Tag Archives: adult swim

Dec. 14 – Aqua Teen Hunger Force – “A PE Christmas”

Original air date December 13, 2009.

It was a couple of years ago we looked at the first Aqua Teen Hunger Force Christmas episode because it contained Danzig. I was basically required to talk about it! This year we’re coming back to it, and wouldn’t you know, there is a musical component to this one as well.

If you’re unfamiliar with the show, Aqua Teen Hunger Force was one of the first Adult Swim cartoons to really break-out as a full-fledged hit for the network. It was crudely animated and quite absurd as it detailed three characters based on food items: Master Shake (Dana Snyder), Frylock (Carey Means), and Meatwad (Dave Willis). They are literally a giant shake cup, box of french fries, and a meatball all with a face. Shake has the bonus feature of containing hands too while Frylock is forced to use his “fries” as limbs and Meatwad can basically contort his body into different shapes. The show was created by Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro with the concept being these three would solve mysteries, only the mysteries would be relatively stupid and the characters would be rather bad at their job. That premise was dropped pretty quickly and it more or less became a show about misadventures. Master Shake would style himself the alpha of the group despite the fact that he’s mean, stupid, and self-centered. Meatwad is more child-like, but also pretty dumb and quite impressionable. Frylock is the only one with any sense of reason and it’s amazing he wasn’t driven insane by those he lives with.

The Aqua Teens (left to right): Frylock, Master Shake, and Meatwad.

The show takes place in New Jersey and the cast of characters would gradually fill out. Neighbor Carl (Willis) was featured the most and frequently found his life being completely upended and sometimes just plain ended by his weird neighbors. It’s funny when misfortune befalls him though as he’s a pretty terrible person as well. Various denizens of space would be added and all manner of just weird would cross paths with the main characters. Each episode was only around 11 minutes and most didn’t have much continuity from one to another. Sometimes characters would re-appear and reference past exploits on the show, but also many episodes end with a main character getting killed only to be returned the next week.

The show returned to Christmas for the Season 7 episode “A PE Christmas.” This episode will see Shake try to once again execute what he considers a brilliant, money-making scheme, that’s really foolish and misguided and destined to fail. Despite being a weird and rather ugly show, Aqua Teen Hunger Force was pretty successful at landing guest spots and this episode features some celebrity cameos like that first Christmas episode we looked at.

This is a very welcoming church, even by church standards.

The episode begins at, of all places, church. Frylock is apparently taking his faith and the role it plays in the Christmas holiday quite seriously, while Shake is not. Meatwad, for his part, is basically just along for the ride. Shake is irritated that there’s no food, pointing out they have bread, but no meat. He needs protein to bulk up for next Halloween (he says, as he mimes a Hulk Hogan pose). Frylock is embarrassed for them as people keep turning and shooting glances their way. Surprisingly, most of the people featured look normal and apparently some are even based on the creative staff on the show (Willis is for sure present in the audience). Shake then tries to get Meatwad to assist him in swiping the donation hat, but is denied by Frylock who actually happens to have money to donate. He tells the two they need to learn about how good it feels to give, while Meatwad notes it feels pretty good to receive as well.

Frylock probably didn’t need to drag him out, I’m sure he would have been more than willing to leave on his own.

Shake continues his rant as it’s evident he wants no part of this. Meatwad just wants to sit on Santa’s lap and it’s soon revealed he has mistaken Jesus for Santa. Frylock corrects him, but Meatwad still seems a bit attached to his theory considering Jesus has a beard, but he notes the stab wound from the spear and the shredded abs as a strike against his theory. Frylock ends up shouting in frustration that “Santa didn’t die for our sins!” which just confuses Meatwad further as now he thinks Frylock is telling him Santa is dead. Shake, who often behaves like an older brother towards Meatwad, sees this as an opening to tease him further by telling him Santa is indeed dead. Meatwad continues to get upset, while Shake keeps going, and Frylock decides enough is enough as he drags Shake out of the church. The whole time Shake is shouting about Jesus the failure wondering aloud how a guy gets himself nailed to a cross, “We’re supposed to revere him for his slow reaction time?!” We also see some inhuman cameos as Frylock drags Shake out so there’s the weird I was looking for.

They decorate, but it’s kind of sad.

Back at their house, we see the “Christmas tree” from the last episode has returned. It’s basically just green crayon on the wall with some stuff glued on. They’ve also added some lights and even a little Charlie Brown tree. There’s a manger in the background and it looks like a wrestling figure is playing the role of Jesus, possibly a WCW Giant or maybe Hillbilly Jim. Frylock is preparing Meatwad for a shitty Christmas, though Meatwad still seems to think he has a shot at a new Super Soaker. This is where Shake reveals he has a money-making plan up his…sleeve? He’s apparently stolen some financial documents from Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy. Meatwad notes the print-out for Chuck D is his 401k. Shake seems to think this is enough material to declare that he has stolen their identities and that he intends to record a Christmas album under the Public Enemy heading and call it “Bring Tha Toyz.” He then demands Frylock take him to a recording studio right this very moment on Christmas Eve to record so that he may have it in stores for Christmas Day.

I’d buy it.

We then cut to Shake and Meatwad in a recording studio. Shake is decked out in outlandish hip-hop attire including a massive grill he’s trying to talk through. He eventually spits it out and complains openly about Frylock needing to reimburse him for the hour and a half of studio time they missed out on due to him refusing to drive them. Their technician for the evening is Michael (Michael Kohler) and he is about as excited to be there as one would expect. Meatwad is hoping to slip in some Christmas classics on Shake’s album, but Shake doesn’t seem too receptive. He’s also worried about listeners being able to tell that they are not Public Enemy, but Shake reminds them they’ll be modulating his voice. Plus, it won’t matter since they’ll have already bought the record!

I like the inclusion of the digital clock on Shake’s Flavor Flav costume.

The tape starts rolling and Shake starts spitting his rhymes, “Happy birthday Jesus, you are the one, coming down to Earth from the planet Krypton!” It doesn’t go on much longer than that totaling about 12 seconds. They head into the booth for Michael to play it back. Michael asks somewhat hopefully if they’re done and Shake seems to think they are, despite it being one 12 second track. Meatwad points out that most albums have at least six songs and Shake angrily concedes. He tosses a bottle of soda at Michael and makes a mess as he heads back into the recording booth.

Poor Michael has to put up with Shake’s bullshit when he’d probably rather be somewhere else on Christmas Eve.

Shake then raps a bunch of nonsense about what he’s looking at “Stapler on the desk,” and the lack of lumbar support on his chair. He declares it done after only a few seconds. Meatwad sees this as an opportunity to get one of his songs onto the record, but Shake insists that Jesus doesn’t want him to sing on his record. Meatwad continues to press Shake, only for him to relent because he has to go take a dump, though he orders Michael not to roll on this take that is about to take place. As Meatwad sings “Silent Night,” we can hear the sounds of Shake’s “movement” over Meatwad’s vocals. Meatwad asks of Michael to close the bathroom door, but he tells Meatwad it is as Shake continues to shout something about eels. He eventually emerges with a plunger and informs Michael someone from his entourage must have plugged up the toilet as water starts filling the studio.

Santa has odd taste.

The next morning, at the house the guys wake up to find a bunch of eels in the living room by their tree. Meatwad thinks Santa brought them for him and asks Frylock if he can keep them while Shake informs us these came out of him. They look like big worms and they have this weird expression on their “faces” that looks kind of tired, but also is possibly hiding an existence of constant pain. Shake then declares they need to go see how his record is selling.

There’s only one way into a store on Christmas.

Outside a store called Better Buy, Shake is trying to get through the doors, but they’re locked. Frylock gets in an “I told you so,” since it’s Christmas Day so of course the store is closed. It’s also likely the record isn’t in there anyway since they recorded it last night. Shake is a being devoid of logic though, so he starts trying to pry open the door with a monkey wrench. Meatwad and Frylock bail as an alarm blares, and Shake gets fed up and just tosses a garbage can through the door and goes in.

How dare they arrest Flavor Flav on Christmas?!

We cut to Shake in a holding cell back in his hip hop attire demanding to be let out because he is Flavor Flav. There are two guys behind in the corner, one being a reoccurring homeless man character model, who seem to ignore his ranting. He then wonders aloud just what he ate in Chuck D’s dumpster as more eels explode out of his backside. Since he’s a paper cup, he just collapses in a crumpled heap on the floor while the two guys behind him get sprayed with shit-blood to no reaction.

That’s a pretty sight.

We then get to see an additional scene in which Meatwad meets Chuck D (himself) disguised as Flavor Flav. Chuck D is rather confused by Flav’s appearance, but Meatwad assures him he just lost some weight. He also returns to him all of the stuff Shake had stolen, which apparently included a lot more than he had revealed earlier in the episode. He also compliments Chuck on his credit score. He then advises him to lock his dumpster, and Chuck D corrects him that it’s not a dumpster, but actually a lair for his space eels. Meatwad then demos the song he recorded, “Silent Night” with Shake’s farting and groaning over it, and Chuck D actually likes it and declares, “It’s gonna be huge.” We hard-cut to the ending credits which feature Shake’s Christmas rap, “Twas the Night Before Jesus,” only sung by Schoolly D, the regular performer for the opening credits.

This episode is pretty ridiculous, but what is somewhat surprising is it actually contains more Christmas than the previous episode we looked at. It does a good job of finding a use for the holiday within the world that is Aqua Teen Hunger Force and any episode involving some ridiculous Shake scheme to make money is often pretty entertaining. There’s some great lines from Shake and his exchanges with Meatwad are humorous, but the real scene-stealer is probably the engineer, Michael, who deadpans all of his lines. Kohler does a great job of just capturing the mood of an employee who wants nothing to do with his job at the moment without outwardly stating that.

The engineer, Michael, is perhaps my favorite character in this episode. He has to put up with a lot of shit. Literally.

Interestingly, the episode must not have been finished for its original airing in December, 2009. It originally ended with Shake’s back exploding and the eels emerging. The scene with Chuck D wasn’t added until it aired in March of 2010. I’m guessing the episode was rushed before they could get Chuck D’s audio recorded so it could air during the Christmas season, unless Chuck D happened to see it and liked it and thus an opportunity was presented to tack on a guest appearance. Either way, I actually think both endings work because the show is often so surreal and absurd that something like eel diarrhea doesn’t necessarily need an explanation. It’s certainly nice to have one though, and as a final dig towards Shake it turns out Chuck D likes Meatwad’s song instead of his.

This is a Christmas episode that is not likely to provide the usual dose of Christmas “feels,” but you’ll probably get some laughs. If you’re real passionate about the Christian side of the holiday then maybe some of the church scene will turn you off, but this was never meant to appeal to devout Christians looking to celebrate Jesus. And for what it’s worth, Shake does get his comeuppance by the end. If you wish to view it, it’s been released as part of Season 7 of Aqua Teen Hunger Force both on physical media formats and digitally. For some reason, it’s listed as part of Season 9 in some places so check first if you’re looking to buy a whole season. The entire series is also streaming on HBO Max. It’s also likely that Adult Swim will rebroadcast it this month as the network is pretty good about re-airing its Christmas episodes every year, though some of the older ones can get lost in the shuffle since there are just so many at this point. At just over 11 minutes long, it’s certainly worth a look this Christmas if this show’s humor appeals to you.


Dec. 1 – American Dad! – “The Best Christmas Story Never Told”

img_1104Oh hell yeah, it’s time for Christmas posts! Welcome back for the year 2020 as The Christmas Spot comes at you with 25 days of Christmas posts! 2020 has been a crazy year with a lot of new normals tossed our way, but at least each year the calendar gets turned over to Christmas and for close to one month things seem consistent with prior years. And like year’s past, we’re turning this place into an advent calendar and looking at 25 festive topics. Most of which will be like this one, a write-up of a beloved or not so beloved Christmas television special. It may be one from the past, or it may be relatively current, but one thing is certain and that’s it will be Christmas. I have nothing against the other seasonal holidays occurring around this time, it’s just that Christmas is my jam and I want to share my enthusiasm with all of you.

For this year, we’re turning things over to an animated sitcom that has become fairly reliable when it comes to Christmas. American Dad! premiered after the Super Bowl in 2005 and immediately found itself in the shadow of Family Guy. That’s because the show is co-created by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and at the time it premiered it was being billed as the Family Guy replacement. This was during the hiatus for Family Guy following its cancellation, though the show would eventually return. As such, it felt like many Family Guy fans were immediately dismissive of American Dad! because it wasn’t the show they wanted. They wanted more Family Guy, not an imitation. You would think things would improve following the revival of Family Guy, but instead fans of that show once again seemed to look down on American Dad! as now that their beloved show had returned, what need of this new one did anyone have?

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Like Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers, American Dad! has become a reliable source for Christmas specials over the years.

Which was unfortunate, because American Dad! had very little in common with Family Guy. I suppose it resembled Season One of Family Guy to a point as both shows were influenced by the classic sitcom All in the Family. While Family Guy only borrowed from that show a little, American Dad! was practically a reimagining of that program in animated form. The show was co-created by eventual show-runners Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman and once the pilot was basically sold to Fox, MacFarlane backed away as he was soon pulled back into Family Guy duty. The show was conceived as a liberal’s answer to the Bush era political climate of the time. The conservative leading man, Stan Smith (MacFarlane) would be positioned opposite his young adult daughter Hayley (Rachael MacFarlane), a college-educated liberal, and rely on the conflict inherent in that relationship for several plots. Stan was presented as boorish and unfailingly patriotic, and as a member of the CIA he took national security very seriously to the point of suspecting anyone with brown skin as being a terrorist. Hayley was often the voice of reason, though also saddled with the usual college stereotype of being lazy and more interested in getting high than actually working to promote change in the political landscape. She would be paired with a boyfriend turned husband, Jeff Fischer (Jeff Fischer), that Stan hates which is basically the same relationship Archie Bunker had with “Meathead” in All in the Family.

