Sound like your typical night of flipping through channels? Yeah? I'm not surprised. Most of the stuff on television follows the same formulaic generalities, as studios tend to stick with what they know makes them the most money... especially if that product is cheap to produce. This is why we have about 18 Law and Order variations, way too many CSI's to keep track of, and more and more 'reality' programs smacking us upside our heads with the nerve shattering question - How did these people get famous in the first place?! The more pressing questions however are - What happened to quality programming? When did pop culture become synonymous with praising those that do little more than get drunk at parties to get their names in the papers week after week? If you're sick and tired of being spoon fed quantity over quality by the studios that couldn't care less about providing us with products that are memorable, then fear not. Seth Green (Austin Powers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Idle Hands, Can't Hardly Wait) and his team of laid back yet highly efficient creative writers and stop-motion animators are providing us with both an unfiltered looking glass and time machine with Robot Chicken.
If for some reason you're still unfamiliar with Cartoon Network's (Adult Swim) Emmy Award winning series (for Outstanding Animated Program in 2008), don't worry about walking into the fifth season without any inkling as to what the plot is... because there isn't one. No, Robot Chicken is an animated sketch program that uses memorable toys and action figures from the past to hit our nostalgic funny bones, and although some skits are just silly for the sake of being so, the show's primary ammunition is fed from the last 30-40 years of pop culture, and nothing is off the table. Typical for Adult Swim programming, each episode is roughly in an 11 minute format, and although this is only long enough for other shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force to deliver a single blast of comedy, Robot Chicken fires skits off in a rapid fire succession that could only be comparable to that of a minigun. With no real rules for the show to play by, shorts can last a few minutes or even just a few seconds. This may sound like a disorienting experience on paper but you'd be surprised how well this works for the final product. If you've never seen the show before, just think about it - There's no real pitfalls for Robot Chicken to succumb to. As long as the skits are well written and refrain from becoming repetitive, Robot Chicken is a show that's going to have staying power.
Think of the genius at work here (and I'm not using the word 'genius' lightly, either) - It doesn't really matter if there are certain skits that fail to humor you, because the skit will be over before you know it and you'll be barreling through another short in no time. The end result here is that the memorable bits remain so, while the less than impressive sketches will drop off your radar completely so there's no sour chicken left in your mouth when the end credits roll. With that being said, don't get the wrong impression here - I'm not trying to prepare you for a decline in quality by way of an apologetic statement which would leave me with zero credibility. This has more or less been what's kept Robot Chicken alive for this long - It's mostly a very strong effort from beginning to end, but there's an occasional bit that comes along and muffles the chuckles a little, but the unstructured 'formula' of the show (if you can call it that) buffs those blemishes out without skipping a beat.
For those of you that have seen every micro-skit since the show's inception, I'm sure you'll be able to back me up on the information that I've provided for the newcomers. But, what's the added incentive for you in purchasing the fifth season Blu-ray, besides being able to watch it whenever you want? Simple - There's a fair chunk of episodes that haven't even aired yet that you'll be able to see before anyone else. That in and of itself is going to be enough reason for anyone who's hungry for some new Robot Chicken (be sure to pick the bones and bolts out before you chew) to buy this ASAP, but I'm sure there's a sentiment that's going to stir amongst a few skeptics out there - What if the batch of unaired episodes were rushed merely for this marketing gimmick? I can tell you with confidence you should be able to breathe a sigh of relief, because there's no noticeable dip in quality as far as the writing or production value is concerned. What you're getting is the Robot Chicken you expect - No more, and no less.
As far as the fifth season is concerned overall, this is the most polished piece of Chicken I've ever seen. I know I've mentioned smart writing a couple of times, and the 5th season is the best example of that yet. There are little bits of dialogue in these wacky situations that add a punch of authenticity to whatever's happening on screen... even if that scene depicts the Cookie Monster attempting to devour the Keebler Elves from their patented tree cookie factory. But what really sets season 5 apart from the rest is the most impressive roster of guest voices the show has ever had... and not just because it's cool for the audience at home to say, "Ohmahgawsh! I know who that is!" The guests that come on the show often reprise famous roles or play themselves, yet again adding some authenticity to such an unbelievable show. Hearing Elijah Wood reprise his role as Frodo for a little Smeagol lovin', or Macauley Culkin breathing life into Kevin McCallister once again as he succumbs to his own Home Alone traps? Priceless. My personal favorite from the 5th season has to be Christopher Lloyd rapping as Doc Brown, using Jay-Z's Jigga-What as an inspiration for spittin' lyrics about 1.21 gigawattas. There are plenty of other guest surprises that I'm not going to spoil for you, but the list of guests is included with each episode's listing on the disc's menu.
Simply put, the show is bigger and smarter than it's ever been without straying from its roots. The 5 seasons the creative staff and production team have had to hone their skills really speaks for itself here, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Robot Chicken take home another Emmy as a result. If you've already seen the show you already know all this, but for the rest of you - If you're tired of watching the same old boring crap I talked about at the beginning of the review, then Robot Chicken is just the meal you've been waiting for!
