Archive for the ‘Gritty Guide to….’ Category

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Squidbillies 

Yeee Haaah! Dag namit! Dey terk err jeerrbs! [enter favourite Southern stereotype here]. Yes it’s Squidbillies that show with those redneck Squids from Georgia.

 Did you know adult swim was born in The South? Sure William’s Street is located in the sprawling metropolis that is Atlanta but just down the road you have the Appalachian mountains where if the canon of Squidbillies is to be believed, a great flood millions of years ago left a family of squids stranded on the mountains where they evolved into the buck toothed, hard drinking squids we see today.

 Squidbillies was born from two of the great minds who made Spaceghost. Aqua Teen’s Dave Willis and The Brak Show’s Jim Fortier cracked heads with Radical Axis to craft a one of its kind cartoon that almost didn’t make it. Back in 2004 our American cousins were teased with some impressive trailers and some outstanding bumps but on the day the pilot was meant to air they instead showed a pilot for anime parody Perfect Hair Forever. After which, one of the strangest discussions in adult swim history took place. Granddaddy of Swim, Space Ghost, hosted a discussion group with Aqua Teen’s Meatwad, Sealab’s Sharko and Early from Squidbillies. Spaceghost tries to get the non too chatty panel to comment on what they have seen but the main topic of conversation seems to be Sharko and the unusual way he was conceived (Marco putting his junk in a lady shark’s sharkgina). For his trouble Spaceghost gets both hands shot off by a sozzled Early, followed by his head which then gets taped to Meatwad whilst the also shot Sharko gets eaten by a bear. (Catch this on the season 1 DVD extras)

 It turns out the original pilot was pulled and then completely remade. Six months later the show finally piloted in calamari sized chunks over several days before appearing in its entirety almost a year from when the original was planned to air. Worth the hassle? Oh yes my friends.

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So what the Squid Jesus is it all about then? Well for starters you’ve got a family of lawless squids with a pretty established back story considering the shows’ pedigree. Dad, Early Cuyler is a trigger happy ex-convict who had his way with Krystal the gigantic town whore and produced son Rusty before being sent to jail for 15 years.  Rusty was then raised badly by his aunt Lil, his Great Granny, and also a pack of flesh hungry wolves (although that might have been a dream he had) before finding his dear old Dad working on a chain gang.

The Sheriff being a docile clone sort of chap sees the touching reunion and sets Early free to be with his boy. The two of them promptly set up home in aunt Lil’s meth lab Hair Salon/ Peanut Parlor with Lil and Granny and the family is complete.

It’d be a pretty predictable show if the show stopped there but luckily this is a green lit, fully sponsored Adult Swim product. Imagine a Southern Fried Aqua Teen with a side of 12 Oz Mouse and you’re halfway there. In setting up the back story early on it leaves the writers to concentrate on the beef of the show which follows Aqua Teen’s absurd take on storytelling by piling up huge layers of jokes in one episode which may never be addressed again. So what are we talking about here? How about a field full of Sheriff clones who throughout the show replace their predecessor with a bloodthirsty stealth kill? A new brand of mutant fried chicken wings created from Early’s DNA? Squiddly Diddly ain’t got nothing on this.

Characters

 DAN HALEN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dan Halen

 He’s… a man? An ageless, naked ginger man and head of a major corporation who employs Early as his CEO in order to take on any legal flak that might come his way. He sells dangerous baby killing products to fund the building of his giant demonic tower. He may well have killed Christ and given Adolf the push he needed to kick off that Nazi thing. A thoroughly nice chap then eh? Na he’s purest evil in the form of a giant chin but highly entertaining.

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Granny

 Lovable five legged Granny spends the autumn of her life in a massive walking frame which she seems to have little or no control over. She regularly gets thrown out of her walker during the heated frolics of whatever is going on that episode and is largely there for her sage like ramblings. Granny is voiced by none other than Dana Snyder who in case you didn’t know is the voice behind Aqua Teen’s Master Shake. She can converse with both Squid Jesus and Satan Squid possibly due to her being so close to death or perhaps because she’s hallucinating. Granny’s finest hour came when she was horrifically burned in a tanning accident and had the skins of wild animals grafted to her flesh which turned her into a marauding beast with a hunger for flesh and destruction.. She got better though.

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Uncle Gabby and Drinky Crow

Drinky Crow

At first glance, with that infectiously catchy theme tune  and the cutesy characters you’d be forgiven for thinking this was going to be a somewhat tame outing for an Adult Swim show but you’d be so very, very wrong. This is the brainchild of Tony Millionaire and started life (and continues as) the popular comic strip Maakies, frequenting many alternative newspapers in Americaland and Europe. What’s immediately apparent within the first minute of watching is that it’s cutesy veneer is countered head on by an onslaught of suicide, drinking and sleazy, sleazy, interspecies coitus. Oh, and there’s a monkey!

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Drinky Crow doin’ the do, spewin’ the spew

The Drinky Crow show treats death and dismemberment with the seriousness and urgency of a  demotivated ALDI checkout girl showing you the way to the foreign sausage section. For example, in this universe it’s perfectly acceptable to shoot off 90% of your head and carry on talking, drinking or even driving only for it to magically reappear the next time the camera looks at something else. In fact it’s entirely reasonable that after a particularly heavy night out your organs will seek solace in a bar of their own construction to avoid the fallout of your intoxicated tomfoolery.

