Adult Swim is one of the leading networks in comedy today. They have been for a while now, but they didn’t get this claim to fame overnight. Since 2001, the network has ordered numerous shows that helped craft a new generation of anti-humor and awkward dialogue. Some of these animated shows were a hit with critics and fans alike, while others were considered unpolished and poorly written, getting the boot after one short season of 11-minute episodes.
Regardless, Adult Swim is known to roll the dice and give light to some of the weirdest, coolest animated shows known to television. We’re here to focus on the greatest the network has ever had to offer. We’ve compiled a list of 15 animated shows that we find are the absolute greatest to have ever run on Adult Swim’s programming block.
15. The Brak Show
A spinoff of the network’s infamous “Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” “The Brak Show” was a “Leave It To Beaver”-type cartoon sitcom parody. It starred frequent “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” and “Cartoon Planet” star Brak, along with his family and occasional friend Zorak. Though Zorak despises Brak and his family, the two find themselves in weird situations and usually drag Brak’s Mom, Dad and neighbor Thundercleese into the mix.
“The Brak Show” began as a situational comedy, parodying early sitcoms like “The Andy Griffith Show” and “I Love Lucy.” It gave background to Brak, allowing voice actor Andy Merrill to completely push his personality into the dimwitted alien cat and expand his odd universe. The show ran for two seasons over the course of 2000-2003, becoming more and more bizarre as it progressed. In one episode, Brak’s Dad has a friendly staring competition with Zorak as he gets his eyeballs attacked by wasps. In the next, the family’s robotic Gundam-style neighbor, Thundercleese, falls in love with a vacuum cleaner. Whether you hate or love its absurdity, “The Brak Show” definitely has the hearts of hardcore “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” fans everywhere.
14. Tom Goes to the Mayor
Before “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!,” there was “Tom Goes to the Mayor,” an animated series by Tim and Eric that was ran through the “photocopy” image filter on Adobe Photoshop…literally. Adult Swim ran the show from 2004-2006, garnering mixed reactions from fans and critics alike. People either loved it or hated it, with hardly anyone sitting on the fence and deeming it just okay. Even Adult Swim admitted via bumper that the series was “one of the most polarizing shows” it had ever aired.
The entirety of “Tom Goes to the Mayor” features little-to-no continuity and relies on the same premise. Tom, a new resident of the town of Jefferton, visits the Mayor and proposes an idea to benefit the city in some way. The Mayor almost always ruins the idea and leaves Tom to deal with those repercussions. If you can get passed the stiff animation style, the dialogue in “Tom Goes to the Mayor” is hilarious, dry and awkward. “Tom Goes to the Mayor” is a gem for anyone who enjoys situations that begin and end with nonsense. Just note that if you’re not a fan of absurdity, then this show is bound to make even the biggest Adult Swim fans cringe.
13. Sealab 2021
“Sealab 2021” was one of Adult Swim’s first shows to air at the network’s launch. Similar to “Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” “Sealab 2021” was produced by using old stock footage from the archives of Hanna-Barbera. In this case, “Sealab 2021” took footage from the ‘70s “Sealab 2020,” and was rewritten as a spoof of environmentally-friendly television shows and children’s cartoons. Think “Captain Planet” or “Flipper” for bored adults.
The show follows an eclectic crew aboard an underwater laboratory as they interact with each other. Captain “Hank” Murphy is the star and favorite of the show, voiced by Harry Goz. Murphy often interjects himself into situations that seem too intellectual for his comprehension, much to the intelligent Dr. Quentin Q. Quinn’s demise. Nearly every episode featured the Sealab exploding, resulting in the death of the crew, only to reappear unfazed in the very next episode. “Sealab 2021” ran for four seasons, with each episode following no continuity aside from its cast and characters. Nerdcore rapper mc chris and “CHiPs” actor Erik Estrada found their second home as voiceover actors for “Sealab 2021.”
