Wednesday, February 13, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (02/13/2013): Bravest Warriors, Archer, Bob's Burgers, Robot Chicken and American Dad

Bob and the kids decide to spend the day pranking rival burger restaurants by pretending to be health inspectors or poisoning the peanuts at Five Guys.
"If business wasn't so awful lately, I'd take us to the plastic surgeon and get ourselves chins."
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated shows. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

I loved Cheryl/Carol's blink-and-you'll-miss-hearing-it Blade Runner reference on Archer a couple of weeks ago, and now, another animated series references the 1982 cyberpunk classic in equally amusing ways. "Cereal Master," the latest webisode of Bravest Warriors, the Pendleton Ward-created sci-fi comedy series on Frederator Studios' Cartoon Hangover YouTube channel, spoofs the film's "A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies!" blimp ad.

I can already think of something that can fix Mars' overpopulation problem: soylent green, yo.

Also, the webisode takes place mostly at a gorgeously lit Martian cereal bar, which webisode writer/director Breehn Burns based on the noodle bar where Edward James Olmos memorably told Harrison Ford, "Lófaszt, nehogy már. Te vagy a Blade... Blade Runner." (Basically, he said, "Bullshit, Deckard. Now here's where I awkwardly insert the film's title into our conversation. You're the Blade... Blade Runner.")

Whatever happened to cereal bars anyway? I thought they were going to be the next big thing. In whatever century Bravest Warriors takes place in, cereal bars are found in more than just college cafeterias, animation studio cafeterias, fancy New York hotels or markets like Fresno and are apparently as commonplace as sushi bars. At the cereal bar in "Cereal Master," customers get to enjoy cereals from all over the universe, like a rare bowl of "Moon-Frosted Double Dolphin Smacks," which Bravest Warriors leader Chris (Alex Walsh) wants to surprise Beth (Liliana Mumy), the fellow Warrior he's been smitten with since childhood, with on the 10th "Jinx-iversary" of the first time Beth beat Chris at a game of Jinx. According to the Martian rules of Jinx, Chris isn't allowed to speak until he gets Beth whatever she wants, and 10 years ago, that something was a bowl of those Smacks. I take it that Beth's favorite cereal is the Fruit Brute of Bravest Warriors' future.

Chris requests to the Cereal Master (Maria Bamford) that she slip into his order some "seahorse dreams," an ingredient that the alien chef says she doesn't include in Smacks anymore and is literally a cloud full of G-rated sex dreams a male seahorse is having while asleep in a bottle (the seahorse is pining for a girl seahorse who, in his fantasies, can't get enough of his "brood pouch," much like how Chris pines for Beth). The Cereal Master is, of course, like the Soup Nazi and the Tony Shalhoub chef character from Big Night before her, a tortured artist. But instead of taking umbrage at Chris' insistence that Beth's cereal should come with seahorse dreams like how the Soup Nazi or the Shalhoub character would react if a customer tried to interfere with their culinary work of art, the Cereal Master weeps and assumes that her cooking has become substandard.

I wonder if the bar's menu includes the Travis Bickle Special: pieces of bread in a bowl of peach schnapps.
While the Cereal Master is looking away and too busy crying over her daddy issues, Chris, without completely realizing it, uses telekinesis to fine-tune his order. It's one of the powers he'll someday hone when he becomes a Jedi-like being known as an Emotion Lord, a callback to earlier webisodes where the Warriors were visited by Chris' future Emotion Lord self, who's voiced by Burns. (Why haven't those encounters between the two Chrises caused paradoxes like in the last Bravest Warriors episode, which was all about the danger of paradoxes? Are the Emotion Lords such powerful time-travelling beings that they're immune to the destructive effects of paradoxes?) Chris telekinetically opens the chef's bottle of seahorse dreams (which is perched on her shelf even though she doesn't use it anymore) and gets the bottle to pour its contents into Beth's cereal. The Cereal Master notices what Chris did and freaks out, and a chase through different Quantum Doorgate portals (haphazardly activated by an asleep Wallow) ensues.