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In this episode, Stan is going to learn the true meaning of Christmas and we’re going to learn about Roger’s past, seen here laying face-down in a mix of snow and vomit.

Eventually, the show found a niche and relied less on the Stan/Hayley dynamic. The rest of the family would play a more prominent role in furthering stories. Francine (Wendy Schaal) is portrayed as a stay-at-home mom and is the caretaker of the house and kids. She began life in the show as being a stereotypical conservative ideal, but over the years has developed her own quirks and failings, making her feel like a more fleshed-out character. Son Steve (Scott Grimes) has been molded into being Stan’s opposite ideal for a son. He’s a geek who likes comics and Dungeons & Dragons, but also is emotionally Stan’s opposite as he’s sensitive and comfortable with expressing his “non manly” emotions. As is the case with all MacFarlane shows, there’s a talking animal and in this one it’s a goldfish named Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker) who is a former German athlete trapped in the body of a fish. He’s mostly just there to make observations and the family often ignores him. By far, the big breakout character of the show is definitely Roger the alien (MacFarlane), who saved Stan’s life years ago and as reward is being kept safe from the government in the Smith household. He begins the show as an Alf knock-off, but the writers eventually found another role for him and that’s as an alien of many personalities. He often leaves the home in disguise and will even live other lives as he devotes himself to the roles he plays. He’s also literally the show’s worst character as he’s a sociopathic narcissist and will do whatever it takes to get what he wants. In that aspect, he somewhat resembles Cartman of South Park fame.

For what Wikipedia considers the show’s third season (it’s complicated), a Christmas episode was commissioned. It would be the first of several, as the very conservative Stan and his family naturally lend themselves well to the holiday. The episodes have become some of the show’s finest as they’re pretty big in spectacle and only seem to grow more and more outlandish. There would be a continuity established as well as the Smith family becomes the enemy of Santa. Because the show’s broadcast schedule is a bit erratic, not every year brings with it a new Christmas episode, but it’s certainly something I look for each year.

Since I have never covered American Dad! before in one of these countdowns, it would seem the best place to start is with that first Christmas special. “The Best Christmas Story Never Told” premiered on December 17, 2006. Some places consider that Season 3 of the show, though it would appear it’s production Season Two. Writing of the episode is credited to Brian Boyle with staff writers Laura McCreary and Erik Durbin also receiving credits. Boyle is also executive producer on the series, but has received a written by credit on several other episodes, including the 2014 Christmas episode “Dreaming of a White Porsche Christmas” which interestingly is similar to this one as it presents an alternate reality for Stan at Christmas.

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The Smith family ready to bask in the glow of the town Christmas tree.

While I do think American Dad! is quite different from Family Guy, it does amuse me that this inaugural Christmas episode begins the same way as Family Guy’s first Christmas episode. The whole family is gathered in the town square for the annual lighting of the town Christmas tree. Stan is quite jubilant about the whole thing, while Roger is face-down in the snow and booze (and vomit) since Christmas makes him feel like a failure. It’s here Roger’s origin is retconned a bit, possibly for the first time, as he reveals he’s been on Earth for over 40 years. In other words, he had a lengthy existence before meeting the Smith family. Stan doesn’t care and implores him to acknowledge the holiday. When it’s announced the lighting has been cancelled at the last minute due to the town being unable to celebrate a secular holiday on town property, Stan gets angry as a crew moves in to demolish the place. Stan rages it’s the liberals and atheists telling them how to celebrate their holiday, and when a passerby tries to reason with Stan, Stan laments he can’t wait for The Rapture. As Stan tells them they’ll be left behind, Francine tries to smooth things over by telling the other family they’re free to use their pool after they’ve been raptured, provided it’s not boiling. Francine then suggests they go to church instead and Stan dismisses that suggestion on account of church being boring. He then declares he needs to go someplace where he can learn the true meaning of Christmas – the mall!

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Take note of the little person working the camera.

Stan contentedly looks on as his kids sit on Santa’s lap and ask him for toys. He remarks that this is what Christmas is all about and as he does so the show decides to use a regrettable slur for little people and even has Hayley, who should know better, use it casually as well. The kids then implore their father to get something for Roger for Christmas, but Stan doesn’t want to since Roger isn’t Christian. Roger has no say at the moment for he’s passed out in a baby stroller. Stan then takes sight of The 99 Cent Depot and decides he can spare a buck for Roger.

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I bet you expected Stan to react this way to “Happy Holidays.”

Stan heads to the register and asks for one of the store’s wares. The clerk hands him a cassette of disco’s greatest hits from 1974-1980 and Stan deems this satisfactory. When the clerk tells him it costs $1.07 due to taxes, Stan suggests they change the store’s name, but the clerk points out that’s not his decision. Stan smiles and is satisfied with that response, but when he wishes the clerk a “Merry Christmas,” (you know where this is going) and gets a “Happy Holidays” in return his mood changes. Angry, he demands that the clerk acknowledge his holiday, but the same excuse about the sign is not enough to sway Stan this time. He pulls out a gun to demand action and we cut to Stan being tossed outside by security. When he calls back to remind them he had a gun, a gift-wrapped gun is tossed to him.

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Did you take note of that little person two pictures ago?!

At the Smith household, Stan is still visibly outraged by the “liberals” who are destroying Christmas. The family tries to reason with him, but he’s more than a little stubborn. Stan then rhetorically asks the family who is to blame for all of this, and they respond with exhaustion in their voices because this is something Stan must remind them of often, Jane Fonda. Apparently Stan blames Ms. Fonda for spreading liberal ideas through her protests against the war in Vietnam and it’s not something he’s about to let go of. A ring of the doorbell gets Stan’s hopes up momentarily as he thinks carolers have arrived. He opens the door to the costumed group, but finds out they’re only here to spread awareness of the Holiday Rapist and hold up a flier. This is the tipping point for Stan as he demands they refer to him as the Christmas Rapist. He slams the door and sets to destroying the festive decorations in the house, including tossing most of them through the living room window. Steve begins to cry that Daddy destroyed the toys Chinese kids made for him while Francine scolds Stan for his behavior. She tells him he’s sleeping on the couch tonight which Stan tries to protest by pointing out the now missing window and the presence of the Christmas Rapist on the loose.

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The Ghost of Christmas Past has been assigned Stan Smith this year. Unlike other ghosts, she apparently works alone on Christmas.

Stan is shown sleeping on the couch (in his suit, for some reason) looking a bit cold when a woman materializes beside him. She’s quite fairy-like I suppose, and when she wakes Stan he snaps open his eyes and shouts “Holiday Rapist!” and dives behind the couch before quickly correcting himself with “Christmas Rapist.” The woman then explains, in a faux British accent, that she’s the Ghost of Christmas Past (Lisa Kudrow) and she’s here to help Stan lean the true meaning of Christmas. He soon brightens up and the ghost takes him all the way back to 1970.

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The idyllic Christmas of Stan’s youth.

There the two peek into the Smith home where a young Stan is opening his Christmas presents. Stan is amazed that they’re really back in 1970 and the woman reassures him by mentioning how things are different. One of those mentions is Jane Fonda, who is presently filming to movie Klute nearby causing Stan’s eyes to narrow in a menacing fashion. He then takes off running, much to the bewilderment of the ghost, who just calls for him to come back, dropping the accent. When he doesn’t obey, she just starts grumbling to herself about how this is her first turn as Past and she already screwed it up. Apparently, she used to be a Tooth Fairy. She then reveals to us her name is Michelle, and mentions she should have just stayed with some guy named Chad.

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Jane Fonda on the set of Klute. Fonda, and the other celebrities of this episode, were offered to voice themselves, but all turned the show down. I bet they would have said “Yes,” to The Simpsons.

Stan is able to track down the filming location for Klute and watches as Jane Fonda (uncredited, but sounds like Wendy Schaal) is filmed feeding a cat, and then herself. She explains her decision to eat the cat food to the director which just irritates Stan even further. Stan is grossed out and remarks “You are so dead,” to himself.

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In order to find Stan, Michelle is going to need Francine’s help.

Back in the present, Michelle appears in Francine’s room and splashes her with water in order to wake her up. She explains to Francine what happened, and when Francine gets mad Michelle asks rhetorically if she blames mothers who lose their kids at the mall. When Francine gives her an “Are you serious?” look in response, Michelle answers the question emphatically herself with a, “No! No, you don’t!” Realizing what Stan is up to, Francine reluctantly drags herself out of bed and heads for the bathroom. When Michelle expresses her impatience, Francine tells her she isn’t going back to that filthy decade without some Purell.

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Stan makes an important discovery, and we find out Donald Sutherland is a real creep. Maybe that’s why he declined to voice himself.

Filming wraps for the day and Stan keeps close as Fonda retreats to her dressing room accompanied by Donald Sutherland (Chris Diamontopoulis). It’s while watching these two interact that Stan realizes it was Sutherland who put those liberal ideas into Fonda’s head. He then corrects himself that Fonda isn’t his target and that he must instead kill Donald Sutherland! Sutherland immediately confronts him as he was apparently standing beside Stan, but he’s a bit clueless and asks Stan if he’s here to give Fonda her massage. Stan decides that he is indeed here to do just that remarking that it would be rather nice to do so. Sutherland then leaves him to it and as Stan closes the door to Fonda’s dressing room we hear him announce his arrival and tells her to finish her cat food.

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Roger, about to make a life-changing discovery.

Stan then follows Sutherland and Fonda out to a restaurant, Elaine’s, but is prevented from entering since he’s not on the list. He then goes around the back to sneak in with the restaurant staff while stashing his gun in his pants. Once he disappears inside, we see some waiters come out for a smoke break. One of them is clearly Roger in disguise. When the other waiter asks if he got the part he tried out for he replies, “No, they were looking for someone more flesh-colored with a nose.” The other waiter tells him to give up on his dreams and leaves him. As Roger sits dejected, he notices something in the snow. It’s the disco tape that fell out of Stan’s jacket before he went inside. When Roger reads the title he announces it’s from the future! And since he’s an alien from outer space, he deems that plausible.

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The encounter that will doom Christmas.

At the restaurant, Stan is finishing up in a restroom when a hairy-looking dude emerges from a stall. Stan notices the man is smoking marijuana, and Stan admonishes him for doing so. The guy doesn’t seem bothered by it, and goes on to introduce himself as Marty, Marty Scorsese (Grimes). When Stan begins to gush and says he loves his films, Marty is shocked and assumes Stan has seen his film of a guy shaving. Stan is amused, but then assures him he’s going to be great, but that he’ll never win an Oscar if he’s hooked on drugs. Marty agrees, and starts humorously removing all of the drug paraphernalia on his person which includes many bags, joints, and even a bong in his pants. Stan is touched, and the two have a nice, men’s room, hug.

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The artists don’t usually get to draw dinosaurs so let’s throw ’em a bone!

Meanwhile, Michelle has overshot her magic and taken Francine back to the Jurassic period. They observe some cute little dinosaurs running past before a T-Rex eats them causing the two to scream before Michelle gets them out of there. You can’t play around with time travel and not show a dinosaur at some point.

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Stan assuming his cool, assassin, pose.

Feeling quite satisfied, Stan returns to the task at hand:  killing Donald Sutherland. He spots Sutherland and Fonda having dinner and when Sutherland suggests Fonda get involved in politics, he offers to talk about them over a drink at “my place.” Stan counters as he pulls out his gun with, “Let’s talk about it over your brains. Maybe all over the place?” Before he can pull the trigger, and before anyone seems to notice him, Michelle and Francine appear and pull him aside. The two express their anger with Stan, and when Francine says they won’t allow him to kill Jane Fonda, Stan corrects them to point out he’s now targeting Sutherland, the lanky, Canadian, Kiefer-spawning bastard! That doesn’t matter much to Michelle and Francine as they’re not about to let Stan murder anyone and they quickly take him back to the present.

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Something clearly went wrong.

Or do they? When the trio arrive, they find the Smith living room looks different. It’s drab, with cinderblocks for furniture and Communist posters on the wall. When Francine calls out for Steve and Hayley, a Russian man comes down the stairs firing a shotgun at them. They quickly run out into the street and find the country is now under the dominion of the Russians! Michelle gets to turn all glowy and dramatic as she informs Stan that he destroyed America! Francine then pauses to pee beside a car as she’s been holding it in since the 70s.

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A monument commemorating the birth of this new, Russian, empire.

Michelle then does some sleuthing on some tablet she has to try and figure out what happened. She knows Stan did something, but he insists he did nothing that would change the past. She has him go over what he did while in 1970 and when he gets to the part about meeting Scorsese in the bathroom Michelle gets a hit. It seems by getting Scorsese off drugs, he never went on to make Taxi Driver. And since he didn’t make Taxi Driver, John Hinckley never became obsessed with actress Jodi Foster and thus never attempted to impress her by assassinating President Reagan. Since Reagan didn’t survive an assassination attempt, he lacked the good will to beat back Mondale in the presidential election of 1984 and upon becoming president, Mondale would hand the country over to Russia. Stan then realizes that in order to stop Russia from overtaking America, he needs to travel back to the past and film Taxi Driver. When Francine objects to point out how crazy that conclusion is, Michelle steps in to say Stan is right as she’s apparently just as crazy as he is.

