When Cartoon Network decided to aim for a more mature target audience in 2001 with the nightly showing of Home Movie reruns, who knew that their Adult Swim spin-off programming would become so successful. Over the course of its seven-plus years in existence, it's been responsible for the resurgence, and eventual rebirth of Futurama (which in turn spawned the recent release of four direct to DVD "movies"), the continued support of such mainstream hits as Family Guy and American Dad (the next Fox hit on the menu - King of the Hill), and the creation of their own amazing crackerjack cult entities. Among the many favorites - Metalocalypse, The Venture Brothers, Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, and Frisky Dingo - the most outrageous and original remains Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Now offered up on a great sixth season/series/volume DVD, this story of a trio of anthropomorphized fast food products continues to be one of the smartest, oddest, and most fudged up cartoons ever to grace a mainstream media outlet. It's also one of the best.
For those unfamiliar with the series, here is a brief overview. Former amateur detectives Frylock, Master Shake, and Meatwad comprise the infamous Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The product of the warped mind (literally) of Dr. Weird and his assistant Steve, the living foodstuffs - fried potatoes, frothy milk and ice cream beverage, and raw animal flesh, respectively - no longer attempt to solve mysteries and fight crime. Instead, they hang out in their rented New Jersey home and drive poor portly neighbor Carl Brutananadilewski crazy. They especially love fouling his frequently algae-covered aboveground pool.
For this series of episodes, the Aqua Teens are holed up in landlord Markula's evil underground lair somewhere in the Mojave Desert. There, they are to be sacrificed as part of the super's 4040th birthday party. It's a plot involving an oversized piñata and a bunch of military spiders. Specifically, here are the storylines
"Robots Everywhere" - while trying to sell the ATHF home, Carl inadvertently lets a group of waste-spewing automatons invade the space.
"Sirens" - a trio of fetching individuals move in to the Aqua Teen house, including two gorgeous mythological women, and a baseball legend/sex slave.
"Couples Skate" - when a huge monster named Paul moves in next door, Carl decides to make the missing Aqua Teens his "business".
"Reedickyoulus" - Carl's penis enhancing device causes all of Meatwad's dead pets - including a gay gorilla - to rise from the dead.
"Hoppy Bunny" - when he mistakenly orders a recorder kit, Carl turns into an elfin troubadour for a group of mascot-costumed professionals.
"Laser Lenses" - Master Shake discovers the secret to Frylock's powers - and it's all in his killer contacts.
"Dummy Love" - possessed ventriloquist puppets take over the homes of Carl and the Aqua Teens. They are more annoying than evil, however.
"The Marines" - Meatwad has to have a package of Warrior Gum, and when he buys one, he discovers he's enlisted in the US military. Master Shake too!
"Bible Fruit" - Frylock has some of his MySpace friends over, and they turn out to be fundamentalist fruits with a drug dependency past.
At this point in ATHF's run, creators Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis can really do no wrong. They've managed to make one of the most original and insane animated movies ever (Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters is genius, without a doubt) and they've pushed the very limits of the 11 minute format they helped popularize on Adult Swim. Season Six (or Series Six, or Volume Six, however you want to refer to it) took such a rebellious approach even further by removing the iconic heroes from the first few episodes. Arguing over a gas leak with unreasonable, shapshifting demonic landlord Markula, "Robots Everywhere" and "Sirens" stand as brilliant neighbor Carl showcases. His realtor skills may be lacking, but how can you argue with a man who once hit Hall of Famer John Kruk with a D-Cell battery? Even better, the return of the Aqua Teens marks one of the standout episodes ever. "Reedickyoulus" may have a scatological premise (Carl's penis enlarging device leaves him with radioactive stool), but the resulting pets of the living dead payoff is priceless.
