For those unaware, 'Robot Chicken' is a "cartoon" created mostly through stop-motion photography, with additional bits of animation and a rare bit of live action, created by Seth Green and Matthew Senreich. Each episode is a whiplash eleven minutes of random characters, including historical figures, random new characters, and pop culture "icons," juxtaposed into situations outside their norm. The jokes are a mixture of visual slapstick, cruel irony, and flat out vulgarity, to create a very peculiar, awkwardly meshed together show that is akin to one flipping the channel on a television incessantly, with no continuity to speak of. This fifth season of the show brings episodes 81 through 100 to disc, forever capturing the sense of humor one would expect from grown men who never really grew up.
Due to the unique, borderline deranged flow of the show, a number of questions that have nagged at humanity for eons are answered: Why does Voldemort really hate the Potter family? Where do Cabbage Patch Kids come from? If a president pardons a turkey each and every Thanksgiving, does that mean it's a criminal, likely to reoffend? Where did the Oompa-Loompas come from, and why do they work for Willy Wonka? Do dogs only "do it" doggy-style? Can Diablo Cody drive people to suicide just by talking? What's Arnold Schwarzenegger's favorite dance? What former video game icons were gay? Most importantly, is Edward Cullen a 109 year-old pedophile?
There is no plot to this show, no real continuity, so perhaps trying to pretend there's a common thread to even discuss or "sell" the show on is fruitless. Instead, I'd rather focus on the extreme highs and dangerously crappy lows that this set of new episodes in the fan favorite Adult Swim show highlights, and why, despite it all, there's nearly infinite replay value in this season, as there is the entire show's run to date. Simply put, this is a show that aims not for the heart, not for the brain, but straight for your groin area, with repeated low blows and cheap, cruel gags emphasizing the dark, borderline deranged humor of the creators, as well as their dedication to create these short skits that take an ungodly amount of time to create effectively and professionally in their chosen animation format.
This fifth season has a number of sketches that are knee slapping, laugh out loud hilarious, due to their simple (oft crude) scenarios, or even just the hilarious line readings (featuring an obscene amount of celebrity names) and twisted one-liners. The G.I. Joe gag, for example, riffing on how every other damned toy seemed to come with an animal helper of some kind, is all sorts of hilarious, but one single line, by Doc, proudly proclaiming his cat's name ("Catscan!") is just beyond funny, due to his enthusiasm and lack of remorse for the animal urinating in Duke's helmet. Then there's the crude parody of 'Toy Story,' where Andy comes home from college and uses his longtime friends as sex toys and crude drug delivery devices, much to their dismay. It's not the acts shown that are funny, but the faces, the reactions of the toys, the incredibly dry pun-based humor of the vintage toys, and, of course, the fact that Buzz Lightyear's fate greatly mimics that of a certain film anti-hero.
This season is startlingly short on 'Star Wars' gags, due to the fact those get their own specials in 'Robot Chicken' form, but a number of other franchises more than make up for it. 'Star Trek' isn't a regular go-to, but the few appearances are all gems, like the Spock time-travel convention, or the classic crew going into battle with no power, just making the ship noises to appease Kirk. Then there's the 'Avatar' bashing, mixing in Smurfs ('South Park' did it first...) for some crude gags, before going even cruder with the song Blue Rabbits, which features, ahem, "blue rabbits fucking." 'Predator' is another regular this season, in rather quick flashes, though two franchises in particular take the cake in terms of over-use, both good and bad.
Apparently, 'Season Five' is the year of He-Man. We see characters in the show excessively in the first half of the season, from a frat moving in to Skeletor's castle, to the origin of Mo-Larr, Prince Adam's dad moving in, characters in a villain inspirational seminar, Orco in a sidekick unemployment line, and then a lengthy gag featuring countless characters, as the heroes and villains are forced to share the same 24 Hour Fitness. Meanwhile, 'The Lord of the Rings' takes over the second half, with a crude joke about the Mount Doom finale (let's just say that Gollum gets a mouthful...), as well as constant "You shall not pass!" gags, and even a sequel, penned in part by J.R.R. Tolkien Jr. Jr., with catastrophic results.
The musical spots this season are all gems, from the aforementioned Blue Rabbits to a 'Beauty and the Beast' deleted scene featuring a chamber pot (one of the least flattering "items" a helper was turned into), as well as a song with Doc Brown from 'Back to the Future' teaming up with Jay-Z (who brings the jigga-whats) and, best of all, a compilation between Rihanna and a horse, as the equine dreams of taking the spotlight, rapping about oats. Even still, they can't be considered highlights, not with the hilariously cruel takes on Pinocchio's nose, the forgotten cartoon stars of the '90's, the vague nature of Spider-Man's "spider sense," or, in this season's most taboo joke, a take on 'Night at the Museum' featuring Ben Stiller refusing to enter the Holocaust Museum. There's so much comedy gold this season, even classic pop-culture gets a spin, most effectively with the NES game Contra stealing the show, as "red pants" and "blue pants" falsely assume they're immortal, and go on a hilarious tear through the game, exclaiming upon death "'Groundhog Day,' mother f***ers!"