“Squidbillies” follows a family of anthropomorphic hillbilly mud squids who live in Georgia. Early Cuyler, the family’s father, is an alcoholic who finds frustration with his mother, Granny. Rusty, his son, yearns for his father’s approval, while Early’s sister, Lil, is often featured in the show unconscious and lying in a pool of her own vomit. They’re friends with the town Sheriff and are protected by endangered species laws, as they’re “Appalachian Mud Squids.”
“Squidbillies” is absolutely bonkers, playing off the chemistry of a hillbilly family who can’t be jailed. Family fights happen just about every episode, usually resulting in some weird sexual climax or a hefty amount of violence. Surprisingly, the series has run since 2005 and just finished up its 10th season. The show has featured guest appearances from comedians and actors such as Brendon Small, Jonathan Katz, Fred Armisen and Patton Oswalt.
11. Robot Chicken
“Robot Chicken” is a journey through pop culture by way of toys and merchandising. Created, written and produced by Seth Green, “Robot Chicken” is one of Adult Swim’s most popular shows. The Emmy-winning series is a stop-motion sketch comedy routine written by toy nerds and packaged for geeks everywhere to devour. Using various action figures, dolls and clay, the show’s creators splice real-world situations with pop culture references that just make sense. What if Godzilla had issues in the bedroom? What if Mayor McCheese was an actual mayor? These are some of the questions “Robot Chicken” answers, delivering topical jokes laced in stop motion hijinks.
Matthew Senreich, Douglas Goldstein and Tom Root, all previous contributors for popular magazine “ToyFare,” serve as the show’s main writers. An insane amount of guests have been featured on the series, including Stan Lee, 50 Cent, George Lucas and Elijah Wood. Most of the show’s jokes are clever deconstructions of characters in comics or film, delivered in a fast-paced manner for our distracted generation to consume. Though it may suffer from its own oversaturation since its first airing in 2005, “Robot Chicken” shows no signs of running out of jokes anytime soon.
10. Moral Orel
If you were to combine the clay-animated Christian kids show “Davey and Goliath” with the sitcom stylings of “Leave It to Beaver,” then soak that in the dirtiest bits of “South Park,” you’d wind up with Adult Swim’s “Moral Orel.” This satirical black comedy revolves around a boy named Orel who struggles to live as a fundamental Protestant Christian in a city full of sin. Though his family has their own kinks, Orel is too naive to believe anything lewd is happening around him. Hypocrisy reigns throughout “Moral Orel,” as creator Dino Stamatopoulos likes throwing satirical daggers at the concept of religion.
The first season’s format involved a happy, naive Orel misinterpreting a lesson he learned in Sunday school, often ending with his father beating him as a form of correction. The show later evolved into a massive spiral of cynicism and sexual deviancy involving the show’s other religious devouts, crafting Orel into less of a naive little boy and developing him into a mature, darker character. Cartoon Network even prohibited a few episodes from airing due to its dark, overly sexual themes. Many people agree the series became downright depressing towards its ending. But hey, there aren’t many shows that capture the faults of faith quite like “Moral Orel” can.
9. Xavier: Renegade Angel
John Lee, Vernon Chatman, Jim Tozzi and Alyson Levy created “Xavier: Renegade Angel” with spiritualism and philosophy in mind. It’s a surrealistic comedy following a self-absorbed faun-like creature who roams the lands in search of the true meaning of life. Through complex wordings and phrases, Xavier provides insight on religion, life and the universe to everyone he meets during his nonsensical plot points. He also has a snake for an actual arm.
The show is known to get bloody and overly incoherent, but if you’re paying attention, “Xavier: Renegade Angel” has some of the best-written lines of any Adult Swim show, ever. Most viewers are turned off by “Xavier: Renegade Angel” based on its poor CG animation style alone, but that’s actually intentional. If you’ve learned to never judge a book by its cover and can totally get over the fact that Xavier as a character looks insanely stupid, you’ll find deeper meaning in production studios PFFR’s Adult Swim underdog.
8. Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law
Adult Swim struck gold with its series “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.” Combining ideas presented in “Sealab 2021” and “Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law” found use of old Hanna-Barbera characters the network’s other shows hadn’t parodied yet. With newly drawn backgrounds and fluid animations, “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law” remains one of Adult Swim’s best shows and one of the only ones with an ongoing plot.
