Like many people my age, my first exposure to Sam & Max: Freelance Police was through Lucasarts. Back when the game manufacturer did more than just release endless Star Wars titles, they were a leader in the realm of point and click adventure games. One of their best was a game based around the irreverent and implausible adventures of Sam, a crime-fighting and his psychotic rabbity-thing, Max. At the time, Lucasarts had their own magazine. While it was nothing but a monthly advertisement for their own products, it did contain two-page Sam and Max comic strips, and a little extrapolation from there would lead an industrious young boy to discover the original comics, written and drawn by Steve Purcell.
At some point, in this glut of video games and comic books, Sam and Max were somehow greenlit to star in their very own TV series. The result, Sam and Max: Freelance Police, is as disjointed, bizarre, and absolutely hilarious as anything a team comprised of a dog and a lagamorph ever did. The comic books were well known for two things: A deranged, absurdist sense of humor and unexpected violence. Whether it be a clown terrorist being sucked through an airplane window, a roach packing heat, or chickens being sacrificed in phony psychical gall bladder operations, Sam and Max always had a violent and unpredictable humor. Given that this was to be a cartoon, Purcell and the show's creative team decided to focus on the absurdism instead of the more violent aspects of the characters.
Still, even a toned down Sam and Max gives you more bang for the buck than most other cartoons out there, especially cartoons featuring talking animals. The episodes are generally split into two segments, each one distinct. There's an interspecies moon mystery, a monster sighting in a grocery store, a jaunt through time, a possessed freezer, and much more. Many of the stories are taken directly (at times word for word) from the comics, while others are brand new. Regardless of the source, each one exhibits the crazy comedy the duo are known for, with a combination of snappy dialogue, crazy events, and well-placed non sequiters.
Some of the original plots are really stellar. The first episode, "The Thing That Wouldn't Stop It" is a parody of The Thing with a brilliant twist. "Dysfunction of the Gods" has Sam and Max solving the marital problems of Zeus and Hera. But the highlight of the series is "The Glazed McGuffin Affair," which has Sam and Max hounding a self-righteous consumer advocate who simply cannot stand a product called Glazed McMuffins. The lengths to which the pair go to prove the tastiness of the product is as good as their material ever got.
This isn't necessarily my favorite incarnation of Sam and Max. The voices feel a little off, especially when compared to the video games (either the Lucasarts version or the more recent 3-D episodic releases), and many of the segments could have easily been longer. The invention of a new character just to give the pair gadgets didn't really do anything for me, either. Still, more Sam and Max is always a good thing, in my opinion, and the positives far outweigh the negatives in this case.
The episodes in this collection, the entire series, are as follows:
"The Thing That Wouldn't Stop It"
"The Second Show Ever/Max's Big Day"
"Bad Day On The Moon/They Came From Down There"
"The Friend For Life/Dysfunction of the Gods"
"Big Trouble At The Earth's Core/A Glitch In Time"
"That Darn Gator/We Drop At Dawn"
"Christmas, Bloody Christmas/It's Dangly Deever Time"
"Aaiiieee, Robot/The Glazed McGuffin Affair"
"The Tell Tale Tail/The Trouble With Gary"
"Tonight We Love/The Invaders"
"Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang/Little Bigfoot"
"Fools Die On Friday/Sam & Max vs. the Uglions"
"The Final Episode"
Shout Factory presents Sam & Max: Freelance Police in a three DVD set. The first two DVDs house the episodes, and the third contains the features. The discs are in slimline cases, with a cardboard sleeve for the set.
Shout Factory presents Sam & Max in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. For a show with such dark content, the colors are bright and eye catching. Sam's browns and Max's white dominates the screen, with the outlandish environments often featuring sight gags. I did notice what seemed to be a little minor artifacting during periods of fast motion, but on the whole, this disc looks great.
Sam and Max is presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. From the first shrill notes of the theme song to the ear-shattering sound that is Max's voice, the mix does exactly what it's meant to: Make you laugh.
Disc three has all the special features. There are animated shorts (also available as part of the episodes on the first two discs. There's also "Our bewildering universe," a new short directed by Steve Purcell. And speaking of Purcell, we get an interview with him from a comic convention, and he also penned a series bible available on the DVD-ROM portion of the disc. There's a demo of one of the new games, and a trailer for it. Finally, there's a concept art gallery.
Sam and Max make their small screen debut with this animated TV series. Maintaining all the crazy humor of the comics, the TV show is an admirable extension of the pair's adventures. The episodes look fantastic, with the colors really popping off the screen. While the extras aren't much to shout about, it's still great to have this underrated series all on one DVD set. Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.