Sunday, January 11, 2004
AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE VOLS. 1 AND 2
small screen - january 2004 - good
ATHF has become rather justifiably known as one of the best things on Cartoon Network's raucous guilty pleasure, Adult Swim. It's also one of the hardest shows to catch in passing, as each episode is about fifteen minutes in toto. This is probably for the best as ATHF in great doses begins to wear a bit thin. In small doses though, television doesn't get much more surreal or cockeyed or gloriously catch phrase laced.
ATHF is the exciting adventures of an anthropomorphic trio of super heroic foodstuffs; an obnoxious sadist in the form of a giant Milkshake (Master Shake), a lovable but brain dead steak tartare (Meatwad) and a goateed carton of french fries that shoots laser bolts from his eyes and generally plays straight man/leader for the group (Frylock). They live in a run down suburban shithole next door to an overweight New Jersey style meathead named Carl who always has to put up with the fallout from their escapades. Carl has a pool that the ATHF are forever usurping. Master Shake tries to torment Meatwad. Meatwad just wants to dance and be happy, but his gullibility finds him forever following the wrong crowd. Frylock is a computer geek and serious Type A single dad.
Then fucked up shit happens. Generally, this fucked up shit occurs at the start of the episode when Dr. Weird, in his NJ laboratory unleashes some sort of insane monster onto the world at large. These monsters would include a spider in diapers, a giant robot bunny wabbit, demonic ears of corn and a giant light-loving moth slacker.
The animation is just to the left of South Park in quality, which ain't saying much. Even Sealab 2021 has better toon quality than ATHF, but the show isn't about visuals. It's about the loopy dadaist storyline.
ATHF is filled with the sort of plots that people always say you "have to be high" to understand. In reality, you just have to be very tired or despondent. It's safe to say that most of Adult Swim's followers certainly fit that demographic (what other network would have the balls to advertise it's programs with the slogan: "Have you got anything better to do? We didn't think so." )
Just to add to the general confusion, old school hip hop head Schooly D plays the show's theme song and throws in narration and occasional sonic wallpaper. Because nothing says hip hop like a chunk of meat.
Supporting characters in the show are almost always the centerpiece of the episode. Alien invaders from the moon are unglamorous hyper-pixillated blocks with the sophistication and vocabulary of pissed off seventeen year olds. Hip Hop baby rappers are unveiled as arachnids with pampers and a taste for sweet, sweet brains. Criminally minded leprechauns focus rainbow rays on innocent civilians and rob them of their tennis shoes. Sociopathic unemployed Ken dolls with lower back problems terrorize the neighborhood.
Let's not forget one thing though: It works. God help me, it's pretty funny.
ATHF is the 2000's answer to Ren and Stimpy; equal parts violent, confusing and existential, it goes perfect with pizza and beer, three roommates and a bong in the corner.
If there's any weakness to the ATHF formula, it's that DVD sets like this expose the show as a bit of a one trick pony. What works well for fifteen minutes gets ridiculous after an hour and by the end of two and a half hours of this, you get the same feeling as it you've been eating fudge for the same amount of time: dizzy and bloated. Too much weirdness. The formula implodes like a black hole of absurdity and eats it's own tail. Then it flirts with being almost boring.
Almost. This is still better than Friends on it's worst day.
Unfortunately, you may be one of the many who hunt this set down for the "commentary tracks" and "bonus material" that have been sloppily tacked onto the discs. Don't. One of the commentary tracks is mostly just the show's writers futzing about on an electric guitar. They sound drunk. Or stupid. Or both. In short, they sound like their characters. Not encouraging. Skip the bonuses as well; they are unpolished versions of the same cartoons with some unfunny jokes that have been wisely culled from the final cut. Stick to the straight and narrow and you'll be well rewarded. Easter Eggs amongst the Aqua Teens don't pay off.
Watching all 180 minutes of the first season of ATHF is just too much of a good thing, but if you have greater self control than I do, I RX two episodes a day for the next week or so. Just enough to keep you gigglin'! So commence to Jigglin'!
ATHF has a rabid online following. Here's a small sample of what's out there:
The official Adult Swim Homepage - Downloadable ATHF games - Meet and/or Avoid other ATHF fans - WAS the unofficial site; is now a toy store that sells plush ATHF dolls - Audra's ATHF Page (with lots of transcripts and goodies)