Reviews

Robot Chicken: Season 3

Andrew Winistorfer

This is a show for nerds, geeks, dorks, and spazzes that somehow brokethrough to the mainstream.


Robot Chicken

Distributor: Warner
Cast: Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, Tom Root, Dan Milano
Network: Adult Swim
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2008-10-07
Amazon

Like the gig that keeps him knee-deep in residual checks (Family Guy) Seth Green’s Robot Chicken is awash in random pop culture references. But where Family Guy uses references at a detriment to the plot to get cheap laughs, Robot Chicken is all pop culture references—references to Strawberry Shortcake, the Smurfs, He-Man, and Star Wars are stacked on top of each other like clips from a dream random pop culture reference cable service.

In some ways, Robot Chicken is the first post-Internet TV show—its jokes reveal themselves in no more than two minutes (and sometimes in under five seconds), catering to the audience’s short attention span. It’s like YouTube, but it’s on basic cable.

First and foremost, Robot Chicken is a show for nerds, geeks, dorks, and spazzes. Who would find She-Ra’s on her period jokes funny? Nerds. You know who would laugh at a skit based on the fact that the Green Arrow is essentially Batman with a bow and arrow? Geeks. But sometime around the Robot Chicken Star Wars special, and plugs on the Blue Harvest episode of Family Guy, Robot Chicken had a breakthrough to the mainstream.

The third season of Robot Chicken, released on this DVD set, represents the show’s coming out party. Once relegated to the stoner and nerd bloc that watches Adult Swim on a regular basis, Robot Chicken is now the number one show among adults 18-34 and men 18-24 at its time slot. But the only difference with the show is that its audience is bigger—the show still gets most of its laughs from the fact that it’s made entirely from stop-motion animation of action figures from long-forgotten TV shows and movies.

The best bits in season three are often the ones that imagine the in-between scenes from famous movies, like what happened at the dinner on Cloud City when Lando sold Han, Chewie, and Leia down the river. Robot Chicken posits that Han would have a flip-off contest with Boba Fett, Lando would tell jokes about betraying Han (too soon), and Darth Vader would use a dinner roll to demonstrate the explosion of Alderaan. Naturally, it helps if you have a decent knowledge of the source material, but a lot of the sketches are so absurd that an encyclopedic knowledge of Star Wars and other nerd properties isn’t necessary.

Season three finds Robot Chicken also going into political joke territory—they re-imagine the Hurricane Katrina disaster as a flood of the Smurf forest, complete with Anderson Cooper showing up and a media circus. But the bit ends in absurdist territory—Gargamel finally gets to eat some Smurfs, and he finds out they taste terrible.

Like every previous season of Robot Chicken, there comes a point when the rapid-fire references grow thin (sometime around the Sir Mix A-Lot “Knights of the Round Table” song), leaving you wishing for something resembling plot or pacing. That’s not to say the show isn’t funny most of the way through (because it is), or it isn’t incredibly enjoyable (because it is), it’s just that the gluttony of clips grow tiresome in long stretches—which is presumably why a Robot Chicken episode is only 11 minutes long.

As the Robot Chicken Star Wars special proved, Robot Chickencan be transcendent when zeroing in a singular pop culture target (for my money, the Ponda Baba as an architect in that special is one of the top three funniest things I’ve ever seen)—and that cohesiveness is what’s largely lacking in season three. Heroes references give way to Jem references, give way to Dora the Explorer references, which give way to Tarzan references. It’s not that every episode needs to be zeroed in a singular part of the Zeitgeist, but a little more thematic tying would be welcome.

The season three set comes packed with tons of extras—including an extension of the Darth Vader in Cloud City sketch mentioned above—and effusive commentaries from Green, co-creator Matthew Senreich and others. If you ever wanted to know the inspiration behind some of the sketches (Why did you go with Chatty Kathy here Seth?), the commentaries are what you’ve been looking for.

At the end of season three, as they have done with the past two seasons, Senreich and Green end the season with a sketch that details how Robot Chicken is going to be cancelled forever (this year, Green and Senreich kill off all of the people who worked on the show in action figure form). But given the show’s expanding fan base (around 9.5 million viewers for every episode) and its virtually limitless joke pool (I can’t wait till they have to start pulling stuff from the 1940s: Rosie The Riveter vs. IG-88 coming soon), I can see Robot Chicken having an endless run. Somehow, I find that vaguely comforting.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.