Animated Word

Presenting an in-depth look at the current state of Animation

Adult Swim Starts Hitting Home

Utterly fated to be overshadowed by the release of the Extended Edition of The Two Towers (and, when you think about it, that's not really any sort of injustice), this last Tuesday saw the homecomings of two 2-disc collector sets of two of the best shows in Cartoon Network's Adult Swim line-up: Aqua Teen Hunger Force and the progenitor of them all, Space Ghost Coast to Coast. These dual Volume Ones sport identical DVD treatments, so it's not much of a stretch to find them fairly similar in tone and content. What is worthy of note, however, is what a discerning viewer can glean from the two series by going back to their beginnings.

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In a similar fashion to watching the DVD set of The Simpsons: Season One, it is highly disorienting to see Space Ghost in its beginnings (which the commentaries, chosen for a few choice episodes, intently point out on "Elevator", the first episode they made). One thinks of Space Ghost as a lunatic show where the guests' minor comments are reason enough for the show to spin off in wildly varying directions of plot and dialogue. The apotheosis of the show's ultimate tone would probably be Space Ghost's "interview" with Bjork (not on this set; much later in the show's run), where the Icelandic singer, probably understanding very little of what was going on, is introduced as none other than Space Ghost's incomprehensible wife. However, when you start Disc 1 and watch "Elevator", the show is almost unrecognizable in its pace and approach. George Lowe is directed to sound much more "heroic", and everybody is speaking in an oddly slow manner. Unlike later episodes, the actual interviews are the real focus of each episode. Actually, I do think I've noticed where the first step towards the eventual form of the show occurred: in the episode "Bobcat", obviously featuring Bobcat Goldthwait. Bobcat controlled the interview almost more than Space Ghost did, bringing the first hints of the style that the show would eventually adopt. Heck, a proper conspiracy theorist might argue that Bobcat Goldthwait actually made this show what it is. But then, I'm not a proper conspiracy theorist.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force is a little more recognizable in its first episodes. One can easily forgive Space Ghost's first moments for being a little underwhelming in comparison to later instances (and I do mean a LITTLE, as the first season of Space Ghost is still marvelously wacky, if not quite as structurally experimental) because it was the first of the Williams Street shows, and the tone had yet to be set. Aqua Teen was constructed, like most of the other Williams Street shows for Adult Swim, in the wake of Space Ghost's success. It's true that the same disorientation phenomenon can be slightly seen with Aqua Teen in their first episode, "Rabbot", only to a much lesser extent. They hadn't quite nailed Frylock's character yet (and as the straight man, it's natural that he'd be the hardest to pin down) in the first episode, as well as the real purpose of the team; there's more focus on being "detectives" than would occur in later episodes. But this show hit its stride really quickly. By the time the Mooninites arrive, the show is exactly what it's always been.

The sets are sparing in extras, and I can guess why: the shows aren't meant for kids, so kid-style extras are out, but there seems to be little interest in investing in the time and effort of adult-style extras like documentaries and full sets of commentaries. As noted before, what we do get are commentaries on a few episodes per disc, as well as some extended versions of some of the episodes and some concept art. And Zorak's lunatic music video of "Jingle Bells" (a definite highlight). Thusly, these sets aren't so much retrospectives and honoraries as they are simple collections, and so the question of their worth comes down to the buyer's opinions of the shows. Seasoned veterans of their Adult Swim runs can probably make up their own minds, although by sheer ratios alone, there's probably more general highlights on Aqua Teen's set than on Space Ghost's, the latter of which has had more time to expand and evolve. For me, I love both of these shows, so to all neophytes who don't know one or both of the shows: go get 'em. These are some of the greatest examples of modern animated absurdity ever made, and no matter what the season, it's worth seeing.

A critique by Alex Weitzman
First Published on Nov 21, 2003

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