With the retirement of its iconic moniker, the 100 episode run of Aqua Teen Hunger Force can now be appraised in its entirety, with acknowledgement paid to both its high and low points. The program itself isn’t so much an acquired taste as it is appealing to a certain predisposed (and twisted) mindset, as is much of Adult Swim’s original content. If you have a taste for the tasteless and a love of the manically absurd, then feel free to look to this list of Aqua Teens at its best (worst?) to see if it’s up your alley.
#10: “Space Conflict from Beyond Pluto” (Vol. 1, ep. 6) – Fan-favorite characters Emery and Oglethrope, named after two Atlanta universities, make a strong first impression here, as they attempt to lure the Aqua Teens to their doom with promises of grilled melon and birthday spankings. Part of what makes the interplay of the Plutonian episodes so great is that, of all the show’s stable of antagonists, these two are the ones our heroes actually seem more than a match for.
#9: “Bus of the Undead” (Vol. 1, ep. 3) – While the first two episodes of the series were shaky at best, “Bus of the Undead” marks the point when A.T.H.F. really found itself, and sets the course for all the episodes to follow. Master Shake’s still more effete and whiny, his vulnerability far less subtle, than it would be later on, but the terrific pacing and multiple flashes of comedic brilliance (Assisted Living Dracula is wonderful enough as a concept, but the cast’s deadpan critique of it puts it over the top) made this a great promise of things to come.
#8: “Party All the Time” (Vol. 5, ep. 5) – In this “very special episode,” the gang find their efforts at time travel preempted by some shocking medical news for Frylock. “Party” stands out for its surprising moments of somber emotion, as well as the self-aware cameo by party rocker Andrew W.K. What puts it on this list, however, is its brilliant illustration of Meatwad and Master Shake’s arrested development, by way of magazine fights, ill-advised attempts to cure Frylock and an earnest interest in insect life.
#7: “Broodwich” (Vol. 3, ep. 6) – Moderation is an alien concept for Master Shake: when he isn’t shirking his responsibilities entirely, he is taking them far beyond the point of propriety. So when his rabid search for pirate gold in the front yard leads to the unyielding temptation of a demon sandwich’s siren song, Shake’s fate seem pretty much sealed. It’s to the shows credit that it can carry on enough fake-outs to see this wonderfully droll ghost story to its inevitable end.
#6: “Ezekiel” (Vol. 5, ep. 10) – A.T.H.F. has had numerous celebrity cameos over the past decade, though perhaps none as memorable or hilarious as the pint-sized (no pun intended) long-lost son of Master Shake, Patton Oswalt’s Ezekiel. Like his father, Ezekiel is a child of extremes. When he isn’t utterly devastated by his father’s disapproval (“I’mma take a bus to Reno!”), he’s exalted by the most minuscule of prompts (with regards to becoming a Mall Cop in lieu of college, “I’mma shine a flashlight!”). What’s more, Shake’s innate megalomania is perfectly suited to the role of overbearing show parent, as he engages his son in activity after activity, only to quit in a furious huff at the first sign of imperfection from “his seed”.
#5: “Grim Reaper Gutters” (Vol. 5, ep. 8) – the clip show has long been a subject of satire for modern television comedies, and A.T.H.F. is no exception. Consisting largely of never-before-seen episodes from the Aqua Teens’ past, the whole premise is abandoned altogether by the episode’s halfway point, revealing itself as nothing but a convoluted ruse designed to lure next-door neighbor Carl out of his home. The show has engaged in self-aware lampooning before and since, but rarely has it been as effective and unobtrusive as with “Grim Reaper Gutters.”
#4: “Reed*ckyoulus” (Vol. 6, ep. 3) – A.T.H.F. was never afraid to be utterly tasteless, especially in its latter seasons. Even so, to say that “Reed*ckyoulus” is the most grotesquely over-the-top episode of Aqua Teens is an understatement. When a gas leak and a backyard pet cemetery are the only elements mentionable in polite society, you know you’re in for a trip. While not suited as an introduction to the show, this episode serves as a kind of litmus test for aspiring viewers, determining their ability to endure everything that is to follow.
#3: “Revenge of the Mooninites” (Vol. 1, ep. 8) – The undisputed big-bads of the Aqua Teen Universe, Ignignokt and Err, the two pixilated moon men from the moon (did they mention they were from the moon?), appear repeatedly throughout the series with various scams to lure the weak-minded (re: Meatwad) into their larcenous schemes. “Revenge of the Mooninites” is THE iconic Aqua Teens episode, running through a hard and fast stream of pop-culture references and broadly crude comedy. It’s also something of a thesis statement for the series in general, as it is here that A.T.H.F.’s battle cry is articulated by Carl, “I don’t need no instructions to know how to rock!”
#2: “Total Re-Carl” (Vol. 3, ep. 2) – While the claim that the show’s earlier seasons were its strongest is a bit of a knee-jerk generalization, it’s easy to see how that conclusion is reached based on the strength of episodes like “Total Re-Carl.” After Carl is accidentally killed in a freak low-flow toilet experiment, the Aqua Teens get in touch with their inner Frankenstein as they set about trying to build their neighbor a new body. The story, like many others, isn’t especially dramatic given the shows flippant attitude towards the transience of life. Rather, it is in this mellow sweet spot that A.T.H.F. is able to mine the richest veins of comedy gold, a fact that is in full effect with the greatest of Aqua Teen episodes…
#1: “Kidney Car” (Vol. 3, ep. 3). When Meatwad is turned down for a kidney transplant (an unnecessary acquisition for a sentient ball of meat), his consolation make-a-wish comes in the form of Carl’s totaled Hot Rod. What follows is a relatively subdued series of false-starts and fruitless attempts at repairing the gang’s new “work car,” all of which leads to one of the most hilarious game of make believe ever conceived. While the show would go on to more ambitious and exciting territories, “Kidney Car” remains a pure distillation of everything the show and its characters represent, making it the most rewarding Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode of all.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force is rated TV-MA for graphic cartoon violence, sexual content, adult language, pervasive crude humor and thematic content. Volumes 1-7 are available on DVD from most DVD retailers and online (prices vary).