Reviews

Superjail! Season One

An impressive inventory of the grotesque; a kind of serial killers’ idea book brought to life.


Superjail!

Distributor: Warner
Network: Cartoon Network
Release Date: 2010-02-23
Amazon

In Superjail!, limitations aren’t repressive chains that weigh down creativity and hamper free expression, they’re also guideposts by which we can measure the effectiveness of our ideas. No matter how far one strays from the norm, there is always a larger organizing principle at work. An abstract painting of muddled forms and globs of paint is still confined to a canvas. Piercing shards of feedback, distorted animal shrieks and a guitar played with a toilet brush, though decidedly not pop music, still falls within the realm of recorded sound.

In cartoons, anything the mind can conjure is easily rendered by an animator’s skilled hand or, more often these days, computer. As with any medium other, in animation there is the middle of the road and there is the borderland, and artists can go to these limits if they choose, but happens when they get there?

Superjail! is a tourist to these borders, and watching the show is like experiencing an enthusiastic traveler’s slide show of the trip. Though there are occasional moments of note, much of it is a tedious exercise in boundary-pushing.

The series is “about” a funhouse penal colony built inside a volcano and run by The Warden, a purple-suited cousin to Willy Wonka. The characters’ share a genetic predilection for craziness and boundless imaginations, though Wonka’s sinister side is tempered with liberal doses of cocoa. The Warden isn’t driven by profit or even a desire to see the hardened inmates of Superjail punished. In fact, he isn’t driven by much at all.

The Warden, as well as the hairy, transgendered guard Alice and sniveling jail accountant Jared, are just mouthpieces for the few scraps of plot tossed out in every episode. They deliver their lines to set up some brief story that invariably ends in a protracted fight scene. Nameless characters are stabbed, eviscerated, decapitated, disemboweled, de-boned, stuffed, flogged and filleted in every imaginable way. It’s an impressive inventory of the grotesque, a kind of serial killers’ idea book brought to life. The violence is over-the-top, gory and gratuitous, but it’s only offensive in its pointlessness.

These fight scenes are impressive in their chaos, and the sheer scope and detail virtually demands repeated viewings to take in all the gore, but they’re not entertaining. There’s nothing at stake here, no real characters to care about and no real story to engage the viewer. The visual acrobatics of the animators, who’ve clearly been given license to fill the screen with every possible thing they can imagine, soon becomes a gimmick, one that would maintain its effect if it were spread out over a series of unrelated shorts rather than a supposedly cohesive series.

The are a couple of bright spots, like the Scientology satire “Don’t Be a Negaton”, featuring D.L. Diamond, who’s a cross between L. Ron Hubbard and Gene Simmons, and the two-part “Time Police”, in which the best visual gag of the season comes in the form of a unicorn’s horn piercing a rainbow creating a shower of blood. Lisa Frank, eat your heart out. In these episodes the characters actually start to become three dimensional, providing a flicker of hope that the show’s creators are finding the balance between their obviously boundless imaginations and their storytelling instincts.

Bonus features include a music video of the show’s excellent theme song, “Going Home”, by the band Cheeseburger (featuring Superjail! co-creator Christy Karacas on guitar), the series pilot and a collection of animatics.

4

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image