I've been a huge fan of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block since the pre-Swim days of Space Ghost Coast To Coast and Cartoon Planet. Sealab 2021 was one of the first shows to put Adult Swim on the map and also one of its finest. Not only that, but to this day, Sealab 2021 remains my favorite show to air on Adult Swim. With that being said, it saddens me to be reviewing the final chapters of Sealab 2021 on DVD.
Sealab 2021 Vol. 4 compiles 5 episodes from Season 4 and the entire run of 9 episodes from Season 5. Of course gone is the much loved and missed enigmatic nut, Captain Murphy (R.I.P. Harry Goz). His replacement, Captain Bellerophon "Tornado" Shanks (voiced by Harry Goz's son, Michael) is a former football coach and one charming Redneck. This caused quite a stir back in the end of Season 3 and many fans didn't respond well to the new captain. I was also skeptical at first, but after a rocky start I started to enjoy Captain Shanks and what he brought to the show. In my opinion, the Sealab 2021 creators did a great job salvaging the show from such an unfortunate predicament. Unfortunately, a large majority of the Sealab 2021 fans didn't see it that way and after 20 episodes under the command of Captain Shanks, Sealab 2021 was cancelled. Or so many people thought. Turns out that apparently 70/30 productions decided to end the show so they could concentrate on other projects (one being Frisky Dingo).
There are still plenty of laughs in Sealab 2021 Vol. 4. A lot of people have complained that the overall quality of the show has gone down in its last few seasons. While I don't totally agree with that line of thought, Sealab 2021 still has plenty to offer during its final run. After all, how could you go wrong with underwater knife fights, poisonous snakes, looming aquatic race wars, troglodytes, carbonite freezing, dead hookers, scuba ninjas, severed limbs, a cancer ridden whale voiced by Chuck D, green zombies, lunch on the moon, fighting nuns, cannibalism, chupacabras, Time Pie pie charts, coconut bikini's, magic beans, baby eating trees, Respek knuckles, Hawaiian shave ice, Holodecks, Malcom X-caliber, chainsaw juggling tigers, mutant crustaceans and urinating in the river of your ancestors. The standout episodes on this DVD are "Isla De La Chupacabra", "Return of Marco", "Moby Sick", "Green Fever" and "Legacy of Laughter".
What keeps Sealab 2021 going strong during its final run is its strong central characters and the voice talent behind them. Doctor Quinn, Stormy, Debbie, Sparks and Marco really ground the show while secondary characters Hesh, Sharko, Dolphin Boy and Doctor Virjay help keep things fresh. Captian Shanks plays a somewhat reduced role, especially in the last season. I have a feeling this was due to a lot of the negative feedback from a lot of viewers. Most notably "Tornado" Shanks also drops his Southern accent in episode 46 because "people kept thinking I was gay". Also glaringly absent from almost every episode in Vol. 4 is Debbie Love a.k.a. "Black" Debbie. Not to be overlooked is the stellar cast of voice actors behind the animation. Kate Miller, Michael Goz, Mc Chris, Ellis Henican, Bill Lobley, Erik Estrada, Brett Butler, Angela Gibbs, Matt Thompson Adam Reed do amazing jobs brining their characters to life. This show's success is largely do to the talent they bring forth from behind a microphone.
I'd also like to mention that for whatever reason, WB decided to ditch the previous digi-pak packaging used on the majority of Adult Swim DVD releases. Instead, Sealab 2021 Vol. 4 is presented in a standard 2-disc keep case (with swing tray). At least the artwork looks nice and the clear DVD case enhances the minimalist look they were going for. Still, it's a shame they couldn't have kept the digi-pak cases for this release so all 4 volumes would match. You know, for all the anal DVD collectors out there. Like me.
Summaries of the episodes from Sealab 2021 Vol. 4 (stolen from Adultswim.com except for episodes 51-52, because apparently they're just a bunch of slackers on Williams Street. Sick burn):
- 11/14/04 - Episode 40 - Isla De La Chupacabra: A team-building exercise goes horribly awry when the crew of Sealab finds themselves on the dreaded "Isla de Las Chupacabras!" In English, that's "Island of the Goatsuckers." And the episode is in English. Except In Cartoon Network's Latin American markets, where it's probably dubbed in Spanish. But whatever.
- 11/21/04 – Episode 41 – Joy of Grief: A grief counselor (named Joy, of course) comes to Sealab to counsel the grieving, grief stricken crew after the grievous death of a crew member. Lots of group hugs ensue, as well as a Grief Dance that's not as fun as people were hoping it would be. And also a bunch of murders.
- 11/28/04 – Episode 42 – Green Fever: A mysterious illness sweeps through the corridors of Sealab like a wildfire. A germy, icky, nosebleedy wildfire. As Sparks and his gang search for Feverheads to bash and Quinn searches desperately for a cure, Debbie makes preparations for her best 30th birthday ever.
- 12/05/04 – Episode 43 – Sharko's Machine: Pretty much just like the movie it almost sounds like, which stars the incomparable Burt Reynolds. Mmm, actually it's more like if "The Longest Yard" and "Hooper" had a baby, with just a skoosh of "Smokey and the Bandit II" thrown in for good measure. But NOT "Smokey and the Bandit III." No sir, not on your ass.
