Robot Chicken: Season 6 [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (17th November 2013).
The Show

The first time a friend introduced me to “Robot Chicken”, I felt a bit like Captain America in that scene in “The Avengers” (2012) where—completely out of his element, after much talk of otherworldly god-aliens from a place called Asgard and technology far beyond his understanding—the recently unfrozen and clueless super-soldier from WWII picks up on the mention of flying monkeys, a nod to “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), and pipes up with a boisterous, “I understood that reference!” while sporting a self-satisfied grin. Up until whatever reference it was I, like Steve, understood, I sat confused—confounded even—by the onslaught of the unknown coming at me. I thought it was all a bit… weird. Then, bingo, I suddenly got it. I don’t remember what weird joke soaked in pop culture finally did it, and made it all just click—but I can recall that I enjoyed the feeling of finally being on the “inside” of the joke as much as (maybe more than) the joke itself.

I don’t really remember where I was going with this… but, making a reference to “The Avengers”, and then kind of petering out at the punch line is exactly the abstract way to start a review of “Robot Chicken”, a show that defies, well, everything. And it's fitting, in a way, because the random reap of my personal history—(I only realize now that I can make the connection to the Cap scene; I couldn’t have at the time my first viewing actually happened, several years before “The Avengers”, back when I think the first “Iron Man” (2008) might have been in theatres)—plays well into the similar, seemingly careless, free-form way the writers work with references in their series.

This long drawn out introduction is really my own way of working through the difficult—nigh, impossible—task of talking about “Robot Chicken”; even a simple question like, “what is it about”, necessitates a complex answer, and one that’s hopelessly incomplete no matter the amount of additional info. How do you explain “Robot Chicken”—the surrealistic stop-motion animated mix of avant-garde absurdity and pop culture parody from the minds of Seth Green and Matthew Senreich—to those who haven’t seen it, or even more likely, haven’t ever even heard of it? In all honesty, it’s probably best you don’t even try. “Chicken” needs to be seen to be believed (I was going to say understood, but that’s being dishonest; even the most pop obsessed, semi-literate soul will still only understand about 70% of what’s going on at any given time).

This is true, I think, of most programs that occupy Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim late-night block, which caters almost exclusively to an audience of insomniacs, stoners, and insomniac stoners. All of the 15-minute microprogramming on CN after Midnight, during Adult Swim, is strange. (Some, like “The Heart She Holler” (2011-present) with Patton Oswalt, a sort of David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” (1990-1991), if everyone working on that show had been doing meth, decidedly stranger than others). Each one of the Adult Swim series is boundary pushing and censor baiting nonsense, filled with vulgarity and, usually, over-the-top violence. Each one is seriously f**ked up, at least some of the time, if not most of it.

Because “Robot Chicken” is so crudely—or artfully made to appear crude—animated with action figures, and CG that’s purposefully made to look like action figured (see the several segments that use LEGO), and has the perceived production value of something a group of savvy high school students could make in their basement (or sociopaths perhaps made in their labyrinthine puzzle-dungeon), and then conned onto the airwaves, in some ways the series seems the most ridiculous of these Adult Swim offerings.

Certainly, some degree of the humor comes from not the jokes, scenarios and skits, but the simple fact that whatever wonderfully weird thing happens on screen is funnier multiple times over because, well... it's being done with claymation and puppets. Another aspect that adds to the raging torrent of total absurdity is the sheer amount of voice talent Green and Senreich are able to secure. Because the skits last seconds to a few minutes at most, and no episode in a season (not counting the occasionally special) is more than 12-ish minutes, actors might spend more time in transit to a recording booth than actually in one. Because it’s barely work to them, “Chicken’s” been able to get pretty much any guest star they want. Season six alone features Patrick Stewart (voicing, among many other things, a Gurney action figure from “Dune” (1984)), Christopher Lloyd (reprising his role of Doctor Emmett L. Brown from “Back to the Future” (1985), in puppet form), and, in the season finale, Joss Whedon, as a zombified (and of course puppetized) version of himself in a lengthy parody of his own “Cabin in the Woods” (2011). In one of the best segments, Zombie Whedon kills other characters while lamenting his cancelled television series—(“now you cut short, like my TV series ‘Firefly’”, he says, and “that short sighted, like FOX execs, when they cancel ‘Dollhouse’”, as he chops the legs off of one Cabiner, and punches a hole through another)—ultimately delivering the line, “f**ck network TV... is the point I was making earlier.” The segment is funny by itself. Funnier when you realize it's actually Joss Whedon saying those things, and not an imitator.

