Alibi V.14 No.7 • Feb 17-23, 2005 

Idiot Box

Toy Story

“Robot Chicken” on Cartoon Network

Apparently, actor Seth Green (star of the Austin Powers movies, among others) is a big toy collector. At some point in his life, he met up with Matthew Senreich, a writer for “ToyFare” magazine. The two became fast friends and, over the course of one drunken evening (I'm only guessing at this point), they came up with the concept for a particularly warped sketch comedy cartoon called “Robot Chicken.” The folks at Cartoon Network, being drunken weirdoes themselves (again, only speculating), snapped at the idea and are now airing the amusingly bizarre results in their Adult Swim block.

“Robot Chicken” is more or less a spin-off of a fumetti (yes, it's a real word--it means “a photographic comic strip”) that Senreich wrote for “ToyFare.” In the strip, assorted superhero action figures interacted with unpredictable sitcom results. Being a big fat nerd myself, I know Senreich's strip well and still find it the best part of the magazine. Basically, “Robot Chicken” consists of a bunch of quick and seemingly random pop cultural sketches, all of which involve stop-motion animated toys.

Beloved pop cultural icons like The Transformers, Voltron, The Dukes of Hazzard, Captain America, Mr. T, He-Man and others are all mercilessly skewered in this hyperactive blenderizing of movies, television and toys. What happens, or example, when you put two “Star Trek” action figures (Captain James T. Kirk and Khan Noonian Singh) in a sitcom with a “Growing Pains” doll (Kirk Cameron). Naturally, you get “Two Kirks, a Khan and a Pizza Place.” Wanna see the tragic end of Optimus Prime? Or a version of “Kill Bill” starring the Easter Bunny? Or Vin Diesel, Batman and Knight Rider in 3 Fast, 3 Furious? I'd venture to say that “Robot Chicken” is pretty much your only opportunity to do so.

Like a Rankin/Bass Christmas special gone horribly, horribly wrong, “Robot Chicken” is stop-motion action at its most twisted. Being a hip Hollywood celebrity, Green also manages to recruit celebrity voices like Scarlett Johannson, Burt Reynolds, Ryan Seacrest, Mark Hamill, Macaulay Culkin and Rachel Leigh Cook. This goes a certain distance toward “mainstreaming” the show, but it is among cartoon-crazed, toy-collecting idiots like me that the show will find its most rabid audience.

To put it plainly, if you didn't grow up playing with six-inch Mego action figures, you probably won't find the jokes on “Robot Chicken” half as funny. But if that's a “Speed Racer” Matchbox car sitting on top of your computer (and I think it is), then you need to be parked on the couch watching this show with an action figure you love.

“Robot Chicken” premieres Sunday, Feb. 20, at 12:30 a.m. on Cartoon Network