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Sealab 2021: Season One

For those who didn't grow up watching every cartoon aired on every network back in the day, the appeal of Adam Reed and Matt Thompson's Sealab 2021 must be baffling. It's a bizarro take-off on (actually, more like "profaning of") William Hanna and Joseph Barbera's Sealab 2020, a short-lived, eco-conscious animated series notable for sacrificing conflict and colorful villains in favor of fantastically boring educational content that turned up now and again in syndication before finding a home at the Cartoon Network. Employing the same nostalgia-drenched, found-footage approach that's made Space Ghost Coast to Coast such an enduring hoot, Reed and Thompson's contribution to the increasingly bawdy "Adult Swim" lineup on the Cartoon Network is a sporadically hysterical slice of surreal imbecility that, while not as consistently "on" as its stable-mate Aqua Teen Hunger Force, is still worth checking out for those with a sweet tooth for such things. The Sealab is a trillion-dollar underwater research station overseen by Captain Murphy, whose gray-haired appearance of authority is belied by his strange infantilism, manifesting itself in his ADD-inspired need to be constantly entertained and, most shamefully, a bedwetting problem that compels him to hide his soiled sheets lest he disappoint Michael Caine (don't ask). Second in command to Murphy is Marco, a suave Puerto Rican who's probably the least conniving of the group, though his relatively sweet disposition allows him to be taken advantage of in one episode by a schoolboy conning the "Final Request Foundation". The brains of the outfit is the sometimes smooth-talking African-American Dr. Quinn, but his actions are largely negated due to being teamed up with the stupidly impulsive (and casually racist) Stormy. Also on board is the quietly nefarious radio operator, Sparks, who, in his spare time, commands a hidden mountain fortress populated with henchmen awaiting his call to take over the world. More aggressively evil is the engineer Hesh, whose sole characteristic seems to be his outright hatred of everyone and everything. Other characters include Debbie, the obligatory slutty blond who, in one episode, contends with a nasty bout of baby fever, and Dolphin Boy, a fat kid who chirps like a dolphin, while coming in for constant verbal abuse from the entire crew on account of his being overweight. At 12 minutes per episode, the show lives and dies on its hit-to-miss gag ratio, which, in the case of "Radio Free Sealab," "All That Jazz," and "Little Orphan Angry," can be quite high. It can also sink into an abyss of aimless absurdity, as in the repetitive "Waking Quinn" and "Lost in Time," both of which wear out unfunny running gags long before the show's attenuated running-time is up. "Chickmate," the episode that finds Debbie auditioning her male crewmates to knock her up, stands out for its blissfully wrong un-PC jokes, while "In The Closet" mines Murphy's uncontrollable urge to cold-cock people in panic for some pretty big laughs. This really is the kind of work that defies critical analysis. If any of the above sounds funny, by all means… indulge. Warner presents Sealab 2021 in a terrific full-frame transfer (1.33:1) with solid Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include the original 1999 pitch pilot, alternate endings for the first episode "I, Robot," an uncensored (i.e. profanity-laced) version of "Radio Free Sealab," and a pair of truly evil deleted scenes from "Little Orphan Angry," one involving cold-blooded murder between children. Dual-DVD digipak with plastic slipcase.
—Clarence Beaks

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