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Roger and his precious tape.

As those three set out to right Stan’s wrong, we check-in on Roger who’s about to make his first million selling disco songs to Clive Davis. He’s been milking that cassette he found like Biff from Back to the Future Part II and having a good time of it. He celebrates his fortune by heading to a nightclub and shouts at the sky for his mom to see him now! He then tells her to stop looking while he snorts some cocaine, and then tells her she can look again as he resumes dancing.

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Stan Smith is not a Robert DeNiro fan.

On the set of Taxi Driver, Stan is watching as Robert DeNiro (Diamantopoulis) rehearses. DeNiro is talking to himself in the mirror and Stan objects. He instructs DeNiro to talk at himself in the mirror and not at the mirror, which DeNiro finds absurd and quits. Francine is pissed at Stan for driving DeNiro away, but he assures her it’s fine since they only need Hinkley to fall for Jodi Foster. Michelle, once again, goes along with Stan who is now delighted he can make Taxi Driver with the leading man he thinks would be best:  John Wayne.

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Ever wonder what Taxi Driver would look like with John Wayne in the lead role?

At a showing of the finished film, Stan, Francine, and Michelle find John Hinckley in the audience and observe him watching the film’s climax. In it, Foster’s character is tied up and about to be set on fire by Native Americans doing an inflammatory dance routine. Wayne shows up in his cab and emerges, old and fat and with a mohawk under his traditional cowboy hat. He shoots all of the Native Americans and rescues Foster as a boom mic comes into the shot and knocks over a background, indicating they shot and edited this thing rather poorly. When it’s over, Francine immediately starts asking Hinckley what he thought and when Francine suggests that Foster was pretty hot he acts disgusted. Realizing their plan failed, Michelle identifies one last resort.

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Roger did not take Larry’s advice and switch off speaker phone.

In 1981, Regan is staying at the Hilton and he’s about to be shot. Only now, he’s not. Meanwhile, high above Roger is partying away when his phone rings. It’s someone named Larry, who informs Roger his last album only sold 90 copies and that disco is dead. He’s broke. Roger can’t believe it and when he asks how he could be broke when he has a bunch of investments and race horses, he then says “I thought you were feeding them?!” indicating there was some confusion over what to do with the race horses once purchased. Roger then tries to kill himself by jumping through the window of his penthouse, but that glass is pretty damn thick and he just gets knocked out.

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It’s time for Stan to get nuts!

At ground level, Michelle has spelled it out for Stan that in order to save Christmas (remember, this is a Christmas episode) he needs to shoot his idol, Ronald Reagan. Stan insists he can’t do it, but he’s reminded he needs to do it if he wants Christmas back. Stan reasons they could learn Russian and be happy, though he also laments he’ll probably miss a lot of elevators at first while he learns how to say “Hold the door,” in Russian. He then reminds Francine that they’ll be fine as long as they’re together as a family, indicating that maybe he has learned the true meaning of Christmas. Or at least one of them. Michelle then informs him there’s no guarantee Hayley and Steve exist now, and if he really wants to save Christmas and his family, he’s going to have to shoot Reagan. Stan reluctantly agrees, and when Michelle reminds him that he just has to “wing him” Stan laughs and thanks her for reminding him indicating that he was probably going to shoot to kill.

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If you’re doing A Christmas Carol, even loosely like this one, you still have to have this scene.

As Reagan is shown leaving the hotel. Stan makes his way through the crowd like a crazy person. He pulls out his gun and then starts shouting “Merry Christmas!” over and over as he opens fire. The screen goes white and then fades to reveal Stan and Francine asleep in their bed. Francine wakes up and immediately wakes Stan who runs to the window and opens it. He sees a paper boy outside who looks almost exactly like the kid on the cover of Paper Boy for the Nintendo Entertainment System. When he asks the kid what day it is, he responds that it’s Christmas and Stan then barks at him to get off his lawn!

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Stan mostly puts Christmas back together.

Downstairs, Stan has boarded up the broken window and re-setup the mangled tree. The gifts are re-wrapped and Hayley and Steve come down the stairs overjoyed to see that Christmas is back. Roger then comes into the room drunk explaining that Christmas reminds him how he created disco and then lost all of his money. The family laughs at him and then Stan is summoned into the kitchen by Michelle. There she thanks him for bailing her ass out by giving him a gift. He opens it to find a shiny, new, Glock. Michelle says she had just enough time to hit the mall last night for it, and when Stan questions how she got it so fast apparently bypassing the waiting period, she reminds him that he only shot Reagan. He never hit James Brady, and thus there was never passage of The Brady Bill which means guns are as easy to buy as a stick of gum. Stan is delighted and mugs for the camera with a “Best Christmas ever!”

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Roger no longer needs to be depressed that he hasn’t accomplished anything in his time on Earth, now he can lament that he lost his fortune when disco died. Also, his genitals are located near his armpit.

This is a pretty great early episode of American Dad! Stan is very much the conservative whack-job throughout and it’s obvious that the absurd War on Christmas notion is what drove the writers to craft this plot. It’s also possible they worked backward from the premise of what if Stan had to shoot his hero in order to save Christmas? The show is jam-packed with jokes as almost every sentence Stan utters is a joke of some kind. They’re just understated jokes, which is one of the main differences between American Dad! and Family Guy. Family Guy seems to rarely trust its audience with knowing what is and isn’t a joke and everything is practically screamed at the audience. American Dad! is far more confident, and while it does get absurd and thrust things into the forefront at times, it rarely feels obnoxious.

Since Stan is essentially an easy target, there are some jokes in this episode that could be considered easy, maybe even lazy. Even with those though, the show goes the extra mile to add a spin to make them seem less conventional. A perfect example is Stan’s argument with the clerk over his holiday greeting. The episode makes a point of demonstrating that Stan can be agreeable and even sympathetic to the plight of the working man who has to do as he’s commanded when the clerk makes the comment about not being able to change the name of the store from The 99 Cent Depot to The $1.07 Store to account for tax. Stan accepts that, but he can’t accept the kid saying “Happy Holidays” even though he’s directed to by his boss who can and probably will fire him for saying anything else. And because Stan’s a maniac, it has to escalate to Stan pulling a gun for added comedic effect.

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Coming up with a plot that involves Stan finding the true meaning of Christmas thus saving the holiday doesn’t take a ton of creativity. Having Stan replace John Hinckley Jr. as Reagan’s would-be assassin? Now that’s genius!

If the episode did begin with the premise of Stan shooting Reagan to save Christmas, then the writers also did a good job of making that happen. While American Dad! mostly behaves like a sitcom, it’s not afraid to get fantastical and do some crazy stuff. Granted, so many shows have done a variation of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life that weren’t particularly crazy, but it’s still quite a leap to have your characters time travel. This show will get way more fantastic in that regard, but this episode is largely able to rise above the notion of being an adaptation of that holiday classic without really feeling like one. Normally I hate to give time to anything that indulges in the trope, but American Dad! makes it work quite well.

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Lisa Kudrow is pretty wonderful as Michelle, The Ghost of Christmas Past. The show gives her a lot to work with and her personality meshes well with the character.

The only downside with this episode is that it’s actually pretty light on Christmas. It begins festive enough, but once we jump back in time it’s actually easy to forget that this is a Christmas episode of American Dad! It manages to hang onto its premise though and that’s Stan needing to learn the true meaning of Christmas, which the episode defines as basically family time. It’s actually a surprisingly warm conclusion for a show not afraid to do cynical or dark endings. Of course, there’s a touch of the show’s cynicism in the ending since Stan has created a world in which guns are even more accessible. This probably isn’t my favorite Christmas episode from this show, but it’s definitely a good measuring stick for all of them. And since I’ve managed to avoid American Dad! (not intentionally, it just happened that way) while doing this countdown for years now, you can safely assume it will return next year as there’s a lot more I can turn to.

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“Best Christmas ever!”

American Dad! currently airs on both TBS and Cartoon Network almost daily. As a result, you should have no problem finding an airing of this episode at some point this month, and probably more than once. And if cable isn’t your thing, the show is streaming on Hulu and also available on physical media and for digital purchase all over the place. This should be an easy one to find and it comes recommended.


Dec. 7 – Bob’s Burgers – “Father of the Bob”

 

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“Father of the Bob” originally aired on December 7, 2014. And as always, there was a delightful Christmas pun in the title sequence.

Bob’s Burgers has somewhat quietly become the best animated show on the Fox Network. Better than the modern version of The Simpsons, and better than Family Guy. It might be the ugliest of the three, but it more than makes up for that with its characters and plots. Bob’s Burgers looks like just another animated sitcom about a family of five on the surface:  the Belchers are short on money, but not on problems. Where the show really separates itself is that it’s never really operated like a conventional sitcom. The members of the family all get along and seem to like each other. There are very few plots centered on conflicts within the family. Rarely do parents Bob and Linda need to discipline the kids or worry about their performance at school. And all three kids are quite weird, and yet no one in the family pokes fun at each other. Well, the kids do point out Bob’s flaws at times, but it’s often in an observational manner as opposed to trying to make him feel bad about himself. This is a family that is incredibly tolerant of each other, almost to a fault as Bob can be a push-over. They rarely say “I love you,” to each other, but it’s obvious that they do in a very natural way that just doesn’t need stating.

 

And, of course, the show is incredibly funny. It’s also incredibly dedicated to holiday themed episodes in a way that few shows are. Every season you can almost guarantee there will be a Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas episode. Sometimes the holiday is just sort of happening in the background, which it kind of is in today’s episode, and other times it’s very much the focus of the episode. It’s certainly great for a website like this one so don’t be surprised if Bob’s Burgers ends up showing up here on an annual basis as well.

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This episode is going to take us back in time more than once.

“Father of the Bob” is actually one of the more melodramatic episodes in the show’s history. It contains a plot revolving around Bob and his father, Big Bob, and how the two struggle to get along with each other. It’s one of the more conventional plots the show has done when compared with its contemporaries, but it still finds ways to impart its unique brand of humor to the story and it largely utilizes the kids to do so.

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A young Bob crafts his first gimmick burger.

The episode opens with a flashback to thirty years prior. On a snowy Christmas, a young Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) is handling grill duties while his dad is at a doctor’s appointment. He’s talking to the burger as he personifies it with a high-pitched voice, something he will carry with him to adulthood. He then presents his burger to patron Henry (Carl Reiner). He dubs it the Baby You Can Chive My Car Burger as it has chives and little fried pickles for wheels, making it simulate a car. Fellow patrons Max (Jordan Peele) and Pete (Nick Offerman) look on as Henry decides if he wants to eat this thing as he had ordered his usual:  a tuna melt. As he looks it over, Big Bob (Bill Hader) returns from his appointment and we find out it was for a prostate exam. His remark, “So that’s what a prostate exam is,” is met with a “I think it’s fun if it’s a surprise!” from Max reminding me that there’s almost no way I can capture all of the good lines that are going to be featured here.

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Little Bob presents his masterpiece to Henry, the Baby You Can Chive My Car Burger.

Big Bob takes notice of the unusual burger being presented to Henry. As Bob enthusiastically describes it to his dad, Big Bob just looks disgusted. He seems even more irritated when he finds out Henry ordered his usual, but Bob tries to tell Henry he’ll like this. Big Bob reminds him you don’t tell the customer what he wants, but Henry suggests he’s willing to try this and thinks it looks okay. Big Bob then immediately makes a hypocrite of himself by telling Henry he doesn’t want that burger and tells him he wants a tuna melt. He dumps the burger into the trash and remarks that’s the last time he leaves Little Bob in charge.

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Turns out, this isn’t a happy Christmas memory.

In the present, it’s Christmas Eve and the family has been invited to Bob’s father’s annual Christmas party taking place at his restaurant, Big Bob’s Diner. Bob is reluctant to attend, but the family hasn’t been in seven years so he feels obligated to do so. The problem is he and his dad can only seem to co-exist for 15 minutes before things inevitably take a turn for the worse. As he explains this phenomena to Teddy (Larry Murphy), while the kids pray to Santa, we see a montage of times when 15 minutes elapsed and Big Bob said something condescending to his son. Linda (John Roberts) poo-poos him and is ever the optimist insisting that the magic of Christmas will bring them together, but Bob insists they only stay for 15 minutes and then get out of there.

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In the present, Bob has upped his game and worked Christmas puns into his gimmick burgers.

As the family drives over, the kids Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal) all find out via discussion that none of them have secured a Christmas present for their father. They’re obviously running out of time and need to think of something fast. Their hope is that their grandfather might be able to bail them out in some way.

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Santa Pete is the first to welcome the Belchers to Big Bob’s holiday party.

As the family enters Big Bob’s Diner we’re introduced to Big Bob himself. He looks like an older, heavier, version of Bob and seems to be a rather low key kind of guy. He gives the kids their expected five dollars each, and Louise whispers in his ear they have an arts and crafts emergency brewing and Big Bob tells her they’re welcomed to nose around in the basement for stuff and the three head down there. Bob and his dad struggle to make small talk and it soon becomes apparent that Big Bob is understaffed, what with it being Christmas Eve and all. Linda thinks this is an excellent opportunity for the two Bobs to have a heart to heart and she insists that Bob help his dad out in the kitchen. Bob is extremely reluctant to do so, but he’s too good a person not to help his dad out or he just can’t say “No” to his wife.