It’s that sort of knowing, insider, playfulness, and mix of petty potty humor and grotesquely gruesome violence colliding with all sorts of vulgar things (mostly, sick and twisted reversals on references to things from the 80's and 90's) in the most unusual ways that make “Robot Chicken” what it is. And it's exactly because of those references—which can be obvious (like the riffs on the recent Marvel movies) or almost painfully obscure (a musical set piece about one of the show’s writers, Mike Fasolo, living in a tree)—that “Chicken” is also, debatably, the most digestible of the crazed concoctions from the collective diseased mind that is the CN Adult Swim think-tank. The series is incredibly silly—stupid even—but has such a frantic ADD-addled pace, and the stupidity almost approaches a sort of savant level sometimes. There’s something intelligent about the surrealistic delivery, and the punnerisms often imbedded in the parody.

Season six includes a number of very funny little fragments. From G.I Joe getting dropped into Afghanistan (where Joe and the gang learn that the “Yo, Joe” logic of the TV series doesn’t work particularly well when fighting modern day terrorist extremists) to tuning in on Wilson the Volleyball, from “Cast Away” (2000), in a scenario where he’s really a murdering psychopath on the run from the cops. There are several riffs on “The Lord of the Rings”, and repeated “Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers” (1989-1990) skits that posit the chipmunks as pervy little nudists. Robert Kirkman stops by to guide recurrent character The Nerd through a parody of "The Walking Dead" (2010-present). Captain Kirk jets around the galaxy informing previous sexual partners—including the Gorn—that he has Stage-3 Space Herpes. Many mini-sodes make reference to the work of Jim Henson; both The Muppets (Miss Piggy in an extreme weight-loss reality TV show, where the other contestants are Mario, Garfield, and Winnie the Pooh) and Sesame Street (where we learn the real reason Oscar is so grouchy is because, as a boy, he watched his father get eaten by a garbage truck, seen in graphic detail). There’s a quick segment with older Toby from “Labyrinth” (1986) working through the trauma of being kidnapped by Jareth the Goblin King (a David Bowie doll, voiced by Maurice LaMarche—who also lends his voice for a throwaway tiff between Pinky and the Brain). There are several plays on Disney Princesses, the funniest of which might be the one where Ariel sings a song about New York and river swill—an ode to sucky sports teams, dead bodies, and discarded needles, all with the gusto of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s greatest melodies actually from “The Little Mermaid” (1989).

The season includes one of my favorite skits ever done on the show. Soured by the cancellation of his latest and least successful television series, the mercifully short-lived and awful "Smash" (2012-2013), Steven Spielberg decides to return to blockbuster filmmaking by completely selling out, by making the ultimate remake of his own work: a “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) and “War Horse” (2011) hybrid, replete with E.T., face-melting Nazis, and the genuine Whoopi Goldberg voicing her character from “The Color Purple” (1985) mowing down soldiers with a machine gun, but not before she says the line “I’m poor, black, and ugly, but I’m here to f**k you up!” (My favorite line: “Look! It’s Tintin, riding a Velociraptor, riding Jaws”, as the Belgian boy-reporter does just that, with the other creatures in tow below).

I’m not going to pretend that “Robot Chicken” is for everyone. Admittedly, some of it still doesn't sit well with me, and I generally like the show. Not every gag goes straight to the funny bone, but it doesn’t matter, because there’s a good chance that five funnier bits will be fired off in quick succession after a dud. Without a structure—episodes are plot-less; a series of self-contained skits—the show jumps around, like someone’s constantly changing the channel, from segment to segment, rarely staying with one sketch for too long. And that’s the brilliance—and I use that word lightly—of “Chicken”. It packs more into 11 and-a-half-minutes (the average runtime of an episode) than a show four times the length. On pure probability alone, part of it is bound to work. And more of it does than probably should. I doubt some of the humor could work in any other format, or any other show.

