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DVD Review: Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1: Season One

Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1 Season OneAqua Unit Patrol Squad 1: Season One
Written and Directed by Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis
Starring Carey Means, Dana Snyder, Dave Willis, C. Martin Croker
Adult Swim
Release Date: October 11, 2011

I was hesitant about watching this DVD. Being a big fan of the Adult Swim animated series Aqua Teen Hunger Force I was more than a little apprehensive when an announcement was made last year that the show was undergoing a title change and possibly having the title characters go back to being low rent detectives for hire as they were when the show premiered back in 2000. But I trusted the show’s creators Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis and their talented creative team and hilarious voice cast to deliver on the offbeat humor and surreal plotlines that break from the confines of traditional storytelling (even for a show that airs after midnight on Adult Swim). It’s on that basis that on the new DVD Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1: Season One they still haven’t let me down.

Despite the title change the show remains the same fortunately. The stream-of-consciousness humor is as strong as it ever was; sometimes it’s really funny, other times it’s strange and uncomfortable. The gratuitous cartoon violence, (which is still violent and gratuitous even by Adult Swim cartoon standards), the bizarre plot twists, the head-scratching yet appropriate vocal cameos, it’s all here and it all still works beautifully. Other than the new title and a beefed up opening title sequence (complete with all new theme music) which still has the main characters doing things they never do on the show (in this case the opening is a spoof of 1970’s cop shows), this is the Aqua Teen Hunger Force we all know and love, except now they’re the Aqua Unit Patrol Squad. It doesn’t matter really; the characters were actually referred to as the Aqua Teen Hunger Force maybe two times over the course of its first seven seasons (it could be more than that as I have not watched every episode in the series).

When the show premiered, the Aqua Teens were detectives but that premise was dropped faster than surprise character development on a soap opera. Each episode focuses on the characters – Frylock (a floating box of french fries who can shoot lasers out of his eyes), Meatwad (a glob of raw meat with the disposition of an oblivious child), and Master Shake (a talking milkshake who usually puts the episode’s plot in motion with another of his selfish schemes) – and the absurd and overly complicated adventures they get into, sometimes with their next-door neighbor Carl, a slobbish bachelor who spends his every waking moment in pursuit of sex and supporting his favorite sports teams (both of which have gotten him in some complicated situations of his own).

The season starts off with the two-parter “Allen,” which begins with the Aqua Unit picking up some detective work and ending with Shake spending nine years in a cryogenic sleep chamber while a creature named Allen who looks like a facehugger from the Alien movies (and is voiced by comedian Steven Wright)….well….makes endless love to his face. Other episodes feature Shake trying to score with the ladies by getting a bitchin’ cobra tattoo that takes over his mind and turns him into a cannibal, Carl being forced to come to terms with his drinking problem with a little help from Jesus Christ’s gay hairdresser, a plague of vampires unleashed by the boys’ landlord Markula, triangle-shaped cell phones that turn everything (and everyone) on the planet into the shape of a triangle, and return appearances from the Aqua Unit’s frequent yet hopelessly pathetic enemies Dr. Weird and the Mooninites. There are also special guest appearances by comedian Eugene Mirman (playing two different doctors with the same laidback attitude), Michael K. Williams (The Wire), Matt Berry (Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace), Tom Hollander (In the Loop), and Idris Elba (Thor). The best episode of the season is “Last Dance for Napkin Lad”, which offers up even more fascinating revelations about the back stories of the Aqua Unit and Carl and some exciting chase sequences.

As a bonus the DVD also includes a second disc featuring seven episodes from the previous season (when the show was still called Aqua Teen Hunger Force) that weren’t included on the Season 7 disc released last year. I don’t quite get the logic of dividing up seasons like that but at least now Adult Swim/Warner Bros. can say that every episode of the show is available on DVD. Christmas albums, giant hamburgers, sentient iPods who really dig 21st century arena rock, addictive cell phone games, metallic hairpieces, alternate universes, and vocal cameos from rap artist Chuck D and special effects make-up master Tom Savini are the order of the day in this set. Actor/comedian Larry Miller (Waiting for Guffman) tries to sell Carl on a hair system made of sheet metal that is fastened to your skull with rivets and Carl proceeds to ruin the life of a simulated version of himself with hair. The best episode of the season is “One Hundred”, the animated equivalent of a snake on acid swallowing its own tail. As the Aqua Teens approach their 100th episode Frylock becomes obsessed with the number 100, Shake tries to exploit contract loopholes so he can collect some of that sweet syndication money, and the entire episode ends in a parody of the Scooby-Doo cartoons that lovingly recreates the late 60’s/early 70’s Hanna-Barbera animation style (they made Carl look just like Fred Flintstone). Comedy writer Robert Smigel voices a monster shaped like the number 100 that chases the boys from one animated world to another.

Each episode is presented in a sharp and colorful 1.78: 1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and is bolstered by strong 5.1 Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo soundtracks. English subtitles are also provided.

The only extra feature is the strange 14-minute short film “Terror Phone III” that features several members of the Aqua Unit cast and crew acting out a story that for the life of me I can’t interpret. Maybe I just wasn’t interested enough but at least there were a few random chuckles to be had.

Name change (and new theme music) aside the Aqua Unit Hunger Squad or whatever the hell they’re called now (like it really matters) are still the same, piling weird humor on top of absurd sight gags to create comedy that doesn’t always work, but when it does it’s funny enough to stick in your mind for days afterward. I still occasionally find myself laughing for no apparent reason. Whatever name they go with this is still Adult Swim’s funniest and longest-running series, and Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1: Season One is a DVD worth picking up.

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