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Christmas seems to have a lot of baggage for the Bobs.

We’re then a shown a Christmas from 20 years ago. A bunch of patrons are in the diner and Big Bob is preparing to give his son his Christmas present. He has something under a sheet, and he calls for Little Bob to come into the dining room. As he does, he looks really on edge as his dad goes into a little speech. He tells him from now on the diner will be Bob & Son’s diner and he shows him a piece of the new sign, which is still unfinished. As he shows him menus and goes on and on Little Bob says “No” to the offer. Big Bob can hardly believe it, and Little Bob unloads about how he could never work for his dad and that he won’t ever let him change the menu. The restaurant patrons are all really uncomfortable, and Big Bob eventually tells him to get out. As Bob storms out, he tries to come up with a new gimmick burger to mark the occasion, but isn’t satisfied with any of the stuff he’s thinking of on the spot.

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Bob awkwardly discussing the items in the kitchen with his pops.

As the Bobs settle in, Linda helps with waitressing though she clearly has no idea what the layout of the restaurant is and is forced to just call out orders to see who claims them. In the basement, the kids are rummaging through their grandfather’s stuff and trying to figure out a present for their dad. Tina seems to think she can turn her grandfather’s desk chair into something neat, while Gene decides to make drums out of some cans of beans. Louise proposes they have a competition to see who can make their dad the best present. It’s to be called the Missile-Tonies.

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A bean bath – why not?

Upstairs, the clock is ticking as Bob struggles to make small talk with his dad stumbling into an awkward discussion about range hoods. Downstairs, Tina finishes her chair present which just has a bunch of stuff taped to it. She’s rather proud of herself and dishes on her siblings. Louise seems to be unnerved by Tina’s bragging as she constructs a pyramid out of mouse traps. Meanwhile, Gene has lost focus. He emptied the bean cans into a cardboard box initially to make his drum kit sound better, but now he’s decided he just wants to bathe in the beans. He strips down to his underwear and climbs in requesting some sliced ham for his eyes.

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Things are not going well.

In the kitchen, the clock ticks 15, and Bob begins to panic and is trying to make his escape. Right on cue, his dad takes a look at the order slip Bob just finished and asks if it’s supposed to be grilled cheese, because it looks like his son prepared burnt toast. His passive aggressive approach would drive any son mad over time. As Bob tries to leave, Linda sticks her head into the window to see how things are going and Big Bob sarcastically responds they’re learning how to make grilled cheese forcing Little Bob to laugh awkwardly. Linda tells them Henry has ordered the usual, which sets Little Bob off. He declares he’s going to make Henry the burger his dad tossed out when he was 14. Big Bob declares he won’t allow any gimmick burgers in his restaurant, and then he critiques his son’s pantomime of driving a car.

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And they’re only getting worse.

As the Bobs each prepare their meal for Henry, the kids hit a snag in the basement. Tina’s chair has too much stuff taped to it and falls over, knocking over Louise’s structure of mousetraps. Gene’s box breaks open and out come the beans (and according to Gene, a small amount of pee) all over the place. Out of options, Louise instructs Tina to find a gift fast and she settles on a snowglobe. Louise pulls some newspaper out of her grandpa’s desk to use as wrapping paper and this will have to do.

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Linda tries to conjure up some Christmas magic through song, but it isn’t working.

Upstairs, Linda refuses to serve Henry either Bob invention. She instead implores the restaurant customers to sing, but no one is having it. Both Bobs decide to present their food personally as they elbow each other out of the kitchen and place their plates before Henry. The poor old man is obviously confused and conflicted. He doesn’t want to get dragged into this fight between father and son, nor does he want to upset either of them. He’s struggling to find a solution that will placate both, but it becomes obvious that won’t happen. Ultimately, he’s lured in by Little Bob’s creation and takes a bite. He loves it, and as Bob gloats before his dad. A sullen and defeated Big Bob removes his apron and plays the guilt card. He unenthusiastically thanks Bob and Linda for coming to his party as he quietly leaves the restaurant.

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Poor Henry is caught in the middle and he can’t resist the call of Bob’s burger.

Bob isn’t quite ready to stop savoring his victory, but the patrons of the restaurant aren’t too happy with him. Bob realizes he needs to do something as his kids emerge from the basement and Gene is still covered in beans. Linda urges Bob to go after his father, who has ducked into the gay bar across the street. She insists she can handle the orders and the kids will help out, and Bob is forced to relent when the kids give him his present. The newspaper they chose as wrapping paper ended up being a review of Bob’s Burgers his dad kept downstairs. It was the first ever review for the young restaurant (it was a rather neutral review) and Bob is touched and surprised his dad had kept it. Pete, who owns the bar next door, then comes in his Santa suit with a cowboy hat. He instructs Bob to put it on and come with him.

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When a Santa presents you a cowboy hat and commands you to come, you come.

Bob finds his dad alone at the bar in a cowboy hat. He sits down beside him and tries to apologize, but his dad isn’t particularly interested in conversation. He flees his son to the dance floor and Bob gets a lesson in boot-scooting from Pete and joins his father. He then starts to ask his dad what he’s doing here, and he explains he always comes here for line dancing. Before Bob can finish his next question, Big Bob assures his son he’s not gay, he just likes dancing and hanging out with his friends. Big Bob relentlessly points out how badly his son is dancing, and Bob uses that to segue into an explanation for why he blew up earlier. He’s sick of his dad always criticizing him. He apologizes though for blowing up at him, in the past and tonight. He shouldn’t have embarrassed his dad like that in front of his customers, and he sounds genuinely sorry. He thought his dad never supported him, until his kids found the review he had kept. Big Bob admits he’s a tough person to get along with, and the two more or less reconcile before heading back over to the diner.

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A defeated Big Bob wants no part of a conversation with his son.

As they stand outside they watch Linda and the kids taking charge of the situation. Big Bob tells his son he has good kids; weird, happy, kids. He also tells his son that he’s a good father, and Bob seems genuinely touched. They then go to enter the restaurant, but Gene and Louise have locked the door and taunt the two. Tina, being the elder daughter, unlocks the door and lets them in. Linda is happy to see the two have reconciled declaring it Christmas magic and the other patrons are happy to see the two. Big Bob wishes everyone a merry Christmas and the episode ends with Linda’s “Christmas Magic” song she’s been going into and out of all episode.

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Those Belcher kids and their schemes.

“Father of the Bob” is a simple, effective, Christmas episode. It doesn’t necessarily have a special message, but it tells a tale of how a son can feel unappreciated by his father and shows how that can come to a head. Bob was basically in the right to reject his father’s offer of partnership, and right to be angry with him over the gimmick burger, but blowing up and publicly embarrassing him was probably the wrong way to go about it. It’s certainly not the way to do things if you want to continue to have a positive relationship with your pops, but these things can happen when a father is tone deaf to his kid’s emotional needs.

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Gene and his beans are possibly the most memorable part of this one.

Bill Hader is pretty great as Big Bob. He brings a gravelly, grumpy, grumble to the role and I almost didn’t recognize his voice. We see how Big Bob is towards Linda and the kids, which is somewhat warm, and that he’s capable of love. He’s just not great at showing it to his son. It helps keep the audience on Little Bob’s side without full-out hating Big Bob. Nick Offerman, Jordan Peele, and Carl Reiner are also great in their roles. Henry’s conflict over which entrée to eat is probably the best scene, while Peele’s Max has some great lines sprinkled throughout. And the kids tend to steal their scenes when involved. Their B plot is simple yet outlandish given the direction they take it with Gene’s bean bath being a funny, yet cringey, moment since someone is going to have to clean that up. The two plots are tied together neatly, and the climax between the Bobs feels authentic as opposed to manufactured.

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Seeing Bob try to figure things out with his pops around the holidays proved compelling, which is something this show doesn’t often try to do.

“Father of the Bob” may be a touch sentimental and melancholy, but it’s quietly become one of my favorite Christmas specials. I think I still prefer the prior season’s Christmas special, “Christmas in the Car” (which I covered 2 years ago), a little better, but this one is right there. It helps that there’s plenty of Christmas imagery in the episode, so even if it never gets to the actual holiday it still feels like a true Christmas special.

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A hopeful image accompanies the credits.

“Father of the Bob” will likely be shown on Adult Swim more than once this season along with most of the other Christmas specials from Bob’s Burgers. You can also stream the series on Hulu, or purchase the episode as part of season five on physical media or by itself digitally. In short, this is a rather easy one to catch and it’s definitely worth your time to do so this year.

 


Dec. 2 – Robot Chicken’s ATM Christmas Special

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First broadcast December 16, 2012.

This is going to be a bit of an experiment. These recaps the last few years have basically focused on cartoons or live-action shows in which a story is told over some duration. I have so far avoided sketch shows, not purposely, but it’s definitely been in the back of my mind that doing a write-up in this style is a bit more challenging with a sketch show. It’s like reviewing or recapping several micro episodes of a TV show.

And when it comes to micro-sized entertainment, Robot Chicken should be the first show that comes to mind. Each episode is about 11 minutes long and contains an irregular number of sketches within that 11 minutes, some of which are literally just a few seconds long. Most of these are animated using stop-motion techniques with action figures in place of true puppets. Often these action figures require modification to animate in a more desirable fashion and when that is needed clay appears to be the medium of choice.

img_4139Robot Chicken is the brain child of Seth Green and Matthew Senreich. Green, as the most visible star associated with the brand, often handles a lot of the voicing duties and appears to get a lot of help from his Family Guy co-stars as well. Senreich, along with writers Douglas Goldstein and Tom Root, are veterans of ToyFare magazine which would often contain a comic in its pages called Twisted ToyFare Theater that is basically Robot Chicken in print form. Those sequences were popular, so it’s not that surprising to see the concept was taken to television where Robot Chicken has had a presence on Adult Swim since 2005.

Robot Chicken has been an ally to Christmas from almost day one. There have been several holiday editions of the show and some themes have sprung up. Santa Claus is a reoccurring character in these shorts and he is, I believe, always voiced by Seth MacFarlane. The show will often poke fun at classic holiday specials or just do something nerdy and goofy like pit Goku from Dragon Ball against a Christmas villain. There’s elements of shock humor to go along with the mostly nerd humor and shorts often get pretty violent for comedic purposes. It’s not a show for everyone, but it’s certainly aided by its brief runtime so when an episode misses the mark it’s usually not around long enough to truly stink up the place.

In 2012 Robot Chicken debuted its ATM Christmas Special, which I assume stands for Ass to Mouth because that’s the sort of humor the show goes for. Even though the show is on Adult Swim, it may have been difficult to actually get that phrase into the episode title and it’s a bit cheeky to make it an acronym anyway.

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Santa is pissed he nearly slept through Christmas.

The special opens in festive fashion with a parody of the old CBS Special logo that leads into a story about Santa (MacFarlane). It seems Santa forgot to schedule a wake-up call as he wakes up late for Christmas. It’s a scramble to the work shop where a ranting Santa takes his anger out on the poor elves. Santa is done as a doll, while most of the elves look like claymation and doll parts or something. The scramble continues to the sleigh and the reindeer are all messed up prompting Santa to fire the elf attendant, who cries, as Santa leaves.

 

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Someone got fired for that one.

From the skies Santa and his assistant chuck presents rather than do the usual infiltration thing. They’re depicted more like bombs as they cause all kinds of destruction, including claiming the life of a poor homeless man. A satellite image from space shows Earth with little tiny explosions dotting the surface. Santa makes it back to the North Pole relieved he pulled it off until he finds a lone present he missed. He vows to make the delivery and races to the home where it apparently belongs. I guess because time’s a factor, he opts to use the front door rather than the chimney, but it’s locked. As Santa pulls and wrestles with the door knob, the scene changed to reveal this is all a nightmare and Santa is at home in bed choking his wife. Some elves race in and use a cattle prod on him to subdue him, causing Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Banks) to declare she hates Christmas.

 

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And whoa this thing got dark pretty quick!

We then smash cut to the real opening credits, which largely depict the short we just watched, but everything is in red. There’s also some clips of shorts still to come as we head into our next skit.

 

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This guy is angry at Jewish people for making him work on Christmas. That’s the joke.

A Chinese man is shown on the phone at a restaurant. He’s talking to his wife, but we only hear his side of the conversation. He’s bemoaning that he can’t come home and celebrate Christmas because a Jewish family is there and is just hanging out after their meal. We can see them at a table in the background. The man then declares he hates Jews, which is apparently the punchline of the skit.

 

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Well isn’t this a nice holiday setting!

We then jump to a living room setting on Christmas. A delighted Christmas tree (Henry Winkler) is busy declaring how lucky it is to have been adopted by this family. It’s a happy, warm, Christmas setting that ends with a little girl hugging the tree. Then we cut to a woman dragging the browning tree out the front door. It is completely unaware of what is about to happen and the woman tells the tree they’re going on vacation. It’s pretty excited and remains so as she leaves it on the curb for the garbage man to collect. As the tree is tossed into the truck, it insists it’s not garbage, but then it sees the father and daughter watching from a window as they close the curtains.

 

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On Robot Chicken, there are no happy endings.