“Robot Chicken: Season 6” includes the following 20 episodes, completely uncensored and arranged in production order, on a single disc:

- “Executed by the State”
- “Crushed by a Steamroller on My 53rd Birthday”
- “Punctuated Jugular”
- “Poisoned by Relatives”
- “Hurtled From a Helicopter into a Speeding Train”
- “Disemboweled by an Orphan”
- “In Bed Surrounded by Loved Ones”
- “Chocked on Multi-Colored Scarves”
- “Hemlock, Gin and Juice”
- “Collateral Damage in Gang Turf War”
- “Eviscerated Post-Coital by a Six-Foot Mantis”
- “Butchered in Burbank”
- “Robot Chicken’s ATM Christmas Special”
- “Papercut to Aorta”
- “Caffeine-induced Aneurysm”
- “Eaten by Cats”
- “Botched Jewel Heists”
- “Robot Fight Accidents”
- “Chocked on a Bottle Cap”
- “Immortal”

Video

Silly as it may sound, “Robot Chicken” really benefits from Blu-ray—even with its intentionally lo-fi, faux-amateur, made-in-a-basement-for-Public-Access aesthetic. A blend of traditional stop-motion animation (usually using off-the-shelf action figures), claymation, and CGI, and primarily shot with digital SLRs, the series began life back in 2005 as an SD-mastered relic. While it’s still fairly rough ‘round the edges, faithfully keeping with the original low budget look, overall production value has improved, especially since the series moved into the high definition realm (Green and co. made the move to high def with the series’ third “Star Wars” special; season five was the first full season broadcast in HD, and subsequently released on blu-ray). The increased resolution really brings out the textures and detail in the minutiae of the miniatures. Colors pop, and the series is often aglow with bright, cartoonish clarity.

Unfortunately, a number of problems plague season 6, robbing the Blu-ray of a better score, and viewers of a more consistently pleasing presentation. Sporadic close ups are soft, and suffer from chromatic aberration—halos that are probably a side effect of the source, presumably a zoom/lens combination. Also possibly linked to the source, but just as likely a fault in the encode itself, is aliasing, which is much more problematic and frequent offender. Entire segments—the Angry Birds cartoon around the middle of the season, for example—have come out a jagged mess on Blu-ray, and was presumably not intended that way. Other instances of aliasing are rather odd, and seem to only affect a portion of the frame; later in the season, during a sketch in which Doc Brown shows off varying alternatives to his Delorean time machine, including the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile, the Oscar Meyer logo on the side of the big Wienie is an aliased nightmare. But it's only the logo, and noticeable only during movement.

By themselves, many of these issues could perhaps easily be overlooked, and even forgiven; but taken as a whole, with the frequency they appear over the course of the 20-episode season, its a bigger problem. In total, the 20 episodes run about 3 hours and 45 minutes. There's around 2 hours of video-based extras. Every piece of video is encoded on the single disc in 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p high definition, wrapped in a VC-1 container. That’s a little more than five and a half hours—closer to six, factoring in the branching “Chicken Nugget” video commentaries and various Easter Eggs hidden on the disc. To fit everything on a single disc, Warner have obviously had to be rather stingy with bitrate. Although I’m not usually a bitrate watcher, I began to investigate as the various anomalies started piling up. Indeed, episodes consistently sit in the low teens, with dips into the single digits. You’d think, with the relative simplicity of the visuals that a lower bitrate wouldn’t really be a problem, but the random bursts of artifacts, branding, and other issues that crop up with an annoying inconsistent consistency beg to differ. That these artifacts appear in scenes where the the bitrate is maybe 8.5 mbps is not a coincidence.

It’s disappointing that “Robot Chicken: Season 6” wasn’t split over two discs; the single BD-50 is bulging at the seams (or between the dual layers, I suppose), and at least some of the time, the compromised compression is at fault for the problematic picture.

