Case Number 03574

AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE, VOLUME ONE

Warner Bros. // 2000 // 187 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Byun (Retired) // November 18th, 2003

The Charge

"We have advanced beyond rules...and manners. Do you understand? I will spit in your face now. Now do you understand?" -- The Mooninites

Opening Statement

Meet the Aqua Teen Hunger Force! They're a trio of crimefighting heroes who...well, sort of fight crime, but mostly they just hang out at their house in the New Jersey suburbs, tormenting their neighbor Carl. When they're not destroying Carl's car, burning his house down, or lounging in his above-ground pool, they're foiling the twisted schemes of an evil scientist, the aptly named Dr. Weird. Albeit in a half-assed way.

Oh, did I mention that our heroes are human-sized, anthropomorphic fast food items?

Part of the Cartoon Network's offbeat Adult Swim programming, a lineup of shows like Space Ghost: Coast to Coast and Sealab 2021 that are geared toward a mature -- well, let's say older -- demographic, Aqua Teen Hunger Force is one of the most demented of the lot. Sort of a "Superfriends in McDonaldland," the Aqua Teens are like Mayor McCheese, Officer Big Mac, and Grimace on PCP.

Those who like their comedy safe and sane are advised to steer clear of this show. If, however, your sense of humor runs more toward the deranged, Aqua Teen is one tasty Happy Meal.

Facts of the Case

Dramatis Personae:
Master Shake, a sociopathic milkshake and self-styled leader of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force. He has the power to shoot -- or at least dribble -- blobs of greenish milkshake from the end of his straw.

Frylock, an order of french fries and the "Mr. Spock" of the Aqua Teen triumvirate. Not only is he the brains of the outfit, he can shoot frickin' lightning bolts from his eyes.

Meatwad, a ball of ground beef who loves to dance and mold his meaty body into various shapes, none of them of any use whatsoever.

Carl, the Aqua Teens' grumpy, sweatpants-wearing neighbor. Carl loves his car and his extensive porn collection, and really, really hates it when the Aqua Teens use his above-ground pool.

Dr. Weird, evil scientist who regularly unleashes bizarre and utterly lame inventions upon a hapless populace from his extremely evil lair on the South Jersey Shore.

Steve, Dr. Weird's assistant, who doesn't do much at all except gasp in shocked surprise at Dr. Weird's creations.

Contents
Disc One contains seven episodes running about 11 minutes each (as well as the disc's special features):

* "Rabbot"
* "Escape from Leprechaupolis"
* "Bus of the Undead"
* "Mayhem of the Mooninites"
* "Balloonenstein"
* "Space Conflict from Beyond Pluto"
* "Ol' Drippy"

Disc Two contains an additional nine episodes:

* "Revenge of the Mooninites"
* "MC P Pants"
* "Circus"
* "Dumber Days"
* "Love Mummy"
* "Dumber Dolls"
* "Interfection"
* "Bad Replicant"
* "PDA"

Volume One comprises almost the first two seasons of the series, sixteen episodes of which originally ran from September of 2001 to December of 2002. I say "almost" because for some reason the collection stops just short of a complete two seasons, leaving off the final two episodes of the second season.

The Evidence

Aqua Teen Hunger Force is one of those shows that has to be seen to be believed, and even then you might not believe what you're seeing. No description would do it justice. A spin-off of Space Ghost created by two Space Ghost writers, Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro, Aqua Teen's style of comedy is in a similar vein: surreal, ironic, and laced with wacky non sequiturs. There's also a certain amount of South Park's anarchic gross-out mentality at work here; whether you find Aqua Teen brilliant or stupid will pretty much mirror how you feel about those two series.

The show, made up of 11-minute episodes, is produced with a deliberately slapdash quality that gives the whole thing a feeling of having been thrown together at three in the morning by a couple of extremely stoned jokesters. Each short begins the same way: a shot of Dr. Weird's lair on the South Jersey Shore (cribbed from an old episode of Jonny Quest), followed by Dr. Weird, a bizarre-looking old man wearing a dome over his head and a purple gown that exposes his pert nipples, unveiling his latest half-baked creation. More often than not, this plot device is completely forgotten by the end of the episode, since none of the Aqua Teens do much in the way of actual mystery-solving or crime-fighting, and what little they do is totally half-assed.