The tree is taken to a toilet paper factory, and several weeks later we see what became of it. It’s toilet paper and sitting on a shelf in a grocery store. The image of the tree on the packaging is capable of talking and narrating the thoughts of the still sentient plant as it openly hopes it mostly gets used for boogers or urine. Then it recognizes something offscreen, and it’s the mom and daughter of the family who threw it away. It’s actually happy to see them, until the mother declares they’re having Indian food for dinner.

 

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Check it out! He had a big foot! Laugh!

We then get a brief skit of some kids looking at the stockings over the fireplace. One is huge, and they declare “No fair,” as the camera pans to reveal it belongs to Big Foot Danny, a kid with a really big foot.

 

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Well, at least he’s not choking her this time.

Back to Santa, who is seated in a lounge chair with an apparent broken leg. Mrs. Claus comes in to give him his Christmas present:  a candy cane (get it?). Santa is excited and he stands up to test it out and, finding it’s an actual oversized candy cane, collapses to the ground as the cane snaps apart. He then scolds the woman for making a cane out of candy and expecting it to work. The skit ends with Santa wondering if he broke his tibia while I worry for the well-being of Mrs. Claus.

 

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I guess Justin Bieber jokes were still funny in 2012. I guess.

In a warmly lit den by the fire decorated for Christmas, Justine Bieber (Lucas Grabeel) prepares to play us a song. He’s joined by Santa on guitar and a snowman on drums. He then rips into the song, which is probably titled “Fuck Christmas” because that’s what he mostly says. It’s an aggressive, angry, tune that gets its point across. The scene ends with two executives watching this unfold. One remarks they should have just stuck with David Cassidy, while the other enthusiastically declares that Bieber is a true artist.

 

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It’s Santa vs Jason Bourne! The fight you never wanted!

We’re then taken to a more desolate location. It’s Jason Bourne, a convincing looking doll, and he turns his head dramatically to spot someone closing in from behind. It’s Santa Claus, and there are no words spoken as Santa pulls a sharpened candy cane from his coat. The two fight, and the choreography is actually pretty intense. Bourne gets the better of the Kringle though, ending the fight by stabbing Santa with his own candy cane.

 

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How did you expect it to end? The guy is beyond elderly!

Santa is then shown laying on the ground coughing up blood. He remarks that Jason is a hard man to find and pulls out a Christmas present. Okay. Bourne takes it as Santa bleeds out and dies and seems to react enthusiastically to receiving a copy of the board game Parcheesi.

 

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Hey kid, I know how you feel as I had the same reaction to this joke.

A quick skit of a Lego family at Christmas runs. The kid seems unhappy to have received another block for Christmas and reacts with mock enthusiasm. That’s it.

 

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What are you supposed to get a ninja for Christmas? Robot Chicken seeks to answer that very question.

At G.I. Joe headquarters, some of the Joes are sitting around trying to figure out what to get Snake Eyes for Christmas. These appear to be actual toys from the toy line. They don’t know what to get him because he never tells them what he wants (he’s mute, in case you were unaware) and we see a cut-away to last Christmas when they just gave him a coffee mug that says “I Heart Ninjas.”

 

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Storm Shadow has never looked better.

Scarlett (Banks) declares she knows what Snake Eyes really wants, and we cut to the Joes surrounding a building in a snowy environment. They enter and it’s revealed to be the home of Storm Shadow, Snake Eyes’ rival. He’s in his usual white ninja suit, but also is sporting a pink bath robe. The Joes attack, but they get their asses handed to them.

 

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The question remains unanswered.

On Christmas morning, Duke (Skeet Ulrich) approaches a seated Snake Eyes and tosses his present at him. It’s another mug. Meanwhile, we can see the rest of the Joes have all been beaten up pretty bad and look rather miserable. Snake Eyes, even though he’s wearing a mask, seems perplexed by the hostile treatment.

 

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Nothing says “Christmas” quite like Kano.

We’re whisked away to a store where a woman is in the embarrassing position of having her credit card declined. The clerk can’t do anything about it as she bemoans how tough life has been for her and her two boys since their father passed away. The man behind her overhears the clerk say her name, Mrs. Cage, and it causes him to remember. The man is Kano, of Mortal Kombat fame, and a thought bubble appears over his head showing him rip the heart out of Johnny Cage post match.

 

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I knew he was an asshole the moment I first laid eyes on him!

Feeling guilty, Kano helps the woman to her car and accepts an offer to join them for Christmas dinner. At the Cage residence, he uses his somersault maneuver to hang Christmas lights, and when saying “Grace,” he puts on a yamaka as a joke and everyone has a good laugh. As he helps Mrs. Cage put the kids to bed, he confesses he can’t hide from her anymore. He apologizes for what happened to Johnny and gives the widow a gift. She opens the box and is confused. Kano claims it’s Johnny’s heart, but Mrs. Cage informs him it’s not a heart. We then smash cut to Johnny Cage on a beach in a tropical environment relaying how Kano ripped out his appendix by mistake to a group of bikini-clad women. He then grabs one and the skit ends before the orgy can commence.

 

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Possibly Robot Chicken’s most popular character is The Nerd.

In our next sketch it’s Christmas morning at The Nerd’s (Green) home. He awakens excitedly in a festive red onesie and races downstairs only to find that Christmas has been stolen. His parents give him the bad news, but he takes it fairly well. That is until his mom reveals during “Pretend Christmas” what the thief made off with:  a 1985 AFA Graded Snake Eyes action figure.

 

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I like where this is going…

Despondent, The Nerd takes to the streets to find the whole neighborhood has been victimized. He finds a group of people forming a circle and one man explains it’s a vengeance circle as they’re asking The Spirit of Vengeance to violently punish the asshole who stole their stuff. He’s then told by another that he’s mistaken and this is the wrong circle, the vengeance one is nearby. This forces things to click inside The Nerd’s brain. What Christmas story involves a burglary followed by the victims holding hands and singing? He then turns around to gaze at a nearby mountain where the thief is still in the process of getting away!

 

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When you’re down and out and in need of encouragement, look to Larry Hama.

The Nerd heads off after him, and as he climbs the mountain he bemoans his choice in clothing. As he ponders giving up, he looks to Snake Eyes for help. Since Snake Eyes is mute, he doesn’t offer anything encouraging when he appears in a cloud above The Nerd’s head. Larry Hama appears though in a similar vision to encourage him to continue. The line he feeds The Nerd is corny and unoriginal and The Nerd calls him out on it. In a bit of self-deprecation, Hama remarks how he spent his career writing comics that were essentially toy commercials and is able to spur The Nerd along by threatening to read him an excerpt from his unfinished novel.

 

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He really is a stupid looking Grinch.

The Nerd makes it to the summit where he confronts the thief – The Grinch! He moans when he sees it’s not even the good Grinch from the cartoon, but the Jim Carrey Grinch. Grinch (Green) tells him it doesn’t matter, but then The Nerd uses his anger over the film ruining the “greatest cartoon ever” to motivate him to kill this Grinch. Declaring he doesn’t care about his presents, he simply kicks the sleigh (with Grinch in it) off the mountain. He then turns around to see Max whom he refers to him as the little Stockholm Syndrome dog. Max has something for The Nerd, his precious Snake Eyes toy! Only now it has teeth marks which are sure to affect the grading.

 

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And now he’s dead and likely about to get raped.

Back at street level, one of the neighborhood men drags the Grinch’s corpse over and happily displays it. The same man from earlier rejoices that The Spirit of Vengeance answered their prayers. Another man then questions if The Spirit of Vengeance would like them to rape the corpse. The first man declares why not? – it’s Christmas! And that’s how our special ends; with a rape joke.

 

Robot Chicken’s ATM Christmas Special is certainly a sight to behold. The animation is pretty great, even when the source “puppets” are old G.I. Joe toys. I like the little through-lines with reappearing Santa throughout and the G.I. Joe sketch being sort of referenced further in the finale. The big Grinch parody was saved for last and it feels like the right spot for it. I like the self-realization of The Nerd becoming aware that he’s in a Christmas special, and even though internet nerd anger is pretty stupid, I did take some joy in this character hating on the Jim Carrey/Ron Howard Grinch while praising the superior Chuck Jones cartoon.

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There’s a tendency of the show to rely on shock humor, like a homeless guy getting decapitated by a Christmas present, but when that’s your thing it’s hard to remain shocking.

Some of the other stuff hasn’t aged super well. The “I Hate Jews” sketch, in particular, doesn’t play so well. It’s brushed off because a lot of the folks involved with this show are Jewish, and I suppose someone in a similar situation could empathize to a point, but it still felt like poor taste and just shock humor. And rape jokes are just kind of “meh” at this point. It’s another line that’s supposed to create a laugh out of shock, but the show is often so crass that it loses the ability to be shocking. I expected those people to want to desecrate the corpse of The Grinch thus negating the punch of the remark.

 

This special is loaded with guest stars who all do a pretty nice job. MacFarlane is involved with the show so often that it hardly feels right to even consider him a guest star at this point. Elizabeth Banks plays a few characters, and I was surprised to hear the voice of Henry Winkler. Larry Hama’s part isn’t acted all that well, and it was clearly shot on the cheap (maybe even wth a cell phone or something), but his willingness to basically poke fun at his own career helped to sell the moment.

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Henry Winkler’s Christmas tree is the type of character the show’s dark blend of humor works best with. Although the sketch still ended with a poop joke.

The stuff with Santa was mostly enjoyable, though the Bourne sketch wasn’t particularly funny (even though it looked great). I’m not much of a fan of G.I. Joe so that sketch fell a little flat for me. I did find the Mortal Kombat one pretty amusing, if a tad predictable, and the Christmas Tree was tragically funny as well. Overall, there were some laughs found in this tidy little Christmas special and they mostly outweigh the duds. It doesn’t stick around long enough to suck, and by positioning the best short at the end it actually does leave you wanting more. Had it ended on G.I. Joe or the stupid Bieber song I probably would feel different.

If you want to catch this special this year just keep an eye out on Adult Swim. They’re practically guaranteed to air this and the many other Robot Chicken Christmas episodes at some point this month, often even reserving some for Christmas Eve.

 


Dec. 21 – Rick and Morty – “Anatomy Park”

img_2952Rick and Morty is Adult Swim’s latest hit. Premiering in December 2013, it appeared to be just another Adult Swim cartoon, but come the season 3 premiere it seemed to really take off. That was the episode, you may have heard, that involved a certain flavor of discontinued McDonald’s McNugget sauce that went viral. It caught the attention of McDonald’s, who seeking to capitalize on the spotlight, re-released this sauce in limited quantities and geeky fans did what geeky fans do – they went nuts.

As a result of that debacle, Rick and Morty seems to have engendered a bad reputation. Or rather, its fan base has. Some of that is due to lead character Rick, a super scientist of extreme, almost god-like, intelligence who also happens to have real character flaws. He’s a user and an abuser, but he’s almost always right and the victor of each episode causing some fans to view him in a positive light. He’s really not supposed to be though and viewers should be laughing at him, not with him, as the saying goes. He’s kind of like a Walter White, or if you want to get real nerdy, a Raistlin Majere before that character had his redemption arc.

Is it the show’s fault when its fans act stupid in its name? Yes and no, but I lean more towards the “no” side. Ignoring the drama, Rick and Morty is just a really fun, inventive show created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland. It’s ugly, cynical, gross, and strangely captivating. It took me a little while to get into it, but that was mostly because the Rick character and his constant burping and drooling just kind of grossed me out. I don’t know what it is about his constant burps, but it just makes me queasy and I’m not usually the type who is turned off by gross humor. I got over it though, and once I did I got pretty well hooked. This is the kind of show I can just drop in and out of and usually have a laugh. There is some connective tissue between episodes, but in general you don’t need to keep up with it to know what’s going on and to enjoy an episode by itself.

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Are you ready for a Jurassic Park parody at Christmas?

At its core, Rick and Morty is like a deranged Mr. Peabody and Sherman with a touch of Back to the Future. Rick is the old man and a super genius. Morty is his neurotic grandson. Together they go on interdimensional adventures where sometimes Morty learns a lesson, and sometimes he does not. Sometimes they stay home and watch television and don’t even bother with the adventure. They have a some-what combative relationship. Morty is a need for Rick and the why is a bit of a deep dive I don’t want to go on right now. For Morty, Rick is a presence who exerts controls over him. Sometimes he’s a means to an end, and usually his ends are like most teenaged boys, and sometimes he wants to go on crazy adventures, but usually he does not. Do they love each other? It’s hard to tell. Sometimes the show will tease genuine affection on the part of Rick only to reveal it was a farce and sometimes it does but leaves the interpretation open. He’s probably not a truly repugnant grandfather, but he’s certainly not the best.

Rounding out the cast is Morty’s family. Rick lives in their garage and the home is owned by his daughter Beth (Sarah Chalke), a failed doctor who had to settle for veterinary work. She embodies some of her dad’s poorer qualities, like alcoholism and likely depression, and she’s in a rather loveless marriage to Jerry (Chris Parnell). She and Jerry got pregnant young and had a shotgun wedding and never really figured out if they were even in love, though they seem some-what dependent on one another. Jerry is a meek and insecure individual and he loathes Rick and the influence he has over their son. Summer (Spencer Grammer) is Morty’s older sister and is a fairly typical teen. She tries to ignore the dysfunction of her home life, but sometimes she gets pulled into one of Rick and Morty’s adventures.

