Cartoon Network's cultishly adored Adult Swim animation block specializes in a curious form of pop-culture ventriloquism. But where the irreverent Harvey Birdman and Space Ghost: Coast To Coast limit themselves to putting words in the mouths of characters from Hanna-Barbera's sprawling universe of poorly animated crap, Robot Chicken uses the sum of pop culture as its outsized toy box. Co-creators Seth Green and Matthew Senreich use puppets, toys, and action figures to lampoon pop culture with its own plastic ephemera, and their stop-motion animation fuses Ray Harryhausen-like sophistication with the amateur zeal of little girls making Ken and Barbie kiss.
Brevity ranks as one of Robot Chicken's chief virtues. Some skits fly by so quickly that they border on subliminal, while others function as the television equivalent of single-panel gag strips. Even the show's more involved and ambitious skits, like the robot-based parody of You Got Served, or the Seven spoof re-cast with Smurfs, seldom last longer than a few minutes. How could they? Minus commercials, Robot Chicken itself is only a 10-minute show. Because it's so briskly paced, it's also one of the densest comedies on television: Its pop-culture-damaged writing staff crams an entire season's worth of ideas, references, and gags into an episode.
As Todd Haynes discovered with Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, there's something paradoxically expressive about the inexpressiveness of plastic dolls, with their cold dead eyes and perfect bodies. And it doesn't hurt that Green is a talented, versatile, experienced voice artist with an encyclopedic knowledge of trash culture, or that he seems to have all of Young Hollywood at his disposal for vocal cameos. Robot Chicken's satire can be deceptively brainy, but to its credit, the show never loses the joyously retro feel of kids playing with toys.
Key features: Commentaries and awesome footage of an extremely exuberant Green acting out the show's skits as a guide for his animators.