Like many of the programs on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, Squidbillies is easy to dismiss as stupid stoner entertainment. The episodes are short—about 11-minutes long—and the quality of the humor varies even within that timeframe. The show is full of non-sequiturs to the point that episodes often end with something only vaguely related to the storyline. Worst of all, built upon stereotypes of southern rural Americans as it is, Squidbillies is the most overtly offensive show on Adult Swim.
However, Squidbillies has enough admirable qualities to make some of its shortcomings forgivable. Even though the quality of the show is inconsistent from minute to minute, the show’s humor is occasionally brilliant. Some of the jokes may not follow logically from the storyline or dialogue, but then again, the entire show takes place in a world where squids coexist with humans and a host of other creatures, including a blue reverend shaped like a teardrop. Not everything has to make sense here.
The show’s overt prejudice against the rural South is harder to justify than its lack of consistency, but Squidbillies is not simply a collection of redneck jokes. In fact, after a few short episodes it becomes clear that the southern squid hillbilly stars of the show are not totally to blame for their lack of education, sensitivity, and morals. Dan Halen, the corporate overlord of impoverished Dougal County, Georgia, controls the destiny of the squids and everything around them.
Whenever one of the squids has a job, he or she is working for Dan Halen. Every job the squids get involves some form of mental and/or physical damage and little or no pay. Any major project Dan Halen undertakes directly impedes on the well-being of Early Cuyler, the squid patriarch, and his kin. If the sheriff doesn’t like what Halen is doing, Dan simply removes the sheriff from his seat of power and replaces him with another sheriff from his sheriff farm.
Though it begins from stereotypes, the portrayal of the rural South in Squidbillies is actually more balanced than the picture offered by much American popular culture. These squids aren’t merely the irresponsible simpletons of Jeff Foxworthy’s redneck jokes. The Cuylers do nothing to change their lot in life, but then they never really have a chance to change anything.
So, perhaps Squidbillies should not immediately be dismissed as simple and vulgar. If not, then the next logical question is whether it is funny enough to bother watching. To this question, the answer is a simple yes.
Anyone willing to sit through the sight of a few tumors and genetically modified chickens will find enough clever jokes to make Squidbillies worthwhile. Most of the show’s humor resides not in one-liners but in character personalities and the situations in which the show’s writers put them. Granny is probably the most entertaining presence in the cast though Dan Halen, Sheriff, and the Reverend are all nearly as hilarious.
Granny is a lusty old squid frustrated by her lack of involvement in the excitement all around her. In itself, this characterization is not necessarily funny. However, the manner in which Granny physically represents her personality is very funny. Less than half the size of the other squids, Granny uses her walker to get everywhere even though she is far too short for it and therefore only dangles from its handles.
Early and his son Rusty are not as wildly funny as Granny and the other supporting characters, but they are usually at the center of the show’s sublimely ridiculous plots. Early often tries to teach Rusty how to be a man, but never lets Rusty completely succeed.
If Rusty becomes a guitar virtuoso by selling his soul to the Devil, Early will do everything in his power to exorcize the demon that makes his son a better musician than he. Even if Rusty passes all of Early’s “inquisitations” to achieve manhood, Early will steal away Rusty’s hard-earned sexual rite of passage for his own pleasure. In fact, the only time Early lets his son enjoy success is when Dan Halen grooms Rusty to be jailbait for his To Catch a Predator-esque television show. Rusty becomes a celebrity, but only as prey for child predators and certainly not as a man.
In addition to its unique characters and sometimes inspired storylines, Squidbillies features some great satirical music. The show’s theme song has one melody, but the words change every few episodes, hilariously covering the range of country music topics from love to drugs to property law. And whether an episode calls for a mockery of country line-dance numbers or metal power ballads, the show’s musical supervisors are spot-on in their harmonic, lyrical, and production choices.
Between the copious commentary tracks, interviews with the show’s creators, and various other special features, the bonus material for Squidbillies Volume Two gets a little repetitive. However, the commentary tracks and interview segments offer some interesting insights into the creative process behind Squidbillies at the same time that they are often very funny themselves.
The primary insight the commentaries and interviews provide is that the show’s creators love their jobs but don’t take their work too seriously. According to the writers, there is little sense to the creative process behind Squidbillies and no reason to try to make sense of the show as a viewer. This creative mindset might not foster timeless art, but it could have spawned something far worse than this little show