The Halo franchise is owned by Xbox Game Studios
Today we’ll be taking our first detour into non-official fan works as opposed to licensed material, though Red vs Blue is definitely something that fits in the gray area of which we’ll see more of the further we get into this retrospective. In any case, it’s no surprise that Halo generated a lot of fan made content considering how successful it was at release and how much Microsoft and Bungie pushed it as THE NEXT BIG THING, and Red vs Blue in particular is inalterably tied into the franchise and I’d say is more than a little responsible for having such an enduring presence in the industry. Its place in entertainment history is definitely secured, but does the show itself still hold up to this day? Let’s find out as we look at the first season!!
Red vs Blue and all the images you see in this retrospective are owned by Rooster Teeth
Red vs Blue is a Machinima series (i.e. a narrative show using gameplay footage) created by Rooster Teeth depicting two teams who are fighting for control of a dirt canyon of no particular significance and was created using the Halo games. On Red Team we have the delusional yet slightly competent Sarge, the lazy yet somewhat sensible Griff, the genuinely smart Simmons who’s also a total brown nose for Sarge, and the new recruit Donut who ends up getting pink armor because this was made back when something like that was considered hilarious. On Blue Team we have interim team leader Church who’s a HUGE jerk but kind of the main character of the series, the fun yet ALSO lazy Tucker, and the very ignorant Caboose who’d be like if Ed from Ed, Edd, n Eddy grew up to join Space Force. Throughout the first season we learn more about the teams as well as get introduced to secondary characters like Lopez the Red team’s robot mechanic, Sheila the Blue Team’s talking tank, and Tex the freelancer hired by the Blue Team with a checkered past that ties directly to Church’s. Compared to where the series will end up going on later seasons, the first is fairly self-contained and can be broken down into three primary arcs; Donut getting the Blue Team’s flag, Tex getting Blue Team’s flag back, and Tex going after Red Team’s flag, but for the most part the actual plot is secondary to the characters’ personalities bouncing off of each other in a ludicrous combat situation; kind of like what Archer would eventually do with the spy genre a decade later. Needless to say that with all the silly situations, potty mouths, and it being a cool VIDEO GAME thing, I was pretty obsessed with this show when I was a teenager, but there were a lot of things I liked when I was a teenager that don’t hold up now, so is this one of them?
Now I actually started rewatching Red vs Blue about a year ago which is way before I even thought about doing this Halo retrospective, so a lot of the series remained fresh in my mind when I went to revisit it yet again for this series. While I think the first season still has its funny moments and it’s pretty fun to see Machinima in one of its earliest (and DEFINITELY most successful) versions, it’s a very imperfect gem; both in ways that are kind of endearing like the low res graphics and tricks they used to make it work, and in other ways that make it distastefully dated which is aimed squarely at the humor. Again, this was back in 2003 so there are liberal uses of the R word, gay jokes, and Tex definitely feels like a “bad ass female” archetype written by a bunch of gamer bros. There’s also a definite mean streak in this season where everyone is just sniping at each other and telling them to shut up or calling them stupid. Stuff like that isn’t ABSENT in later seasons, but those are held up by bigger ideas and stranger concepts so that the pointless bickering and mean spirited put downs aren’t the majority of the episodes.
Still, there are some great moments in here and I do like the early battle scene where Donut takes the flag that ends with Church getting blown up. Even this early into the show, they had a pretty good sense of staging action sequences and having an almost Rube Goldberg-esque sense of escalation where there’s always ONE MORE THING that has to go wrong in an already shaky plan. It’s also fun to see how quickly Caboose went from just a regular ol’ rookie to a much more defined (and hilariously naive) character who has a lot of the highlights of this season, not the least of which being his accidental murder of his Blue teammate Church, and there’s a definite growth throughout the series as you see them figuring stuff out in real time. If I was being charitable, I’d say that the true arc of the season is not which team gets the flag or who ends up dead by the end of it, but rather it’s about the creators finding their voice and hammering out the details to go from something very basic to a show with some genuine creativity and a clearly hashed out narrative. It doesn’t excuse it for being so angry and for using the R-slur, but it’s the start of something that will get much better over time.
Details are sparse on just how formalized the relationship is between Rooster Teeth and Microsoft (the owners of the Halo Franchise), but they certainly have more leeway than other fan based creatives like LittleKuriboh and Team Four Star, and they’ve in fact done work FOR the Halo games with several of the cast having cameos in the games and official Red Vs Blue content being commissioned by Microsoft to advertise their games. Even with that somewhat cozy partnership though, these shows are in no way canon with the Halo franchise; nor do they even try to be outside of one or two joking references to Master Chief throughout the series. That said, even as early as the first season when all there was to look at were the first game and three of the books, they were already drawing from the wider Halo universe with the Freelancer program being a very obvious analogue for the Spartan program that would end becoming more or less the focus of Red vs Blue in later seasons. In this season though, they’re depicted as straightforward mercenaries and the deeper and more sinister aspects didn’t start to bloom until a few seasons later which we’ll get to eventually.
I still have fondness for this show, but the first season is a bit rough to sit through with the outdated attempts at humor really sucking the air out of the room whenever they go there. The series is still going to this day and it focuses a lot on its continuity which means you’ll still want to go through this season if you wanted to experience the better stuff they put out later. Speaking of which, the next piece in this retrospective will ALSO be about Red vs Blue as they managed to get all of season 2 and part of season 3 out before the second game in the series was released in late 2004, so we’ll be taking a look at those before we move forward with the official Halo canon!