“Anatomy Park” is the show’s third episode and it’s lone Christmas episode to this point and it originally aired on December 16, 2013. What starts off as a fairly conventional sitcom plot, turns into an outrageous Jurassic Park parody. It also gets rather dark and uncomfortable for a sitcom Christmas special, but that’s Rick and Morty for ya!

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Jerry’s parents have arrived and they’ve brought an unexpected guest.

The episode opens with Jerry, dressed in a festive sweater, getting angry at his family for being too attached to their various electronics on Christmas. He makes them all put their tablets and phones into a stocking, and when Summer refuses he threatens to create a Facebook profile. He tells them his parents are due over any minute for Christmas dinner and it’s revealed they haven’t been by in several years. The rest of the family seems indifferent. Meanwhile, Rick shows up with a gross looking Santa. When Gerry questions who this guy is Rick says his name is Ruben (Jess Harnell) and every Christmas Rick takes him in and gives him a full check-up as some kind of charity case. Jerry isn’t buying it, and the only thing Ruben can say is “Pearl Harbor” while the rest of the family seems charmed. Rick and Ruben disappear into the garage and Jerry’s parents then turn up with an unexpected guest. Leonard (Dana Carvey) and Joyce (Patricia Lentz) have brought Jacob (Echo Kellum), a young african american male, along for Christmas dinner. They don’t really explain who Jacob is, and when asked they explain they’ve had a spiritual awakening of some kind and are focused on experiences and living while in the twilight of their lives. This seems to please Summer and Beth, but Jerry is just confused and anxious.

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Rick also has a festive surprise guest.

Rick pops back in to greet Jerry’s parents, but mostly to take Morty with him to the garage. Once there we see Ruben, naked on a table save for his tattered Santa hat, who Rick says is in bad shape. He’s speaking rather hastily and pushing Morty along who is growing increasingly concerned and panicked as Rick outfits him to look like a poor man’s astronaut. Rick doesn’t explain what’s needed of Morty, and only barks out important instructions as he shoves him into a device and then shrinks him into a tiny syringe. As he jabs the syringe into Ruben, Beth pops in to ask where Morty went and Rick explains he’s busy.

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The episode is a parody of Jurassic Park, but Anatomy Park is also clearly a parody of Disneyland. And the show is not above going for the easy jokes here.

Morty finds himself injected into Ruben’s body and there he finds Anatomy Park. Rick has constructed a microscopic amusement park inside the man’s body and he introduces it in grandiose fashion as Morty walks around and takes it all in. He seems impressed and strangely not panicked, until he arrives at the liver. It’s a scary place, and Rick fills him in on Ruben’s alcoholism and mentions you have to be in a pretty bad place to let someone build an amusement park inside of you. Rick needs Morty to find Dr. Xenon (John Oliver) as something has gone wrong. He first encounters Poncho (Gary Anthony Williams), a crazed military man who freaks him out. Dr. Xenon, some kind of a sentient germ or something, shows up though and welcomes Morty and also introduces his fetching young assistant Annie (Jackie Buscarino) whom Morty takes an immediate liking to. With them is Roger (Harnell) who resembles Steve Irwin. Dr. Xenon explains the security systems have gone haywire as a giant, yellow, xenomorph-like creature bursts onto the scene.

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Our “heroes” of Anatomy Park. Most of them will die.

Back home, the rest of the family is seated down for dinner. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves except Jerry, who is still really thrown off by the presence of Jacob. When he pushes the issue, his dad fesses up to what’s going on. Seeing as they’re getting older, Leonard and Joyce are focusing on the connections that will last beyond their years: their spiritual one. Less important is the physical, which is what brought Jacob into their lives. Jerry gets rather worried and asks if Jacob is their lover and is relieved when his dad says, “No.” That was a bit of a fake-out though as he explains that Jacob is actually his mother’s lover, he just likes to watch and often while wearing a Superman costume. Jacob acts like this is not the least bit awkward and the rest of the family seems amused by it, except Jerry.

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Beth and Summer seem to enjoy the hearing the truth about Jacob.

Inside Anatomy Park, the others run from the creature and flee into the lungs. There they’re joined by a cast member of the park dressed like a dog (Rob Schrab). When he removes his mask he is immediately chastised by Dr. Xenon; apparently breaking character is forbidden. As they look around the lungs, Morty decides to bounce around and have some fun, until they’re attacked by tuberculosis. The little black beings descend like spiders and Poncho opens fire, which rips holes in the lungs causing Ruben to cough. The dog-guy gets caught in a cough, but Morty grabs his hand and requests his name (it’s Alexander), but another cough causes him to go shooting out of Ruben peeling the skin from his bones. He splatters as phlegm on Rick’s face.

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Fare thee well, Alexander.

Rick then starts to pass along advice to our adventurers and prepares to cure Ruben’s TB, until he flat-lines. Proclaiming he can’t cure death, Rick starts to advise Morty that things are going to get dark so he should try riding Pirates of the Pancreas, which is a ride he designed and is really proud of (he insists it wasn’t white-washed and the pirates get really rapey). He also adds that getting them out of the dead man alive is the priority, but why not treat yourself too? Morty is not amused by Rick’s logic.

After the business with Rick is concluded, Dr. Xenon seems ready to eulogize his beloved park, but Morty shuts him up and insists they find a way out. Dr. Xenon explains, rather frankly, the way out is through the digestive tract and Morty insists they head there while Poncho is annoyed he’s supposed to listen to “some 12-year-old.” Dr. Xenon then warns Morty that what has happened to Anatomy Park is the work of an inside job, and cautions him about Annie in particular who was written up for her work at the churro stand. Undaunted, Morty tries talking to Annie where he awkwardly tries to explain he’s not 12, but 14, and it doesn’t go well prompting Rick to make a comment at his expense.

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Dr. Xenon is the only one who seems to enjoy this endless ride.

The group is then shown on the digestive tract ride, which is styled after It’s A Small World and apparently goes on for miles. They’re then set upon by gonorrhea, which rises from the brown water in a rather threatening manner. Dr. Xenon cautions that if they don’t move it won’t see them, then says “whoops” as he mistook gonorrhea for a T-Rex. Their boat is soon capsized, and they’re forced to swim away in the nasty looking “water.” They arrive “on shore” while the penile gonorrhea looms. Poncho then recalls Dr. Xenon saying the chamber was filling with gas and lights a match. With a cool parting line about a burning sensation, he tosses the match at the grotesque monster causing an explosion and destroying it.

At home, the family is gathered in a drum circle all except Jerry who is moping in the corner. Beth offers some consoling his way, but he knows she’s enjoying this. A teenaged boy then shows up and we find out it’s Ethan (Daniel Benson), Summer’s boyfriend. He’s pissed that Summer hasn’t returned any of his texts, but that’s because Jerry took her phone. Summer gets angry in return while Jerry demands to know if he is indeed Summer’s boyfriend which just causes Jacob to step in and defuse the situation suggesting that Jerry needs to get closer with his family.

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You don’t want gonorrhea. You really don’t want gonorrhea.

Back inside Ruben, the “heroes” of our story have reached the end of the digestive tract. They need to gain access to the enlarger ray or whatever it is that gets them out. Before that happens, Morty notices a weird, black, slime creature poking out of Poncho’s backpack. It’s bubonic plague, and it turns out Poncho is the traitor who released the TB virus earlier. He grabs Annie as a hostage and explains he hates working for Dr. Xenon and a lot of people would pay for the plague if he smuggled it out (damn, Ruben had a lot of shit going on in his body). Morty attacks, likely wanting to impress Annie, and Poncho tosses him aside but he does release his hold on the girl. The plague breaks free though and bites him. He loses his balance, and plunges to his death off of the catwalk they’re all standing on. Roger then lets them know they need to go, as the retaining wall they built for Ruben’s bowels is about to burst. As they run, Roger’s foot gets caught. He tells them not to worry, then goes into a long-winded speech about telling his wife what happened to him as the damn breaks and he’s killed by poo.

In the livingroom once again, Jacob is trying to counsel Ethan who is a very angry and troubled young man and the source of his anger is Summer. Jacob works his magic and of course the scene ends with Summer and Ethan in tears making an uncomfortable display of affection in front of everyone. Everyone is pleased, and Joyce is apparently turned on as she and Jacob begin making out while Leonard ducks into the closet to observe from a distance. This causes Jerry to finally blow and declare he hates this, and he’s immediately reprimanded by his mom. Declaring he hates Christmas, Jerry takes his leave.

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Ruben is going to go for a little ride.

Inside Ruben, the three living beings are for some reason taking in a show. It’s a parody of Great Moments with Lincoln, only it’s hosted by an animatronic Ruben. Dr. Xenon is enjoying it while Morty and Annie make out. Rick asks Morty to shut the radio off so he doesn’t have to listen in when Jerry bursts into the garage. Apparently they can’t get out via the digestive tract any more, and something Jerry says about his relatives gives Rick an idea. He has Jerry get him some dynamite and as he cuts open Ruben and shoves the explosives inside him Jerry decides to leave. Rick then tosses the cadaver in his spaceship and takes off, telling Morty he needs to get to the left nipple.

Dr. Xenon explains they can take the bone train and goes into a bit about it that Morty gets irritated by. When they get to the platform Dr. Xenon explains that one person will have to stay behind because the train doesn’t have an autopilot. He lets that hang in there an uncomfortable length of time before conceding he was a dick for doing that. Since Anatomy Park was his responsibility, he’ll be the one to stay behind. Before they can say good-bye they’re beset by ecoli and Morty and Annie jump into the train. As Xenon releases it he realizes it does actually posses an autopilot, but then claims he wanted to die heroically, but he’s not convincing.

The train takes Morty and Annie to where it needs to, while Rick deposits Ruben into space. There he enlarges the body well beyond its normal proportions (he’s a super scientist, after all) and Ruben floats over the United States. There the news picks up on this giant Santa and we see how everyone is reacting with relative calm at a giant, naked, Santa in the sky. All except a poor lumberjack who had the misfortune of being where Ruben’s penis made land.

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Saved by hepatitis!

Morty and Annie are preparing to flee through the nipple duct, when they’re attacked by the big yellow guy from early in the episode. Before it can get to them though they’re saved by Hep C in true Jurassic Park style. It gives the duo a thumbs up, which just confuses Morty as the two are rescued by Rick who can only admonish Morty for losing Dr. Xenon Bloom as Ruben explodes.

On earth, the explosion causes blood to fall from the sky. The family was preparing to head out for some holiday fun, without Jerry, but instead are forced to retreat in terror. There Jerry gets to comfort them assuring everybody things are going to be all right because the TV said so. He returns their tablets and phones and encourages them to relax. In the garage, Rick is a bit down that Dr. Xenon is dead claiming he was the only one capable of building an amusement park inside someone. Annie then chimes in that she thinks she learned enough from him and that she could possibly do it. Rick, apparently convinced, immediately shrinks her and puts her away for later use, which disappoints Morty. Rick assures him he dodged a bullet citing a “floppy vagina” but Morty doesn’t see the problem there. The two then head into the living room and find the family absorbed in their electronics. Rick goes on a rant about it being Jesus’s birthday and they’re all being self-absorbed, but no one cares and Jerry mugs for the camera. In a post credits scene, Rick is on speakerphone with Annie and her new team of developers as they build a new Anatomy Park. They question Rick’s design for Pirates of the Pancreas, causing Rick to hang up on them. The camera pans and we see it’s Ethan they’re inside and when he questions what’s going on, Rick goes on a rant how they’re building a monument to compromise inside of him. The episode ends when Ethan asks who’s paying him.

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It’s kind of like the Macy’s parade, but bigger and with more penis.

“Anatomy Park” is a vehicle for awkward humor that ties in the Christmas holiday. It wants to turn the holiday upside down, and is fairly successful at doing that. The holiday gathering with Jerry’s parents is basically a B-plot. After the reveal of Jacob’s relationship with Jerry’s parents is out-of-the-way, it’s fairly typically paced with the beloved outsider sort of usurping the holiday spotlight from the disgruntled patriarch. It runs out of steam, but those scenes are few and brief so it doesn’t overstay itself. The Jurassic Park parody is where the meat of the story lies, and it’s punctuated fairly well. The plot points aren’t afraid to “go there” with the poop jokes and such, but it’s really driven by the dialogue more so than the actual comedy bits. There are so many little jokes interwoven into the dialogue and I would be doing it a disservice by regurgitating them all here. Suffice to say, while this isn’t as outlandish an episode as it appears at first blush, it’s still very entertaining and I always like it when Christmas gets a little dark.

“Anatomy Park” should be an easy special to come by this holiday season. Adult Swim will likely show it multiple times, so if you were keeping up with the various holiday viewing guides you probably have seen it by now. And if you like waiting until the last minute (or first), Adult Swim is running “Anatomy Park” at midnight on Christmas Eve/Christmas morning. If you prefer to watch without commercials, Adult Swim streams it and it’s also available as part of season one on Blu-ray. I recommend just getting that as the whole season is full of laughs and it’s definitely worthy of a purchase.