If you think the 11-minute length of each Adventure Time short isn't enough time to be spent in a fully realized universe like the Land of Ooo, then the five minutes that Bravest Warriors has chosen for its webisode length can be frustrating. Due to those five minutes, this show rushes through its stories even more so than Adventure Time sometimes does, and in "Cereal Master," the solution Chris comes up with to pacify the chef is glossed over so quickly I immediately forgot how he got her to stop chasing him and I had to rewatch the chase the next day to jog my memory.

Walruses aren't usually lit this lovingly.
Despite the show's pacing issues, the Bravest Warriors universe looks to be as interesting and rich as Adventure Time's, and I'm eager to see more material about the Warriors' connections to the Emotion Lords. Elderly Chris' mentorship of his teen self reminds me of the Crewman Daniels nonsense from Enterprise, except it doesn't cause me to change the channel. On the comedic side, Bravest Warriors has fun with running gags like the uglification of Beth, which "Cereal Master" revisits with a goofy variation on the joke from "Gas Powered Stick" that Chris loves her no matter how janky she may look. This time, the show briefly imagines Beth as a walrus. Sometimes, a bowl of Moon-Frosted Double Dolphin Smacks with seahorse dreams is worth going through hell for just to put a smile on the puffy face of your walrus.


This is like every road movie you've ever seen, except Midnight Run and The In-Laws didn't sic cross-dressing redneck truckers on their heroes.
"Midnight Ron" may not be the cleverest Archer installment, and the show's terrific ensemble of ISIS characters outside of Archer and Malory may have a lot less screen time in this story, but the episode proves that the hiring of Ron Leibman as Archer's car dealership magnate stepdad is as great a casting move as last season's hiring of Burt Reynolds, Archer's favorite movie star, as himself. The veteran character actor (and husband of Archer regular Jessica Walter) excels at playing live wires, whether they're ornery and excitable like the D.A. in Night Falls on Manhattan or laid-back and a little less spry like Ron Cadillac, née Ron Kazinsky ("C'mon, run like you're younger!," barks Archer to Ron during a chase scene).

Archer and Ron are forced to rely on each other to fend off both gangsters and cross-dressing redneck truckers and find their way back from Montreal to Manhattan. During the course of their road movie-style hijinks, Ron unveils his backstory to Archer, and of course, he turns out to have been mob-connected. But instead of a reference to The Hot Rock like I had hoped, "Midnight Ron" does a brief riff on Once Upon a Time in America, which Leibman didn't star in, though it's nice to see that particular Sergio Leone movie get referenced instead of the same two Leone movies that always get referenced (Leone wasn't just Eastwood westerns, y'all).

I hope that Mac comes with some floppies of Microzine from Scholastic because Microzine fucking rocked.
"Midnight Ron" also highlights something I love about Archer: the incongruity of referencing Master P (or The Human Centipede) in a universe where the ISIS employees rock mid-'60s hairdos, mid-'80s Mac XLs are their office computers and the Cold War still rages on. (Archer creator Adam Reed once described the show's universe as "sort of intentionally ill-defined.") I get a kick out of every time Archer brings up the No Limit rapper/entrepreneur in this episode because he's such an unlikely artist for a '60s Bond-style spy to be aware of (like when Ron finds out from Archer that Malory thinks he's a boring husband, and Archer says, "Well, not after you tell her you stole a Sherman tank, Master P"). Secret agents may not be Beatles fans, but they love them some N'awlins rap.


One of my favorite Bob's Burgers episodes is "Bob Day Afternoon," mostly because of the scenes where anarchic Louise drives Sergeant Bosco (Gary Cole), a crisis negotiator, insane. Bosco returns in the show's Valentine's episode, "My Fuzzy Valentine," and the divorced, world-weary cop's pragmatism about relationships clashes with Linda's rose-colored outlook on them when she persuades him to take part in an impromptu afternoon of speed-dating at the restaurant while he waits to track down a jewelry store thief. The sergeant believes the lack of honesty in relationships is why they go sour, so he suggests that everyone in the restaurant should just reveal the worst tidbits about themselves, which results in a couple of those rapid-fire exchanges between three or more characters that Bob's Burgers excels at (my favorite of these deep, dark confessions is Teddy's "I dress up as Santa every night. It's the only way I can go to sleep!").