In fact, "half-assed" perfectly describes the philosophy of this show, and I mean that in a good way. The characters are crudely rendered and animated, there's no attempt to match the styles of the different elements, continuity is barely acknowledged (the Teens' house changes color from time to time), and the dialogue sounds like it was scribbled on the back of a magazine while on the toilet. Yet, there's something about the crudeness that is utterly hilarious; it's the same cheeky, subversive attitude that the Monty Python boys showed in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when they clapped coconuts together to simulate horses.

Part of what I love about Aqua Teen is the audacity of its very existence, the fact that it was actually pitched to studio executives, greenlit, and aired. It's one of those inspired acts of absurdity where, every once in a while, you realize what it is you're watching, and the mere thought of it cracks you up. It may be dumb, but it's dumb in the kind of brilliant way that takes talent to pull off.

The heart of the Aqua Teen's warped brand of comedy is that you never know what to expect; the writers constantly pull the rug out from under you with some completely unexpected gag or left-field utterance. Dr. Weird will be laughing maniacally at his own evil when his head catches on fire for no particular reason. When Master Shake asks potential tenants the Mooninites (two-dimensional refugees from an Atari game) for references, their response is to...spin around while glowing. The episodes rarely end with any kind of resolution. And yet, if these gags were genuinely pointless, they wouldn't be as funny. The genius of the show is that its most "random" moments have a perverse dream logic to them. It doesn't make sense, but at the same time it makes perfect sense.

As might be expected from an ultra-low-budget show produced for the most part on a desktop Mac using Adobe Photoshop, After Effects, and Final Cut Pro, we aren't talking painstakingly crafted animation here. No one will mistake Aqua Teen for a Studio Ghibli production. So, while the video presentation is fine in terms of print quality, being a fully digital transfer, there are numerous instances of edge shimmering, moiré patterns, and other compression issues. Not that anyone ought to care; in a show like this, technical quality isn't just beside the point, it's contrary to the spirit of the show. The same goes for the audio; the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack isn't anything to write home about, but it's perfectly acceptable.

Special features include the original rough cut of the "Rabbot" episode, which contains some extra footage and slightly different jokes; audio commentaries for three episodes (the "Rabbot" original cut, "Space Conflict from Beyond Pluto," and "Mayhem of the Mooninites"); and several minutes of Aqua Teen material created exclusively for the audience at the 2002 San Diego Comic-Con International comic book convention. While it's not a huge collection of extras, they're as funny as everything else on the two-disc set, and well worth a look.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

When a show makes you laugh hard enough to cause physical pain (I actually had to press the "stop" button during one episode, "Dumber Dolls," to keep from passing out), you've got to reach to find something to dislike. In the case of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, if there's a weak link in the comedy chain it's the Teens themselves. The supporting characters, like the resigned, deadpan Carl and the utterly insane Dr. Weird, and wacky guest stars like the Mooninites or the unaccountably Germanic aliens from Pluto, are so hilariously bizarre that the Teens, with their more consistent personalities, come across as a little predictable by comparison. Just as Seinfeld's Kramer and George regularly stole the show from straight-man star Jerry, during longer stretches with just the three Teens I found myself waiting impatiently for the other characters to show up. But as uneven as Aqua Teen can be, the occasional dull patches are more than made up for by the many moments of sheer brilliance.

Closing Statement

The truism that "comedy is subjective" was invented for shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force. If the surreal premise -- slacker superheroes in the form of human-sized fast food items -- doesn't turn you off immediately, you just might have a good time with this set.

The Verdict

The Aqua Teens are found guilty of assault on a DVD reviewer using deadly weapons of comedy, and sentenced to be renewed for at least ten more seasons of mayhem.

Review content copyright © 2003 Bryan Byun; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 80
Audio: 80
Extras: 85
Acting: 95
Story: 90
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 187 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* "Rabbot" Episode Original Cut
* Audio Commentaries for: "Rabbot (Original Cut)," "Space Conflict from Beyond Pluto," "Mayhem of the Mooninites"
* Footage from San Diego Comic-Con International 2002

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0297494/combined

* Official Site
http://www.adultswim.com/shows/athf/index.html