Robot Chicken, Seth Green’s Adult Swim animated sketch show, returned last night with its usual roundup of two legitimately funny bits, several drawn-out chucklers, and a whole bunch of “sketches” that your little brother might come up with. But, people are generally too hard on Robot Chicken, perhaps because it’s been airing for years alongside more intellectual programming. If one watches the show with the patience typically afforded to live sketch shows, it can be rewarding.
The show, although it continues to feel slapped together and juvenile (both of those words are meant as compliments), has an impressive history. Seth Green developed Robot Chicken with Matthew Senreich, Douglas Goldstein and Tom Root, a trio of writers who once wrote for ToyFare, a collectors magazine. The magazine ran a comic strip called Twisted ToyFare Theater, which the writers then developed into the stop-motion Robot Chicken, which has won four Emmy awards since its debut in 2005.
Two of last night’s bits involved characters done to death recently, even by Robot Chicken itself. Optimus Prime decided that the war against the Decepticons wasn’t important enough to keep him from jury duty, and Splinter tried to give the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a sex talk that focused on their realistic turtle anatomy. While that second sketch was oddly heartwarming, the funniest bits in the episode were one-shot gags.
In a five-second gag that made me laugh out loud, a man told a vet he was at the office to pick up his neutered dog. The double doors to the vet’s office busted open, and a tiny dog wearing a pink boa cavorted around to cabaret music, and I was pleased in spite of myself.
In another stupid gag that got me, Oskar Schindler read off his grocery list to a man working at the deli, and was dismayed to find out he hadn’t brought his coupons, and “could’ve saved more.” Both the Schindler bit and the neutered dog contributed to the notion that Robot Chicken wants its audience to laugh, despite their adult sensibilities and imperviousness to cheap, easy humor. There’s something really charming about a show that doesn’t try for anything beyond pop-culture puns.