Cartoon Network is a genius of animation and storytelling for children by day, and a madcap, raunchy, and caricatural treasure by night. Declaring “All kids out of the pool,” Adult Swim takes over the family-friendly Cartoon Network as its late-night, zany, experimental, and often surrealist alter-ego. The programming block includes reruns of universal favorites like Family Guy or Futuramabroadcasts great anime such as Cowboy Bebopand has put out a slew of original series that proceeded to become some of the best animated shows for adults ever, even tapping into live-action on a channel devoted to cartoons.
Adult Swim is more than a niche television bloc, as its crude sense of humor, gonzo gags and reverence for violence established a prominent presence in pop culture, influencing animation, comedy, and countless memes; for instance, Insider describes the TikTok trend of creating replicas of something called bumpers, short branded clips that aired between the shows on Adult Swim. So let’s look at the list of the funniest Adult Swim shows that helped the alternative block become its own beloved network of sorts.
12 Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule
Spawned from the Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim show universe, Check it Out! with Dr. Steve Brule is adorably obnoxious. This parody of a talk show in the visual style of an old VHS tape is hilarious and more than a little bit disturbing. John C. Reilly has many brilliant performances in his bag; however, he is, simply put, pitch-perfect as the titular character. His character’s quirky antics and complete ineptness come across as authentic – and C. Reilly’s ingenious improvisation skills make it a genuine knee-slapper.
11 Moral Orel
Moral Orel walked, so that the other sadcoms, such as BoJack Horseman, Rick and Mortyand Anomalies could run. Appearing as a typical satire of Christian fundamentalism, Moral Orel grew more somber in later seasons in a sincere attempt to bring up heavy themes like family dysfunction, depression, and addiction – which made it probably the most heartbreaking cartoon of all time and eventually caused the series’ downfall. Despite getting canceled, this stop-motion comedy-drama gem pioneered a new approach to adult animation: not a raunchy dark comedy full of high jinks and f-bombs but a candid and funny, in heartbreaking ways, dramedy.
Metalocalypse is like a satirical limerick of heavy metal culture crammed into an 11-minute-episode format. The show centers around Dethklok, the world’s most successful death metal band. Despite the parody, the show’s dedication to metal culture and attention to detail, with great artistry, is worth noting. The soundtrack is written by guitarist Brendon Small, who also serves as a show creator. The animation is faithfully synced to the music, each shot crafted so that the fingers are positioned on the correct chord placements, adding to the authenticity of this fun homage to death metal; the fictional band from the show even toured.
9 Aqua Teen Hunger Force
Aqua Teen Hunger Force was released in the first original Adult Swim lineup back in 2000. This bonkers malarkey of a show managed to lock in the much-desired 18-to-34-year-old viewership, as The Guardian notes. It follows a gang of anthropomorphic junk food who just hang around New Jersey. The early episodes had loose superhero / detective vibes but later on, ATHF settled in as a laid-back trip with a hot hip-hop soundtrack. Since it aired, ATHF has been considered everything from comic gold, to trash, to a hare-brained object d’art (and even a terrorist scare) – but most importantly, an audience darling, and the longest-running show on Adult Swim until Robot Chicken took its place.
8 The Eric Andre Show
A fever dream in a bottle, The Eric Andre Show bludgeons its viewers with a non-stop train of absurdist and gross skits – these moments are outrageous and revoltingly amusing at the same time. The Eric Andre Show has been a perfect meme-generator even before the meme appeared as a concept in the public psyche. Perhaps due to Eric Andre’s deranged off-hand charisma, this unsanitized punk-rock parody of a talk show catapulted from its niche to a mainstream satire of celebrity culture.
7 Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law
Taken out of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon Birdman and the Galaxy Trio, Harvey T. Birdman finds himself as a defense attorney; a damn good one at that. Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law is a masterclass in using nostalgia to lure in viewers without destroying the original characters. Familiar animated characters, like Fred Flintstone, Yogi Bear, The Jetsons, and Captain Caveman, are re-purposed into an unexpected goofy setting resembling a modern world with modern problems. It may also be one of Stephen Colbert’s best ventures into voice acting.
6 Rick and Morty
What essentially started as a Back to the Future parody, Rick and Morty broke all viewing records with lightning speed and became Adult Swim’s number one most-watched series. It is not actually the sci-fi elements that made this show so well-loved, but rather the dark philosophy of Rick and Mortywhich is a blend of existentialism, nihilism, and absurdism coupled with characters representative of different lines of thought.
Fan theories, breakdowns of episodes, explanations of gags, and hidden meanings have set YouTube and Reddit on fire. By playing this game of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references and jokes, Rick and Morty becomes a truly postmodern tale, the kind which quite literally invites the viewer to join the titular characters on their adventure.
5 Space Ghost Coast to Coast
Space Ghost Coast to Coast is one of the weirdest talk shows ever, and its affinity for surreal humor essentially gave Adult Swim its trademark lunacy. Eric Andre in particular is known to be inspired by it, trying to emulate the feel of this sheer insanity in The Eric Andre Show. Once a famous superhero, Space Ghost uses his network of celebrity friends to become a spaced-out talk show host with a talent for witty quips. The magic of photomontage makes it possible for legendary guests, from Tommy Wiseau and Jack Black to Zoe Saldana and Conan O’Brien, to appear for an interview with a cartoon character, which all go extremely awkwardly. The show gave birth to several ‘spinoffs’: Aqua Teen Hunger Force, The Brak Showand others.
4 Robot Chicken
What happens if Teletubbies are chosen as the Power Rangers? The end result is repugnant and ridiculous TV, a stop-motion parody of everything that an average American viewer holds dear. A surprisingly successful (and Emmy-winning) modern classic from Seth Green, Robot Chicken mercilessly parodies American pop culture. The sketches are hit-or-miss, but when they hit, they are incredibly quick-witted.
3 Tuca & Bertie
Netflix ‘s decision to cancel Tuca & Bertie caused a ruckus on Twitter. Thankfully, Adult Swim saw the incredible potential of the series and picked it up. A daring show about women for women, Tuca & Bertie struck a chord with a generation of 20-30-somethings who tried to survive in a gig-economy while simultaneously dealing with the crippling comprehension of being alive – through grim, often self-deprecating humor, of course.
2 The Boondocks
Too often, race-conscious creators end up making colorblind shows, which is, honestly, not the best representation. Politically charged and beautifully animated, The Boondocks rammed through this sanitized depiction of the Black experience, instead offering multifaceted Black identities and discussing Black cultural authority, referencing hip-hop, Tyler Perry, R. Kelly, Martin Luther, Oprah, and so much more. As a result, The Boondocks has its jokes and soul in equal measure, standing out from all other Adult Swim shows.
1 The Venture Bros.
The Venture Bros. presents a ridiculous world of superheroes and villains bound by bureaucratic red tape. This Adult Swim staple deconstructs superhero tropes, expertly holding viewers’ attention by parodying clichés of the genre but always in clever and inventive ways. Amazing storytelling coupled with crisp, stylized animation elevates The Venture Bros. from a simple parody that is dependent on its source material, and into a great standalone experience of wonderful character development, clever humor, and opulent absurdity.
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