On the show, Harvey Birdman was reintroduced to viewers as a criminal defense attorney. Superheroes, supervillains and other Hanna-Barbera characters would approach Birdman with a case that usually pertained to their powers or background. For example, when Shaggy and Scooby Doo are pulled over by a police officer for reckless driving, they’re accused of possession of marijuana and ask for Birdman to help bail them out of trouble. Other characters who appear include Secret Squirrel, Birdgirl, Atom Ant, Dum Dum, Yogi Bear, Fred Flintstone, and more. Each episode often revolved around a single case, but the series as a whole told the story of Birdman working in the Sebben & Sebben law firm. Continuity is a major reason why this show is so solid, as most Adult Swim shows began to derail after a few seasons, becoming increasingly nonsensical.
After Brendon Small’s “Home Movies” was canceled on Adult Swim, the creator got to work on a new show for metal fans called “Metalocalypse.” Written by Small and his friend Tommy Blacha, the show is both an homage to the genre of death metal and a parody of its entire scene. It’s a gory cartoon, full of death and songs with absurd lyrics of nonsense (which were re-used in the fan-favorite “Batmetal” shorts) and even more violence. It’s also a genius concept for a show, telling the tale of a metal band suffering a Beatles-like phenomenon.
“Metalocalypse” follows Deathklok band members William Murderface, Skwisgaar Skwigelf, Nathan Explosion, Pickles, and Toki Wartooth on their escapades as being both the biggest death metal band in the world and an economic conglomerate. They’re so huge, they even have their own police force that protects them. The band is also so dumb that they don’t realize what they do is illegal at times. “Metalocalypse” is currently unfinished, but Brendon Small assures fans a final season will happen sometime soon without the aid of Adult Swim.
6. The Boondocks
Based on Aaron McGruder’s comic strip of the same name, “The Boondocks” premiered on Adult Swim back in 2005. The show is a smart look into America and its views on conflicting cultures, addressing issues with social classes and lifestyles as a whole. It’s a powerful animated series that challenges the racist, bigoted aspects of the United States. The series was a critical hit when it first debuted and it still holds up as a timeless satirical comedy.
“The Boondocks” revolves around two brothers, Huey and Riley Freeman, and their grandpa Robert Jebediah “Grandad” Freeman, as they live in a predominately white suburb called Woodcrest. The family constantly runs into issues of race, class, culture and conflict on their daily outings. Huey plays the role as the smart, sophisticated kung fu fighting brother while Riley plays his aggressive Gangsta Rap counterpart. Grandad levels them both out as they constantly argue about each other’s lifestyle choices, while the town seems to disagree with the family living close by. Thought-provoking episodes of “The Boondocks” include a modern-day return of Martin Luther King Jr. and concealing homosexuality between two gangsta rappers.
5. Home Movies
Before Brendon Small’s uber-popular “Metalocalypse,” Small worked on a show for Adult Swim called “Home Movies.” The series initially ran on UPN for only five episodes before getting canceled but was purchased by Cartoon Network to help launch the Adult Swim network in 2001. “Home Movies” revolved around a kid named Brendon and his two best friends, Melissa and Jason, as they filmed their own amateur movies. The group often hung out with their slacker soccer teacher, Coach McGuirk, and created mischief together as a handful of hooligans.
Often times, McGuirk is the one to bail them out, but Brendon’s mom also serves as their savior from time to time. Aside from a few major plot points in each episode, almost all of the dialogue in “Home Movies” is improvised. The actors were given a scene and situation, acting off its premise alone and sort of filling in the blanks depending on a scenario. This gave “Home Movies” a natural conversational feel to its humor, as if the voice actors were actually having as much fun as their characters were. As one of the earliest Adult Swim shows, “Home Movies” stands out as a cult classic and fan favorite, thanks to its charming characters and naturally spoken, dry dialogue.
