Paul McCartney once implored John Lennon’s son Julian to “take a sad song and make it better”. The same basic concept is at work here, but the words “sad song” should be replaced with “bad cartoon”. Sealab 2021 is a clever show from Cartoon Network that takes a bad old show, Sealab 2020, and replaces the dialog track with something much more enjoyable. Think of it as the Mystery Science Theater 3000 approach to creating a cartoon.
Admittedly, the results are sometimes mixed. When a gag …oesn’t quite work, it’s amusing in that “I’m having fun, but not quite smiling” sort-of way. When it works, though, the show is laugh-out-loud funny; a concept that seems to be lost on most cartoons after we reach the age of 12. The characters are the same for each episode, including the hapless captain, the token Latino (voiced by Erik Estrada), and my favorite, the occasionally-appearing random Frenchman.
Due to the availability of the source material, these shows do suffer from some occasional continuity problems, but I am willing to overlook those anomalies. This is experimental comedy at its best, as smart and silly as Comedy Central’s Reno 911!. If you don’t get this show, you will find yourself staring blankly at the screen. For those that do, however, this set is a definite must-buy.
Let’s be honest, this is not a show that would benefit from a superb audio track. There is just no need. Therefore, the Dolby Digital 2.0 track that is provided is adequate. Unfortunately, the mix seems to be a bit off. As I said before, the source audio is mixed with new dialog, and a marked difference in quality is apparent. The new dialog is clear and strong, while the original audio is a bit weaker on the track. While some of this is to be expected, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. There is some moderate bass response present, which is better than no bass at all. The track does do a nice job of presenting a uniform sound stage, where volume levels are equal from the front speakers. Unfortunately, this also means that sounds do not follow their sources around the room. The show may be funny, but the audio is nothing special.
The video, as you might expect, is a bit sub-par as well. That’s not to say that it is necessarily bad, but it’s not that great, either. The original show was created in the 1970’s, and little to no effort has been made to restore the images since that time. The transfer is clean and clear, with no scratches or dust present. There is some definite grain present from the original source however, as well as an occasional focus problem. That being said, the video problems with the source cartoon seem to add to the wacky nature of the show, in the same way that classic 16 bit console games seem to be popping up everyplace I go.
There are only a few extras included on these two discs, but they are all interesting and fun. My favorite bit is the inclusion of the original pilot episode that was sent to Cartoon Network. The show is truly horrible, but the on-screen notes that accompany the episode are both hilarious and informative.
Also included are three humorous alternate endings from one episode, and two deleted scenes from another. Rounding out the extras is a segment called Radio Free Sealab: Uncensored which shows the closing credits sequence of one episode both with and without censorship “beeps”. This is a surprising piece that illustrates the belief that censorship can sometimes help to make the show more funny. Every special feature included in this set is a quality piece.
If you are already a fan of the show, then rest assured that you will get your money’s worth from this DVD set. If you are a newcomer, you might want to check out a re-run or two on Cartoon Network before making a purchase. This style of humor has a very specific audience. For my tastes, this is a very fun and entertaining show that I am happy to be able to add to my personal DVD collection.
Special Features List
- Pilot Episode
- Alternate Endings
- Deleted Scenes
- Radio Free Sealab: Uncensored