Adult Swim has made its mark with animated shows geared to beer-guzzling guys, the types who grew up on heavy doses of MTV and irony. Think “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” “Sealab 2021″ and “Space Ghost Coast to Coast.”
But the Atlanta-based network’s most popular original TV series isn’t technically animated. It’s ”Robot Chicken,” a sketch comedy show featuring toys and clay figures using old-school “stop motion” technology. The creators manipulate real-life figurines, often toys or clay objects, and shoot them one frame at a time, giving the illusion of movement.
The Emmy-nominated show, which debuted in 2005 and airs at midnight, averaged 883,000 viewers in its target 18-to-34 year old demographic season four. That’s comparable to competitors such as David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel. And ratings don’t drop off markedly when Adult Swim repeats old episodes multiple times.
As a result, Adult Swim recently greenlit two more seasons and 40 more episodes.
“I’m still shocked they’re letting us do this,” mused Matthew Senreich, speaking from his Los Angeles office where he creates the show with actor Seth Green (”Austin Powers,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”). “We never thought we’d get a second season. We’re just a bunch of friends who get together and play with toys. We all have Nerf Guns at our desk. It’s very jovial, very casual. And it comes across in the final product.”
The show squeezes 10 or more bits per episode. Some may be as short as three or four seconds. It’s sometimes crude, often juvenile and always eclectic.
And it’s hardly a quick-and-dirty process: each of the dozen animators may complete only five to 10 seconds of film any given day. But it allows the creators to do pretty much anything.
One typical episode includes G.I. Joe doing practical jokes on lame superhero Snow Job, the Wizard of Oz characters vomiting, the Addams Family’s Thing living on his own, a joke about a stripper pole and firemen, a drunk leprechaun, a very sensitive black stallion and Oprah and Dr. Phil as detectives.
When deciding sketches, the show’s four writers use a simple voting system: if three people think it’s funny, it’s in. And while many of the targets are pop-culture staples (”Star Wars,” Ryan Seacrest), Senreich said a few incredibly obscure references have made the cut, including a 1980 cult film “Midnight Madness” and a parody of “Magic Garden,” a 1970s children’s show that only aired in metro New York.
(Yes. I remember “Magic Garden” growing up on Long Island. Here’s the theme song, courtesy of YouTube)
For future episodes, watch for “Robot Chicken” mocking “Twilight” and MTV’s reality show “Jersey Shore.”
“I’m a big fan,” Senreich said, without a tracy of irony, “of crappy television.”
You can watch full episodes of “Robot Chicken” at the Adult Swim Web site.