To the uninitiated, Robot Chicken represents the creation of Seth Green (Austin Powers, Family Guy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Matthew Seinreich (editor of ToyFare, a monthly 'action figure' mag for collectors). 'Chicken' folklore tells it that the two met and 'bonded' over their mutual love of action figures, and therein a successful comedy format was born. Utilising an entire toy-cupboard full of action-figures and lovingly animated with old-school stop-motion, quick unfussy sketches are the modus here- the 20 shows on the DVDs here last a succinct 11 minutes each. The show pertains not to break new comedic ground or to offer anything resembling a deconstruction- it's merely a cipher for a generation drip-fed on pop culture. The humour on offer here is immediate, and Robot Chicken derives it's laughs from a cocktail of satire, slapstick and simple juxtaposition- with varying levels of success. The most relied-upon format here is also the least imaginative- take one well known figure from popular culture, for example Lindsay Lohan, and immerse them in a well-known scenario from another similarly well-known source, ie/ Highlander. The sketch writes itself as Lohan dumbs her way through the film's fantasy scenarios. The humour is obvious. Other sketches are more imaginative, but in a minority- a faux 1930s cinema-flick 'The Five Stages of Acceptance' (starring a giraffe stuck in quicksand) is genuinely clever, and offers a kind of slapstick comedy that could have been employed more widely across the series. Some of the gags fall completely flat, as the 'Fuck Rodgers' parody in which aliens mistake Buck's name, exemplifies. Moments like these are too frequent across the series, far too simplistic, and just not funny enough.
One gets the feeling that Robot Chicken's humour and success have, in some way, been predetermined. There is a whiff of 'insider-ism' to the whole project, as celebrities line up demanding voiceovers on the show. Having it send you up is perceived to be a kind of Hollywood badge of honour. Essentially a show by and for pop-culture geeks, Robot Chicken won't appeal to everyone- and even those who are attracted toward it's indulgent postmodern humour may find themselves wanting it to be 'better', something that will not discourage the makers, who set out it's mandate in the opening sequence: A chicken brought back from the dead by a mad scientist, is forced to watch a multiplex of TV screens, eyes held open, until insanity creeps in. It's a fitting metaphor for pop culture generally, and enforces the notion that noone involved with this show is taking it too seriously.
Robot Chicken Season 2 is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on September 28th via Revolver Entertainment
Review first published in Sound Screen