Did I also mention it’s kind of nautical? You’ve got amorous sea monsters, a boat full of bloodthirsty French crocodiles and all sorts of sea capers and maritime mishaps. Certainly enough to satiate your inner pirate.

Nautical mischief

Nautical mischief

If you’re after rich layers of continuity then forget it. Drinky Crow takes a page from the Aqua Teen book of storytelling but goes one weirder. Each episode plays out like a perverted dream sequence from a drug addled Spongebob writer. The only real constants are the characters themselves so good luck trying to explain an episode to the uninitiated. “So the french spy lady is pregnant, except she’s not really it’s Uncle Gabby is in her uterus, meanwhile in Uncle Gabby’s ass  there is a gaggle of vampires watching a stand-up vampire comedian voiced by Jackie Mason. It turns out that the spy lady is constructing a nuclear warship in her uterus and… Mum? You still there?”

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Sealab 2021           

I know what you’re thinking. A sprawling underwater research lab consisting of shiny metal walkways and all those lovely sparkly switches and wetsuits sounds like adventure heaven… and you’d be right if it wasn’t for the blatant disregard for basic health and safety and the worst case of cabin fever since Tim Curry and that bloke off Star Stories got musical with a ship full of Muppets.

Born at the start of Swim, from the same womb as Harvey Birdman, Brak and Aqua Teen, Sealab borrows stock footage and animation from the short lived environmental Hannah Barbera cartoon Sealab 2020 (yeah me neither!). A year later and the plight of the ocean’s precious marine life plays second fiddle to the incompetent Captain Murphy’s latest reckless obsessions whether that be putting the crew’s brains in robot bodies or looking for the golf shop.

Captain Murphy after giving up his noggin to a mouse

Captain Murphy after giving up his noggin to a mouse

Sealab 2021 takes things like continuity with a pinch of salt. This allows the entire crew to be killed off week after week and then just come back again. Like Aqua Teen you’ll find absurdist plots that you can’t predict like Marco’s frisson with some sharkgina and the lab being visited by two Scouse businessmen with a thirst for fresh corn. 

 

The whole thing is book-ended with one of the catchiest theme tunes ever made that will make you clap along like a sugar maddened toddler at a Tweenies convention.

Sealab was the start of 70/30 Productions, the brainchild of Matt Thompson and Adam Reed who gave us the magnificent Frisky Dingo and it ran for four great seasons which you can still get in the shops or on itunes.

Characters

Jodene Sparks

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If Murphy is the instigator of Sealab’s more dangerous and irrelevant missions then Sparks is that voice in Murphy’s ear whispering the final words of encouragement. He’s lazy, so lazy that he never actually gets out of his chair and his main joy in life is watching the captain go steadily more insane.

Dolphin boy

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Don’t feel sorry for Dolphin Boy. He may only be able to communicate in dolphin speak but he’s essentially just a fictional chubby blonde boy created to be killed off regularly without reason. Oh and he’s annoying so like I say, don’t you dare feel sorry for him!

 

Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer

Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer

This is possibly my most favourite interview I have ever done. It happened at the tail end of 2010 when I was still writing for adultswim.co.uk (sadly deceased). Venture Brothers Season 4 was coming to an end and we were all anxiously waiting to see what the finale would bring.

My brief was to do a profile piece on Doc and Jackson for my ‘Gritty Guides to..’ blog but I went one step further and through the magic of Facebook and a lot of luck I managed to secure a late night Skype interview with the Venture Brothers creators live from the Astrobase. It manifested itself as a video chat over Skype at 1am and I managed to snag the audio. When this was put on the blog it was in the form of a painfully transcribed two part piece, but now you get to hear the whole thing in its entirety. A full hour of Venture loveliness and off-topic babbling with two of the most entertaining people I’ve ever had the pleasure to interview.

This was really a catalyst for what was to come. On the back of this interview we met up with Jackson Publick in London where we saw Pulp in Hyde Park together and from there the idea of this film grew and blossomed into what it is today (thanks mainly to some genius levels of dealings and schemings by Michelle).

Enjoy!

12 oz

12 Oz Mouse

If Swim shows were qualifications 12 Oz Mouse would be a Ph.D. in Freakonomics.

I have to confess, it was the show I never got into in the heady Bravo days. I think because of Bravo’s erratic scheduling I failed to notice there was any kind of continuity let alone any point to it and now I’m kicking myself for it! Matt Maiellaro should be a familiar name to any Swim aficionado having been one of the creative forces behind everyone’s favourite food based treat Aqua Teen, the parody of anime that is Perfect Hair Forever and the hick-tastic Squidbillies… Well ok, he was there for the birth of Squidbillies. That slack jawed, betentacled baby definitely belongs to Dave Willis now. I’ll get on to the squids some other time, this bit’s all about the mouse.