Dec. 17 – Metalocalypse – “Dethmas”

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The boys of Dethklok (left to right):  William Murderface, Skwisgaar Skwigelf, Nathan Explosion, Pickles, and Toki Wartooth

A show that felt like it was made for, Metalocalypse was an animated show on Adult Swim about a fictitious death metal band and their misadventures. And yet, it was a show I could never get into. It began in 2006 as I was exiting college and heading into “the real world” in which I had a brutal commute and long working day. As a result, I was forced to abandon my night owl lifestyle which meant I missed out on a lot of the Adult Swim programming that began during this era. Even when things calmed down for me and I attained some normalcy, I never really returned to Adult Swim for no particular reason and I slept on this show, despite numerous friends telling me it was something I needed to watch. I saw an episode here and there, it just never stuck. It was also kind of annoying to watch on cable since the script for each episode is loaded with profanity so there’s a constant stream of bleeps when shown on television. This is a show best enjoyed on either home video or via an uncensored streaming platform.

“Dethmas” originally aired December 6, 2009. Unlike a lot of these simply animated programs on Adult Swim, Metalocalypse is a half hour formatted show (for season 3 only). It was the brainchild of Brendon Small, a musician himself who is probably best known for the show Home Movies, and Tommy Blacha. Only someone familiar with the European metal scene could dream up this show, and it’s pretty incredible that it received a green light from Cartoon Network given how niche the subject matter is. It ended up being one of the longer running shows for the network, finally coming to an end in 2013 with a one-off special. In total there were 63 episodes produced, and this episode was part of the show’s third season.

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Christmas is coming for Dethklok.

The show opens with the band watching television. They’re watching the news (and the anchor is voiced by Mark Hamill) coverage of their “friend” Dr. Rockzo (Tommy Blacha) who has been arrested for stealing from a homeless charity to fund his cocaine addiction. Dr. Rockzo looks like an 80’s David Lee Roth if Roth were a clown strung-out on cocaine. Toki (Blacha) is given some grief by his band mates over his friend’s relapse, but Toki is quick to point out he’s severed all ties with the clown. The conversation then shifts to the upcoming Christmas holiday, and William Murderface (Blacha) wants to put on a Christmas special, but the rest of the band tells him that’s lame. He gets pretty pissed off and vows to go it alone. Nathan Explosion (Brendon Small) reveals that their moms sent them a DVD for Christmas, and the band reluctantly watches it. It’s pretty easy to tell which woman on the video is related to which band member, with the most obvious being Murderface’s grandmother who looks exactly like him except she’s obese and rides a scooter. Murderface is quite taken by Skwigelf’s mother, a buxom blonde who briefly exposes her undergarments Sharon Stone-style. The video ends with the revelation that the moms are coming for Christmas, and the band is not happy.

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The Dethklok mothers, and one grandmother.

The band is then shown lounging in a hot tub still complaining about their mothers and Christmas. We’re shown a brief montage of what happened last time the ladies visited, which apparently included a drunken game of Twister. They vow to not let their moms drink this time. Murderface then meets with his business partner, Dick Knubbler (Small), and he’s not happy that the rest of the band won’t be joining them. He informs Murderface that he won’t have any creative input, and when asked why, he lists out other failed business ventures by Murderface which included exploding pyro devices and a cologne of his own urine. They need to secure some financing though, and it’s going to be hard with just Murderface.

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One horrifying Santa.

Dr. Rockzo is also shown being released on bail. He’s told to stay out of trouble and get a job. Conveniently, Toki, being the only member of the band who seems to love Christmas, heads off to the mall to see Santa and that’s just where Dr. Rockzo ended up getting a job (as Santa). Rockzo is able to get Toki to take him back to the home of Dethklok where he continues to go through cocaine withdrawals. Murderface also receives a phone call from Knubler letting him know his proposed ideas for the special (he wanted tits and murder) have been rejected. Worse news, they only found one sponsor:  The Christian Church. When Murderface questions if aligning himself with the Church would be considered selling-out, the various yes-men on the line suggest it’s fine and he cheerfully goes along with it.

The mothers have also arrived, and no one is happy. The moms want the boys to take them shopping, and we get a brief sequence of Explosion trying to find a parking space at the mall which ends in a car accident. Meanwhile, Dr. Rockzo has escaped and has managed to score some cocaine. He happily prances around the park announcing his score to the world while waving his drugs around in a plastic bag until he runs into a cop.

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Murderface doesn’t seem to mind at least one of the Dethklok moms being there.

Murderface and Knubbler are forced to meet their sponsor, an unnamed priest voiced by Small. He wants to put on a very Christian production and Murderface appears more onboard than Knubbler who can’t stop swearing in the priest’s presence. When he returns to the homestead, he finds his band mates in Christmas sweaters completely miserable. This allows Murderface the chance to convince his bandmates to join the special with him as it’s something they can do with their mothers to get them off their backs. He also claims it will be brutal, which is a blatant lie, but is needed to get Explosion onboard. We then get a montage, framed by Rockzo’s coke habit, of the band and their moms getting ready for the special. A lot of the images show the band forcing their moms into manual labor to get the set constructed.

murderface special

This will not go well.

When the special arrives, it’s actually a fairly wholesome experience. Hosted by Murderface and Knubbler, they do the nativity in which the baby Jesus defecates repeatedly and the audience seems to enjoy the impromptu poop jokes. The priest seems pleased as well, and the scene shifts backstage where Murderface’s grandma is on the hunt for booze. She finds a door comically chained and locked and claims to smell alcohol behind it. Rockzo is also there, and he’s managed to gain access to the backstage area. Toki, getting ready for his prized Secret Santa portion of the special, finds all of his gifts are gone and he immediately blames Rockzo. Meanwhile, the rest of the band is watching the special unfold on live television from the green room, and Explosion sees who the sponsor for the show is and immediately gets pissed.

rockzo job

At least Dr. Rockzo got to enjoy himself.

On set, Murderface and Knubbler are dressed in tuxedos and are seated in a living room setting. A knock on the door prompts them to speculate on what surprise awaits them on the other side, in true corny Christmas special fashion. It’s the mothers, and now armed with booze are completely smashed. They stumble onto the set rather clumsily. Explosion is next, and he simply punches Murderface in his murder face and drops an f-bomb, which does not go over well with the priest. The other band mates storm in and they’re just as pissed, and Dr. Rockzo is there as well. He collapses onto the couch and Skwigelf’s mother begins giving him a handjob. Toki also gets crushed by a giant cross on set along with Murderface’s grandmother, which Murderface seems to enjoy. With the whole special in disarray, the priest attacks Murderface and begins choking him out as Knubbler is forced to hastily wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

“Dethmas” is a silly Christmas special, which you probably expected. It seems absurd for this show to even have a Christmas episode, but the setup works and it’s amusing to see the band get suckered into a Christmas production. It’s a very crass special, with tons of profanity and even the other F-word is used at one point, which surprised me. The context was that Murderface and Knubbler looked “sissy” while hosting their special. It makes sense in that context, since it’s coming from an aggressively macho metal band member, though I do wonder if it would have been used if recorded today. Rockzo and his cocaine addiction also gets a lot of play for laughs, though by the end of the episode I was mostly over that. Him getting a handjob during the special though made up for it, as that visual was quite amusing. I’m guessing Adult Swim wouldn’t let them get away with animating anything more salacious, such as oral sex, as the positioning of the characters suggests maybe that’s what they originally intended to have happen.

dethmas ending

Not the ending shot the Christian Church was banking on.

I did enjoy the portrayal of each band member and their response to the holiday incoming. Toki was the cute one who genuinely likes Christmas and Santa and all of that stuff. He just wants to give his buddies gifts and be merry. Meanwhile, Nathan Explosion hates Christmas, but he also keeps finding a silver lining in the holiday suggesting the Christmas Spirit could be a murderous ghost or something. Pickles (Small) and Skwigelf mostly can’t be bothered with the holiday, though their attitude towards it is closer to Explosion’s. Murderface just wants to make money off of it and enhance his star. As the least charismatic member of the band, it makes sense that he always has an inferiority complex and is willing to sell-out for additional fame.

If you think your holiday needs a satirical dose of Heavy Metal, then “Dethmas” should do fine. It’s actually fairly light on music, but the atmosphere is still there. It’s also easy to come by. If you just want to stream it, Adult Swim will let you watch it on YouTube for a couple bucks. You can also pick it up with the rest of Season 3 on DVD. If you go that route it will probably set you back around $25 if you want it new, less if you’re willing to go used. You can also purchase it digitally through Amazon for $2.99 an episode. There’s also the chance Adult Swim airs it this month. The network is usually pretty good about airing its Christmas Specials though it favors shows still in production so it could get passed over. If you want to see this one though, you have no shortage of options.


Dec. 1 – Aqua Teen Hunger Force – “Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future”

athf

Aqua Teen Hunger Force – “Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future” originally aired on December 29, 2002

Welcome back to The Christmas Spot! It’s that time of year once again when this blog takes a break from the usual and turns into your very own Christmas advent calendar of holiday goodness, and some badness. Starting today, it’s nothing but Christmas specials until the big day, and to kick off this year’s installment it seemed appropriate to tackle the episode “Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future” from the Adult Swim original Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force was created by the duo of Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro and was one of the inaugural shows featured on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block in 2001. The show follows three anthropomorphic fast food items:  Master Shake (Dana Snyder), Frylock (Carey Means), and Meatwad (Dave Willis). At first, the trio are a mystery solving team, but that premise is pretty much dropped after a few episodes and the show is essentially about nothing. It’s random and absurd with the bad-natured Master Shake often trying to enrich himself at the expense of his roommates, Meatwad and Frylock. Their neighbor Carl (Willis) is a frequent victim of their various schemes and they often attract the attention of weirdos, freaks, and aliens who seek to do harm. Crudely animated and briskly paced, each episode is essentially 11 minutes of surreal comedy. Most of the time it works and it’s really funny, though there are some duds in there that swing and miss badly. The show ran for 139 episodes and even spawned a movie making it one of Adult Swim’s most successful shows.

ghost and carl

Carl has a ghost problem.

Closing out the first season is this episode, “Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future.” That mouthful of a title refers to a new character introduced in this episode, the actual Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future (Maiellaro), heretofore simply referred to as ghost or robot because I am already sick of typing out that title. The ghost first shows up at the episode’s open haunting Carl’s house. In February. Yes, this may be a sort of Christmas special but it doesn’t take place at Christmas for the sake of comedy. At first, the ghost is just annoying as he keeps telling stories about the past accompanied by an unusual amount of smoke. He shows Carl his Christmas as a child when his poor, dirtbag, of a father had nothing but carpet samples to give him as a gift. He couldn’t even play with them as the samples were also Christmas dinner. The scene is actually reminiscent of Scrooged and the flashback to Christmas past from that film.

carl's crappy xmas

Carl’s unfortunate childhood.

Carl is not exactly thrilled about being haunted by a ghost robot, but he becomes really annoyed when the ghost fills his prized above ground swimming pool with blood. Apparently, the blood is actually elf blood and at this point the neighbors enter the episode to question Carl about the blood-filled pool and the weird, annoying, robot. The ghost is happy to tell them about why the pool has been filled with elf blood, but not before first suggesting they pull up a few chairs and some snacks. He regales them with a story about the origins of Santa Claus, who was once a great, red, ape named Sir Santa of Claws. He constructed crude toys and hurled them at other apes. There’s also lots of defecation, as the robot points out. This Claws came into contact with some martian elves, that he enslaved and defecated upon and the story goes on and on. Eventually, everyone either gets annoyed or falls asleep. All except Meatwad who seems both horrified and captivated by the story.

ghost's story

The ghost is eager to tell his tale, but warns that any who listen will likely want to get a snack first.

At this point, Carl just wants to know how he can make the blood in his pool go away. The ghost tells him he needs to give of himself to the great, red, ape in space. And by give of himself, he means sexually. Carl, surprisingly, doesn’t seem mad as he deadpans a “wonderful” response to the request. We then time-jump to the next day (presumably) and Frylock and Carl are discussing him selling the house. Frylock asks if he considereds just doing what the robot said, but Carl is pretty adamant about not getting raped by a gorilla in space and I can’t say I blame him. He mentions he has somebody coming over to look at the house, then tells Frylock to go away so he can take a shower. He heads off to do just that, then comes running out of the bathroom horrified and covered in blood. Frylock tells Carl he can just shower at their house, but he’s about as excited about “gettin’ nude in your house,” as he is about the space monkey.

santa claws

Santa Claws!

Carl is then shown giving a tour of the house to his respective buyer, and it is none other than Glenn Danzig who is voicing himself. We’ve covered quite a bit of Danzig material this year at The Nostalgia Spot so it seems only fitting we should cover his foray into animation this Christmas, no? Danzig is illustrated as being a shirtless guy in black pants and he’s pretty intrigued about a house that bleeds. His only concern really is if the robot can make the blood flow up the walls, and the robot pops in to assure he can. He’s also in love with the idea of a swimming pool filled with blood. He’s not a good house-buyer as he’s clearly let on to Carl that he wants the place, and when he asks for a price Carl just throws out a million and Danzig happily accepts. Carl is overjoyed, a rare occurrence on this show as he usually ends up dead or something at the end of most episodes.

story's over

Shake has the right idea.

