Animation is a hugely versatile medium, which can be a double-edged sword. The ability to depict just about anything onscreen makes for wildly imaginative storytelling, but if the audience’s imaginations aren’t on the same wavelength as the creators’ there’s a risk of going too far. That’s one reason animation is so successful in children’s programming and less so for adults. Kids are more open to bizarre and silly images in their TV, and trying to supply that with live action is difficult at best. I mean, you try watching H.R. Pufnstuf these days. It’s harrowing.
The reason I bring this up is that today’s subject really exemplifies the line between imaginative and demented. It’s very inventive, with a loose, free-associative aesthetic that is really impressive, but the actual stories and images it presents can be kindly described as “off-putting.” With a lead-in like that, you pretty much knew it would be on Adult Swim, didn’t you?
Network: Adult Swim (Cartoon Network)
Premise: So… there’s this jail…
A good introduction to this show, to my mind, is placing it on the Adult Swim Stoned-Viewing Appropriateness Scale. This metric, of my own invention, categorizes shows by the appropriateness of watching them while under the influence of controlled substances. A show is rated from 0 (watch while sober as a judge) to 10 (altered consciousness mandatory). The Venture Brothers falls at 0, Harvey Birdman gets a 5, and Robot Chicken a 10. Don’t conflate this scale with level of weirdness, however. Superjail gets a 0, not because it’s not bizarre but because watching it on drugs is guaranteed to send you on a bad trip.