Jumping the Soapbox: Top 20 Episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force – Part 1 (20-11)

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Aqua Teen Hunger Force and all the images you see in this editorial are the property of Adult Swim

If you were growing up right at the turn of the millennium, Cartoon Network was probably as influential to you and your taste in entertainment as YouTube is to everyone else nowadays.  The ingenious thing about that network is how seamlessly it managed to keep its audience intact for YEARS after you’d think they’d drop off simply for having such good transitional programming for those who were getting older.  It started with Toonami which brought anime and somewhat serious drama for those who were getting tired of silly stuff that the likes of Gendy Tartakovsky, Craig McCracken, and Maxwell Atoms were churning out (not to say those shows weren’t substantive; just that tweens aren’t exactly looking to those kind of shows to feel grown up), and then it led seamlessly to Adult Swim which had the naughty shows on that you craved when you were getting old enough to stay up that late.  The greatness of Adult Swim and its monumental effect on animation really cannot be underestimated, and while it’s shine has faded somewhat in recent years, we’re gonna reach a point where it’ll end up with a whole generation of animators inspired by those shows the same way that many of the creators OF those shows were inspired by Warner Bros, the Fleischers, or even Ralph Bakshi.  I really could go on about Adult Swim and so many of its shows, but today  we’re talking about probably its most enduring creatin; Aqua Teen Hunger Force.  Now sure it wasn’t among the FIRST run of series for Adult Swim (it’s somewhat a spinoff of Space Ghost Coast to Coast), it’s one of the shows that gave the programming block its identity and made it a cultural phenomenon.  In fact, it’s such a massive series with so many great episodes under its belt that I couldn’t simply make a list of the ten best episodes of the series!  No, I had to do TWENTY, and we’re gonna start with the first half that list right now!!

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20) Bible Fruit – S5 E9

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Frylock makes some new friends online and invites them over to the Aqua Teen house.  When they arrive however, he is surprised to learn that not only are they fruits but  that they have a dark past that they are trying (and failing) to overcome.

What better way to start this off than with the most disturbing fruit since those Claymation California Raisins?  In an episode that’s actually quite ahead of its time considering Sausage Party wouldn’t come out for another eight years, this hilarious and often unsettling episode looks at three fruits compensating for their problems with drugs and alcohol by having faith in a higher power.  Now the big guest star here is David Cross (along with Kristen Schaal and H Jon Benjamin) under the pseudonym Sir Willups Brightsly Moore who previously had a guest spot all the way back in season one as Happy Time Harry in the episode Dumber Dolls.  While that episode is really good and was just barely cut from this list, I feel that Cross’s performance as Bert Banana in this one is by far the better of the two.  He may have done a great job as that sad and useless piece of shit Happy Time Harry in Dumber Dolls, but the character didn’t have much depth to him and so Cross’s performance is somewhat one note.  Here, he’s given SO much more material to work with as someone TRYING to hold it together but is quick to succumb to his worst instincts.  Now I’m not sure if Cross himself has a history of alcohol dependence (his first book is called I Drink for a Reason which may just be titled that way for a goof), but his feelings on religion have been made VERY clear in his standup comedy and it almost feels like the role was written with him in mind because of that.  It may not be for everyone as making light of people with SERIOUS addition is not the kind of humor that everyone can enjoy, but it’s easily one of the best episodes with a prominent guest star and manages to find that right balance between tragedy and hilarity.

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“I did THREE of those God Damn chipmunk movies!  I’VE EARNED THIS, right Mr. Wrench!?”     “That’s right Mr. Banana!!”     “Burt, you’re talking to yourself again.”     “You know what will help with that?”     “Is it booze-”     “GET THE BOOZE!!”

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19) Bart Oates – S54 E10

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Carl wakes up to find that his car was stolen by Master Shake but also that legendary football player Bart Oates (voiced by the man himself) seems to be haunting him for the expressed purpose of showing Carl the error of his ways… or is he?

