21 October 2006 | liquidcelluloid-1
Smug inside jokes, 80s retreads and random nonsense for the sake of it. "Robot" has a lot of great ideas, but falls on its face way too often
Network: The Cartoon Network; Genre: Animated Sketch Comedy; Content Rating: TV-14, TV-MA (strong language, sexual content and animated violence and gore); Available: Uncensored DVD; Perspective: Contemporary (star range: 1 - 4);
Seasons Reviewed: 2+ seasons
Fans of random, nonsensical comedy will rejoice over "Robot Chicken". Professional smart-ass Seth Green's stop motion twist on the sketch comedy series is certainly random and certainly nonsensical. Enlisting many of his "Family Guy" co-stars (Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane) as well as anyone he has ever worked with (Jessica Alba, Breken Myer, Sarah Michelle Geller the show's credit list reads like 6 Degrees of Seth Green) to voice many of the non-descript characters, "Robot" is made of a lot of private jokes and inside baseball that is surely busting up Green and all his buddies, but will leave many others dumbfounded.
Those random flashbacks, once so fresh and original on Seth MacFarlane's "Family Guy", get milked of all their initial charm by "Robot". The show stacks one random bit after another ontop of each other, several are visual jokes only lasting a few seconds before moving onto the next, until the last half of the show where a particularly elaborate bit of nonsense takes us to the end. Green isn't commenting on the ADD generation, he's playing to it. Nothing wrong with that structure, in fact the show's short attention span and a mercifully short 10-minute running time afforded by The Cartoon Network go a long way to make the show work as well as it possibly can. Green has apparently learned well from McFarlane and his mimic ability to know how short to cut a bit as well as a bleeped-out obscenity from an unlikely character lend the show its best laughs. That MTV-fast style may first appear to be the cure for the common sketch comedy skit that overstays its welcome.
It is where Green chooses to focus the show that doesn't work for me. As if he watched MacFarlane strike gold with late 80s sitcom parody and said "I don't know we could do that". Some of the one-joke gags are not bad, but the majority of "Robot's" targets are limited to sitcoms, cartoon characters, and commercials from the late 70s and 80s. In Green's creative regurgitation, all the childhood generation-X targets get a retread here. Optimus Prime and the Transformers? Yep, they are here. Endless Star Trek, Star Wars, Superman and Ghostbuster jokes? You know it. An idea that simply making a reference to William Shatner is funny? Lots of mileage out of that. "Dragonball Z"? Check. Corky from "Thirtysomething"? Hey, what lame Gen-X show would be complete without making fun of Corky
again. It's all here. We have seen this stuff before and if it can be done better - it has been.
The show gets a big kick out of referencing things that will go over the head of an older generation. But I'm part of the generation it is aiming at and it strains to make me laugh on its good days. And that is the stuff Green does the best. When the show delves back into something before its time the jokes reek of a 3rd hand "I'm told I should make fun of this" feeling. On the brief occasions when it tries to take on something in this century (the occasional George W. Bush joke), it falls even farther onto its face.
"Robot's" animation style, part clamation and part plastic doll stop motion, is visually fun to sit and stare at. There is a giddy little thrill to watching cereal box characters blowing each other's brains out in a screaming bloody gun battle. But that's all you get. Icons associated with innocence given a violent or raunchy twist. Rinse and repeat until the novelty wears off. That single-joke stretched to series length would be derivative enough, but mix it with Seth Green's own insufferable brand of smug, smart-ass, call-me-clever, style and it mutes all of the many possibilities for really clever laughs.
* * / 4