I’m a big fan of Adult Swim, and have been since Robot Chicken first aired a few years back. I’ve kept up with that show, and have occasionally checked out a couple of others, but never with the same enthusiasm or persistence. Now two Adult Swim series are coming to DVD in the UK; Harvey Birdman’s third volume, and the first set of Superjail episodes. Can these be any good?
Yes they can.
Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law has been around for a decade, although in that time it has only had a smattering of episodes. Having consulted Wikipedia for a bit more information, I’m a little confused over how the series are divided, but I know that I’ve just watched Volume 3, which is coming to DVD on April 12th in the UK.
Your enjoyment of Harvey Birdman will hinge partly, but not totally, on how well you know Hannah-Barbera cartoons from the 60s, as virtually all of the characters are pulled from the colourful world of golden-era kids cartoons, and placed into the deliberately bizarre legal setting that the title implies. The premise is that Birdman has retired from being a superhero in order to pursue a more sedate career as a defence attorney, and this story is basically explained in the first episode of the third volume, which borrows the footage from the original Birdman cartoon and overdubs it with satirical voice acting to mess with the delightfully camp production.
Like many Adult Swim shows, Harvey Birdman derives its humour from random encounters and one-liners which will hit with some people and not with others. It is hyperactive and frequently hilarious, but if you like your comedy structured and your pop-culture references minimal, you should probably avoid it.
Superjail operates on a completely different plane of existence. It is an animation that is anarchic and awe-inspiring, with themes and events that lay the seeds to subconsciously incite violence and revulsion in the viewer. And it’s absolutely brilliant. The art style occasionally evokes classics like Ren & Stimpy, but the relentless insanity of the plot and characters mean that watching it is never an entirely settling or pleasant experience.
The whole thing is ostensibly set within the confines of a maximum security prison, but it is presided over by a Willy Wonka-esque eccentric warden, and within its walls is an amorphous, nightmarish dreamscape of incarceration and instability. It is supposed to be a comedy, but you will laugh and scratch your head simultaneously throughout. I’ve basically failed to describe Superjail, but it is definitely worth having a look at, particularly if you are sick of normality. It’s out on the 12th as well.