I’m gonna make a few controversial statements in this piece, and the first big one is that The Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past just doesn’t really do it for me.  Sure it’s a cute gag and I like him in episodes like The Last One as well as his sizable role in the movie, but it really doesn’t take long for them to wear out their welcome.  This episode right here though is that kind of premise (Carl gets an unwanted visitor) but done perfectly.  Similar Carl focused episodes like The Clowning and Larry Miller Hair System are definitely strong contenders in that category as well, but this one has the benefit of being ABOUT Carl himself instead of just him dealing with whatever wackiness is going on around him.  His unexpected guest isn’t there just to give him a hard time; he’s there to help Carl reflect on the terrible decisions that he’s made throughout his life, and while it ends with… shall we say MIXED results for Carl, it’s probably the closest the show ever came to humanizing him.  Yes, the season three episode simply titled Carl was all about him and did provide some insights by simply observing this sad and pathetic man coast through life with unresolved feelings of emptiness and regret, but that one tended to drag a bit and took a little too long to hammer home its points while this episode doesn’t dawdle and keeps the jokes coming; making it one of the best uses of Carl in the entire series.

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“Don’t you feel anything for what you’ve done?”     “Yeah!  RAGE!  This jerk wad ruined my paint job AND cracked my windshield!”

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18) Antenna – S4 E12

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Master Shake’s television isn’t working and the most likely suspect is a suspicious looking antenna that was recently built over Carl’s house.  No one seems to know what’s at the top of the antenna but Frylock is determined to find out, though he may not be prepared for what he discovers.

This one actually took a bit of time for me to warm up to, but once it started to click for me it became one of my favorites of the series.  Some of the best episodes of the series are the ones that go with big and sometimes haunting concepts that slowly unfold and reveal themselves as the episode goes along, and while this is far from the strongest of those, it’s charm is unmistakable and the antenna itself is a rather interesting conceit.  Not only that, but it has probably one of the darkest endings the show has ever done which certainly gives it a few points in my book.  George Lowe may drag a bit as his shtick goes on a little too long and the ultimate bag guys of the story aren’t particularly fleshed out, but if you give it a chance it might grow on you the same way it did for me!

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“ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?”

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17) Bad Replicant – S1 E15

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After their initial attempt to conquer Earth failed, the Plutonians return with a slightly better plan of replacing Master Shake with a perfect clone in some convoluted de-terraforming scheme.  I’m still not sure to what end, but at least this episode has lasers!

Oh, is it time for me to make another one of those controversial statements?  Ahem.  The Plutonians are MUCH funnier than The Mooninites!  Now look, I LOVE The Mooninites as characters (they’ll definitely be showing up on this list later), but for my money Emory and Oglethorpe had much more interesting stories to work with and their comedic timing was always impeccable.  While the Mooninites could sometimes come off a bit low key, the Plutonians were always over the top and hatching ridiculous plans seemingly out of boredom.  The only real weak point of the episode is the titular Bad Replicant as he doesn’t have much of a story and then abruplty leaves it without much fanfare, but the Plutonians are consistently funny as is the continued frustration they have dealing with the real Master Shake for any extended period of time.  It may not be the BEST of the Plutonian episodes as they will show up again later on this list, but it’s still an absolute delight to watch their incompetent schemes fall apart; especially considering how the episode ultimately ends.

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“WE DON’T EVEN HAVE INSURANCE!!”

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16) Mooninites 3: Remooned – S3 E3

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Ignignokt and Err, bored and looking for something to do, steal what seems to be a disability check from Ignignokt’s uncle Cliff and they travel to Earth to find a way to cash it.  With the help of Master Shake, they try to berate a local convenience store clerk who’s being rather difficult about cashing said check and have to come up with more and more duplicitous means of persuading them to do so.

See?  We follow up  Plutonian episode with a Mooninite one, so don’t get on my ass about it!  The first two Mooninite episodes are fine, but it isn’t until Remooned that I really feel they started living up to their potential as a combination of threatening thugs and pathetic losers.  There are many fantastic bits in here from Master Shake’s plan to cook Meatwad in a microwave, the first person view of the convenience store clerk as Master Shake shouts obscenities at him, and we even get to see what Carl would look like without his hair and mustache!  In particular the relationship between Ignignokt and Err is further solidified as the two are given chances to have scenes of their own; particularly the off screen robbing of the convenience store by Err which is hilariously grim as he’s presumably murdering someone while everyone else is dicking around outside. All good stuff from the SECOND best set of aliens in the show!

