Top 5 TV: Hello, ‘Fear the Walking Dead,’ Goodbye ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force’
2. Saturday Night Live alums go vérité with Documentary Now! (IFC)
Even the most fervent fans of the Maysles brothers’ 1975 Grey Gardens questioned why ex-SNL stalwarts Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Seth Meyers would parody the movie — beloved by film fanatics, obscure to most comedy nerds — for the debut episode of their new IFC series. It’s not like these guys are just winking at the original; they’ve slavishly copied its look and tone, from the autumnal lighting to the shrill bickering of two eccentric ex-socialites in a crumbling East Hampton estate. But the full extent of the gag doesn’t begin to come into focus until after Hader’s “Little Vivvy Van Kimpton” falls through a hole in the attic. (“You got floor all in my lima beans!” Armisen’s character “Big Vivvy” gripes.) From there, the episode becomes increasingly bizarre, shifting into a riff on found footage horror films like The Blair Witch Project.
This whole project seems a little like what Armisen, Hader, and Meyers used to do on Saturday Night Live with sketches like “The History of Punk,” where some giggly impression they’d amuse each other with around the office would somehow make it onto the show. But it’s rare for an extended inside joke like this to have such a great WTF payoff. What starts as an inexplicable (albeit lovely) goof turns into an actual story, with a stinger ending. There are five more of these faux-docs remaining this season. May they all be this surprising and hilarious.
1. Meatwad gets married, Aqua Teen Hunger Force (Adult Swim)
After 14 years and 11 seasons, Adult Swim’s profoundly strange, sneakily influential Aqua Teen Hunger Force bowed out this past Sunday night, with an episode that sent two-thirds of the cartoon superhero team into oblivion. The floating box of french fries, Frylock, suffered a fatal nosebleed. Master Shake ventured under the sea to save his buddy’s life, and was nibbled to death by shellfish. Only the moronic Meatwad survived, and in a bittersweet climactic montage, he got married, had kids, and became a mild-mannered middle-age schlub complaining about the water bill. (“Does $127 sound right to you?”)
If none of the above makes sense, you must not have watched Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim much over the past decade. Aqua Teen Hunger Force helped establish the template for every late-night animated comedy that’s followed in its wake — much like how co-creators Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro fed off the surreal pop-culture slurry that nourished the channel’s 1990s breakout hit Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, where they both got their start. The show hasn’t been as vital in the last few years as it was in the early days, when it was a big enough deal to have its own feature film. But it’s remained gleefully trippy and raunchy, and the kind of avant-garde happening where Patti Smith can sing a tribute song over the finale’s closing credits and no fan bats an eye.
There wasn’t much chatter online about ATHF‘s legacy as it wound down; the last episode adopts a sadly resigned tone toward itself, with Frylock saying, “There comes a time in a popular character’s life when it’s just over.” Yet during a decade-plus of war, natural disaster, and economic collapse, this loud, free-associative cartoon about talking food made about as much sense as anything else on TV. Wasn’t it T.S. Elliot who said, “This is the way the world ends… not with a bang, but with a sentient milkshake getting eaten alive by clams?”