Friday, September 16, 2011

Repetitive Joke Theatre: Robot Chicken Season 1 On DVD Stagnates

The Good: Some of it is quite funny
The Bad: That humor just gets repeated over and over again, Short bits, Poor DVD extras
The Basics: When toys misbehave as elements of social commentary, the humor is good, but Robot Chicken Season 1 does not hold up, even through a first viewing.

I was sitting at a Star Trek convention one day last Spring and one of the dealers near me had a bootleg DVD going on their television. Now, I'm usually real good about blocking out the noise from other dealers, but at one point, a line caught my attention and made me laugh. It was a parody of Peanuts and the voice was crowing about "strong Christian overtones!" As a child I read a book called The Gospel According To Peanuts and since then, I'd been wary of Charles Schultz's popular comic strip and hearing that line so clearly made me laugh. I asked the dealer what it was, found out it was Robot Chicken and when it came out on DVD legitimately, I picked it up.

What a waste.

Robot Chicken The Complete First Season on DVD is basically a collection of fifteen minute sketch comedy episodes featuring toys moving in stop motion animation making crass remarks, social commentary and fart jokes. There are twenty-one episodes spread out over two-discs and the episode with the Charlie Brown mystery, "Vegetable Fun Fest" is easily the best episode. In that episode, there is also a hilarious sketch featuring Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in a parody of the climax to The Empire Strikes Back. After Vader reveals his big secret to Luke, he details the other plot points of Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace and the rest of the Trilogy as Luke basically decides the plot has gotten ridiculous.

This is geek humor and it works well on that front.

But it does not hold up. One pass through these discs was already finding the humor terribly repetitive. Like Strangers With Candy, Robot Chicken has a decent idea, that becomes repetitive and dull with its execution. Instead of remaining sharp and witty, the show degenerates into a lot of similar jokes, one-liners and humor that clearly appeals to the sensibilities of the younger geeks.

The structure of the show is basically little sketches using action figures, like from Star Wars, Marvel super heroes, Star Trek, Sailor Moon, or Charlie Brown and putting them in situations that are a juxtaposition, like the Super Hero Reality Show. The effect is derivative of "Twisted Mego Theater" from ToyFare Magazine. Every month, they make a comic strip using toys and Robot Chicken is essentially the same thing with movement and a PG-13 mentality.

The problem is, the series tries to make humor out of little one-liners and bits that are most reminiscent of the cutaways from Family Guy (season one reviewed here!), like where Peter reminisces about working for The Electric Company and it cuts away to his experience there and then pops back to the main plot. The problem with Robot Chicken is that there's no main plot, so the bits are truly hit or miss.

Unfortunately, for every sketch that made me laugh, there were two that fell flat for me. Perhaps it's because I'm a fan of Seth Green's sense of humor (his commentary tracks on the Family Guy discs where Green participates are often quite funny) and Seth Green is one of the co-creators of Robot Chicken that much of the humor just becomes predictable, anticipated even. Indeed, in the later episodes on the disc, the only things I found myself laughing at were the one-line interstitials between the two to five minute sketches.

On the DVDs, the extras are comparatively weak, basically a slew of deleted scenes. In other words, more of the same material as the prime bits. One wonders why they bothered with the deleted scenes and didn't just use those to make new episodes for the second and third seasons.

For fans of comedy, though, this is quite a let down. It might be fun to kill a little time with, but it's not worth the buy.

For other works with Seth Green, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Clone Wars - Season 2
Old Dogs
Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy
Heroes - Season 3
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
"Deep Throat"
Buffy The Vampire Slayer


For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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