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“If anyone asks, our names are Reginald J Palmerton and Q*bert.  We from Atlanta and if you say otherwise, I WILL TEAR YOUR FACES OFF!!”

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15) Ezekial – S4 E11

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Out of the blue, a little milkshake winds up at the Aqua Teen’s front door to everyone’s surprise; particularly because Master Shake doesn’t even have reproductive organs.  Despite this, the trio take him in as one of their own (more so Frylock and Meatwad than Master Shake) and try to find what he’s good at in the hopes of someday exploiting that talent for money.

Master Shake is such an asshole.  If he wasn’t completely incompetent, he’d damn well be one of television’s greatest monsters; right up there with Walter White, Mister Burns, the gang from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and The Mayor from Tom Goes to the Mayor.  Few episodes exemplify his straight up sociopathic narcissism like this one where he faces the prospect of raising a son with nothing but scorn and attempted murder.  Said son by the way is name Ezekial (hence the title) and is voiced by Patton Oswalt doing a very juvenile yet somewhat endearing performance which is much better than his other appearance as the frat aliens (an episode that won’t be showing up on this list).  Unlike with Bible Fruit though, the episode isn’t overshadowed by the guest performance (however good Patton Oswalt is in this role) as the focus never really leaves Master Shake who is having a REALLY hard time coping with any of this and it’s all darkly funny in that twisted way Aqua Teen Hunger Force is known for.  I guess the explanation of where Ezekel came from at the end is kind of a cop out, but that’s hardly unique to this episode as most of them end rather abruptly, and it’s hardly enough of an issue to have an impact on just how great this episode is.

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“I would not catch a bullet for you.  Rather, I would INTENTIONALLY get myself shot if it meant that you would in turn get shot in the face.  That is how much I hate you.”

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14) Super Trivia – S2 E9

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The Aqua Teens have started a weekly tradition of going to a nearby bar for Trivia Night, but are always running short of the trivia hotshot Wayne the Brain McClain; a fact that does not sit very well with Frylock.  In a desperate attempt to secure victory and win fifty bar dollars, Frylock scientifically infuses Master Shake with all the world’s knowledge (along with enlisting Carl for his expertise on sports trivia), but will it be enough to secure victory over Wayne the Brain McClain?

This is a fantastic example of one of the things Aqua Teen can do when it’s firing on all cylinders, and that’s to add utter absurdity to something rather mundane.  It’s not enough that they’re trying to win at bar trivia; they have to beat a guy with a brain the size of a weather balloon (voiced by Seth MacFarlane)  by way of force feeding facts to Master Shake in a manner similar to A Clockwork Orange.  And yet, despite how goofy everything gets, the situation is still very relatable with Frylock’s frustration at Wayne’s smarty-pants trivia skills can be easily translated to anyone else in a similar situation (Bob’s Burgers did an episode along the same lines only without the guy in a Hawaiian shirt that has a giant cranium).  The ending as well is perfect and wraps this story up in a satisfying (yet still ludicrous) final revelation that at the very least should let Frylock sleep better at night.

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“So… you were cheating this whole time?”     “IT’S NOT CHEATING WHEN YOU’RE AS SMART AS WAYNE!!”

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13) The – S2 E22

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After Master Shake’s latest scheme which makes absolutely no sense, Frylock has had enough and is moving out of the house; leaving Shake and Meatwad to fend for themselves without him there to cover for their screw ups.  However, Frylock soon learns that living by himself has its own difficulties and he still seems drawn to at least check in on the two of them every once in a while; finding them in even greater states of chaos and debauchery the longer he’s away from them.  Will he find a reason to come back and save them from themselves once again?

