If crack were ever made legal - and Lord help us if we come to that as a society - any stand-alone store selling it would probably wind up resembling a mercantile version of Cartoon Network's late night animation/live action smorgasbord, [adult swim]. There'd be different brands and types of coke rock, each with a particular spin and niche marketing concern. Some would have a hard time finding the pharmaceutical that's right for them. Others could care less about the branding or logo - they just want their drugs. [adult swim] is equally addictive. Inhumanly so. Pick any one of its many hilarious offerings - Family Guy, Squidbillies, whatever Aqua Teen is calling itself today, The Venture Brothers, weird TV spoofs like Children's Hospital and/or NTSF:SD:SAUV:: and sample same. Instantly you find yourself with a psychological and craving for more, More, MORE!!! This is especially true of the psychedelic splatterfest that is Superjail. Imagine Peter Max as a psychotic mass murderer married to the cruelest version of Willy Wonka, all set within a surreal version of a Gahan Wilson cartoon, and you get the idea. Or maybe you don't.
Now in its third season, Superjail is set in its ridiculously refreshing ways. Each 12 minute episode (there are 10 total on this latest DVD set from Swim satellite Williams Street) centers around a crazy correctional facility which is located inside a volcano...which itself is located inside another volcano. The Warden (voiced by David Wain) lords over a strange, everchanging space without a clear link to anything realistic. Prisoners are often subjected to Rube Goldberg like tortures and technology, while demons, monsters, oversized insects, killer robots, freakish super-villains, and futuristic weaponry abound. Helping to run the facility is put upon bureaucrat Jared (Teddy Cohn) and a mid-transition, gender confused guard named Alice (Christy Karakas). There are several inmate regulars we meet as well, including homosexual couple Paul Guaye (Christopher McCulloch) and Jean Baptiste Le Ghei (Stephen Warbrick), an inmate named Gary with a malevolent pet bird named...Bird, a severely burned con named Ash (McCulloch again) and Lord Stingray (Eric Bauza), an insane creature who wants to take over Superjail.
Superjail couldn't be more insular in its self-contained craziness. It plays by its own unique rules which it constantly makes up on the fly only to discard them minutes later for more regulations that will end up meaning very little narratively or rationally. One second, an entire wing of the jail can be wiped out by gargoyles with the heads of Santa Claus. The next, The Warden is walking amongst the very same faces, handing out funny hats and dinosaur donuts. In almost each episode, there is an overriding theme (see below), but these are merely holdovers for the often stunning setpieces featuring death, slaughter, and gallons of red inked arterial spray. For those who want to know what is specifically on this disc, here is the breakdown:
"Stingstress" - Superjail turns co-ed, and it's up to Alice to seduce the female Warden and return 'her' boss to power.
"Superfail" - Jared thinks he can run Superjail better than his accidentally unconscious employer. He's wrong.
"Uh-Oh, It's Magic! " - a magic show for the prisoners turns deadly with The Warden's ventriloquist dummy takes over.
"Sticky Discharge" - someone is getting paroled, and while Jared is ecstatic, The Warden is devastated.
"Special Needs" - The Warden decides to make Superjail handicapped accessible, and the inmate population handicapped.
"The Trouble With Triples" - a pair of extraterrestrial twins show up and thwart The Warden's plans for Superjail.
"Nightshift" - Alice is unhappy with her career choice.
"Oedipus Mess" - The Warden experiments with cloning, with typically disastrous results.
"Planet Radio" - two competing mediums, TV and radio, have the prisoners up in arms.
"Burn Stoolie Burn" - Ash teaches The Warden about the power in fire, and our loony leader loves it.
Again, the plots are relatively unimportant here. They are merely set up for more stream of conscious WTF-isms. These amazing sequences, building in a baffling logic all their own, will see optical shifts worthy of a visit to Pepperland or the worrying doodles in a pre-teens notebook. Creators Christy Karacas, Stephen Warbrick , and Ben Gruber make sure that each installment of Season 3 contains at least one of these remarkable maelstroms and they are often the highlight of each show. Similarly, this is not funny so much as it is absurd. As The Warden wanders around randomly pulling the arms and legs off convicts to create a clientele for his new handicapped accessible facility, one has to giggle at how over the top and gory it all is. This is a bloody, bloody series, satisfying those like yours truly who like their entertainment served with a healthy portion of drained vein juice, but there is more to the grue than shock. Indeed, Superjail seems to suggest that all incarceration is inherently violate. It destroys freedom. It sets up horrifying jailhouse assaults, and it doesn't prepare its participants for the outside world. That is why no one ever leaves Superjail. They have no chance to.
The use of running gags and recurring characters also helps. A little Lord Stingray goes a long way, but the main supporting player, the monosyllabic grunt capabilities of Jackknife offers up plenty of Gary Panter inspired mayhem. Similarly, you can see a lot of very early Mike Judge in this series, the kind of subversive thwarting of convention that he showed with his first few episodes of Beavis and Butthead (before the networks, and the word "Fire," got him in deep doo-doo). This is an angry, aggressive show, a hit of brown acid spiked with acetylene. It starts off at "11" and never lets down, its frantic pace matched by an amazing cartooning style that offers up its own harrowing homages to Ralph Bakshi, John Krikfalusi, Tex Avery, and EC Comic's Jack Davis. But this is not some crass copycat. Superjail soars on its own warped wonderment, an instantly habit-forming creative aesthetic that has you palpating as each episode nears its end. With a fourth season on its way, those of us anxious to revisit the harrowing, hilarious hoosegow can't wait. But be careful: this is one [adult swim] offering that should come with its own wise warning label. It's just that addictive.
The only downside to this release? The relatively lax tech specs. The show looks good, the 1.78:1 anamorphic image as clear and bright as an HD rendering of same. Similarly, the sound situation is equally impressive, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix providing a nice balance between dialogue and prison-influenced sound effects. So what's the catch? Well, the added content is a bit weak. We get a look at some early animatics for a few episodes, then a further example of some test footage, and finally, the introductions to each installment are viewable back to back (for careful consideration and the deconstruction of the various tableaus present in each). But the biggest sin is the word "CENSORED" scrawled across black bars during several scenes. While blocking out some obvious sexual and suggestive content, we want something beyond the TV experience. If we buy something, let's see it the way it was intended (unless Karacas and crew planned it that way).
Superjail is one of the best things on [adult swim] right now. It's more subversive than Family Guy without being so crass and its tops another fave, the Aqua Teens, when it comes to head scratching story arcs and structure. It's more like a late '60s rock album cover come to life with a bit of snuff film subtext thrown in to make the music that much more dangerous. It's easily one of the weirdest things on the channel, and this is a showcase that features a redneck squid driving a four by four. Highly Recommended, it's guaranteed that you've never seen anything like this before. Superjail may make little sense, but it does a brilliant job in its creative confusion.
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