4. Rick and Morty
Initially an animated parody of “Back to the Future,” “Rick and Morty” follows the alcoholic mad scientist, Rick Sanchez, and the naive and often distressed Morty on their intergalactic travels through the universe. Rick often drags Morty along with him as he travels through space and time, either for partying purposes or violent revenge against aliens who have wronged him in the past. The goodhearted Morty is always skeptical of Rick’s unusual ways of “fixing” problems, as unorthodox as they may be, but each episode finds the characters coming back home to their family and still enjoying each other’s company after going through Hell and back.
Since its premiere in 2013, “Rick and Morty” has managed to become to Adult Swim what “Archer” is to FX or “Bob’s Burgers” is to Fox. With its top-notch action/sci-fi writing and the incredible voice talent consisting of Justin Roiland, Chris Parnell, Spencer Grammer and Sarah Chalke, “Rick and Morty” is Adult Swim’s pride and joy that doesn’t seem like it will implode anytime soon.
3. The Venture Bros.
“The Venture Bros.” is a total deconstruction of the roles of hero and villain. It takes tropes introduced in action and sci-fi media for children and flips them on their heads, parodying every comic book and ’80s cartoon that may have influenced characters in the show along the way. It’s a reimagining of “Jonny Quest,” a play on secret agents, a tease toward cosmic entities in comic books, and an overdose of the masculine machismo of heroes seen in American action films. In short, this is a nerd’s absolute messiah when it comes to comedy.
From “Fantastic Four” to “Doctor Strange,” no comic book, film, character trope or hero goes unparodied in “The Venture Bros.” The series shows the relationship between two idiotic brothers styled after the “Hardy Boys,” Hank and Dean Venture, and their escapades living with their intelligent and self-absorbed father, Dr. Thaddeus “Rusty” Venture. The family has a brutal bodyguard full of testosterone named Brock Samson, who is used as a literal weapon toward the Venture family’s enemies, violently killing foes and enjoying the pain he creates. Meanwhile, the family’s self-proclaimed arch-nemesis, The Monarch, is a supervillain with a butterfly-like ensemble and similarly-themed henchmen.
2. Aqua Teen Hunger Force
“Aqua Teen Hunger Force” is one of Adult Swim’s staple programs, focusing on a crew of crimefighting anthropomorphic fast food items. …Except they never really fight crime. They usually argue with each other, if anything. In fact, most of the show’s shenanigans come from nonsensical plot points that drive the characters into either killing each other, killing their neighbor, killing a villain who terrorizes their home, or completely annihilating whatever semblance of coherence an episode might’ve had.
Which also makes “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” an example of what we all know Adult Swim should be, or in many cases, should look up to. The relationship between Master Shake, Meatwad and Frylock runs on mayhem and conflict, which is something a bulk of Adult Swim shows push their awkward, uncomfortable humor toward. The team’s neighbor, Carl, is one of the network’s best and trashiest characters, usually delivering lines that say what the audience is thinking and/or pushes jokes even further into weirdness. The core team, if they aren’t fighting each other, face-off against villains who are as laughable and ridiculous as they are. If “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” isn’t what you think of when you talk about Adult Swim, something is incredibly wrong with your viewpoint.
1. Space Ghost Coast to Coast
This is the show that started it all. Predating Adult Swim’s formation by seven years, “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” was the first glimpse of awkward, weird humor that would influence cartoons, television entertainment and comedians for decades to come. The series was an anti-talk show, poking fun at late-night programming and replacing their hosts with stock characters from the archives of Hanna-Barbera’s ’60s action cartoon, “Space Ghost and Dino Boy.” Essentially, “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” with a talk show, anti-comedy cartoon hybrid of a beast.
Every celebrity invited as a guest on the show was made fun of, either directly from Space Ghost’s dialogue or through major editing of the guest interview, sometimes making the guest seem as though they were talking nonsense. If Space Ghost didn’t get the job done, his sidekicks Zorak and Moltar definitely twisted the knife. The Ramones, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Metallica, Pavement, Carrot Top, and Busta Rhymes are just some of the celebrities who had the opportunity to be featured on this legendary spoof of a show. Even if you didn’t understand one of the jokes, you’d still laugh at the charming delivery by Space Ghost’s voice alone.
Are there any other Adult Swim cartoons that should have made this list? Be sure to let us know in the comments.
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