It’s a pretty standard premise for any sort of sitcom, and while there are plenty of great examples of that kind of story (any number of Simpsons episodes, The House That Dick built from Third Rock from the Sun), they can be a bit shticky and often rely on gendered stereotypes, i.e. the men will destroy the house if the mother/wife/girlfriend isn’t around to clean after them.  This episode, while covering a lot of the same ground, does feel distinct enough from other incarnations of it that I think it’s one of the better examples out there.  True, the show is very much a sausage fest which is a problem that runs throughout the entire series, but they do what they do best which is to take something to the utmost absurd extreme and the destruction that Master Shake causes during Frylock’s absence is quite a sight to behold.  The best part though is the ending as almost every example of this kind of story ends with the person who left coming back into the house despite no real change in the characters’ dynamics.  Here, Frylock realizes how much they’ve been holding him back and figures he has a better shot dealing with the problems of living alone than focusing all his energy on someone like Master Shake which is pretty refreshing.  Even if we know he’ll be back in the next episode, simply acknowledging how predictable these episodes tend to go was a very nice touch and really pushes this episode into being one of the best in the series.  The only problem I have with it though is that Frylock leaves Meatwad with Master Shake.  Now I understand why they did that as he works as a fantastic foil for both Master Shake’s degeneracy and Frylock’s instincts to be a caregiver whenever he visits which means he needs to be in the middle of all this, but Frylock really should have taken him out of that house when he left.  The show actually kind of acknowledges this in a season eight episode called Allen where (through much more convoluted means) both Frylock and Meatwad leave Master Shake to his own devices and they even move into the same apartment Frylock did in this episode.

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Intentional call back, or cost effective background recycling?  You decide!!

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12) T-Shirt of the Living Dead – S3 E11

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Master Shake steals a magic T-Shirt from an Egyptian exhibit that will allow him to know all and do all… or at least that’s what he THINKS it does.  Unfortunately he doesn’t get a chance to test it as it ends up shrinking in the washing machine which means that Meatwad is the only one who can fit in the super shirt and claim its magnificent cosmic powers!

What makes this one such a great episode is just how many weird places it ends up going and how much room they to work with in regards to the premise, while at the same time creating a grounded enough narrative out of such an ambitious idea.  You buy that not only does Meatwad have the power to do anything, but that he’s unambitious enough to not use it for great evil like Master Shake or even Carl would; rather his needs are much simpler… to an extent.  Even so, it’s still a cautionary tale of sorts as Meatwad’s relatively simple desires still end up causing great harm to Santa Claus of all people which causes this episode to take a massive left turn at the very end that manages to not feel all that jarring.  At the very least, it’s a damn fine Christmas Special to add to your yearly rotation!

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“Kill… Me…”     “Oh come on Santa!  We can do better than that on Christmas Eve!”

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11) Super Squatter – S2 E8

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Master Shake promises to pay their bills this month which of course he ends up welching on and the Aqua Teens are forced to sit in the dark without electricity or cable until Master Shake finally takes responsivity for their situation.  Instead, he goes to Carl’s house to watch TV.

Sometimes it’s the simplest of stories that have the biggest impact, and that’s certainly the case here as the writers manage to dig a gold mine of comedy out of such a simple premise.  Really, all you need for a successful Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode is for Master Shake to be a bastard and for everyone else to suffer around him which this episode is pretty much the archetypical example of; from Frylock and Meatwad who have to live without the basic necessities due to his negligence, to his neighbor Carl who accidently shot himself and needs medical attention but isn’t getting it due to Master Shake’s insistence that they watch another bass fishing show.  There was a tendency in later season episodes of Master Shake being an irresponsible asshole like Laser Lens, Bookie, and Muscles to have Master Shake pay dearly for his misdeeds, which is something that this episode avoids and is frankly much better for it.  Maybe it had more to do with those episodes not being quite on par with earlier stuff, but the way they drew his comeuppance out really put a damper on the ending of those which would have benefited from something a lot snappier like the ending here.  We know that Master Shake gets what’s coming to him more often than not, so we don’t have to see it every time he’s a jerk; especially when it softens the ending of an otherwise solid episode.  And… you know.  It’s just Carl who gets it the worst in most of these episodes.

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“Just sit back, relax, and wait for the sweet embrace of death so I can start pulling some Weekend at Bernie’s shit over here.”

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And that will do it for part one of this list!  What episodes will end up in the top ten?  To find out, stay tuned for Part 2!!

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