Sometime later, Master Shake is looking out the window at the house formerly owned by Carl and sees Danzig heading over. He tells everyone in the house to scatter as the door is pounded upon by the muscled musician. Shake cheerfully opens the door and offers food from their “Haunted Kitchen!” and Meatwad goes into a lame routine of turning the lights on and off while wailing “Daaaaaaaanziiiiiiiiig! You want something to eaaaaat?” Not amused, Danzig goes into a rant. His robot ran away and he’s the source of the house’s blood so Danzig is quite ticked off that he’s not around. He warns Shake that if he’s hiding that robot there will be Hell to pay, in more words or less. After he leaves, Shake is relieved and the ghost robot pops into the image. He announces that he hates living with Danzig and finds him annoying. Plus, he never wears a shirt. Shake doesn’t care and simply demands that the robot make their house bleed right now and then we cut to the end credits.

carl's buyer

Looks like Carl has miraculously found a buyer for his bleeding house in Glenn Danzig.

So this one really isn’t much of a Christmas special. It contains a really wild tale about the origins of Santa Claus, though it will be admitted in later episodes that the ghost who spins this tale knows nothing of the past and isn’t even from the future. Like many characters on this show he’s just insane. Carl is the victim, as he often is, throughout most of the episode but actually ends up doing well in the end. The main characters of Shake, Meatwad, and Frylock actually don’t have much to do since the ghost’s story takes up so much of the meager 11 minute runtime.

angry danzig

Danzig isn’t too happy when his robot runs away. Seems like we’re overdue for a follow-up episode about a rocker and his search for his beloved robot.

There’s no denying that, as a Christmas special designed to make you have those warm, fuzzy, feels “Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future” comes up woefully short as there’s really no Christmas spirit to be found at all. How much you enjoy the episode depends on your brand of humor, and if you’re amused by the Glenn Danzig cameo (which I obviously am). Danzig apparently wrote a lot of his own lines and if you’ve ever heard him rant in an interview or on stage then that probably doesn’t surprise you as his rant at the episode’s end is very much on brand. The episode is animated crudely so it’s not particularly attractive, but there’s value in the crudeness and humor as well. I find this one funny, and it’s short enough that it doesn’t overstay its welcome (though the intentionally long back story of Santa does toe the line) so I can give this one a solid recommendation.

And if you’re looking to catch this one on television this year then you may be in luck. Adult Swim is pretty good at airing its various Christmas specials throughout December. Since this one is so old and from the pre-HD era they may bypass it. In that case, it appears to be streaming for free at adultswim.com and finding it online isn’t particularly hard either. It was also released on DVD as part of Volume 2 of the show (even though it was considered a season one episode) and getting that set probably won’t set you back much. If you liked reading this though then come back tomorrow when we’ll have another Christmas special to talk about, and I promise it will be a bit more “Christmasy” next time. See you then!


#23 – Robot Chicken’s Half-Assed Christmas Special

MV5BMTQ4NDMzMDg5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODcyNTUzMQ@@._V1._CR31,27,314,421_SY317_CR11,0,214,317_AL_Robot Chicken is the brainchild of veteran actor Seth Green and Mathew Senreich. It’s hard to believe the show has been running for ten years now, but that’s the reality of the world and in that time the show has produced three Christmas specials.

The show is basically an animated version of ToyFare magazine’s Twisted ToyFare Theater that sees popular toys dropped into humorous sketches. The focus is mostly put on turning old action figures, like Mattel’s popular Masters of the Universe line, into puppets to create stop-motion sketches. The integrity of the old toy is retained but it’s often modified to include more points of articulation to create better animation. Other times the show creates its own puppets or finds random toys to repurpose into new ones. Sketches vary in length, but it’s not uncommon for one to last merely a few seconds. In that sense they’re often like micr0-sketches when compared to a traditional sketch comedy program. Usually there’s at least one longer sketch that may last a few minutes that serves as sort of the feature sketch of the episode with each episode only lasting around twelve minutes.

The show is pretty funny, and I suppose it would have to be to have lasted ten years, and the fact that each episode is so short has helped to prevent the show from becoming stale. While it’s rare for all sketches in a single episode to be laugh out loud funny, there’s usually enough there for the show to be entertaining for its short duration.

As a result, it’s hard to really review a single episode like the Half-Assed Christmas Special. And in truth, both of the other two Christmas specials (DP Christmas Special and ATM Christmas Special) are basically just as good. And since these are actually the few shows I do not have a copy of, it’s hard to recall which sketch came from which special, so I’m just going to mention some I remember.

A_Very_Dragonball_Z_Christmas

You better watch out when Composite Santa is on the loose!

Since the show is stop-motion it’s naturally suited to parody Rankin/Bass productions. There’s a sketch that tries to discover who murdered Santa Claus where everything is basically done up at the North Pole Rudolph style, though a cocaine-addicted Frosty is present as well. The anime Christmas sketch features Santa enlisting the help of Goku and his son to save Christmas from Composite Santa, who’s half-Santa half-Frosty, and eventually a showdown with an Akira-esque Mrs. Claus occurs. The origin of Composite Santa is also detailed in his own sketch when a mad scientist tries to create an irresistible holiday character but he turns out to be genocidal.

Hermey from Rudolf shows up in “Hermey’s Dentistry,” where we see Hermey actually knows nothing about being a dentist and fails miserably at that and other professions. He returns to Santa to beg for his old job back and then the sketch turns into a Godfather Part II parody. “Co-opting Santa” sees Kris Kringle voice his displeasure with the Coca-Cola Company for co-opting his image for over 70 years in a very violent manner. A simple, but effective sketch, also features Santa getting mistakenly murdered after he had a sudden urge to drop a deuce while on the job. This simple, but crude, setup and execution pretty much sums up Robot Chicken in two minutes.

Unfortunately, Robot Chicken’s Christmas themed sketches aren’t available in one volume, to my knowledge, so if you want them you have to buy each individual season. Thankfully, Adult Swim is pretty good about broadcasting the specials every year a couple of times around Christmas and I would assume the same will be true for 2015. We may even get a fourth Christmas special if we’re lucky. Individual sketches are also available on Youtube. The Robot Chicken specials are too short to really feature any actual Christmas cheer, it’s basically just a funny use of Christmas imagery. It’s certainly not going to bring about those warm fuzzies other specials will, but they’re pretty good at getting laughs which makes them a unique entry in this top 25.


#25 – Moral Orel: The Best Christmas Ever

maxresdefault-2As we kick-off the best Christmas specials feature I say we start with something dark and cynical. It’s no secret that most Christmas movies and TV specials are sweet, warm, and offer a heartfelt message about the holidays (usually something about love, sharing, compassion, selflessness, and so on). That stuff is fine in small doses, but after many Christmases it can also become trite.

Moral Orel’s “The Best Christmas Ever” is hardly the typical Christmas special. If you are not familiar with the Moral Orel series, it’s a stop-motion short-form series that aired on Adult Swim from 2005-2008 and sporadically after. It focused on the title character, Orel, a goody goody two-shoes that just wanted to praise God and live by His word. Each episode usually centered around Orel taking something too literally from a  church sermon and doing something sacrilegious by mistake only to have his father set him straight in the end with a good lecture and a good beating. The adults surrounding Orel were mostly a bunch of miserable, sinful, hypocrites that rarely practiced what they preached, but Orel remains oblivious to his surroundings.

moxmas1

Orel’s blind faith in God and ignorance leads to him concluding this was the best Christmas ever in the end.

For “The Most Wonderful Christmas Ever,” Orel hears about the second coming of Jesus during church and that he won’t be happy when he returns, ushering in the Apocalypse. When Orel overhears his parents arguing about his malcontent younger brother, with his dad proclaiming his doubts the kid is even his, Orel mistakenly reaches the conclusion that his little brother is Jesus reborn. Orel’s attempts to welcome the baby Jesus are pretty humorous, but the side story of his father’s depression over his crumbling marriage is some pretty dark stuff.

Moral Orel is basically a satirical black comedy and its Christmas special captures that perfectly. In a world full of terrible Lifetime and Hallmark Channel Christmas movies, Moral Orel is a nice piece of Christmas bleakness that is funny because it’s not like anything else. Even Bad Santa has more Christmas cheer than this one.


#3 Best in TV Animation: Futurama

FuturamaWhen Futurama was first announced I didn’t think much of it. It felt like an unofficial spin-off of The Simpsons with a stupid title. The premise, a 20th century slacker getting cryogenically frozen to awake in the 30th century, probably should have interested me more than it did. As a result, I, along with most of America, mostly ignored the show during its initial run. Only when re-runs started surfacing on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block of programming did I truly give the show a chance. And what do you know? – I loved it!

Futurama follows the exploits of Fry, Bender, Leela, and the rest of the Planet Express package delivery crew as they parade around the universe getting into more trouble than a normal package delivery company would expect to. Like The Simpsons, Futurama relies on satire and a diverse cast of characters for its humor, and setting the series a thousand years in the future actually makes the satire come rather easy. It’s almost as if show runners Matt Groening and David X. Cohen watched Back to the Future Part II and decided a show that centers entirely on the future portion of that film would be a great idea. The future is a lot like our present, only America essentially rules the entire globe with President Nixon, now a head preserved in a jar, coming into power early in the show’s life. There’s also the Democratic Order Of Planets, or DOOP, which attempts to police the entire known universe with the incompetent Zapp Brannigan as its leading general. Robots handle a lot of the menial labor on earth with relations between humans and robots tenuous at best.

This picture essentially tells you all you need to know about Bender.

This picture essentially tells you all you need to know about Bender.

The principal cast revolves around the Planet Express crew itself. Fry (Billy West) is the main protagonist who is time-displaced due to a mishap in 1999 and doesn’t seem to mind it all that match. He’s a well-meaning but plainly stupid sort of character. His best friend is the robot Bender (John DiMaggio), who would rather chain smoke and steal than actually do any work around the office. Leela (Katie Sagal) is the pilot of the Planet Express ship and nominal love interest of Fry, a subplot that actually takes quite a while to fully develop. She also happens to be a one-eyed mutant. Professor Farnsworth (also voiced by West) runs the company (mostly incompetently) with the help of Hermes Conrad (Phil LaMarr), Amy Wong (Tress MacNeil)e, and Dr. Zoidberg (West). As you may have noticed, the voice cast is pretty well stocked with talented individuals, some who made a name for themselves with Groening’s Simpsons. West is the obvious star and one of the very best at his craft, but everyone is pretty top-notch making Futurama arguably the most well-voiced program in the history of animation.

Visually, the show is excellent and for most of its run was superior to its predecessor, The Simpsons. Fox clearly was pretty generous with the budget for the show’s first four seasons as traditional hand-drawn animation was blended well with computer-aided visuals where appropriate. The show is bright and vibrant and the setting helps to give it a unique look. As expected, there are some pretty standard tropes of the future setting like transportation tubes and laser weapons to go along the obvious hover cars. The show doesn’t make too many attempts at actually predicting the future, and given the setting is a thousand years away there’s little need to. The various aliens and robots are usually pretty fun to take-in and is where most of the show’s visual creativity ends up being on display.

Billy West lends his voice to many characters on the show.

Billy West lends his voice to many characters on the show.

Most importantly, the show is just plain funny. The characters tend to work well with each other. Fry and Bender are often the ones getting into mischief, and early in the show’s run, Leela was often left to play the straight man (woman). Bender is the unofficial star of the show as his general selfishness and law-breaking ways make him both hilarious and popular in the same way Bart Simpson did ten years prior, only with the debauchery and lewdness magnified considerably. Dr. Zoidberg, likely the universe’s worst doctor, is often a source of humor at the character’s expense considering he is both poor and foul-smelling. Professor Farnsworth is probably my pick for the most unsung hero of the cast. Whenever the show turns to him for a one-liner or a visual gag he seems to always deliver. The simple delivery of his “Tell them I hate them,” from “Fry and The Slurm Factory” gets me every time.

Where the show really found a way to separate itself from others is with its heart. It sounds sappy, but the show is surprisingly effective when it wants to make the viewer experience something other than laughter. The first episode where the show really successfully delivered on such was the Fry-centric “The Luck of the Fryish.” In that episode, Fry finds out his brother essentially stole his identity after he was frozen and basically lived out all of Fry’s dreams while becoming a national treasure. He owed it all to Fry’s lucky seven-leaf clover. Fry, in anger, wants his clover back and will go to great lengths to get it back, even if it means digging up his brother’s corpse. There’s a twist in the end and good luck keeping your eyes dry when it comes about. Of course, the show’s most infamous episode in this style is “Jurassic Bark,” in which we find out what happened to Fry’s dog, Seymour, after he was frozen and left him behind. I still remember the first time I caught the episode on television and the ending really snuck up on me and obviously made an impact. In general, the show does a really strong job of finding the humor in almost any situation. And even when the characters have to do something mean for laughs, the show is able to keep them from straying too far from a moral baseline so that the audience never turns against them. Even Bender has his moments where he does something nice.

Like The Simpsons, Futurama's cast became exceptionally large.

Like The Simpsons, Futurama’s cast became exceptionally large.

Futurama was originally unsuccessful during its initial run on Fox, though it did manage to last for the better part of four seasons. After the reruns performed well for Cartoon Network and DVD sales excelled, the show went the direct-to-video route with four feature-length films. They would eventually be chopped up into episodes that aired on Comedy Central, who picked up the show for an additional three seasons. Having the show come back from the dead was pretty awesome, but you would have a hard time finding a Futurama fan that felt the post-cancellation episodes were up to the same standards of quality as the first four seasons. Still, there were episodes here and there that stood out and subpar Futurama is better than most shows. The show ended with its 140th episode, a healthy run by any standard. In those 140 episodes the show made a bigger impact than all but two others, according to this list, and really stand among all television shows, animated or otherwise, as being among the very best.


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