Bosco does raise a good point about honesty because Linda's inability (or Linability?) to be honest to Bob about her boredom with his lame Valentine's gifts (they're all heart-shaped burger patties or heart-shaped laundry piles) results in her receiving the same lame gifts every Valentine's. The kids notice her boredom and spur their dad to go out looking for a much better Valentine's gift (while also talking him into allowing them to spend the rainy day away from school, and this awesome move by the kids and Bob's decision to let them play hooky both distinguish Bob's Burgers from the annoyingly high-minded and upright '70s and '80s family sitcoms that weren't It's Your Move or Married... With Children).

Bob decides he'll give his wife the love-tester machine they had fun with on their first date ("Yeah, she'd totally marry you if you did that!," says Gene), and Bob and the kids' search for the elusive machine all over town gives us the opportunity to see more of this mysterious, unnamed seaside town that's like a cross between San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Coney Island. Even though it doesn't have a name, the town itself is my favorite character on Bob's Burgers (after the Belchers, Teddy and maybe the Silverman sister-voiced Pesto twin brothers). Seeing more of it is always welcome, especially because it lets the writers come up with amusing business names like Falafel on a Waffle.

Hopefully, the satisfying "My Fuzzy Valentine" will start a tradition of annual Valentine's episodes for Bob's Burgers, even though, like Bosco, I don't really care for VD. The mix of affecting-without-being-sappy storylines with randy one-liners like "Clean up, aisle my panties..." is as potent as many of the tantalizing Burgers of the Day Bob lists on his chalkboard, like this week's burger.

(Photo source: Bob's Burger of the Day)
Other memorable quotes:
* Gene receives one of his dad's misshapen attempts at a heart-shaped pancake: "Mine looks like a mustache. Pancake rides, five cents!"

* "Buckle it up, buckle it up/Buckle it up or you'll die!"

* Gene to Bob: "You're the worst storyteller! Where's Maya Angelou when you need him?"

* Gretchen (male actor uncredited and unknown) confesses that she faked a bomb threat at a hotel where Mark Harmon was staying: "I wanted to see him evacuate. And then I stalked him for a year and hit his wife with my car." Wow, she must be the only person in the world who hates Pam Dawber.


Seth Green is either psychic or just very good at planning things about half a year in advance. Every other sketch during "Choked on a Bottle Cap," the latest Robot Chicken installment, involves bedroom humor, and the episode's parody of the box-office flop Battleship focuses on Battleship star Rihanna's baffling reconciliation with Chris Brown, so both those elements made this the perfect episode to air on the Sunday before Valentine's Day, which also happened to be the night of this year's Grammys, where Rihanna was seen arm-in-arm with R&B's reigning king of dickishness. (As Seth Rogen joked at last year's Spirit Awards in response to Brown's inexplicable big night at the 2012 Grammys, "At the Grammys, you can literally beat the shit out of a nominee and be asked to perform twice.")

Officer Rihanna suggests to her captain that the ship should protect itself with a giant umbrella, ella, ella-ay.
Robot Chicken kicks off its Valentine's episode by gleefully ruining the biggest-grossing chick flick of all time, Titanic, and showing what happens to Jack underwater after Rose lets go. An octopus pulls Jack's corpse apart, while a dolphin humps his remains. The humping continues in "Battlehump," which pits the officers from Battleship against the Humping Robot, one of Robot Chicken's few original characters. The best part of "Choked on a Bottle Cap" pokes fun at Rihanna's inexplicable presence as an officer in Battleship and her off-stage antics with the evil asshole who used to beat her (to stop the Humping Robot, a scientist suggests, "We need counterintuitive thinking, and Rihanna has some of the worst judgment of all time!").

