music business is run by lawyers and accountants, and they don't really
care about the integrity of art."
can make nicely crafted things, whether they're poems, sculptures, paintings,
records, CDs, whatever. But they'll just be that -- nice. They won't
be unwieldy as personal expression often can be."
do a toilet bowl and a woman's vagina have in common? They both need
to be cleaned with Lysol."
a done deal. By the end of 2003, Saddam Hussein will either be out of
power or out of the realm of the living. So who's next in line for the
coveted position of dictator -- uh, leader -- of Iraq, home to the largest
supply of crude reserves on Earth? Here's the list of nominees."
a segment that seems designed to honor yet another one of rock and roll's
seminal yet fallen heroes, MTV just can't help talking about why it,
not Nirvana, mattered so much."
white people, it will be different. They will be advised to refer to
the U.S. Federal Standard 595B Color Chart (or the Ralph Lauren color
chip guide at Home Depot) to determine the range of colors permissible
in a potential spouse."
that's where some of the roots of this are: bizarre delusions in the
minds of people with too much time on their hands that somehow I deprived
them of being major label rock stars."
don't give a fuck about that stuff. I feel comfortable being called
a punk band, because I feel that's what we came out of."
other words, Heavy Metal 2000 is a movie built, like Julie Strain,
to satisfy the pleasure of our friend dick. Its depth, as postmodernists
used to enjoy arguing, lies on the surface; that's where its signifiers
float and that's where the horny eyeballs land."
is a Disease: An Interview with Adam Reed and Matt Thompson, Sealab
Ever get the
feeling at your place of work or worship that the lunatics have taken
over the asylum and there's nowhere to run? Then welcome to Sealab
2021, an underwater freak show of psychotic megalomaniacs, conscienceless
brutes and interracial love machines, all with a gut-busting sense of
humor. To call Sealab 2021 postmodern is an understatement: it's
basically Hanna Barbera's Sealab 2020 revisioned with contemporary
hot-button issues and more far irony than Ben Stiller was able to shove
into Reality Bites.
But it's also
the brainchild of Adam Reed and Matt Thompson, two laid-back cats with
the best job in the world. And that may not be much of an introduction,
but once you're done reading what these two have to say about Sealab
2021's heady version of adult animation, why prime-time television
blows so hard, Tony Danza's limitless talent, and what they really do
all day long for Turner, you won't need much more in the way of information.
Would you characterize your show as adult animation, vs. say, cartoons?
Adam Reed: I would say Sealab is adult animation. Cartoons,
as I define them, somehow magically appeal to every age group. Bugs
Bunny was written for adults, but kids love it -- and have for 60 years
-- whereas SpongeBob Squarepants was written for kids, but has
a huge adult following. And I don't think Sealab has that. In
fact, even its age range among adults is pretty narrow. My mom, for
example, doesn't really like it. She likes me, of course, just not this
kind of humor. Whereas she's nuts about Bob Spongecake.
Matt Thompson: Cartoons for kids -- for whatever reason -- always
look good. But I think more and more, adults don't care about how good
it looks. There is even a side benefit to looking kinda crappy. Like
we do. Something about being low budget makes it have more of an independent
feel. You know, this is not the product of a Disney warehouse of thousands
of animators -- and that is a good thing. Also, the lower the budget
on how good something looks means that more attention is paid to the
words being funny. You can't rely on the visuals carrying the day. If
we were putting out a cartoon that was fully animated, we would have
to worry much more about how it looks. We do care how it looks, but
only up to a certain point. What we really care about is the words and
situations being funny. The only example of someone doing both is The
Simpsons. But we don't have one million dollars lying around to
make one episode so we can't do that. Lack of money makes you prioritize.
are your feelings on the art form, and do you think it's been restricted
to younger mainstream audiences for too long, considering how many great
mature animators there are like Bakshi, Miyazake, Groening, etc.?
AR: Actually, I think adult animation has been around a darn
long time. I remember begging to go see American Pop as a kid
because it was a cartoon movie -- and being a bit shocked that it was
as adult as it was. I've yet to see Fritz the Cat, though I hear
MT: I think the emergence of adult cartoons mainly has to do
with our generation growing up on great kid cartoons. We all loved them,
but don't want to watch them anymore because we are grown-ups and now
they're boring to us. But watching adult cartoons does two big things
for you: it makes you feel a bit like a kid on Saturday morning and
animation gives you unlimited possibilities -- like someone's head exploding
and popping back on. You can't do that in live action. This makes things
unpredictable, predictability being a disease that has infected the
majority of live action sitcoms on TV.
The lunatics have taken over the underwater asylum. "The
main focus of our show is unpredictability. It's about how bored
we are with almost every single thing on television. I know
what Grace is going to say to Will before she does -- and as
a viewer, that pisses me off and makes me not watch. How many
times can you rehash plots and situations that were covered
already on F Troop?"
SF: How do
you think your show fits into Adult Swim?
AR: We like to think of Sealab as the flagship of Adult
Swim. And pretty much everybody would agree with that.
