Please Note: The stills used here are taken from promotional materials and other sources, not the Blu-ray edition under review.
The TV Series
Coming off its sixth year on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, Robot Chicken arrives on Blu Ray with its herky-jerky satirical mojo basically intact. The single-disc Season 6 has all the stuff that makes up the usual Robot Chicken zaniness: deliberately cheap looking stop-motion animation, hyperactive take-offs on obscure '80s-'90s pop culture, static, channel clicks, and celebrity guest voices that inspire a "huh?" reaction ("Stanley Tucci was in this episode?"). Actually there's one minor adjustment this season - in the opening credits, the re-animated Robot Chicken finally gets to tie up the mad scientist and force him to watch the wall of televisions tuned into Robot Chicken. Score one for tortured Robot Chicken, free at last.
Given that Robot Chicken's humor derives from a simple equation (one pop culture thing + another, possibly dirtier pop culture thing = comedy gold), it's a little amazing that the show still delivers some hilarious, top-notch goods for this go-round. Highlights: the Scooby Doo gang teaming up with sullen Lisbeth Salander to solve a mystery, The Fast and the Furious on Big Wheels, Polly Pocket on Hoarders, Captain Kirk contracting an interplanetary STD, the crypt keeper's sad, pun-filled life following Tales from the Crypt's cancellation, Mr. T's childhood trauma, and an alternate Terminator in which sanctimonious vegetarians created a future Earth ruled by gun-toting cows. Sure, there are a lot of overlong sketches that stretch out an already weak idea (the Biggest Loser parody with Miss Piggy, Garfield, Mario and Winnie the Pooh comes to mind), but the biggest impression I get is that the show is running much more smoothly this year. After a few inconsistent seasons which relied too much on the easy potty-minded jokes, the show's gotten a little less edgy but more satisfying.
After watching the first Robot Chicken season on Netflix, it's interesting to note the subtle changes the show has taken since then. Of course, the stop-motion animation is much less jerky now, but they've still managed to leave it chintzy looking enough to not betray the show's core "we made this in our garage with the action figures of our youth" aesthetic. While the gags are still largely inspired by obscure pieces of Pop Culture's past detritus (remember the early '90s Hip Hop dance called The Runner? Yep, they made a gag of that), the humor seems much more broad-based and inclusive now. They appear to be repeating themselves more often these days, however. For instance, E.T. pops up in at least three different gags (the funniest one involving Rambo getting tortured with the notorious E.T. Atari 2600 game). At its best, Robot Chicken touches on the kind of things that kids actually think about while zoned out watching television. This season addresses burning questions like - why was Gadget the only Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers regular who wore pants? And - what was that "purple stuff" from those grating Sunny Delight commercials, anyhow?
While this season of Robot Chicken is dominated by milder, more narrative-based sketches (quick gags of a few seconds or less appear a lot less often), these uncensored episodes contain a few racier bits capable raising an eyebrow or two. The best segments strike a good balance between shock humor and sick nostalgia. Other, not so successful bits depend on pun-based groaners that bring to mind the "Mad About Shoe" Krusty the Clown sketch from The Simpsons (America's Best Dance Crow?). The great thing about Robot Chicken, however, is that the gags flash by so quickly that even the few dodgy bits are quickly forgotten.
Aside from the animation and writing, Robot Chicken wouldn't be the same without all those celebrity guest voices (it's kind of amazing how unfamiliar even the most famous of them sound in this context, though). Along with the vocal talents of series creator Seth Green, this season includes contributions from Jon Stewart, Kat Dennings, Evan Rachel Wood, Skeet Ulrich, Allison Janney, Sam Elliott, Whoopi Goldberg, Christopher Lloyd, Olivia Wilde, Brecklyn Meyer, Alex Winter, Smoove B, 50 Cent, Ke$ha, Zachary Root, Stanley Tucci, Billy Zane, Abraham Benrubi, Brent Spiner, Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini, Stan Lee, Frank Darabont, and Joss Whedon.