Audio

Surprisingly, although the disc is overloaded content, Warner hasn’t cut corners in the audio department, as they've sometimes been known to do (see: "Friends" on Blu-ray). Rather than mix down to lossy Dolby Digital, they’ve seen fit to give “Robot Chicken” the full lossless treatment, via an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track (48kHz/24-bit). The track is about as erratic as everything else related to the series, with surround use and LFE largely dependent on the sketch. Musical skits and action-oriented asides share equal time over the season with odd, boxy, faux-retro infomercials and other light fare. Each bit is as playful or as dull as intended—which seems, like the visuals, to give in to the amateur, handmade feel (or sound) more often than not. At times, the show is very lo-fi; at others, it can be impressively aggressive. The “Ultimate Spielberg Remake” sketch doesn’t have a soundtrack quite as explosive as the bombastic war films it’s parodying, but it’s certainly no slouch. Of course, intentions or no, budgetary and time constraints hold the series back from reaching the heights of other, more prestigious, animations, which often have the luxury of building meticulously layered mixes from the ground up over many months if not years. “Chicken”… doesn’t. However, dialog is clear and the irritatingly catchy theme music (by Les Claypool, of the band Primus) sounds great. Optional English for the hearing impaired subtitles are also available.

Extras

Green and Senreich know their fan base; specifically that the pop-culture obsessive Comic Con crowd expect value for their money. As such, the home video release of the sixth season of “Robot Chicken” follows the trend set by earlier offerings, with an almost comically exhaustive supplemental package— audio commentaries on every episode, a dozen featurettes, deleted scenes, about an hours worth of abandoned sequences (dubbed "Deleted Animatics"), and more. An Ultraviolet digital copy of the entire season is also included through WB’s Flixter service.

“Robot Chicken: Season 6” includes 20 (often very funny) audio commentaries with the cast and crew. That’s one track for every single episode in the season. Overkill? Yeah, probably. But in an era where bonus features are being abandoned, I welcome such an overzealous slate. Individual commentaries and commentators are as follows:

- Audio commentary on “Executed by the State” by series writers Seth Green, Douglas Goldstein, co-producer Tom Root, actor Skeet Ulrich and director Zeb Wells.
- Audio commentary on “Crushed by a Steamroller on My 53rd Birthday” by series writers Seth Green, Douglas Goldstein, co-producer Tom Root, actor Skeet Ulrich and director Zeb Wells.
- Audio commentary on “Punctuated Jugular” by series writers Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, actors Jim Hanks, Gillian Jacobs, and co-producer Tom Root.
- Audio commentary on “Poisoned by Relatives” by series writers Seth Green, Douglas Goldstein, actor Zachary Levi, Billy Zane, co-producer Tom Root and director Zeb Wells.
- Audio commentary on “Hurtled From a Helicopter into a Speeding Train” by series writers Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, actors Tamara Garfield, Liz Loza, John Moschitta Jr., and co-producer Tom Root.
- Audio commentary on “Disemboweled by an Orphan” by series writers Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, actors Sarah Chalke, Pat Pinney, Cat Taber and co-producer Tom Root.
- Audio commentary on “In Bed Surrounded by Loved Ones” by series writers Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, Rachel Bloom, co-producer Tom Root, actors Fred Tatasciore and Alex Winter.
- Audio commentary on “Chocked on Multi-Colored Scarves” by series writers Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, actors Rachel Macfarlane, Pat Pinney, and co-producer Tom Root.
- Audio commentary on “Hemlock, Gin and Juice” by series writer Seth Green, actors Quinton Flynn, Douglas Goldstein, Laura Ortiz, co-producer Tom Root, and director Zeb Wells.
- Audio commentary on “Collateral Damage in Gang Turf War” by series writers Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, actors Madison Dylan, Douglas Goldstein, Clare Grant and Breckin Meyer.
- Audio commentary on “Eviscerated Post-Coital by a Six-Foot Mantis” by series writers Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, actors Alex Borstein, Christina Laskay, and Fred Tatasciore.
- Audio commentary on “Butchered in Burbank” by series writers Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, Dan Milano, actors Rachel Bloom, Douglas Goldstein and co-producer Tom Root.
- Audio commentary on “Robot Chicken’s ATM Christmas Special” by series writers Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, actors Rachel Bloom, Lucas Grabeel, Michaela Watkins and co-producer Tom Root.
- Audio commentary on “Papercut to Aorta” by series writers Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, Dan Milano, Ben Schwartz and co-producer Tom Root.
- Audio commentary on “Caffeine-induced Aneurysm” by series writer Matthew Senreich, actor Lacey Chabert, Ashley Eckstein, co-producer Tom Root and director Zeb Wells.
- Audio commentary on “Eaten by Cats” by series writers Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, actors Tamara Garfield, Laura Ortiz, David Shaughnessy and co-producer Tom Root.
- Audio commentary on “Botched Jewel Heists” by series writer Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, actors Douglas Goldstein, Sam Kwasman, and Breckin Meyer.
- Audio commentary on “Robot Fight Accidents” by series writer Seth Green, actors Douglas Goldstein, Rob Kazinsky, co-producer Tom Root and creative director Kevin Shinick.
- Audio commentary on “Chocked on a Bottle Cap” by series writer Seth Green, actors Page Kennedy, Katie Von Till and co-producer Tom Root.
- Audio commentary on “Immortal” by series writers Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, actor Bill Farmer, Dreama Walker, co-producer Tom Root and director Zeb Wells.

