Sketch comedy is actually one of my favourite kinds of comedy, especially rapid-fire sketch comedy. For one, it works to my shorter-than-most attention span and, more importantly, it means that if one sketch isn’t particularly doing it for me, another one will be along in short order to try again. It keeps the pace fast and stops massive duds from dragging the show down. Of course, this means that a show’s hit/miss ratio can get very lopsided at points, but when it works (like classic era Robot Chicken or season 3 Sanity Not Included) it really works.
MAD, the Cartoon Network sketch comedy series based on the popular humour magazine, is one of those that has a hit/miss ratio so wild that it makes tuning in each week a risk in its own right. Is the show going to deliver 11 straight minutes of great gag after great gag this week? Is it going to be 11 straight minutes of lazy, unfunny duds? Or is it going to be somewhere in the middle? It’s honestly rather hard to tell, which is kind of what makes it one of my favourite shows to watch because it’s unpredictable but, unlike other such shows of wildly varying quality, its 11 minute run time means that episodes of rather poor quality are in and out before you can feel like your time is being wasted. In that sense, it really is Robot Chicken but for kids, and the Season 4 premiere showcased the programme at its best and worst.
With the MADvent Calendar landing with pretty much a complete thud, we dive into the first extended sketch of the night, Linkong, a parody of Lincoln but with King Kong in the main role because, direct quote, “how else are we gonna keep this interesting for the kids?” I’ll admit; I laughed a bit, the reveal of Linkong’s cabinet being various dinosaurs, a banana peel managing to derail an entire train, the unfinished Lincoln memorial. But then the sketch went off the rails when Iron Giant Lady made a sudden return appearance. There’s only so much randomness one sketch can take before it just becomes stupid and Linkong crosses that line in its last minute, especially with whatever the hell that ending was.
Things got rockier from there, with a bunch of sketches that ranged from meh to just plain unfunny. Fortune Yeller seemed to believe that people yelling is inherently funny (though the end tag featuring it almost redeemed the sketch), Truth Paste was a funny concept that the show did nothing with, and I have no idea what the hell was up with Man With Flu Who Never Gets A Baby. What was the joke there? Was there one? I don’t know. Rejected Merry-Go-Round Characters, meanwhile, was a sketch with some potential that simply fell back on the mindless violence card.
I have to admit that, despite my better instincts, I laughed at Keeping Up With The Carebearshians. It was dumb and brought little to the table that hundreds of other Kardashian parodies haven’t thought of before, but for some reason I laughed quite a bit. Spy vs. Spy, as usual, was great and then we were on to the best sketch of the night, Diver At The Winter Olympics. In and out in about 15 seconds, it was perfectly set-up and the show didn’t linger too long on the punch-line before moving on (which is something that it’s frequently guilty of doing) enabling it to get the big laugh it needed without dulling the impact.
The last sketch of the episode, though, Rainbow Dash And Bernstein, was MAD at its lowest. Frequent complaints I’ve heard about this show is the laziness of its humour, how its extended sketches just shove two random properties together and assume that you’ll laugh at them (this is a practice that Sanity Not Included expertly parodied in “Nathan Drake Appears In Halo”). Sadly, sketches like this do absolutely nothing to disprove such opinions. There were pretty much no jokes, here, and the show had nothing to say about either of its targets, Crash & Bernstein or My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, so we were just left with two minutes of “Look! It’s Rainbow Dash interacting with Bernstein! Isn’t that funny?! Please laugh!” And, yeah, maybe some kids will find that inherently funny. Then again, maybe they won’t. It’s most definitely nowhere near the worst extended sketch that MAD have ever done – Duck, a Chuck parody with a duck instead of Chuck Bartowski and that’s the whole gag, still holds onto that ignoble honour – but it was still a poor way to close out this rather middling episode.
Then again, maybe next week will be better! Maybe next week’s episode will be 11 straight minutes of clever hilarity. Then again, maybe it’ll be 11 straight minutes of cringeworthy dud after cringeworthy dud. Or maybe it’ll be another mix! There’s really no way to tell and that’s why I watch MAD because it’s always interesting. It’s not always good, but every episode always has something for me to unpack. I know that saying that about sketch comedy for kids sounds preposterous, but I can always tell precisely why a MAD sketch works or falls down. And then for the times where the show is on fire, it’s on fire. So, for me, watching an 11 minute episode of MAD is really worth the risk. It’s never the best show on TV, but it is one of the best to analyse, for me.
- Welcome to my MAD season 4 coverage, everyone! I know that the show has been back for a while, but the site I watch the latest episodes of my favourite cartoons on has just gotten around to uploading each episode for the season. So, I’ll be reviewing two episodes a week until we catch up to the American airings, where we will then switch to just the latest episode whenever they’re posted! Hope to have you along to the ride!
- As to how each review will work, it’ll be a lot like this. If I have something to talk about MAD as a whole, the review will open with that, otherwise it’s pretty much just a straight analysis of each sketch. The format is heavily inspired by The AV Club’s reviews of Saturday Night Live and it seems to work for them, so let’s apply it to other sketch comedy shows because why not, eh?
- Gilbert Gottfried showed up in the Linkong and Rainbow Dash And Bernstein segments as Linkong and the puppet Crash. Honestly, he goes a long way towards saving both sketches from being total duds, as is what happens when you get Gilbert Gottfried to voice act in your show. He has one voice, but dammit if it isn’t a good one!
- Best Sketch: Diver At The Winter Olympics by a good mile. Spy vs. Spy comes in second, but that’s such a dependable sketch that no episode will ever get an F if it has a not-crap Spy vs. Spy.
- Worst Sketch: Man With Flu Who Never Gets A Baby. Seriously, what was that?
- Linkong tries to hide by climbing the Lincoln Memorial. “It’s not finished?! I hate living in the past!”
- “Let’s see if he remembers that it’s the Winter Olympics. (crashes onto the ice hockey rink) Ooh, he did not! That is going to cost him!”
- Bernstein is just as perplexed as the audience as to the existence of Crash. “Why are you alive?” “I don’t know! Why are YOU alive?”
- “This is gonna be weird.” Words that can describe pretty much any MAD sketch that goes off-the-rails.
- Again, the tag almost saved the initial Fortune Yeller segment. “I PREDICT THAT YOU WILL SOON GO DEAF!”