There will always be room in American animation for shows like Superjail. Crude, ultraviolent, ugly and careful to present any cleverer ideas masked beneath a layer of intentional stupidity, it descends most directly from Beavis and Butthead and shares similarities in tone and humour with other cartoons airing on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim section such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Metalocalypse. On the other hand, Superjail! may be the bloodiest, most surreal and most morally reprehensible cartoon to make it onto a mainstream television channel. That said, in the Internet age there are more shocking things on every imageboard, on every flash cartoon site.
Superjail! is the story of an enormous and ridiculous jail. In every episode, a criminal is apprehended by an advanced robot called Jailbot and flown to Superjail past a series of fantastic scenes in a brilliant title sequence that is one of the season’s main hooks. Indeed, it is usually the same criminal, who has escaped somehow or other in the previous episode. The jail is run by another of the series’ main draws, The Warden, a winsome and idiotic master inventor with an effete manner and dress sense that draws comparisons with Willy Wonka. He is helped by officious, neurotic little Jared and amusingly masculine prison guard Alice, while havoc is wreaked by two identical twins with monotone voices I’m sure are an impression of somebody, though beyond Austin-Powers-doing-an-impression-of-Tim-Curry-in-Rocky-Horror, I can’t place it.
Most episodes involve the Warden deciding there is some problem with the jail or getting inspired to improve it somehow, which invariably goes wrong or is sabotaged by the twins and ends up causing a fiendishly inventive bloodbath. As the concepts were often clever or so silly they were very amusing (as when genderswapped versions of all the characters made an appearance), this did not become tiresome over the course of the series – but it was also after all only 11 episodes of 10 minutes each. Plus it was fun to speculate that it was all an illusion, a jail to contain the one criminal – The Warden.
I honestly thought Superjail! wasn’t going to be my thing. Too juvenile, I thought. Too obvious. The amusingly awful moment in the first episode’s intro where Jailbot tries to give the little girl some ice cream would be the only laugh I got from it. Yet there was enough humour, enough clever references and enough fascination in these horrible but compelling characters I found myself really enjoying the show, and happy to watch season 2 – and the upcoming season 3.
Plus I have to say, slipping in visual nods to the mythological animations in Watership Down definitely didn’t do any harm.