Dispatches from the Suburbs of Hell

Heaven is for the obedient. Hell is for the wrathful. What of the ones in between? We wind up in the Suburbs. Our sin is individuality. Our punishment is boredom. But at least we're in good company.

Location: New England, United States

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

REVIEW: Adult Swim, Part the First

I have bouts of insomnia. They come and go. And when I can't sleep, I flip on the Tube. So Adult Swim has sort of been an off-again on-again relationship for years. There's something about the strange mean-spirited animated chaos that lends itself well to being in a semiconscious state. And while for the longest time the shows on Adult Swim have just not appealed to me, of late they've gotten much better. And while I work through my current insomniac attack, here are a few of my thoughts:


In general, I prefer Punk to Metal. To me, Metal evokes a carefully-crafted fantasy, while Punk evokes an ugly truth - and I'll take truth over illusion any day. So I probably find Metalocalypse entertaining on a completely different level than most of its audience. The show chronicles the life and times of the fictional Death Metal band Dethklok, the "most powerful cultural force in the history of the world." The band is ridiculously popular, with a worldwide ravening fanbase and an income that dwarfs the GNP of many small countries. So popular has this band become, that is has attracted the attention of some shadowy Illuminati-like organization of military and religious leaders, who have plans of their own and fear that Dethklok's power may interfere with them.

The sheer LUDRICOUSNESS of the premise is what I like about it. Dethklok basically lives the Metal fantasy: they live in some castle somewhere, and they have an army of executioner-hooded thugs who do their bidding. They have so much money that they can rent a nuclear submarine - to record their new album at the bottom of the sea, "the heaviest place on earth" - and seem to be able to kill people and cause mass destruction with impunity. As a result the show is often unspeakably violent, with death and mayhem so completely over the top that it cannot possibly be taken seriously. It's the excess of the rock-n-roll lifestyle taken to its grandest possible extreme, and it's played with a total straight face. The members of Dethklok are strangely clueless of anything beyond the band, sequestered from the consequences of their actions by their army of handlers and their astronomical amounts of cash. They maintain a strange Clockwork Orange-like innocence, living in their violent fantasy worlds with no real inkling of how to relate with reality - and it's when they are forced to deal with reality that the comedy really starts. The first episode of the show revolves around Dethklok being obliged to make their own dinner - "like regular jackoffs do," in the words of Nathan Explosion, Dethklok frontman and Glen Danzig lookalike - after their personal gourmet chef dies in a freak helicopter accident. Wackiness ensues as they hit the supermarket, and are forced to deal with things like price checks and whether or not beer counts as food. Another episode involves their efforts to "stay fresh" and try to go in a different artistic direction after the enormous success of their most recent album. In a curious stroke of genius, Nathan Explosion deduces that the opposite of tragedy is comedy - or rather, "COOOOMEDYYYYYY!" Nathan tends to yell a lot - and turns the band into a comedy troupe, with himself as the worst prop comic in history (and if you know your prop comedy, that's saying a LOT). Wackiness ensues yet again, culiminating in a comedy routine so abusive toward its audience that Gallagher himself would be impressed.

The show gets a lot of validity, because we are often treated to some of Dethklok's music, which is a pretty good approximation of real Death Metal: lightning-fast guitar licks, dark violent imagery, and incomprehensible vocals delivered by voice actor Brendon Smalls in what is a suprisingly good Death Grunt. Who knew he could get his voice that low? He's come a long way from [b]Home Movies[/b]. Further, the show's creators have managed to snag voice cameos from many real-life Metal artists, including King Diamond, several members of Nevermore, and Kirk Hammet and James Hetfield of Metallica (presumably Lars Ulrich is too much of a joyless bastard to join in the fun). I just enjoy watching the ridiculousness of the illusion being built and torn down: Dethklok are treated like gods by their legions of fans, but they do nothing to earn or deserve that acclaim (in fact they wrote a song about how much they hate their fans; it went quintuple platinum). Dethklok fans are portrayed as so hopelessly devoted to their band that mass suicides happened when their new album was delayed. The show is a strange blend of satire of the Metal subculture and light-hearted valentine to it. There's something very desconstructionist about it. Needless to say, I love it.

12 Ounce Mouse

Adult Swim is notorious for giving us 11-minute cartoons that make little or no sense. 12 Ounce Mouse perhaps makes the least amount sense of any show ever made in the history of animation. It's certainly the most crudely drawn (intentionally). And for a reason I can't fully articulate, I find it addicting. The show is INSANE. It defies simple description. It features simplistic doodles maiming and killing each other and talking in head-explodingly circuitous arguments. I have NO BLOODY IDEA what this show is supposed to be about. And yet I can't stop watching.

12 Ounce Mouse is obstensibly the story of Fitz aka Mouse aka Mouse Fitzgerald, a nihilistic alcoholic mouse, and Skillet, his pet Dog-Squirrel-Chinchilla...thing. They wander around an unamed badly-drawn city, doing crimes and odd jobs and drinking lots of beer. Mouse's misadventures often bring him into contact with a cast of bizarre characters, including Shark, some sort of vaguely-defined organized crime figure, Roostre, a one-handed burnout who runs a corn-dog farm (don't think about it too hard; you'll only hurt yourself); and a stoner circus peanut. Over the course of his adventures, Mouse has flashbacks to another life he may or may not have had, and between drunken gunfights he tries to figure out what's really going on.

The most addicting thing about the show is that, despite the "doodling while high" feel of the show, there is clearly some kind of long story arc in place. Like the best Adult Swim programs, 12 Ounce Mouse is much smarter than it looks on the surface. There is some kind of intricate conspiracy directing the actions of the characters, which Shark may or may not have a hand - er, fin in. Tantalizing clues are dropped here and there, like pieces of a puzzle that was Mouse's life before he became the apparent pawn in some dark figure's game. Watching the show is kind of like unraveling a Conspiracy Theorist's thoughts, using crayons. Show creator Matt Malleiro clearly is a deeper thinker than at first glance, and the fact that the show consists of amateurish doodles just lends to the off-kilter feel of the whole thing. Given the resources Williams Street has at its disposal, the show could be rendered a lot better than it actually is. But it isn't. It doesn't need to be. In fact, to render it better would rob it of some of its originality. It certainly has some guts to be so badly-drawn and so smart at the same time.

At any rate, it certainly lends itself to being watched in another state of mind. Like being high. Or sleep-deprived. Must be why I love it so.

More to come later...


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