A child has just lost a tooth. As he sleeps, he silently waits for the tooth fairy to come and reward him. Unfortunately, the tooth fairy happens to visit at an inopportune time – right in the middle of an ugly domestic dispute between the child’s parents, which ends with the tooth fairy’s untimely demise. This may sound like some sort of fractured fairy tale, but it’s just a scene from Cartoon Network’s bizarre stop-animation showcase “Robot Chicken,” a show that takes childhood nostalgia to an oddly terrifying new level.
Doug Goldstein, the show’s head writer, will be the first to admit that the show’s name comes from an item off a local Chinese restaurant menu. Creator Seth Green (“Austin Powers”) will be the first to admit that the show “looks like anyone could do it.” The ridiculously low production values involve mostly action figures and claymation. But not everyone could put together the rambunctious spontaneity that makes “Chicken” simultaneously entertaining and annoying.
The show puts a lot of stock in parody – parody of bad ’80s movies, corny kids’ TV shows and absurd cultural trends. Think of it as part “Family Guy” and part childhood puppet show gone horribly awry. “Chicken” is a combination of satire and crappy animation; the animators don’t even try to put realistic-looking mouths on the characters. The end result is a show that’s entertaining for its creative use of figurines and for its actual comedic content.
“Chicken” wisely creates much of its appeal by pandering to typical TV audiences with short attention spans. Each episode is only 12 minutes without commercials and offers lightning-quick changes of background or subject to comply with the channel-changing tone of the show. The sketches range from one second to five minutes; at this length, even tired jokes about Britney Spears and “American Idol” are tolerable. Green and Goldstein have created a format that requires so little attention and brainpower that they could put just about anything on the screen and make it funny.
“Chicken” has a surprisingly large amount of DVD extras. But the deleted scenes are just too long for the show’s clipped format. There is also an informative behind-the-scenes look that broaches the question, “What exactly inspires a person to create a show whose stars are mostly six-inch figurines?”
The extras give the viewer an unusual new perspective into the amount of work that goes into a show that often looks like something most people could create in their garages.
“Chicken” doesn’t really add anything new to the paradigm of satirical shows already flooding cable. Its choice to parody old TV shows rather than current events leads it to territory that has already been explored countless times. But as long as viewers can sit back and forget the fact that “Chicken” is just an end result of decades of earlier original parody, the show can be enjoyed.
Show: 3 out of 5 stars
Special Features: 4 out of 5 stars