3 episodes—the season premiere, “Executed by the State”, the midseason “Robot Chicken’s ATM Christmas Special”, and the season finale, “Immortal”—also include optional “Chicken Nuggets” video commentaries. Each “Chicken Nugget” track features branching full screen video comments from series writers Seth Green and Matthew Senreich, unlocked by selecting an intermittent chicken icon in the top right of the screen with your remote control.

“Making of Season 6” featurette (1080p; 10 minutes 8 seconds)—an overview of the sixth season.

“The Wilson Identity: From People to Puppet” featurette (1080p; 1 minute 18 seconds—a comparison of the crew acting out the Wilson sketch with the final animation.

“They Came to Play” featurette (1080p; 5 minutes 35 seconds)—a look at the season’s guest stars.

“Our First Ladies” featurette (1080p; 6 minutes 15 seconds)—the mostly-male writing staff talk about the introduction of female writers this season.

“Kirkman on Kirkman” featurette (1080p; 2 minutes 26 seconds)—“The Walking Dead” creator discusses playing himself in puppet form.

“Outtakes!” featurette (1080p; 3 minutes 53 seconds), is as titled, some outtakes from the series.

“The First Time…” featurette (1080p; 1 minute 43 seconds)— Stanley Tucci, Allison Janney, Rhea Perlman, Dave Foley, and many others talk about working on the series for the first time.

“The Dirt on Seth and Matt” featurette (1080p; 2 minutes 23 seconds)—various guest stars share stories of how they met the series creators.

“The Inside Joke” featurette (1080p; 2 minutes)—otherwise known as the whole show, amirte!? But seriously, this is a look at the Mike Fasolo Musical sketch, which was one big inside joke for the crew. (Fasolo is one of the writers on the show).

“The Benefits of Robot Chicken” featurette (1080p; 3 minutes 31 seconds)—the crew talk about the “fame” (infamy?) that comes from working on the show.

“Who the F*** is Zeb?” featurette (1080p; 6 minutes 14 seconds)—the writers and animators try to explain just who (or perhaps more appropriately, what) the series’ director really is.

“Post-Apocalyptic Future of Holidays” featurette (1080p; 4 minutes 54 seconds)—a look at the making of a Mad Max-ian sketch that appeared late in the season.

“Deleted Channel Flip Animatics” reel (1.78:1 widescreen 1080p; 13 minutes 10 seconds)— essentially, a bunch of unused sketch bumpers, which co-creator/series creator Matthew Senreich astutely introduces as a “long laundry list of crap”.

