There are a lot of die-hard Adult Swim fans out there, and I am actually ashamed to say that I’m not one of them. This is partially because I’ve never really watched it all that much. Sad, I know. From it’s inception to 2004, I was in high school, and I really didn’t get a chance to watch late night TV. Even when I did, and what a rare occasion that was, I didn’t really care for Adult Swim. I checked it out a few times, but even back then, the programming I was able to glimpse didn’t interest me. I seem to recall one of my major criticisms of the block being “Why is it called ADULT Swim when all of it’s content is rated TV14? nothing especially adult about that, is there? Venture bros looked stupid. Aqua Teen Hunger force looked boring. Space Ghost and Harvey Birdman were okay, but wore out their welcome really fast.
Then, starting in 2004, I got a job. I was working the night shift, from 10 PM to 7 AM, and that left very little time to get back into the programming block. I had an hour or two to kill before my shift, and I had two nights off a week, so I wound up having a lot of time on my hands to surf the internet and watch late night TV, right up until I got rid of my TV service in 2012. So from 2005 to 2012, I did have some limited access to Adult Swim, and there were a few shows I kinda liked. I found moderate amusement in Moral Orel, I loved Boondocks, and while it wasn’t really my thing, I had a huge amount of respect for Metalocalypse. I also enjoyed the occasional anime, but for the most part, the original programming on that block never stopped feeling like immature schlock meant to appeal to teenagers who thought they were breaking some imaginary law by watching something with the Adult label on it.
And before I get into the main topic for this post, I feel I should make my opinion on Robot Chicken was on, but I’d just get bored inbetween the few good jokes. I tried watching it on DVD, but I wound up turning it off and leaving the disk by the wayside after life five episode known. I tried to like it. I really did. It took the AMV Hell structure and retooled it to involve more accessible jokes based around stop-motion characters. I tried watching it when it s. It’s a great show in small doses, like when you’re just trying to watch some funny clips on youtube… Come to think of it, that’s probably the best way to watch it… And by doing this, I’ve come across a bunch of clips I still enjoy to this day, even though I’d rather not sit down and watch a full episode.
But that’s Robot Chicken. We’re here today to talk about what is by far my favorite non-anime show from the history of the Adult Swim programming block, and that show is Gary the Rat.
Oh wait, that was a Spike TV show? Okay, then my favorite is Titan Maximum!
Titan Maximum was a 2009 cartoon created to be the spiritual sequel to Robot Chicken, which felt about 70 years old at the time. Titan, on the other hand,. was something fresh and new… An american take on giant robot anime, and while it was very much written for an american audience, that’s not the only thing that set it apart from the anime it was inspired by. We’ll get to that later, but for starters, I don’t remember how I watched it. I definitely remember the advertisements on Cartoon Network, and how it looked pretty cool, but I can’t remember if I made the effort to see each episode when it aired, or if I caught what I could and watched the rest on Youtube. Either way, I did keep up with it, and I was fairly hooked on it.
Out of the things about titan Maximum that separate it from other giant robot shows, the first one you may notice is it’s not an origin story. This isn’t about the formation of the team, the rising of a group of heroes, the coming together of the group… It takes place after the story of Titan Maximum is already finished, and we’re essentially watching the part 2 of a part 1 that never happened. Much like Watchmen, and there may have been a little inspiration in that regard, Titan Maximum takes place after the dissolution and retirement of the team, and they’re brought together to fight off an old member of the team who feels he has more to offer the human race as a villain than as a hero. Yeah, I’ll be honest, I’m just now… When writing this… realizing how much like Watchmen this is. Thankfully the similarities stop there, because the show wouldn’t be nearly as funny otherwise.
