The last time we saw the Aqua Teens, Master Shake & Co. were revealed as the on-page scribblings of a real-life, flesh-and-blood, and totally pathetic wannabe screenwriter “Don” Shake (comedian and show regular H. Jon Benjamin). Indeed a pathetic man, his posture was slack, his personality strangely muted (implying the animated Master Shake be read as a creative release of pent-up aggression) and his odd physical attire (white shirt, purple hat, and yellow gloves) in bizarre visual accordance with the familiar, animated Shake. Suggesting a single panel in what might otherwise be a Lynchian hall of mirrors, this clichéd-in-theory expansion into live action wasn’t so momentous as it was just another way of fucking with viewers’ heads. In this ever-weirder “real” reality, Don is the nonpaying tenant of a yellow-hat, red-jacket-sporting Frylock (T-Pain), who threatens to kick him out on a regular basis, rubbing it in his face that his writing sucks, and he sucks; Meatwad appears in spirit only, in the form of a temptation-laden exercise ball (no further comment).
Doubts about the show’s longevity notwithstanding, it wasn’t as if anyone took the episode’s cheeky name “Last Last One Forever and Ever” with any seriousness, though the strangely revelatory clashing of the show’s familiarly bizarre animated and newfound live-action worlds helped to suggest that creators Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis know the end might be near, a foresight that seems implied in this now-airing seventh season to savory effect. It isn’t enough to merely go down the rabbit hole anymore, and like Willem Dafoe’s besieged earthen fortress in Antichrist, there’s bound to be the occasional bit of burrowing that leads not to discovery, but a caving-in dead end, something that happened to the show with almost fretful regularity starting around this time last season.
Fortunately, so far the bumps seem to have been smoothed out. This new crop (four episodes being considered here: “A PE Christmas,” “Rabbot Redux,” “Rubberman,” and “Eggball”) is creatively diverse and qualitatively consistent, occasionally ranking among some of the show’s best material and most narratively inventive—such invention being a quality difficult to maintain given the show’s perpetual flying-apart-at-the-seams storytelling methods. The first is their hilarious anti-classic holiday special, in which Master Shake, having rooted around Chuck D’s dumpster long enough to tape together some complete paperwork, assumes Flavor Flav’s identity and attempts to record a Public Enemy Christmas album (“Bring Tha Toyz”) in time to cash in on the holiday. Like myself commencing research on a sixth-grade science project on the eve of due completion, this all takes place on Christmas Eve, following a hilarious church service in which Shake plots the theft of the collection plate and Meatwad confuses the sacred and secular (“Santa Claus did not die for our sins!”). You’ll never think of eels the same way again. Or guys in jail cells, for that matter.
Coming off of “A PE Christmas,” few episodes wouldn’t count as a sophomore slump, so no offense “Rabbot Redux.” This episode delights in literally revisiting the past, from the title to the reiteration of numerous sight gags and quotes from earlier episodes, at once embodying and mocking the concept of the reboot. Resuming the final shot of “The Last One Forever…,” this one relocates the Aqua Teens’ place of residence, to little substantial or lasting effect. Notably in this episode is the definite emergence of a smarter Meatwad, who, based on knowledge of toilets alone, seems to occupy a higher realm of thought than Shake, perhaps suggesting that meat by nature evolves, versus drinking utensils (this represents a role reversal, since Shake was formerly the somewhat-competent of the two).
Classic roles notwithstanding, the personality types of the main trio have, of late, revealed themselves as gradually dynamic, suggesting a genuine (if muted) passage of time in the show’s universe. Such hasn’t been entirely beneficial: Frylock, less optimistic now, simply is not funny without a moral compass (which was totally absent in the single worst episode, last season’s “Fry Legs”). At least, as indicated by the hot dance sequence that caps this modest but cheeky ditty of an episode, he still knows how to have a good time.
By all normal standards (which is to say, Aqua Teen non-friendly yardsticks of approval), “Rubberman” is not a good time. But in a perverse, almost Lynchian-sick tone of anti-mass appeal, it is—if you like that sort of thing (basically, if you think Eraserhead would be appropriate fodder for a first date). Case in point: The titular character is a duck-shaped mass of used condoms complete with a crack-pipe nose, beer-bottle feet, and fingers made out of drug needles. There’s singing too, and the hacking off of human limbs. When you’re not laughing nervously, you’ll be cradling the pieces of your broken psyche, which here at Slant can only be a good thing.
If any of the plot descriptions I’ve provided above bring to mind, say, the out-of-leftfield randomness of any given Family Guy episode, creators Maiellaro and Willis surely seem as cognizant of the commonalities as anyone else. Whether “Eggball” is meant to beat on Family Guy or merely draw parallels in style between the two (I say the latter), it surely one-ups the FOX mainstay on sheer regular-basis value. The connection is here made deliberate by Shake, who begins the episode with a late-night game of pinball on his very own Shake-themed machine, complete with villains galore and ill-placed Shake quotes (“I should not have to walk so a child may live!”). Justification? “The family guy has one, why not me?” Without sufficient logical explanation, it turns out that Shake doesn’t use actual pinballs, but the hard, reflective silver eggs of a rare, dick-shaped, jet ski-riding flightless bird located on the uncharted Death Island, the birds a species ruled by the King Kong-sized baby Rudy and by Shake’s never-sold self-help book, which the birds found in a dumpster.
The episode’s wonderfully askew climax—a tangential cutaway in which three of the birds sputter inanities guided in large part by Shake’s literary influence (suggesting, among other things, the horror of a universe rendered with unintelligent design)—can’t help but invite comparisons to one of the show’s absolute masterpieces, season two’s “Broodwich,” the ne plus ultra of the show’s prolonged non sequiturs. Thinking about the glory days indeed casts a shadow over current affairs, but no benefit of the doubt is needed in relishing these current outings. For now, it’s clear that the creative forces behind Aqua Teen are still on top of their game. Checkmate, Macfarlane.