If Kentucky Fried Chicken can switch to grilled, then “Robot Chicken” can learn to skate.
“Robot Chicken,” the stop-motion cable series, features far-out, pop-cultural sendups starring action figures and dolls. Now the show comes alive. The crew behind the cartoon will celebrate the DVD release of its “Star Wars: Episode II” special with rollerskating parties in nine cities, including Richmond's own Roller Dome Skating.
Since 2005, the show has thrown an impressive rotating cast — Inspector Gadget, Hitler and the Kool-Aid Man, to name a few — into ludicrous scenarios involving murder, car wrecks, ethnic cleansing, laser eye surgery and cross-dressing.
Coming off of the tour's inaugural stop in San Diego, executive producer Seth Green of “Austin Powers” fame is impressed with the turnout.
“We had a ton of people show up and it looked like everybody had a good time,” he says. “I probably took a picture with every single person at that party.”
The spiritual framework for “Robot” came from Twisted ToyFare Theatre, a segment in the action-figure magazine ToyFare that incorporated '70s Mego toys into an original monthly comic. The Incredible Hulk was featured as a bumbling moron, Iron Man was an uncontrollable alcoholic, and Spider-Man starred as a snarky, overburdened rake. All primary “Robot” architects are ToyFare alumni: Three of the show's producers and creators (Matthew Senreich, Tom Root and Doug Goldstein) wrote for the magazine and Green penned the intro for a collected edition of the comic.
“Robot Chicken” first took to the airwaves in February 2005 but the series was in development for far longer. “We spent four years trying to put this show on the air,” says Green, who also does many vocal duties on the show. “We had 12 shorts that served as a pilot when we were out pitching the show, but no one had any idea what we were talking about.”
The format was certainly unusual. Episodes run 11 minutes (an awkward slot in TV schedules) and stop-motion animation is a rarely used technique. Nonetheless, Green and company were convinced of the concept's potential. “I've always loved stop motion,” he says. “We just wanted to make shorts. We didn't expect it to be a show. It just developed into that over time.”
Despite its rocky beginnings, the program found its niche among the eccentric programming on Adult Swim, typically stringing one plotline (for example, Joey Fatone going on a revenge spree after ‘N Sync members are killed by the Yakuza) through a handful of unrelated sketches. The punch lines often were hit or miss, but the nugget-sized format meant that the worst ones couldn’t sink the show.
Over four seasons, the stop-motion animation grew fluid and the comedy tightened. “We know it a lot better,” Green says. “If you look at the first season, we're trying to figure out what the show is. A lot of it is bizarre, experimental stuff. You go back and say, ‘Oh, that’s not necessarily funny.'”
The July 21 release of “Robot Chicken: Star Wars: Episode II” on DVD is the second “feature” in the canon, running a hefty 22 minutes. The expanded episode skewers the iconic series with skits involving bounty hunter Boba Fett shooting Ewoks for fun, Emperor Palpatine getting a haircut, and Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker experiencing some father-son bonding. While written with the series' typical hodge-podge approach, the special boasts an incisive panache. “We had people that were familiar with us and familiar with ‘Star Wars’ hired specifically to come in for that special,” Green says.
With the show wrapping up its fourth season later this year, future plans for “Robot Chicken” remain up in the air, although Green mentions a recent meeting with the chief executive of Archie Comics and the possibility of doing a third “Star Wars” spoof. “Maybe a 60-minute,” he ruminates. One element is certain: Green doesn't want the show to lose its affection for the characters that make the absurdity so potent.
“We're rarely out-and-out mean,” he says of the writing. “It's mostly just silly. It comes from a loving place.” S
The Robot Chicken on Wheels '09 Tour descends on Roller Dome Skating at 4902 Williamsburg Road on Monday, Aug. 10, 8-11 p.m. Free. For information call 726-2841 or visit myspace.com/rollerdomeskating.