Anyway, the group’s been disbanded, one member died in a tragic accident(a possible reference to Sven from Voltron), and the team went into retirement and on their merry way. Palmer, the leader of the team and overtly cocky asshole, has been living off of his celebrity status and enjoying a hedonistic lifestyle. Sasha, the sexy socialite of the group, has attempted to find a new direction in life, making a name for herself as a musical artist. Jodi, the sweetheart girl next door, is working as a martial arts instructor. Gibbs, the overlooked and underappreciated second in command, has made plans to conquer and rule the solar system, and the first part of that plan is to unleash a giant monster on Titan, the home satellite of the team. In order to save as many people as they can, Palmer, Sasha and Jodi have come out of retirement, and with the help of Palmer’s hero-worshipping little brother willy and a stone-faced fucking monkey, they manage to save the day, setting off a chain of events that will bring the world a brand new Titan Force 5!
And if my character descriptions didn’t tip you off, that’s the second thing you might notice about this show… The cast is not even close to what you’d expect for this sort of story. The most obvious of all is Palmer, who should be the most boring character of the group… The virtuous and good-hearted boyscout leader. TM kicks this trope to the curb with a leader who earned his position purely through skill, and not through force of personality. He’s kind of like a prototypical Sterling Archer, and had the show survived past season 1, we may have seen more development in that direction. His little brother is also a big departure from the norm, as the little kid of the group is normally the heart and soul of the group, but while he may be idealistic and courageous, Willie is also green as hell and constantly getting shit on by the rest of the team. Again, who knows where more development could have taken him?
It’s difficult to talk about Sasha without launching into a debate that’s far more weighted and socially relevant than this show justifiably deserves I wanna try to avoid calling her a slut, because I don’t think that’s fair… She’s an adult, adults can have as much sex as they want, get over it… But that is clearly the direction they wanted to take the character, especially with the way she’s portrayed as the yang to the yin of Jodi’s archetypal ‘good girl’ role. This dichotomy is played out really hard between the two characters, even though a lot of the jokes between them feel forced. They do have a few brief moments of bonding when they happen to be on the same page, and Sasha actually winds up defending Jodi after a wayward sexual misadventure leads to disastrous results… Although it’s clear she was defending the act itself, and not Jodi as a person, or even less her feelings.
There is more depth to these characters than meets the eye, but aside from a few glimpses at it through Sasha’s interactions with her father and Jodi’s interactions with Gibbs, most of it can only really be gleamed from their character bios on the Titan Maximum wiki. I have no idea where this site got it’s information, or even whether or not any of it’s real, but it does offer a better understanding of who the characters are and why they do the things they do, information we probably would have caught onto naturally if the powers that be had allowed it. Strangely, that also includes the monkey. The villain, Gibbs, is probably the most interesting character in the bunch, as he’s a sort of Dr. Doom type villain… someone who thinks that his iron-clad rule is not only justified, but in the best interest of the human race, and he’s no slouch, either. His plans get a bit convoluted, and as the ending of season 1 would suggest, he’s not fucking around at all. He is dead serious in both his methods and his cause, and he pursues both with nothing but pure, delicious evil.
I don’t recall where I heard this, but there was apparently an interesting story regarding the voice acting, which was originally going to see the three main male characters being cast to type. Breckin Meyer was supposed to play Gibbs, Dan Milano to play Palmer, and Seth Green to play yet another child role, Willie. They changed things up at the last minute, and the result was spectacular… Dan Milano wound up playing Willie, and putting forth a very enthusiastic and earnest Willie, Seth Green laying a Gibbs that is absolutely dripping with venom, and Breckin Meyer playing up the jock confidence of Palmer, and it couldn’t have turned out better that way. As much as I loved Rachel Leigh Cook when she was still focused on live action projects, she has proven herself to be a great voice actor, and Eden Espinosa, a stage/voice actress who also did a lot fo work on robot Chicken, is hilarious as Sasha. Some of her rants leave me laughing so hard I can’t breathe.