The 1080i AVC encode (1.78:1) does a very nice job at presenting all 20 mini-episodes on this single disc season set - That's 220 minutes worth of episodes, and that's not even including the extras (which are also high-def). It sounds like a recipe for a muddied presentation that hardly justifies an upgrade from DVD, but you'd be doing yourself a disservice by going for the DVD over this. Honestly, there's very few issues to speak of when it comes to the season in its entirety. There are moments of banding and even some digital artifacting, but the offenses are few and far between enough that it's easily forgivable... especially considering you most likely would have had the same compression issues viewing through your choked digital cable box. It's also worth noting that once in a while there's some minor flickering, but that's most likely a result of the stop-motion animation process. Other than that, the details of the action figures, dolls, and models used are absolutely immaculate. Black levels are solid and contrast brilliantly allows the bold colors seen at any given moment to spring to life. Although this release isn't perfect, it's most certainly better than broadcast and any fan of Robot Chicken who doesn't have unrealistic expectations should walk away quite satisfied.
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track here isn't exactly an immersive experience, but let's be real here - This is a television show and to assume it would have been given some sort of theatrical Hollywood treatment would be silly. One word that can be used to describe what we have here, is 'faithful' in regards to the source elements. The sound is spaced out impressively enough throughout the front channels, with dialogue remaining easy to understand from beginning to end, although it can sound slightly on the harsh side from time to time. Again though, this is most likely a result of the source and not a fault of the encode. The LFE actually gives a better response than I expected it to at times, but for the most part it's kind of shallow unless the scene really calls for something 'big'. There's some low level environmental effects in the rears, but it's nothing that's going to help envelope you and make you feel like you're part of the wacky skits you'll be watching. That being said though, again, this is a faithful representation of the source and fans should be content with what's been offered.
There is a monstrous amount of extras on this set! The list below really doesn't do the actual content on the disc justice, but this pretty much covers all the basics without boring you by listing each and every single deleted scene and animatic, because there's a lot of them.
I also won't go into a detailed explanation for every featurette as they're pretty self explanatory, but one of the most noteworthy things about this release is the fact that every episode has a commentary track, many of which feature some of the famous guest voices that add their somethin' somethin' to season 5. On one of the featurettes provided, Elijah Wood is telling us that going to work at Robot Chicken is basically like walking into a college dorm where everyone is just having a good time and genuinely enjoying throwing tons of ideas in the air, hoping they'll culminate into some sort of final product. That much is pretty clear when listening to the commentaries, as everyone is laid back and having a bunch of laughs while they're recording. This unfortunately leaves a lot of production details off the table, but in my opinion, that's not necessarily a bad thing. With so many skits being as short as they are, it would be hard for one person to finish a thought before the next skit begins, let alone a room full of people. One thing that can't be said about these commentaries despite being uninformative, is that they're boring. They're really worth the listen so make sure you check them out.
The next noteworthy piece is the return of Chicken Nuggets, a feature that lets you access video commentary when a chicken icon appears in the middle of an episode. Taking the commentaries and the Chicken Nuggets into consideration, especially in culmination with the loads and loads of alternate/deleted content, there's more than enough here to satisfy all the Robot Chicken fans out there. This is money well spent!
-A Day in the Life of Robot Chicken
-The Jon Hamm Story
-Nathan Fillion: Conspiracy Theory
-Behind the Scenes - Episode 100
-Behind the Scenes - Blue Rabbits
-Blue Rabbits Sing-a-Long
-Donald Faison as Zuneman
-Josh Groban as Red Pants
-Breckin Meyer as Superman
-Katee Sackhoff as Bitch Pudding
-Patrick Stump as blue Monkey
-Promos (Assortment of 21)
I look forward to Robot Chicken not just because it's funny and creative... but also because it's so vastly different than anything else that television has to offer. It's a difficult program to give a synopsis on due to its nature, but if someone attempted to try and sell you on Robot Chicken by words alone, you'd probably walk away thinking it was silly and stupid... and by all means, Robot Chicken is one of those ideas that probably would never have seen the light of day if it weren't for Adult Swim constantly looking for the next unique thing to give to its faithful late night audience. Thankfully there was a place for such an idea to go, and although I can't go as far as to say 'the world will never be the same again', this program is one of those 'once in a lifetime' things that will never effectively be replicated. Without the creative team that brings this show to life, Robot Chicken in other hands would seem more like cold leftovers than anything. With 5 seasons for the cast and crew to really nail the dialogue and timing, and with 5 seasons of gaining more success and free creative reign, this is absolutely the most polished season of the series yet. With the brilliance of this particular season aside, the added incentive to buy this set now is the fact that there's a bunch of episodes on it that haven't even aired yet. They're all really, really sweet, too. Couple that with the extensive amount of extras here and this is a no brainer. Robot Chicken - Season 5 comes highly recommended!