Five years after being fired from their jobs as production assistants from Cartoon Network, Adam Reed and Matt Thompson caught wind that the network was looking for adult oriented animation for a programming block, Adult Swim. Going back to the tapes they stole of Sealab 2020 when they left, they got the idea for a new show. In the same vein as Space Ghost Coast to Coast, they took the old Hanna-Barbera animation, recut it, and dubbed over the audio, calling it Sealab 2021.
The basic idea was taking the crew from the original Sealab, and watch their antics one year later as their sanity has slowly degraded. Beyond that, good luck looking for any sort of ongoing plot or continuity. Many episodes ended with the destruction of the station. Before Adult Swim proper aired, 4 pilots were produced. The first was never aired but appeared on the season 1 DVD boxset. The other 3 aired in December of 2000, early in the morning. In September 2001, when Adult Swim debuted, the series was fully developed and became one of it’s flagship shows.
Sealab 2021 is utter nonsense of the best kind. Captain Hazel “Hank” Murphy is the leader of the crew, and shirks all responsibility, typically being the impetus for many of the crews adventures/problems. Serving under him is Sparks, Debbie, Quinn, Stormy, and Marco Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar Gabriel Garcia Marquez voiced by freaking Erik Estrada, and Hesh voiced by MC Chris of ‘Fett’s Vette‘ fame.
The show ran from 2001 – 2005, with a total of 52 episodes across 4 seasons. Each episode is only 11 minutes long, which is common for Adult Swim shows, especially back then. Sadly, after three season the voice of Cap Murphy, Harry Goz, died at age 71. His son Michael Goz took over for him as a new character, Captain Bellerphon “Tornado” Shanks. This addition had a marked change on the show, with a sharp decline in quality. Much of the animation for season 4 was new, rather than repurposed stock, something that the show slowly migrated to over the last three seasons. Plus they had new characters like Sharko. I don’t want to talk about it. Just avoid season 4.
Looking back at the first three seasons, there are plenty of episodes that still hold up today. Season 1 had ‘Lost in Time’, where Quinn and Stormy are in explosive time warp that constantly sends them back 15 minutes in time. “In the Closet’ as the entire crew locked in a closet behind a malfunctioning door . I can still remember how hard I laughed the first time I watched this episode. Season 2 had ‘Fusebox’, where the power was out and only an outside image of the lab, with the occasional passing fish was shown while the cast did voiceovers. Finally, season 3 had ‘Red Dawn’, where Murphy brings Marxist ideals to the lab.
I think the first three seasons were about 70/30 – hit/miss. There were some pretty awful and downright weird episodes like ‘Bizarro’, where the crew was held hostage by bizarro versions of themselves. Or ‘Feast of Alvis’, a Christmas episode that was all over the place.
Creators Reed and Thompson went on to make Frisky Dingo together next. Reed created the highly success show Archer in 2009 for FX.
Sealab 2021 was a great show at the time. I was 19 when it premiered, the perfect age for this kind of show. I can’t really tell if the nostalgia or quality of the show that I still enjoy. That being said, try the four episodes I mentioned above to test the waters.
Did you watch Sealab 2021? What’s your favorite Adult Swim show? Comment below, on Facebook, or Twitter. You can now see my Saturday Morning Cartoon posts, along with other great writings at The Two-Headed Nerd!
“It don’t mean butt if it ain’t got that jutt.” – Captain Murphy