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"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Friday, April 6, 2018

Re-Animated #17: Aqua Something You Know Whatever

Dancing is forbidden.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force main characters.png

September, 2001.

Wow.  What a time.  I was beginning my sophomore year of college.  America was on top of the world, the undisputed and last of the super-powers.  The word "hyper-power" was being tossed around, because what did it mean to be the only super-power left, and utterly untouchable in every way?  The year of "2001: A Space Odyssey" had already arrived.  "Star Trek" and its utopian vision couldn't be very far around the corner.

Then we all know the rest.

It's interesting to think, though, that a scant two days before the formative act of the new century, a tiny, half of a show premiered as part of a two hour, late-night block on a children's television network, and in some ways rewrote the fabric of pop culture for years to come.  

Much to the chagin of modern-day me, I didn't catch the premier of "Aqua Teen Hunger Force."  In fact, we had only gotten Cartoon Network on the college cable system the semester before, so it was fortunate that I got to see "ATHF" at all.  Or perhaps it was part of Turner's plan to come into college campuses only once [adult swim] was on the horizon.  But more on that later.

Here's what I do remember, though, with such clarity that I could be living it right now.  At the time, I was planning to become a teacher.  In one of my education classes, two of the guys sitting in front of me were laughing their heads off, tossing quotes at one another about a guy with a moustache sleeping with a girl.

I used to be hip.  I used to be with it.  And I had no idea what the hell they were talking about.  So I asked.  Turns out they were talking about the classic "Chickmate" episode of "Sealab 2021."

The next Sunday night I tuned in to my first viewing of [adult swim.]  I was instantly mesmerized, not just by the bizarre, fast-paced stoner comedy, but also by the interstitials of old people swimming in a pool.  What was this?  Was there anything else like this?  What had I stumbled upon?

I remember exactly what played that night.  "Brendon's Choice" on "Home Movies," which I thought at first was some kind of "Dungeons and Dragons"-themed show.  And the very first episode with the Mooninites of "ATHF" which, according to my extensive research (read: Wikipedia) places the date at October 14, 2001.  I remember my roommate, normally a stoic academic, actually cracking up when I stepped out of the room to go to the bathroom down the hall.

"What is it?" I asked.

"They're fighting," he said.

He was referring to the scene where Ignignokt and Ur turn on the Aqua teens and blast them  with their amazing 2D graphics.  The scene was still going on.

"We're fighting," said the characters on TV.

What was even going on? I was so baffled by this new show, I thought the Mooninites were the stars and the Aqua Teens were the annoying interlopers.

I spent the next Sunday night furiously trying to find my new favorite programming block on Comedy Central. Except it wasn't on Comedy Central, it was on Cartoon Network, which was the reason I couldn't find it. Finally, in fury, I started switching channels after it had ended and finally found it. Luckily for me, [adult swim] replayed all its shows each night. So I tuned in to "ATHF" again, and was confused to learn that the milkshake, box of fries, and burger-like creature were the stars. Nary was a Mooninite to be spotted.

And then I was the one quoting things at people. "On the moon, nerds get their pants pulled down and get spanked with moon rocks" was my away message on AIM (kids, ask your parents) for a while.

For many people, "ATHF" and [adult swim] are synonymous. It was not only their most popular show (at least up until the advent of "Rick and Morty," which, naturally, we'll be covering in an upcoming installment of "Re-Animated", it was also their longest running, at eleven seasons (several of the latter of which were given goofy alternate show titles, a la the title of this blogpost), ending only recently in 2015. It may be overtaken soon by "The Venture Brothers," which premiered in 2003, but due to the vagaries of its production schedules, will only be entering its seventh season this year. "ATHF" was also the first (and to date, only) [adult swim] show to have a theatrical movie release, "Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters," including guest star the inimitable Bruce Campbell.

Now, remember I said that we'd talk a bit more about the college angle?  Well, this seems as good a place as any to delve into [adult swim]'s weird and unfortunate relationship with ratings.  The short answer is: they're not very good.  At least, by the dinosaur standards of Nielsen.  But you, reading this in 2018, are probably already more than familiar with Nielsen's shortfallings.  Nielsen doesn't capture streaming services, nor, as it turns out, do they capture college campuses.  [adult swim] has (or had, I'm not sure how things still are) a huge following on college campuses.  When looking at the Nielsen ratings, the [adult swim] suits often lamented that they were so low - and yet, during spring, winter, and summer breaks, when college students traditionally go home where Nielsen is a little more accurate, their ratings shot through the roof.  This led to [adult swim] taking a fairly laissez-faire attitude towards actual Nielsen ratings, and they began streaming almost all of their shows online, at a time when most networks were still worrying about that sort of thing being so piracy adjacent as to make no difference.  Nowadays, of course, every station streams its shows.  [adult swim] was an early adopter of the system that we now all rely on so heavily.

"ATHF" is [adult swim] and, by extension, modern adult animation distilled down to its purest form. A straight mainline of bizarre, bizarro, off-kilter, rapid-paced humor, gross-out moments, and even heart as you grow to love these weird characters. Get high, enjoy, and get back to me in the comments.

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