Today, Adult Swim is a prime destination for late night viewers in search of comedically bizarre sustenance, bringing all the adults (and teens, and even some kids, who probably shouldn’t be watching) a reason to never give up on cartoons. And with shows like Rick and Morty, Mr. Pickles (come on, it’s pretty good), and The Venture Bros. rounding out its lineup — not to mention one-offs like Too Many Cooks going viral — Adult Swim has proven itself a force to be reckoned with (well, as much as any cable network built on a love of dirty jokes and absurdist humor could be considered a force).
But while we all know and love The Boondocks, Squidbillies, and Metalocalypse (not to mention Sealab 2020, which didn’t make this list because you know you have all the DVDs), there are a lot of treasures that people don’t talk about as much anymore. So, to celebrate the network’s (it’s considered separate from Cartoon Network for Nielsen purposes) 15th anniversary, we thought we’d run down a list of some of the more overlooked shows the animation gods have given us and rank them in the order in which the cartoon gods intended. Whether you’re discovering them for the first time or coming back to a show that you’d forgotten existed, this list will give you more than enough ideas for an enjoyable binge watch. Assuming you can find them.
8. Perfect Hair Forever (2004-2007)
Chances are, you’ve never heard of this show, which only ran for nine episodes. It starred a boy named Gerald Bald Z — hmmm, sounds familiar — and focused on his quest to find the most perfect hair. It also featured a character named “uncle grandfather” which sounds a lot like the name of another Cartoon Network show.
It’s impossible to explain why its mixture of offensive humor, stereotypes, and send-ups of anime tropes works so well. It just does! And it works even better if you have a tab or two of acid laying around. We’d never suggest you go out and buy illegal substances for the sake of enjoying a cartoon, but if you don’t get the humor sober, a couple of mid-level hallucinogenics should get you right into the zone.
7. China, IL (2008-2015)
After Hulk Hogan won all those wrestling titles, and before he went into the business of leg-dropping gossip blogs, BROTHER!, the bandanna-wearing star of Mr. Nanny (and his daughter Brooke) voiced characters on this show about a terrible college in a little town called China, Illinois.
The show’s not just awesome because it’s weird and demented and a little too cheerful, but also because it provides a funny take on college instructors who are just as bad as the students when it comes to wanting to skip class in order to get a little tore up. Plus: Pandas. Never, ever, look down on a show that has pandas.
6. Assy McGee (2006-2008)
This is a show about a tough, super-violent cop who’s got too many demons and not enough self control. He’s also an actual butt. No, an actual butt. (And a pretty good one, too.) This show is already a hilarious sendup of all those tough guy cop shows, but it doesn’t get any more hilarious or surreal than the second season, which features a scene in which the titular buttocks double fist some cotton candy. Yep, the butt eats.
5. Lucy, The Daughter of the Devil (2005-2007)
Before there was Bob’s Burgers, there was Lucy, The Daughter of the Devil, an 11-episode series that starred H. Jon Benjamin (the voice of every cartoon character you’ve ever loved) as the aforementioned devil. Of course, it was the devil’s kid that was the star of the show and she spends her time saving cities from monsters, hanging out with Jesus (“He’s Not the Messiah, He’s a DJ” was the title of the first episode), working at a chain restaurant her father had purchased (so now you know the devil really does own all those restaurants that murder your insides after you visit them at 2 a.m.), and dragging herself to Burning Man. Also, of course she went to art school.
If that doesn’t sell you, let this: The show opens with a scene of the devil’s disappointing sex life. We don’t know about you, but knowing the ruler of the underworld has performance issues makes us feel just a teeny bit better about our lives.
4. 12 Oz. Mouse (2005-2006)
You ever think “I have rudimentary drawing skills and should therefore be given my own cartoon?” Too bad. You’re about a decade too late, because 12 Oz. Mouse — a show about an alcoholic rodent (although you’d never be able to tell from the art, which looks like it was drawn by a particularly ungifted four-year-old) — did it all and it burned that building to the ground. Oh, also the alcoholic mouse is being controlled by the forces of evil (not the alcohol) and is living in a Matrix-style universe.
This show will either delight or confound you. Or it will just make you jealous that whoever thought it up is probably a millionaire right now and you still have to work a day job and file TPS reports. Either way, it’s a good time. (Caution: If you have no patience for dialogue that’s awkward and moves extremely slow, this show might be a little better after a couple of drinks.)
3. Tom Goes to the Mayor (2004-2006)
Perhaps the “most polarizing” show in Adult Swim history. If you like Tim and Eric, then you’ll love this show about a man with ideas and the mayor who happily twists those ideas into unmitigated disasters the likes of which no one has ever seen. If you hate Tim and Eric, you may be able to find a new appreciation for their work (especially due to the show’s more traditional format). One thing’s for certain, though: If you don’t think the best way to keep kids safe is by utilizing bear traps… well, you’re 100 percent wrong.
2. The Brak Show (2001-2003)
How does one describe The Brak Show without saying “Okay, listen, it’s about an adolescent alien thing and his terrible lizard friend, and his human parents, and sometimes they do musicals, but you’ve actually got to watch it to understand”? It’s impossible — mainly because it’s a show about an adolescent alien thing, his terrible lizard friend, and his human parents! Oh, and they do musicals. Sometimes. Okay, once. But it was so good that you could show the musical episode 28 times (the number of episodes the show ran for) and most of us would still be saying “roll it again.”
You really do have to see this show to believe it because there’s no way just explaining the premise will do it justice. And if you like the absurdity of Adventure Time’s Bacon Pancakes song, you will love the music on this early-aughts gem. Our favorite song? This little ditty about Brak being a cucumber.
And who could forget this?
But, you guys: If you haven’t seen “Psychoklahoma” (that’s the musical episode), you haven’t truly lived. The episode centers around Brak and Zorak staging a musical version of Psycho to earn money for a science project and which features the unforgettable lines “see my silhouette through the curtain/why I’m wearing a dress is uncertain.” You’re reading that right? Now imagine seeing it. Wait! You don’t have to. Because it’s above. And it’s spectacular!
1. Space Ghost Coast to Coast (1994-2008)
What do you get when you combine a little-known superhero from the ‘60s, his two greatest enemies, and a coterie of confused celebrities? The world’s only interplanetary animated talk show, of course. It may sound crazy, but if you’ve never seen the episode in which Bjork plays Space Ghost’s wife (above) while our hero is trying to interview Thom Yorke and sell him on the idea of a hit song about knifin’ around (cutcutcutcutcut), you need to see above for an invaluable education.
It’s important to note that while Space Ghost may not be a cultural mainstay now (sad), it was a huge deal for Cartoon Network. Not only was it the channel’s first original show, but it also lasted for more than a decade, eventually moving to Adult Swim when the network launched in 2001. According to The Huffington Post, Eric Andre based the concept of his live-action talk show on the cartoon series, and other series — including Aqua Teen Hunger Force and The Brak Show — would have never been possible without the goofy antics of Tad Ghostal and his poor, poor bandleader and producer.
Fun fact: If you’ve always wondered how the show got all those wacky interviews, Mental Floss reveals that guests were asked questions via a mic attached to their ear. They had to pretend to see the host, but nothing they said really mattered because all the questions you actually see on the show weren’t asked during the interview. Instead, they were completely changed to up the awkwardness element. Sounds good, but have you seen the Bjork episode in full? We don’t think she even knew there were questions being asked.