Sadly, repetition comes out to play a few times too often this season, as numerous appearances of seasons past aren't featured in any way, forcing an overabundance on the same characters this time around. Great gags (the Gandalf yell, for example) repeating are fine, but extremely unfunny Where's Waldo skits, or the constant references to Marty McFly engaging in coitus with his own mother in the past are a bit much. Even Superman is overused, after not appearing in the first hour of this season (though the finale to any Superman joke, with Breckin Meyer signing off in vintage fashion makes even a bad gag great), and while Batman has a few fun scenes, like where he cannot kill a man (Maurice P Joker, to be precise) who has killed over two thousand innocents, almost no other hero has more than a single scene, just the same two, over and over. None of this is even counting the failed sketches, like the one with Brian Austin Green and Megan Fox, which is the humor equivalent of yanking out one's own toenails.
'Robot Chicken' is 100 episodes old now, and it's still going strong, even if it gets an occasional flat tire along the way. Bitch Pudding is back in full force, the Keebler Elves battle the Cookie Monster, the nerd character enters the world of 'Tron,' Lex Luger becomes a terrorist, and even the mother of Huey, Dewey, and Louie has her notable absence explained. It's hard not to laugh at a caveman (Fred Flintstone) being incapable of comprehending the Great Gazoo with his primitive brain, or the 'Harry Potter' spell classes gone horribly wrong. It's hard not to laugh at this utterly inane show in general. Great for some mindless fun with countless references to the icons of our childhood, 'Robot Chicken' has a solid fifth season, including one of the most crude Christmas specials put on disc.
The Disc: Vital Stats
Warner Bros. brings 'Robot Chicken: Season Five' to Blu-ray on a single BD50 disc. The packaging features a nice foil slipbox, and the art in the disc case itself is actually a content listing/guide. This set recognizes "resume play" features, and was released when not all of the episodes in the set had even aired on television. This is the first full season to hit Blu-ray, though not the first 'Robot Chicken' Blu-ray disc, as the third 'Star Wars' special is already available on Blu-ray.
The first full season to hit Blu-ray, 'Season Five' of 'Robot Chicken' shows how great the stop motion show could potentially look if done proper. It also shows that, much like the most recent season of 'The Venture Bros.,' if you cram too much content on a single disc, there's going to be issues. For the most part, the 1080p VC-1 encode given this disc is pretty darned solid. Clothing texture is fantastic, colors are powerful (particularly in the 'Toy Story' segment) and natural, and detail levels are quite strong. You constantly see stray hairs or fringe fabric bits on characters! Depth is obviously limited due to the somewhat shallow backdrops most segments are made on. The grain on this release is random as can be, but is not an issue in the disc as much as it is an artifact of how the show was created. The negatives on this release don't even pop up every episode, but when they do, it's a killer. Crush is minor, but artifacting can be a tremendous issue. The court bench in the trial of the Blockheads, the wall of the retirement home, the wall in the opening of the 'I Dream of Genie' bit, or even the shot once Morgan Freeman's car stops rolling (and again in another court scene), the artifacting is damn near impossible to miss. Banding only pops up a handful of times (most particularly the skydiving proposal), but it's bad when it happens. The show length isn't as much my concern as much as the fact there's a big pile of extras, all crammed onto the disc, and that's why this isn't a super high video score, despite its potential.
Warner TV Blu-ray release, lossless audio. Oh hellz yeah! 'Robot Chicken' features a capable, though hardly amazing, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track for each and every episode. The rear channels are spotty at best, with some solid movement in the opening segment, a few random spots of localization, and about a 20% success rate for pops where one would figure to hear them in any way, shape, or form. The high pitch squeals and screams come through crystal clear, and not a single word of dialogue is muffled or muted, or even partially obscured. A few sequences feature heavy bass, which isn't powerful, room rattlingly awesome, but a step up, to be sure. This release could have used more rear speaker usage, to be sure, and some more speaker spread, as it sounds far too front heavy for almost four hours.
'Robot Chicken' has come a long way. If you have it, pop in the first season, and check out the lack of real rotating camera angles, and the constant reliance on existing dolls and figures, and the somewhat tame set of sensibilities. Now, the tortured bionic mother clucker is all grown up, and while there's still misfires, as a whole, this is a very solid season! Warner's first full season release of the show on Blu-ray suffers from disc cramming, but it's still much better than nothing. This set has an absolute metric shit-ton of replay value, and a very decent price. Newcomers? There's no learning curve involved. Just jump in.