I don’t really like Aqua Teen Hunger Force or Squidbillies. (Wait, come back!) I have a long history with Adult Swim programming (staying up to watch The Boondocks at midnight was my first sacrifice to appointment television), but while I enjoy some of the block’s more surreal programming (think Tim And Eric Awesome Show Great Job and Superjail!), flagship show Aqua Teen Hunger Force never really did it for me. I have a lot of memories of staying up to catch anime or Robot Chicken and being bewildered by Aqua Teen, which I found unfunny and vaguely threatening at 11. Squidbillies fared even worse—for years, it’s been just below infomercials in my late-night viewing hierarchy. But commenters on my review of the première of Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell convinced me to give the shows another shot and rightly complained about the laziness of the “stoner show” trope applied to Adult Swim (thanks guys!), so here I am.
Happily, “Muscles,” tonight’s season première for the show now going by Aqua TV Show Show, is a lot of fun. The story is enjoyable Adult Swim nonsense: After a massive, rapid-fire attack of obesity and diabetes-related complications and equally fast fake training montage, Master Shake tries to get in shape with a shortcut courtesy of Carl’s Thump muscle beverage. Predictably (I have seen a few episodes), Shake starts to experience intense ’roid rage before his new muscles take on a hyperviolent mind of their own. After briefly subduing the muscles and shooting down a plan involving transferring Shake’s brain into the body of Jay Z (Shake knew him back when he was Jay Zimmerberg), Frylock instead destroys Shake’s body by putting him in a veal pen to lose the muscle in forced fat.
As far as plot goes, a première about steroid abuse coincidentally airing during the A-Rod/Biogenesis scandal, combined with a brief showcase of the horrors of factory farming, suggests “Muscles” might be as close as Aqua Teen ever comes to gentle social commentary. The show has gone to the weight loss well before (in season three’s “Diet”), but this time around (for me at least) it’s easier to get the ways in which the plot is secondary and just laugh. Solid little jokes abound, from the flavor names for Thump (“Coconut What Did You Say To Me?” is my favorite) to the darkly comic closing gag of Master Shake going native in the veal pen, only to be torn apart by coyotes. “Muscles” doesn’t quite reach the sheer absurdity I gather Aqua Teen is capable of, but it’s more than funny enough.
Squidbillies doesn’t fare so well. The eighth season première, “Granite Caverns,” does contain a clearer semblance of plot than I’ve seen in previous episodes. The men of the Cuyler clan, Rusty and Early, are working at the caverns for the evil Dan Halen, who tries to pass off Rusty’s chalk scribbling as authentic (cue Early: “What the hell does that word mean?”) ancient cave drawings. After watching the news, Early gets it into his head that one of the pictures is a prophecy that aliens will come along to crown him space king. A group of “hipsters” (there’s sadly no other way to describe the broad caricatures of childish dudes in their 30s wearing ill-fitting ironic shirts) show up to make a “documentary” on their iPhones and threaten to topple Halen’s scheme.
There are a few laughs in “Granite Caverns,” mostly from Halen, who reveals his understanding of irony comes from the Alanis Morisette song and threatens Rusty’s future at his unpaid internship. Early’s refusal to realize he isn’t the space king goes from sad to kind of funny to sad and back to kind of funny again, and Rusty’s beatboxing is silly enough to work. Otherwise, the episode is just kind of there. The “hipster” stereotypes are a few years too late and closest to funny when they’re killed by boulders. Jokes about Sean Hannity, and Early and Granny’s complete faith in TV don’t have much to them beyond making fun of the characters in an unfortunate bit of excess cynicism. The final twist (the aliens come back and make Granny their king) is predictable and less inspired than Aqua Teen’s, and the alien cameo is distractingly similar to Aqua Teen’s Mooninites.
Both Aqua Teen and Squidbillies have been on the air long enough that they don’t have much left to prove. Maybe my dislike of Squidbillies is just an issue of personal taste, but where “Muscles” makes a good argument for Aqua Teen staying on the air another 10 seasons and coasting while remaining funny, “Granite Caverns” is lazy beyond the bounds of a comfortably aging series. After revisiting these two shows, I’m still wary of Squidbillies. I can see why people would like it, and it might bump infomercials from that spot in my late-night viewing, but it’s definitely not for me. Meanwhile, I’m probably not going to become a regular Aqua Teen viewer or muster the energy and time work my way through 10 seasons of backlog, but I’m happy to start calling myself a fan.
- Grades: “Muscles,” B. “Granite Caverns,” C-.
- Thanks for joining me everyone who either didn’t watch Breaking Bad or who needed something to cool down after the première.
- Both shows have fun guest voices tonight. Schoolly D, who has worked on Aqua Teen before, shows up as a possible replacement for Jay Z, while one of the Squidbillies aliens is a dead ringer for Lucky Yates, though he isn’t listed in the credits.
- While the packaging and fake flavor names for Thump are my favorite thing in these episodes, “Blueberry Butt Rape” is pretty groan-worthy for a bunch of reasons.
- Meatwad singing “Amazing Grace” is easy, but great.