Matthew Senreich and Seth Green also introduce a shorter series of deleted scenes (1080p; 2 minutes 40 seconds, play all):

- “Airport Thumper”
- “Pac-Man Colonic”
- “Prank Gone Wrong”
- “Fugitive Death”
- “Giraffe Skeleton”

The creators also return to talk about a bunch of abandoned sequences that never made it off the drawing board, dubbed "Deleted Animatics" (1080p; 55 minutes 13 seconds, play all):

- “Inception, Bad Dreams”
- “Ghost Rider, with Lost Boys, Parts 1 & 2”
- “Sweet Valley High”
- “Indiana Jones Misses the Point, Parts 1 & 2”
- “The Tebow Paradox”
- “First Person Croaker”
- “The Spider”
- “The Smurfs Meet President Reagan”
- “The Dogs of Duckberg”
- “Corpse Play”
- “The Ol’ Switcheroo”
- “The First Thing About the North Pole”
- “The First Dream”
- “Jigsaw’s Roomate”
- “ACME CEO Remembered”
- “Miss Susie”
- “Michael Dating Life”
- “How Many Lumps?”
- “Hundred Acre Wood”
- “Whistle While You Survive A Cave In”
- “Wall-E’s Big Score”
- “Batman Joker’s Wild”
- “Made”
- “King’s Quest Movie”
- “True Story of Big Ben”
- “Care Team Six”
- “Willy Wonka’s Crack Legal Team”
- “Dora the Raider”
- “Price Signs Contract”
- “Lego Generation Gap”
- “Don’t’ Bleep with Archie”
- “About Going to College”
- “Oompa Loompa Breakup”
- “Nerd White”
- “Ani-Maniac Depressives”
- “Toon Trauma”
- “Paula Abdul Bangs Cats”

But, wait—THERE’S MORE! Each video release of “Robot Chicken” has had a number of hidden “Easter Egg” extras, and season six is no different. I’ve found 3; there might be more, here's how to find them!:

- “Walkie Talk” (1080p; 1 minute 6 seconds) featurette—to access: with the “play all” option on the main menu highlighted, scroll up, highlight the eye of the face on the static backdrop, and hit enter on your remote to play.
- “Bush Politics” (1080p; 1 minute) featurette—to access: in the Episodes sub menu, scroll up to the top, beyond the commentary on/off tab; highlight the eye of the face on the static backdrop, and hit enter to play.
- “Nerd Off” (1080p; 2 minutes 26 seconds) featurette—to access: in "Featurettes" submenu, scroll to the top and highlight the eye of the face on the static backdrop, and hit enter to play.

Packaging

“Robot Chicken: Season 6” crosses the road to Blu-ray by way of Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. The single disc, BD-50 release is packaged in an Elite eco-case, which is housed in an outer cardboard slip-case. The disc is region free. An Ultraviolet digital copy of the season is also included through Flixter.

Overall

The blurb on the back of the box, which might actually better articulate the tone of the series than I ever could, reads:

“The Chicken returns! The cybernetic fowl from the Adult Swim late-night animated bizarro programming block is back with another full season of Emmy Award-winning stop motion insanity!

Twenty colossal, mega-sized quarter-hour episodes! An avalanche of expertly produced, lovingly crafted extras that were not in any way thrown together at the last minute! All on a spinny disc, read by lasers! LASERS! What, are we in space?

So, to summarize: CHICKEN SPACE LASERS! It’s ‘Robot Chicken: Season 6’, and its in your hands right this second! RIP IT OPEN AND PUT IT IN YOUR BRAIN!”


The sixth season “Robot Chicken” offers more ridiculous, funny, randomness; rapid fire absurdity, which at least some of the time is animated by stop-motion. The Blu-ray release is literally overloaded with content, both bonus and not, and as a result, the HD transfer sometimes suffers from noticeable compression artifacts and other encoding anomalies. Still, the problems with the 1080p video are not egregious enough reason to raise serious concern, and the rest of the package makes up for any at-times artifacts-ridden picture. “Robot Chicken: Season 6” is recommended.

The Show: B+ Video: B- Audio: B Extras: A+ Overall: B

 


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