The other highlights of "Choked on a Bottle Cap" involve Robot Chicken doing what it does best: unleashing the R-rated sides of cartoons we grew up on, whether it's ThunderCats leader Lion-O (special guest voice actor Seth MacFarlane) using the Sword of Omens to peep into Cheetara's bedroom while she's in heat or the dad from the Family Circus comic strip attributing his wife's orgasms to a certain other Family Circus character ("Well, it was definitely NOT ME!"). But taking the details of a movie nobody saw and somehow making them funny even though we didn't see that movie are perhaps a slightly more impressive feat. All that's missing from the Battleship spoof is a joke about Taylor Kitsch Chris Brown-ing the hell out of his movie career.


Armed with a pair of big-ass fake eyebrows, Roger begins his campaign to get the new Dallas to hire him to replace the deceased Larry Hagman as J.R.
American Dad proves once again in "Max Jets" why it's the Parents Television Council's favorite animated series, with scenes like Steve Smith prodding his mom Francine to make out with a gold-digging waitress she hates ("Kiss her, mommy, kiss her. Yeaaaah...") and each of the Smiths attempting to murder wealthy old Max Jets--actually Roger the alien con artist in one of his gazillion disguises--to get dibs on his riches (and nearly killing themselves or each other in the process). Anything that would appall the PTC gets high marks from me.

But there's more to American Dad than just shock value. The show is also the weirdest and least hacky of the cartoons produced by Fuzzy Door, because of clever stories like "Rapture's Delight," a Christmas episode that transforms into a post-apocalyptic action flick that ends on the possibility that the rest of the series' run is actually set in a post-apocalyptic reality, and last month's gory "Finger Lenten Good," the show's idea of a heartwarming Lenten story (and an episode that really should have aired this week instead of "Max Jets"--way to have impeccable timing, Fox!). The weirdness of the Smiths fuels one of the most amusing gags in "Max Jets": the family's sudden amnesia about Roger (and their inability to care about or pick apart what his Max persona did to amass such a fortune) because they're too greedy and distracted by all the gifts Max showered them with. This is why heartless, willing-to-murder Francine is funnier than the moralistic Francine of "The Adventures of Twill Ongenbone and His Boy Jabari," just as how corrupted, soap opera vixen-ish June was always more entertaining (and hotter) than uptight June on former American Dad writer Nahnatchka Khan's short-lived Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 (another PTC favorite).

Not even Auto-Tune will be able to save her fucking awful vocals.
The out-of-left-field guest voice actors in "Max Jets" are Mariah Carey (in a bit part as an unhappy waitress) and Michelle Monaghan from one of my favorite movies, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The latter voices Gina, the aforementioned gold-digger who sets off the Smiths' ire after Roger gets lost in his Max character and begins showering his wealth on her instead of the Smiths. At one point in "Max Jets," Max buys for his fiancée a recording studio, where she records an atrocious, Real Housewives-style single about gold-digging. (Who are the saps who actually buy these wack Real Housewives singles? For some reason, all these songs resemble "Friday" by Rebecca Black, another wanna-be singer who came from wealth.) Monaghan sounds like a non-Southern Honey Boo Boo when we hear her talk-sing the praises of mon-eeeey, but because this season's episodes are said to have been completed more than a year ago, it's unlikely that she modeled her talk-singing after Honey Boo Boo. Her turn as this gold-digger who can barely conceal her disgust with Max (she ralphs every time she kisses him) makes up for the dumb rom-coms she's been involved with since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. She did those rom-coms for the mon-eeeey.


  1. True, Archer's "Midnight Ron" didn't have a reference to The Hot Rock, but it had something even more obscure - a built-in homage to Leibman's 1978 series Kaz. Kaz's title character of Kazinsky was a reformed car thief, though he became a lawyer instead of a used car salesman. That's probably the first time "Kaz" has even been alluded to in another series. Kudos to Adam Reed!

    1. Thanks for pointing that out. I had no idea that Reed named Ron's younger self after Leibman's character from that show (Kaz was before my time). That's awesome.