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"Boo Cocky/Black Fire Upon Us/Jazz"

I like Robot Chicken well enough; it's inconsistent as hell, but at eleven minutes it goes by easy. Plus, it makes excellent background noise if you want to watch something while you do the crossword but don't have time to commit to another Law & Order episode. But for the life of me, I can't tell you want my favorite RC sketch is. There've been some great ones, I'm sure of that, but I can't remember any of them. Isn't that odd?

I do remember my least favorite sketch, though. They've done a couple bits on Calvin & Hobbes, but the one I remember–and the one that nearly put me off the show for good–has Calvin going insane and killing a lot of people because, and here's the really funny part, he talks to a stuffed tiger! Seriously! That is just whack, yo.

I hated that bit for a lot of reasons, but the biggest one is actually my biggest problem with the series as a whole: sometimes the writers are lazy as hell. Embarrassingly lazy, really. If the best parody you can come up with of one of the greatest comic strips of all time is, "Calvin kills people because of a stuffed tiger," you're not really trying very hard. (For the record, this is the best C&H; parody of all time.) The basic RC sketch structure goes: take a beloved childhood icon. Put that icon in a nasty situation. Do some gore effects. Fin. Sometimes it works, but it gets old pretty fast.

So it's probably a good thing those eps only run eleven minutes, eh? "Boo Cocky" hits the standard notes: dorks are mocked (isn't there something odd about a group of not all that dorky actors making fun of, let's face it, their target audience? Oh, wait, not odd–dick), we get the standard assortment of pop culture nods, from Revenge Of The Nerds to Conan to Star Trek, etc, and, of course, a little of the old ultra violence.

To its credit, "Boo" wasn't all that mean-spirited, not even when it has the cast of Saved By The Bell face off against the Jigsaw Killer from Saw. Hell, the Star Trek parody–in which the Borg attacks the "Star Trek Experience" in Vegas–actually didn't end with the death of all the characters involved. The Nerds sketch, with the movie heroes getting sent to prison for their so-called "revenge," was pretty dead on, even if it wasn't all that hilarious. Really, nothing this time around made me laugh much, but it was a pleasant enough distraction; it's like getting to watch Family Guy without all those annoying main characters.

As for the rest of tonight's line-up… It's technically possible that "Black Fire Upon Us," the season finale of Metalocalypse could've been better. Technically. I'm not sure how, exactly; maybe the self-blow-job stuff went on a bit long? But it didn't, really, and the pay-off ("I did it. I can die.") was so great. So I don't know how "Fire" could've rocked any harder, but I'll say that it's possible it could've, just to be on the safe side. My computer screen didn't actually spurt blood at any time playing it. That's gotta be a flaw.

I spent most of the summer, in between gushing about Venture Brothers and taking easy (if thoroughly deserved) pot-shots at Fat Guy Stuck In Internet, making vague comments about I wished Metalocalypse was "better." While I enjoyed it, there always seemed to be something missing, and with the advent of two half hour episodes at the end of the current season, I think I've figured it out. Half-length just isn't enough. Brendon Small and the rest of the creative team are too damn good with characters and story to limit themselves to an eleven minute block that's really best suited for Adult Swim's more meta-type craziness. Because at its heart, Metalocalypse isn't meta. The members of Dethklok are hilariously single-minded and not particularly bright, but they're still likeable, and the world they inhabit has actual consequences. We've seen what the show can do as a sketch, but the potential there seems largely exhausted. It's time to move on.

And move on "Fire" does. Again, there's the usual deadly serious apocalyptic danger targeting the band, and again, it's contrasted against Nathan Explosion and the rest being essentially twelve-year-old boys with more money than God. What's great is how well that contrast pays off; instead of having everything turn into a joke for the climax, we get what has to be the best action sequence in the history of the show. It's still funny in moments, but the funny never takes away from the utter badassery. The fact that Dethklok spent most of the build-up obsessing over giving themselves oral sex just made it that much better somehow, like we got to undercut our cake and eat it too. Fingers crossed that season three keeps up with longer eps, or at least switches back and forth–because dammit, I want more of that. A lot more.

After the high-concept trickery of last week's "Jim and Derrick," "Jazz" finds Tim & Eric back to basics; and much as I hate to say it, the shtick is starting to wear thin. "Jim and Derrick" wasn't a huge success–its authenticity was impressive, but once you got the main gag, the whole thing felt tedious. Plus, Tim and Eric themselves were pretty terrible as their more X-treme alter-egos; I realize part of the joke is how lame "Jim" and "Derrick" really are, but in order for the satire to land, they needed to feel like they belonged in the world they were mocking, instead of just smirking on the sidelines.

Still, I'll prefer that kind of ambition to "Jazz," which coasts on the standards: mocking boring public access TV ("Jazz Sessions"), having a guest star comedian break down on camera ("Cleaning Up After Your Cat"), and showing off some sort-of creepy imagery. The "Jazz Sessions" stuff is pretty dire; it's not as bad as the "Swing Dancing" sketch, but it gets too smug too fast, and never really goes anywhere. I have no idea what the hell the "Beaver Boys" bit was mocking, but the best part of the sketch comes with the "Ten Minutes Earlier" scene we get later in the show.

Probably the funniest stuff was the brief bio-pic trailer parody for Quall: The James Quall Story. Other than that, everything seemed like filler. Maria Bamford's break-down in "Cat" was too predictable, and the "Beaver Boys" stuff went on forever. For all its flaws, "Jim And Derrick" at least represented an attempt to broaden the aim of the series. An episode like "Jazz" just serves to remind you how necessary that expansion really is.


Robot Chicken, "Boo Cocky": B-

Metalocalypse, "Black Fire Upon Us": A

Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job!, "Jazz": C+

Stray Observations:

--So what's your favorite Robot Chicken sketch?