What you might have noticed from that list of names is that all five of them have a history of appearing in the cast of Robot chicken, and for the most part, that trend also extends to the supporting cast. Billy Dee Williams, of Empire Strikes Back fame, who often reprised that character in Robot Chicken, plays Admiral bitchface, which is the characters actual christian name, and from what I hear, some of his deliveries needed multiple takes because they were too loud and over-charged for the recording equipment. Kurtwood Smith plays a General on the Elderly community of Mercury, and Adrienne Palicki, an actual relevant TV actress, plays Clare, Gibbs’s little girl sidekick, a cute pink Assassin with a giant diamond sword-sword. Clare happens to feature in one of the more beautifully shot scenes, a moment when a team of soldiers are infiltrating Biggs’s latest hideout, and she cheerfully kills them all.
Actually, when I try to tell people how awesome this series is, that’s usually the first scene I show them. Being related to robot chicken, Titan Maximum was an extremely low budget stop motion animation, and what they were able to accomplish is pretty impressive. There are stories about the set designers using potted plants and googly eyes to create futuristic architecture… Which sounds a lot more interesting than the bland white everything-rounded architecture that exists in most futuristic media these days… And they even managed to win an Emmy for costume design. Somehow. The action is well choreographed, full of both intense and comedic fight scenes… Need I remind you this is stop-motion… And for the most part, characters move and interact like real people. I wouldn’t put it up against higher budget projects like Coraline or Kubo and the Two Strings, because I don’t think the comparison would wind up being a favorable one, but it’s still really good looking for what it is and who created it. There are times I honestly forget I’m watching puppets.
Honestly, the worst thing about it is probably the comedy. That’s not to say it’s not funny… There are moments in it that still crack me the hell up eight years later… But it’s not what I’d call a good ratio. There are a ton of awful jokes in the first episode alone, and they’re the kind that makes it hard to decide whether the writers were trying too hard or not enough at all. A lot of Sasha’s jokes about Jodi feel forced and awkward, and several jokes feel like they were better on paper than in practice, like the Jester Corps. Here’s the thing, though… Bad jokes that are short are one thing, as you can just move on to another joke before the pain can really set in, but things get even worse when a bad joke goes on for too long, and this happens a lot, even with out of place character backstories that provide no laughs, information, development or purpose. The good jokes do make up for these, but yeah, only about a third of them are even good.
The series had great ratings, it was outperforming several other shows that the Adult Swim block was airing at the time, and for the first year, DVD sales were also doing really well. It wasn’t a smash hit, it wasn’t breaking any surprising ground or converting entire demographics towards it, but for a first season, it was doing fine, and it was creating some decent buzz around where it could go in the future, so you can imagine how fans of the show felt as the season ended, and then the months just crept on and on without any notice of a second season being greenlit. Considering the final episode leaving off on a massive cliffhanger, it had to get picked up, but years later, the only real news we had was a Cartoon Network blurb saying “We’ll let you know.” There’s really no solid information about why the series never continued, but I was able to find a few people saying that Seth Green pulled the plug on it himself so he could focus on the bigger money-maker, Robot Chicken, which has unsurprisingly gone the same path as Family Guy.
I know I’m not the only person who wants Titan Maximum to continue, and according to the DVD features, there’s at least six or seven seasons worth of material that never got explored. Will Willie ever come of age as a hero? Hey, maybe it was going to go the Gurren Lagann route, with Palmer dying, and Willie taking his place after a time skip. Maybe we’d find out what was in Sasha’s glove compartment. Maybe they’ll find a way to bring back spud, like Rick and Morty did with Phoenix Person. Maybe we could learn more about Gibbs’s mysterious connections with non-human aliens. All I know is, I really want to see where these characters go on their journeys, and what the full extent of Gibbs’s plan is. Sadly, the only thing we’re ever going to get out of it is the first season DVD, a whole bunch of empty promises, and a forgotten show that could have flourished if the right people both within and without had believed in it. There probably won’t ever be a proper continuation, but you can bet that I’ll watch it if there is.