CBS’s Ghosts has more problems than you’d expect, and its premise feels dead tired.
Master Shake, Frylock and Meatwad may look like the stars of a fast-food value meal. But they’re more. So much more. They talk! They fight with each other! They save the world! Occasionally!
But mostly they star in their very own adult animated sitcom. And because the story behind that sitcom is more linear and sensical than the sitcom itself, that is where we shall begin.
Master Shake, Frylock and Meatwad, members of The Aqua Teen Hunger Force, were originally supposed to be guests on Space Ghost Coast to Coast—a Cartoon Network show that took a 1960s C-list Hanna Barbera cartoon hero and turned him into a host for a late-night talk show. (With me so far?) They were designed as corporate mascots for the fictional fast-food franchise Burger Trench.
Their Coast to Coast appearance was delayed, however, and instead the brave trio made their debut on Adult Swim (a programming block on Cartoon Network) in 2000 as a trio of calorie-laden crime fighters: Their first mission was to conquer a giant robotic rabbit, which they spectacularly failed to do. (They did get the robot rabbit to dance, though—which he does throughout the closing credits.)
But there’s very little money in fighting robotic rabbits and other threats to humanity. So the trio quit their lives as do-gooders. Outside of the first few episodes, you never actually hear them referred to as the Aqua Teen Hunger Force at all—and there’s a reason for that.
In the real world, Aqua Teen Hunger Force creators David Willis and Matt Maiellaro never wanted their foodstuffs to be pseudo superheroes: The whole premise, they said during a DVD commentary, was only cooked up so that Cartoon Network executives would greenlight the series. Those execs, apparently, “didn’t want to air a show about food just going around and doing random things.”
And boy, do they do random things. Or, at least, they did, for 11 seasons from 2000 to 2015. And while the show sometimes changed its name—to Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1 in Season 8 to Aqua Something You Know Whatever in Season 9 to Aqua TV Show Show in Season 10—it still featured the three mainstays: Cranky and duplicitous Master Shake; thoughtful and well-meaning Frylock; and the rather infantile Meatwad.
They’d do things. They’d go places. They’d be forced to deal with their boorish neighbor, Carl Brutananadilewski.
And then in 2015, it all came to an end.
Except it didn’t.
Just as fatty fast food can stay with a diner for years (around the diner’s midsection), Aqua Teen Hunger Force is difficult to get rid of. Eight years after its cancellation, the trio returns with new episodes on Adult Swim and Max.
It arrives in an entertainment atmosphere loaded with far more unhealthy animated options than it competed against in 2000. And compared to the likes of Netflix’s Big Mouth or FX’s Archer, Aqua Teen Hunger Force doesn’t look or feel quite as bad as it might’ve in the early oughts.
But it’s still plenty bad.
Toggling between TV-14 and TV-MA ratings, the show force-feeds viewers a steady stream of sexual jokes, violent images and significant profanity in each 12-minute episode. And while the series has moments of insight and whimsy, it glories far more in juvenile jabs, lazy gags and wince-worthy interactions.
Which means that Aqua Teen Hunger Force hasn’t changed much—at least tonally—since its inception. It feels, in fact, like a stereotypical fast-food meal: a bit tasty, awfully salty and, once you’re done with it, you’re filled with regret.
Master Shake rules a virtual reality world, and he refuses to take off his virtual reality headsets to rejoin the real one. But when Meatwad buys a VR headset of his own, he joins Master Shake and demands to co-rule with him.
Master Shake’s role in his virtual kingdom is that of a not-so-benevolent dictator. “My people, they’ve been through enough, back from when I got here and violently enslaved them,” he tells Meatwad. He zaps one of his subjects into oblivion and, throughout the episode, has another lick his rear end. He engages in an “orgasmic sex orgy” (we see several blob-like subjects lounging in bed with him). Confusingly, he says shortly thereafter that his, um, manhood only “deploys” when he’s ready to mate, and none of his subjects are attractive enough to trigger deployment.
When Meatwad arrives (drawing a number of obscene pictures on Master Shake’s cup), Master Shake offers to give him his own corner of the kingdom. It’s a former sewage dump that Master Shake gushes could be home to “a whole row of whorehouses and casinos.” Meatwad refuses the deal, and the two engage in combat. Later, when Frylock also enters the virtual world, the kingdom is infected with a computer virus, annihilating most of Master Shake’s subjects. (“Ethnic cleansing,” says Master Shake. “Qhite the side hustle you got there, Frylock.”)
Carl drops his drawers to reveal his pixelated groin area. We see a spine jut out of someone’s back, with the wound spurting animated blood. Someone else’s leg falls off.
Characters say “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—.” A crude word for male genitalia is used about a dozen times.
The trio is living in a dystopian world in which aliens with massive ears have taken over the planet. Everyone naturally tries to be as quiet as possible—until Master Shake decides the whole “alien invasion” is an invention by Frylock to keep him quiet. This forces Frylock to deal with the (very real) alien invasion once and for all.
To conquer said aliens, Frylock borrows Carl’s offensive, thong-style underwear (which Carl takes off without taking off his pants) and takes them to the head alien (who is, naturally, a giant ear). Frylock rubs the underwear on the head ear (the ear is turned on by the process), and the resulting bacteria infects the entire, psychically connected race of interstellar invaders. We see some die and decay.
Several characters sing a rather obscene song about having sex with two women in a porta-potty. (The lyrics are not as foul as they could be, but I don’t care to repeat them here.) Something throws up. A character is bloodily devoured, but then its corpse is vomited back up. Carl goes shirtless throughout most of the episode and makes crude remarks about his genitals. There’s a near mention of a “camel jockey,” but the speaker amends his thought. “I’m going to take the high road and say Muslim extremists.” A spaceship crashes into a house and destroys it. We hear a reference to oral sex.
Characters say the s-word, “a–,” “d–n” and “d-ck.” God’s name is misused once.
Master Shake enlists the help of a sentient coffee maker to help him write a screenplay. That coffee machine quickly brings more of his machine brethren to help.
One of those machines is a coffee grinder whose sole job is to stick coffee beans up the coffee machine’s nether regions. The machines and Master Shake go to Carl’s house to watch porn, ostensibly to get inspiration for the screenplay. (When the coffee maker asks if all movies are so short, Carl says, “They’re a lot longer when you pay for them.”) An apparent porn scene makes it into the final play, which becomes a TV movie: A candy cane and gummy bear lick each other’s tongues repeatedly as stereotypically “porny” music plays. A robot consumes several characters and, apparently, bloodily crushes them inside. (We see a quick splash of blood.)
We hear uses of “a–,” “d–n” and “h—,” along with the British profanity “bloody.”
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
CBS’s Ghosts has more problems than you’d expect, and its premise feels dead tired.
Avatar: The Last Airbender, Netflix’s live-action remake of the Nickelodeon cartoon, has some good lessons and some troubling elements.
This animated, sci-fi hospital comedy on Amazon Prime mines absurd gore and suggestive themes for its laughs.
CSI sequel/spin-off CSI: Vegas is your stereotypical crime procedural. And that can be both good and bad.