Judge Erich Asperschlager is getting emotional!
"Somewhere…at a rock music concert…"
After twenty years, five albums, and multiple line-ups, superhero rock band The Aquabats have achieved cult phenom status. In 1998, the band tried to break into television with a Bobcat Goldthwait-directed pilot that didn't get picked up. A decade later they tried again, fresh off the success of Yo Gabba Gabba!, co-created by band frontman Christian Jacobs. That series, The Aquabats! Super Show! debuted on The Hub cable network in 2012, and now that first season is available on DVD thanks to fellow exclamation point aficionados at Shout! Factory.
The Aquabats! Super Show! Season One! has 13 episodes, plus the original pilot, on two discs:
Meet the Aquabats: The M.C. Bat Commander (Christian), Crash McLarson (Chad Larson), Ricky Fitness (Richard Falomir), EagleBones Falconhawk (Ian Fowles), and Jimmy the Robot (James Briggs). Since the early days of the band, The Aquabats have played the kind of characters they play in this show, a mix of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, The Monkees, and Saturday morning TV. They're a band of spandex-clad superheroes who play music and fight costumed baddies. They've been doing it onstage for years, and now they're doing it onscreen.
I expect a lot of people will come to this show from Yo Gabba Gabba! Although there are similarities, with music, characters, and guest stars a-plenty, The Aquabats! Super Show! is pitched at a slightly older audience. I watched the first couple of episodes with my four-year-old Gabbaphile daughter and although she enjoyed it, she was definitely scared. The monsters and cartoonish fight scenes are silly, but not for all ages. Minor caveat aside, this is a fun show with lots of energy and a deep understanding of what makes kids' TV great.
Each adventure pits the 'Bats against some villain, usually of the giant rubber variety. Episode titles are a good indicator of the threat within, including ManAnt (an ant-sized man with an ant head who becomes a man sized man with an ant head), a many-eyed killer cactus, and the literal Floating Eye of Death (a reference to the title of their 1999 album). The garbage monsters, ghosts, and motorcycle-riding mummies all harken back to monster movies from the 1950s. Not that kids will get the connection, or the references to The Blob, Poltergeist, or Kirk's fight stylings in Star Trek: The Original Series, but adults will.
There's more than monsters to the Super Show!. There's also plenty of Aquabats music, catchy Devo-ska-rock tunes about trucker hats, donuts, and burgers that rain from the sky. There's not as many tunes as you might think, but that's probably because they cram so much into the episodes. At some point during each story, the bandmates stumble on a TV set somewhere and it switches over to an Aquabats cartoon done in a slick style somewhere between anime and old-school cartoons. These serialized segments add up over the course of the season to tell an epic Aquabats adventure in space. (Make sure you pay attention to the way both the live action and cartoon stories end in the season finale.) Each episode also comes with faux commercial breaks, spot-on parodies of junky '90s toy ads for products like the Harry Hider fake mustache, anti-Mummy Spray, the giant backpack Stoopid Fone, and "Scruffy Scruff"—a stuffed animal pal from your worst nightmare.
The Aquabats! Super Show! Season One! looks great on DVD, with saturated color and sharp rubber-suited detail. The 1.85:1 video might only be standard def, but there's no reason to complain. Ditto for the 2.0 Stereo soundtrack, a rollicking mix of music, effects, and general 'Bats mischief.
The set comes with a solid selection of bonus features across both discs:
• Audio Commentaries: Five tracks recorded by the band for the episodes "ManAnt!," "EagleClaw!," "Cowboy Android!," "Cobraman!," and "Showtime!" The guys have a lot of fun cracking jokes and serving up behind-the-scenes tidbits, with multiple references to "the park where [they] filmed all the episodes." They heap plenty of praise on their crew and the show's impressive lineup of guest stars, including Jon Heder as EagleBones' bitter half-bird brother; Lou Diamond Phillips as the disembodied sun spirit who gives EagleBones his invisible hawk familiar "The Dude"; Paul Scheer as an android Old West sheriff; Rip Taylor as a genie; "Weird Al" Yankovic as both President Stuntcastin and SuperMagic PowerMan; and Matt "Homestar Runner" Chapman, who worked behind the camera as director and appears in the excellent "Cobraman" wearing a familiar luchador mask.
• "The Original Pilot!" (20:15): Not the '90s pilot they shot with Goldthwait, but the 2008 Super Show! test that got them this series. Except for a couple of format changes, the episode (titled "Tortilla Trouble") looks a lot like the finished series. The gang's powers are intact, as are the commercials—there's one for the "Insta-Bro" party pal—and the cartoon. The Aquabats assemble for another audio commentary, with plenty for them to reminisce about.
• "Bloopers Reel!" (5:11): Standard stuff, but a nice add for fans.
• "Behind the Scenes!" (8:26): This collection of 12 quick skits, raw footage, and staged conflict appears to have once been web videos. Goofy fun, but don't expect a substantive featurette.
You don't have to be familiar with The Aquabats' music and onstage antics to enjoy their Super Show!. With a mix of '80s/'90s Saturday morning TV tropes, catchy tunes, and retro rubber monsters, Christian Jacobs and crew have hit the sweet spot where kids' and adult entertainment meet. Just know going in that the cartoon peril means it's not necessarily for the Yo Gabba Gabba! set.
Here we go! Not guilty!
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