2 out of 5
Created by: Patton Oswalt, Jordan Blum
covers season 1
In the eternally expanding list of “you’re either a (this type of person) or a (that type of person)” definitions, I’m going to an entry discerning between Aqua Teen types and Robot Chicken types.
Back in the early Adult Swim days, I was wholly on board. Space Ghost felt like it was custom-made for my sense of humor, until Sealab and Brak and Harvey Birdman further fleshed out my definition of my sense of humor and somehow they were all custom-made for it, and then… Aqua Teen. I died and went to heaven with Aqua Teen.
Soon, Robot Chicken would premiere. I liked Robot Chicken – there’s easily crossover with the fanbases – but it’s not Space Ghost; it’s not Aqua Teen. And from here, I feel like we’d start to see two branches of Adult Swim humor, with shows that veered more down the oddball non-sequitors of Aqua Teen, and those that relied on something a bit more accessible and wink-at-the-camera aware, as per RC. And I liked the latter branch less and less as it went on, because the “joke” was often based on (by my estimation) making reference to something that’s on-the-sly cool (super heroes!), and then being loud and silly about it, and maybe be sporadically crass or gory. It felt like a formula. And, specific to Robot Chicken, once you’ve seen your beloved toy onscreen animated and with a goofy voice, okay, chuckle, and then that humor is mined.
We know M.O.D.O.K. is a funny character. The humor is inherent. And yet, that hasn’t stopped people from making overly-obvious “comedy” comic book series based around him, and now Robot Chicken’s production company has teamed up with Patton Oswalt to make a toy-animated TV show. I enjoy Patton’s humor, but he’s here subject to the very same style and pacing that undermined most RC sketches for me: it’s all on-the-nose, and everyone is mugging for the camera. Playing M.O.D.O.K. (voiced by Oswalt) as the ridiculous character in the “normal” world – AIM is pitched as a regular corporation; M.O.D.O.K. is married to a human (Aimee Garcia) – is a good angle for the comedy, and plays into Oswalt’s sad-sack everyman shtick well, but unfortunately, this dynamic is only approximately maintained for about 10% of the show, with the remainder being stocked by equally ridiculous characters, all shouting things in a constantly rolling attempt at getting our attention. There’s no nuance to this stuff; there’s no need to pay attention to hear / see jokes you might’ve missed, because they’re all in your face.
The episodes where M.O.D.O.K. is trying to retain some “normalcy” amidst madness – while also subject to his own villainous machinations – have some in-built balance, and thus the jokes hit a little better. And tied to that, there’s a good throughline in the series involving M.O.D.dy trying to save his failed marriage – a human element juxtaposing the ridiculousness. But often we’re in Family Guy territory: a torrent of references and goofy voices, and lookit M.O.D.O.K., isn’t he DUMB and that’s all it takes to make ya’ laugh, yeah?