- 12/12/04 – Episode 44 – Return of Marco: The much-ballyhooed return of Marco finally occurs in this eponymously-titled episode, with Marco playing the titular Marco. Marco, Sharko. Sharko, Marco. We'll just leave you two to get acquainted. Also, don't drink that pee.
- 03/06/05 – Episode 45 – Casinko: Deep within the Grat Salted Lake of Many Fishes, Sealab has a slight problem: it's sinking into an ancient Native American burial ground. Can the never-before-mentioned crewmember known as John Bear summon the wisdom of the Great Spirit and save the doomed crew? And are those slots really the loosest in town?
- 03/13/05 – Episode 46 – Butchslap: Marco has a dark and terrible secret which threatens the very survival of the entire Sealab crew. "What could it be?" you ask. Well, that's a fair question.
- 03/20/05 – Episode 47 – Monkey Banana Raffle: How much would you pay for Sealab? Well, if you were the eccentric trillionaire Max Stone, it wouldn't matter: you could afford to pay full sticker price. And you could also afford a jetpack, a standing table at that posh little café on the moon that you like so much, and an army of troglodytes at the center of the Earth.
- 03/28/05 – Episode 48 – Shrabster: Doctor Quinn has invented a genetic-hybrid crustacean which wields, in its powerful claws, the power to eradicate world hunger. But only if he can keep those evil Grizzlebee's purchasing agents from getting their greasy manhooks on it. Although to be fair, they're really not all that evil. They're just kinda jerks.
- 04/04/05 – Episode 49 – Cavemen: Stormy and Quinn escape a nuclear catastrophe, only to be trapped in an underwater cave by a thirty-foot, ravenous Great White! And they've only got 10 minutes of oxygen remaining! Actually, in the time it took you to read that, they're probably down to about 9:45…and now it's 9:40…and..you get the ideer.
- 04/11/05 – Episode 50 – Moby Sick: Sealab is visited by a cherished old friend: Abelard the Talking Whale. Although he can't really talk; it's more like Quinn just makes him talk with a machine. And he's not so much an old friend; he's just some whale that happens to be dying of whale cancer. And a quick word about whale cancer: you don't want to catch it.
- 04/18/05 – Episode 51 – No Waterworld: Without warning, the water is drained all around Sealab and the crew ventures outside to have fun. Captain Shanks and Quinn construct a monster truck, Sparks defends the Fifth Amendment, Stormy awaits a beatdown by Ed Harris and Hesh gets excited about bearing fruit from his new arms.
- 04/25/05 – Episode 52 – Legacy of Laughter: This is it, the final episode of Sealab 2021. That is until next season's first episode, Tinfins II: The Sharkening! Okay maybe not, but at least the crew is going out with some dignity, unlike those sellout Aqua Teen punks! Also don't forget for a limited time, order "The Shocker" from Grizzlebee's and get a FREE Tossed Salad!
Video: All thirteen episodes of Sealab 2021 are presented in their original broadcast ratio of 1.33:1. Sealab 2021 never looked that good to begin with considering it was comprised mostly of 20 year old animation. Despite this, Sealab 2021 looks pretty good on DVD and is probably as good as it will look on any format. Colors are bright and black levels are fine. I didn't notice any compression artifacts and edge-enhancement wasn't an issue.
Sound: The of Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack is the sole audio track for each episode on Sealab 2021 Vol. 4. Dialogue is clear and crisp, and surprisingly the track creates a good sound field when music, explosions or other sound effects are used. There are also optional English, Spanish and French subtitles (white).
Extras: Compared to the previous 2 volumes of Sealab 2021, Vol. 4 is very thin in the extras. Gone are any hilarious audio commentary tracks by the cast & crew. What you do get on this release is "Shrabster Forward", which is episode 48 in correct chronological order. "Leagacy of Laughter (alt ending)" is pretty self explanatory and runs 30 seconds. "Joy of Grief (deleted scenes)" runs slightly under 2 minutes and has a few laughs courtesy of Stormy and Sparks. "Best of Sealab/Sunken Treasures" is about 16 minutes in length and is essentially a highlight/clip show. The talking trees from the "Isla De La Chupacabra" episode setup clips featuring most of the main characters. The final extra is "Nightshift", which is sort of a lost episode featuring the underappreciated, unsung heroes of Sealab: the nightshift crew. The piece is mostly comprised of left over, unused animations from the original Sealab 2020 show and doesn't feature any main characters from the series. Nevertheless, it's pretty funny and features a great bit about trying to get pizza delivered to the station.
Sealab 2021 had a great run of 52 episodes, survived losing its lead character and helped make Cartoon Network's Adult Swim the phenomenon it is today. This is a must buy for Sealab 2021 fans, despite the unpleasant change of packaging and lack of extras. For the Adult Swim fans that stopped watching Sealab 2021 after Captin Murphy departed, I recommend giving the show a second chance and checking out this DVD. While there are a few stinkers on this set, some of my favorite episodes of the series are included on this release. Sealab 2021 is, and will always be missed. At least now the entire series is available on DVD for your viewing pleasure. Recommended.