With this project Maiellaro shifts focus squarely on character development rather than glitzy flash animation or gimmicks. With his other projects there was already something the audience could instantly hook into. For example Aqua teen sets our food based characters in a house with a neighbour and they’re…well, food! There’s no continuity allowing an infinite cavalcade of dadaist   situations every week. Squidbillies, they’re squids and a little bit country. Perfect hair, the floppy fringed anime thing.

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With 12 Oz mouse there is no immediate sense of what’s actually going on. You’re presented with essentially animated scribblings. When Matt Maiellaro pitched this idea after the huge success of Aqua Teen and Space ghost it was on the premise that it would be ultra cheap to make and could be delivered quickly (in some cases very quickly with some shows airing unfinished). He drew the characters himself to the best of his ability, which is not very much at all, and decided that the world they lived in was made of cardboard.

Should he have explained this to the audience? No need and that’s the essence of 12 Oz Mouse. The lack of anything to instantly grab you means if you want to get into 12 Oz Mouse you have stop looking at the ‘why?’ and just see what happens. There’s a mouse called Fitz, everyone around him isn’t a mouse. The world is very basic but nobody cares.

So what does the mouse do? He drinks beer occasionally (his favourite drink is 12 beers) but that’s not a big part of it but it is a part of it. He has a pal named Skillet who is a squirrel/ Chinchilla and an excellent drummer, he doesn’t speak he just squeals loudly. Oh and Skillet isn’t drawn, he was nicked from some old clip art book. He looks all the better when wielding a deadly arsenal in one of the show’s many action scenes or when gagged with a gimp ball whilst the hula hooping ‘New guy’ tortures him with mesmerising music.

Then there’s a shark voiced by the talented Adam Reed of 70/30 fame. He’s sort of the boss. The shark as you can imagine doesn’t move so well out of water although he’s able to breath, drive a car.. oh and he’s bullet proof. The image of the shark is the other character not actually drawn by Maiellaro and is stolen from an old episode of Sealab and was used numerous times by different shows, most famously appearing in  Space Ghost. The shark’s closest associate is a pink square with glasses but no eyes.  That doesn’t stop him from seeing though. He’s also very rich and very arrogant.

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Have I lost you yet? You see if you happen to catch an episode you can look at it two ways. Firstly you could see it as an absurdist, one off cartoon with badly drawn yet excellently scripted characters. It may just turn you off or you could spend 11 minutes mesmerised by the pretty shapes and perfectly executed use of the pregnant pause. On its own an episode makes very little sense. Your other choice is that you could become a mouse devotee and follow it from start to finish. Things happen, characters appear and disappear, there’s the occasional  musical number, in fact one episode is just raw footage from the title scenes with Matt Maiellaro’s music on top of it spliced with bits from the show. It all seems very weird for the sake of being weird but this isn’t the case. If you are familiar with the Black Lodge or the Log Lady scenes from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks you’ll get a sense of what he’s trying to do here in terms of story telling, albeit in a much more comical way.

The truth about 12 Oz Mouse is that there’s a gloriously constructed conspiracy story underneath all the weird but the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Some episodes go nowhere just when you think you’re getting your head round it. For instance, it took me two seasons to figure out the wall clock was a character let alone the boss! The story is brought together through the superbly written dialogue between characters, professionally done by Maiellaro himself and the co-workers he thought would best suit the role. Take the stoner peanut cop for instance. This is voiced by Nick Weidenfeld, the executive producer who green lit the project. It’s testament to the way things work over at Williams Street that everyone scrubs up and gets behind projects that excite them and it’s the only reason anything like this could ever air. It was animated, usually at very short notice by the folks at Radical Axis, masters of flash animation who go far beyond the usual stuff you get on the web.

12 Oz Mouse will tickle the most gooey parts of your brain if you let it. Don’t be a chump like I was and dismiss it as nonsense, let Fitz into your life and surf the weird for a while.

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Tim and Eric, Awesome Show, Great Job!

It’s 4am. It’s been a long night and the last stragglers from your epic party are vegging on the couch idly watching TV. The only thing to do in this situation is to send them home baffled and confused. Tim and Eric are essentially the most surreal arm of adult swim and the show presents an awkward take on public access TV. Through sketches, musical numbers and confusing commercials Tim and Eric make you feel like you’re watching the world after a particularly dangerous blow to the brain. Keep an eye out for the many celebrity cameos from people like Jeff Goldblum and Michael Cera.  Just give it a go and if you still don’t get it have some shrimp and white wine and give it another go until you get it. You won’t regret it.

Doctor Steve Brule

Steve Brule is played by the excellent John C. Reilly (think Step Brothers/ Talledega Nights). Dr Steve Brule dishes out absurd ‘do it yourself’ advice on everything from picnics to body odour. Check out Steve Brule on wine to get a flavour of what I’m on about.. For your health!

James Quall
Now this guy is not a character, he’s 100% real. James Quall’s talents lie in really bad impressions of celebrities, most of which involve him saying ‘Spaghetti and Meatballs’… oh and he sometimes sings. For that special ‘what the **** are we watching?’ moment James Quall is the man of the hour. I’d personally pay to see him do a three hour set in the freezing cold he’s that intriguing.