MT: Our show fits in with being the dirty one. For whatever reason,
we are going to cuss more and show more racy situations. Also, we are
probably the least absurdist comedy. We have real people in what could
be real situations, while other shows have giant insects and talking
food. This is not a good thing or a bad thing, it just is. My favorite
Adult Swim show is Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I just love
it. Shake kills me.
AR: Aqua Teen is also one of my super-favorites; I always
make up an excuse to go over to Williams Street, then I sneak in to
watch the rough cuts. Shake can cheer me up no matter what.
SF: How has
it been working with Cartoon Network on what can sometimes be borderline
controversial material? Have you run into any control issues?
MT: Cartoon Network has been great to us. Episodes are being
toned down from time to time though. But, this is not coming from [executive
producer] Mike Lazzo and Williams Street. It comes from Turner censors
that decide what level of adult programming they want to put out there.
AR: Williams Street is terrific regarding content. The infamous
Black Debbie segment was instantly jammed into the S&P department's
shredder, but Mike Lazzo really went to bat for it.
MT: We'll see something that was done on South Park and
pout that we could never get away with that, but we don't own our own
TV station, so tough crap. Adam wrote a Christmas show where we talked
heavily about different religions, basically taking them all to task
on their lack of tolerance. The script came back to us with a big, "NO,
can't do that." So we changed all of the names of the religions, making
them all made up names. For example: "Catholic = Cthonic," "Judaism
= Krebs." Then it was all OK, we could say whatever we wanted. It actually
turned out to be funnier using made-up religions.
AR: That was "The Feast of Alvis Christmas Special." The weird
thing is that by using made-up religions, we got this funny show out
of it that was possibly more subversive than the original.
MT: I watched South Park's Christmas episode where Santa
and Jesus blow away a bunch of Iraqis and Jesus takes a shotgun blast
to the chest. We could never get away with that. But, for the most part,
we can do whatever we want.
AR: We do run into a lot of legal issues, and have to make a
good number of changes to keep Uncle Ted from getting sued.
kind of audience do you think your show attracts?
MT: We are aimed straight at college guys. I would be surprised
if there were ten girls out there that liked the show. First off, you
have to ask yourself, who is up at 11:30PM on a Sunday night that would
watch cartoons? The answer is college guys that play too many video
games and probably smoke too much pot. Probably shouldn't say the last
part, but it is true.
AR: Yeah, college kids and people two to five years out of college,
mostly men. The kind of people who still have milk crates and boards
for bookshelves in their first "grown-up" apartment. The kind of people
who make their dogs wear bandanas. But we honestly aim it towards us;
if it makes us laugh, that's great. And as long as our interest is sustained,
the milk-crate crowd will probably like it.
MT: If they can make eight years of Who's the Boss? I
think we can keep it going for a while. By the way did you see Tony
Danza hosting the People's Choice Awards? He opened with a rap by Italian
Ice. Is there anything Tony Danza can't do? Maybe we are in trouble.
did you guys come up with the idea for the show, and how do you feel
about how it has turned out?
MT: Our show is basically a workplace comedy, like Cheers,
but turned on its ear with insane situations. Instead of Norm coming
in and asking for a beer, he asks if someone could please put his brain
in a robot body. But still, the show focuses on what is happening in
a work environment, where everyone is trapped at work. They can't just
AR: In the development stage, I remember us talking about shows
like WKRP, NewsRadio and M*A*S*H a lot. Sealab
is just a place where these people work, a backdrop for the dumb stuff
they do, the petty squabbles. M*A*S*H is probably a good analogy,
since they were trapped in Korea like our gang is trapped underwater.
Only we try not to be as preachy as later M*A*S*H shows. "It
was a baaaaaby!"
MT: We knew if they couldn't leave, this would limit our drawing
of new backgrounds, money being a main consideration. Also, we were
looking for an old cartoon to force this idea into. Again, not having
to draw new characters being a money saver.
AR: We were PA's at Cartoon Network, spending days and days organizing
the tape library, which was jam-ass full of all these shows no one had
ever heard of, and which were never going to air. The goal was to find
a show that we could re-dub because back then we didn't know how to
edit. We just used a 30-minute Sealab 2020 and wrote dialogue
that matched the existing lip-flap. And it was the unfunniest thing
you've ever seen. Cartoon Network, wisely, passed on it.
MT: We thought they were crazy, so we quit and moved to NYC.
We did a bunch of crappy TV up there, mostly behind-the-scenes shows
for Showtime. In the meantime, we learned how to edit things, how to
make limited animation. So we went back to the Sealab idea and
did it again, five years later. This time we cut characters out and
made them do what we wanted them to. It was a billion times better and
Cartoon Network bought it. Now when we go back and watch the original
'95 pilot, we get dry heaves.
AR: We were unaware that they were looking for programming for
Adult Swim. It was all just good luck and timing. And the funniest
pilot ever made for television.
you used Sealab to subvert or satirize American culture? Or are
you more interested in just goofing off and having fun with it?
MT: It's a little bit of both. Sometimes we comment on culture
and sometimes we are just weird. Our main comment is on TV and how terrible
most of it is, how heavily TV has become tied into marketing products.