For anyone wondering where Frylock got those amazing eye-powered beams of death, "Laser Lenses" offers an explanation - and a chance for Shake and Meatwad to wield some light-based power. "Dummy Love" takes what should be a silly idea (a pair of ventriloquist puppets who only say single words - like "Kill!' and "Die!") and turns it into something far more meaningful. Perhaps the best of the sixth series DVD episodes is "Bible Fruits", a chance to Frylock to have some friends over for Mojitos. Turns out, his new MySpace acquaintances are actual piece of fruit, all of whom have been born again as part of their ongoing rehab. The eventual collapse of the party, including a magnificent downward spiral of Burt Banana (voiced with brilliant anger by comedian David Cross) is pure pop perfect. In fact, all of Aqua Teen Hunger Force plays like a forgotten facet of our unraveling social fabric re-stitched together with mucus, box cutters, and the occasional wad of unprocessed beef. It's insanity made material, about as nutzoid as TV dares get. And besides, "The Marines" takes a wonderful swipe at Canada, where Saw is family, supposedly.
Of course, the most exciting aspect of this DVD release is the inclusion of four full length, "unreleased" episodes. Entitled "Gene E", "Shake Like Me", "She Creature" and "Chick Magnet", they represent some of the best work the Aqua Teen writers have ever done. Especially memorable is "Shake Like Me", where our normally 'white' beverage gets an urban 'chocolate' makeover. Suddenly, it's The Watermelon Man with enough racially insensitive statements to get even the most open-minded member of PC-nation up in arms. "Gene E' is also excellent, taking the standard Aladdin narrative and giving it your typical ATHF flip. Yet the best of the unreleased episodes is "Chick Magnet", a literal look at a device that is supposed to land Shake all the "coos" he can manage. Instead, the oversized electronic medallion turns our heroes ever so slightly...effeminate. As with all installments of this animated anarchy, the pitch perfect voice acting, meshed with a stream of semi-consciousness satiric style, leads to endless hours of entertainment. Unlike other cartoon fare, Aqua Teen Hunger Force holds up to multiple viewings, undiscovered nuances and repeatable dialogue available in abundance.
Offered in an impressive 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image (a first for the series on DVD), the visual elements offered by Williams Street and Warner Brothers are actually very good. The colors are vibrant and the details readily captured. There is some edge enhancement, but that's typical of animated productions. Overall, the quality is excellent, and far outshines the occasionally soft broadcast version of the show.
Sonically, there is nothing much special about the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (there is also a Stereo 2.0 option). The back speakers are barely used, and when the theme music is playing, there is little separate between the front channels. Still, the dialogue is easy to understand and the overall atmosphere is one of polish and professionalism.
For fans like yours truly, the bonus features here are well worth celebrating. Aside from the four unreleased episodes, Disc 1 offers commentary tracks for "Hoppy Bunny", "Reedickyoulus", and "The Marines". Featuring appearances by many of the main talents plus a few special guests, these conversations are weird, disconnected, and totally hilarious. You may not learn about the series, but you will understand the kind of warped genius required to take on this show. Disc 2 provides the rest of the added content, and there we get all of Carl's man on the street (well, living room) rants. Entitled "I'm Pissed", several center on the New York Giants and their Super Bowl run. "Terror Phone" is a live action short that has to be seen to be believed, while "Radical Axis presents Radical Access" is a '50s style corporate overview. "More Funny Pete Stuff" offers Adult Swim bumpers, while "ATHF Zombie Ninja Pro-Am Minus the Explosions" includes all animated linking material from the recent videogame release. All in all, an impressive group of extras.
PS - the package comes with some interesting ATHF stickers.
Easily one of the best offerings among the current Adult Swim line-up, Aqua Teen Hunger Force deserves lots of critical love. They are daring, bold, audacious, crappy, unhinged, groovy, dark, disturbing, uproarious, hilarious, thoughtful, and on occasion, downright crude. As a result, the Volume/Season/Series 6 DVD of the show earns an easy Highly Recommended rating. As a matter of fact, it misses the coveted DVD Talk Collector's Series signature by a mere aesthetic whisper. Perhaps if MC Pee Pants or The Moonnites had made a return visit to a certain New Jersey hellhole, such a score would be awarded. As it stands, however, Aqua Teen Hunger Force remains a viable comic creation. The newest season (arriving this January) even promises a "live action" episode with 'human' versions of our favorite characters. While the wait for that inspired bit of invention will be excruciating, there are six delightful DVD box sets available to satiate our ATHF DTs. While all are good, Volume 6 might just be the best.
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