effects are sometimes (seemingly) not purposefully echoed, and tend to bleed into the stereo channels a little too obviously, but when the extent of clearly purposeful effects is taken into account it’s hardly much of a problem. Venture Bros fans should be able to catch a lot of co-creator Christopher McCulloch (aka: Jackson Publick) in various character guises. The language remains bleeped for television at its worst.
There’s very little information about the making of Superjail available on the internet, least of all the real inspirations. The closest I’ve gotten was an interview with the creators, which is available here on the Adult Swim website. This disc does not feature that, or any other behind the scenes information or featurettes. The extras start with the series pilot episode, ‘Bunny Love’ (11:40), which is presented in full-frame, but is otherwise not much rougher than the standard episodes. There are four total animatics, including ‘Bunny Love’, ‘Superbar’, and ‘Time Police Parts 1 and 2’. These are anamorphically enhanced, and vary in terms of roughness and sound completion. A music video for the show’s opening title song ‘Comin’ Home’ (3:00), by Cheeseburger, closes things out.
Superjail is the Adult Swim usually – it’s not for everyone, but the people that like it are going to eat it right up and ask for seconds. If you aren’t sure just check out some of the episodes and clips available for free streaming on the Adult Swim website. Personally speaking Superjail scratches my traditional animation itch in wonderful bite-sized pieces. It doesn’t feature quotable lines, or particularly easily described stories, but the imagery is unlike anything on modern television. The show’s super-detailed look would look better on Blu-ray disc, but the DVD presentation is perfectly acceptable. The lack of extras is a problem though. Maybe we’ll get more when season two finishes this year.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 23rd February 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Surround 2.0 English
Extras: 'Coming Home' Music Video, Three Animatics
Easter Egg: No
Cast: David Wain, Christy Karacas, Teddy Cohn, Christopher McCulloch, Richard Mathar
Genre: Animation and Comedy
Length: 111 minutes
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