Warner Bros' Blu Ray edition of Robot Chicken: Season Six consists of the following twenty uncut and uncensored episodes, housed on a single disc (titling the episodes after forms of death - clever):
6-01 ____ 16/Sep/12 ____ Executed by the State
6-02 ____ 23/Sep/12 ____ Crushed by a Steamroller on My 53rd Birthday
6-03 ____ 30/Sep/12 ____ Punctured Jugular
6-04 ____ 07/Oct/12 ____ Poisoned by Relatives
6-05 ____ 14/Oct/12 ____ Hurtled from a Helicopter into a Speeding Train
6-06 ____ 21/Oct/12 ____ Disemboweled by an Orphan
6-07 ____ 28/Oct/12 ____ In Bed Surrounded by Loved Ones
6-08 ____ 04/Nov/12 ____ Choked on Multi-Colored Scarves
6-09 ____ 11/Nov/12 ____ Hemlock Gin and Juice
6-10 ____ 18/Nov/12 ____ Collateral Damage in Gang Turf War
6-11 ____ 02/Dec/12 ____ Eviscerated Post-Coital by a Six Foot Mantis
6-12 ____ 09/Dec/12 ____ Butchered in Burbank
6-13 ____ 16/Dec/12 ____ Robot Chicken's ATM Christmas Special
6-14 ____ 06/Jan/13 ____ Papercut to Aorta
6-15 ____ 13/Jan/13 ____ Caffeine-Induced Aneurysm
6-16 ____ 20/Jan/13 ____ Eaten by Cats
6-17 ____ 27/Jan/13 ____ Botched Jewel Heist
6-18 ____ 03/Feb/13 ____ Robot Fight Accident
6-19 ____ 10/Feb/13 ____ Chocked On A Bottle Cap
6-20 ____ 17/Feb/13 ____ Immortal
The Blu Ray:
Robot Chicken's crisp and colorful imagery is served well by the Blu Ray's 1080p 16x9 high def image. The high resolution image on this digitally shot series looks amazing; the only flaw I found was that the image was a touch over-sharpened, resulting in lightly pixelated edges.
A single Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is the only listening option here, in a mix that gives a spacious, not too overwhelming polish to the dialogue and sound effects (surround is used sparingly if at all). English SDH subtitles are also provided on all of the episodes.
Arthur the nerd would definitely approve of the generous amount of bonus content that's been included with this season:
- Audio Commentaries are supplied on every episode. These tracks all feature series creators Seth Green and/or Matthew Senreich, who are joined by an assortment of Robot Chicken writers and (less frequently) some of the voice actors. On more than one occasion, the speakers wonder if anyone actually listens to audio commentaries. There are a few interesting factoids to be heard on these casual, enjoyable tracks, however.
- Twelve Behind-The-Scenes Featurettes cover a few aspects of this season's production such as the guest actors' recording sessions, the show's first-time addition of women to the writing staff, slip-ups and more. Totaling just over 50 minutes running time, these bits emphasize the writing staff's goofball camaraderie at the expense of other, more interesting stuff (like the animation and special effects). Still, they're fun.
- Matthew Senreich introduces a selection of Deleted Channel Flips (13:10), animatics of sketches that were deemed not worthy of the final programs for various reasons.
- Included on three episodes is the Chicken Nuggets interactive feature. Whenever the chicken icon flashes onscreen, video commentaries on the sketches can be viewed.
- A selection of five fully animated Deleted Scenes (2:41) come with introductions from Robot Chicken writers Doug Goldstein and Matt Beans, and director Zeb Wells.
- But wait, there's more! Deleted Animatics (55:13) delves into 27 sketches which didn't make it past the pre-production stage, with intros by Green, Senreich, writers Tom Root and Jessica Gao, and a few other behind-the-scenes people.
- An Easter Egg with a minute of behind-the-scenes footage is accessible by highlighting the mad scientist's eye on the main menu.
After six years of jerkily animated pop culture parodies, Robot Chicken is kind of like being with the snotty kid brother who matured into … a snotty teenager who still gets off on telling the same booger jokes. Maybe it's a little less edgy than it once was, but there are still plenty of laughs to be had in these crunchy bite-sized episodes. Simply put, if you enjoyed the previous five seasons of Robot Chicken, you'll enjoy this season, too. Warner's Blu Ray edition sports excellent video and sound, along with a veritable buttload of extras. Recommended.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.