We did a recent episode in which we promoted our own show the whole
time, tied in with a fictitious chain family restaurant called Grizzlebee's.
This comes a little bit from our own background of doing TV shows that
promote the show itself. Also, there seems to be a big comment on purchasing
things to make your life better, consumerism in general. It's all just
crap. But the main focus of the show is unpredictability. You hopefully
don't know what is going to happen next on Sealab while you are
watching an episode. This is more of a subtext thing, but it's about
how bored we are with almost every single thing on television. I know
what Grace is going to say to Will before she does -- and as a viewer,
that pisses me off and makes me not watch. Reality shows are less predictable
than sitcoms are now and I think that is one of the main reasons behind
their surge in popularity. How many times can you rehash plots and situations
that were covered already on F Troop? All that said, we are just
trying to make ourselves laugh and we really don't care if you like
it or not. Probably the wrong attitude for a TV producer to have --
but again, we don't care.
AR: I think it's about 50/50 on subversion vs. goofing off. It's
a pretty great job. We have a really fun staff, this big rambling loft
in an old cotton mill, and a very communal atmosphere. But we do try
to make some sort of social commentary now and then. Race usually comes
up, and I think we try to nudge people a little bit. We're nowhere near
as good at it as say, All in the Family, but we do try to slip
a message in now and then. One thing I really like is how Quinn has
become such a major character, and he's the only smart one who's always
the voice of reason. That wasn't in the original show bible, but it's
evolved into that. And I'm sure there are people in a cabin somewhere
with a satellite dish who are pissed off about our interracial dating,
and that as soon as the spring thaw comes and they can get down out
of the holler, they'll come shoot out our porch light. But, you know,
sweat the small stuff. "You can't
rely on the visuals carrying the day. If we were putting out
a cartoon that was fully animated, we would have to worry much
more about how it looks. We do care how it looks, but only up
to a certain point. What we really care about is the words and
situations being funny. The only example of someone doing both
is The Simpsons. But we don't have one million dollars
lying around to make one episode so we can't do that. "
Adult Swim, Cartoon Network seems to have branched out from 24-hour
animation for kids to 24-hour animation for diverse age groups and interests.
So do you feel that you are contributing to a greater movement to legitimize
not only animation as an art form, but perhaps television as a distributor
of art forms rather than a home for formulaic entertainment?
AR: Um. Yes? Wait! No. A little bit. There have been so many
great shows on television, and not just the classic sitcoms that everyone
pines over, but recent ones also. Sports Night comes to mind;
I Tivo every episode that Comedy Central airs at like, 5:30 am on Sunday.
But they never last. Here's the thing: it's not the fault of television
or the execs who make programming decisions for the major networks.
It's the fault of the American viewing public. All the schlock and dreck
that's on television? People watch it. It's a business, you know? The
soap has to get sold.
MT: My first reaction to that question would be that you are
presupposing that we are doing something important, when in reality
we are just fucking off and trying to make ourselves laugh. But the
last sentence appeals to me. "Rather than a home for formulaic entertainment?"
If we are doing anything at all that viewers realize is nothing like
the formulaic crap that is out there, I would be pretty happy. But again,
we don't care. Well, maybe a little.
AR: I think HBO has had the best comedies in the past 10 years.
Larry Sanders, Mr. Show and Curb Your Enthusiasm
are the funniest shows that America has produced. But HBO doesn't have
to sell soap. And it really saddens me that just because a show doesn't
have an insidious laugh track, it's considered cutting edge or, even
more sadly, ahead of its time. I will never, ever make a show with a
laugh track. Even for a big-ass dump truck full of money. Okay, that's
a lie. But they're AWFUL. But people are comfortable with that. They
like the formula. And there's not necessarily anything wrong with that,
I guess. It's just not for me, which really makes me admire Cartoon
Network for developing these weird shows and putting them on the air.
And even more so for not panicking if the ratings don't come in right
away. They've let these shows find their sea legs and allowed the audience
to come on board at their own pace. And now the ratings are up like
a zillion percent. And we're all really rich.
13 March 03
has published articles on everything from bulimia to pissing while standing
up for Melt Magazine, Migente.com, drDrew.com, drKoop.com and more. She's
currently finishing her first novel, Sycamore Circle.and rifling
through a shoe collection than would turn Imelda Marcos green.
Greatest Show on Television
Now that we've watched whiny brats complain about living
together, gold-diggers chase alleged millionaires
and celebrities literally turn into puppets, how can
we redeem ourselves? By watching Adult Swim,
the only show on TV brave enough to push the envelope
and take no prisoners . . . . MORE
the Body Horror Web
From flies to twins to mugwumps and now on to spiders, David
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Which is why it may just be the best film he has ever made.
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Ways to Prepare for War
Egged on by CNN and Fox News and entranced by war
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how you can ready yourself for the imminent war with
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They've greedily sold chemical weapons with but one purpose
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That Makes People Think
From handily winning DJ throw-downs to jazzing
with Herbie Hancock and Blue Man Group, Rob Swift has been
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