Tonight, the season finale of Robot Chicken is a special one: the series will hit 200 episodes, a landmark that few cable shows get to, let alone a show as esoteric as a foul-mouthed sketch comedy show starring hundreds of action figures. The series, co-created by ToyFare magazine veteran Matthew Senreich [editor’s note: we briefly worked at Wizard at the same time about 20 years go, although we didn’t know each other well until years later] and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Family Guy actor Seth Green, is stop-motion animated, featuring pop-culture parodies that range from nostalgic to timely.
Senreich has been doing something similar for even longer than the fifteen years Robot Chicken has been on the air. Before Robot Chicken, there was “Twisted Mego Theatre” (later “Twisted ToyFare Theatre”), in which (mostly superhero) toys were used to make short, irreverent, jokey comic strips. We spoke with Senreich about tonight’s milestone.
Now that you’re 200 episodes deep, what is different, in terms of the way that you approach this show?
I’ve accepted the fact that I’m old. I have to justify the fact that we’ve become a nostalgia show in a weird way, genuinely. As opposed to making fun of nostalgia, we are also nostalgia. So it’s very meta all of a sudden. I love having those conversations with Adult Swim talking about merchandise, and how we’re a nostalgia brand.
For us, I think the important thing is, we need to bring in — and we have been bringing in — younger writers, people who grew up in the ’90s and the 2000s, that are making fun of the things that they grew up with. We can still do the stuff that we are watching and that is current, but the actual nostalgia factor of the stuff that we play with, the action figures and the cartoons, and even the video games, are from a younger generation. I think that’s been fantastic, and fun for us, to be learning about these properties that we weren’t watching as they were coming out. It’s just trying to find that lovely balance to what we like to play with.
People know who you are, but you aren’t Seth; you aren’t immediately recognizable to a generation of TV fans. What’s it like being able to fly under the radar a little bit at comic conventions and stuff?
I love it. I hate being in the limelight, even doing something like this on Zoom makes me uncomfortable. It’s so much easier to just be able to talk. I’m not a guy who wants to be recognized. I love having Seth. We always say that we’re mom and dad and I let him kind of be dad and I can be just a little bit behind the scenes in this regard. But there are times where I’ll have to step out and say, “No, you’re wrong. You can’t do that.”
But with Comic-Con it’s interesting because it’s so crowded compared to when we were first going. It’s a whole different world in that. And I would say that that is the one place where it’s overwhelming for me now. I’ve been doing Robot Chicken probably for … we’ve been doing it for 15 years and the fact that I get recognized there even walking down the street in San Diego is a very unreal type of role for me.
I don’t know. I’m an awkward guy.
At this point, do you have a count of how many characters you’ve actually used?
No, not at all. I mean, I can rough estimate how many puppets that are made. Characters, I couldn’t even tell you. We probably make 120 puppets per episode, and then the ones that already exist. So it’s exponential in that capacity.
But yeah, but all the toys just sit in boxes, and they’re labeled. Our boxes, which crack me up, are labeled like “homeless people.” And it’s just weird things. It’s like, trying to think…Western? I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s just a random assortment of characters that we just have put in these boxes. “Hobos, hippies, a hand.”
Are there any pop culture characters that you’re like, “Man, I wish we’d gotten a chance to do them,” or at this point, have you pretty much hit everything that you were interested in?
You know, I think the good thing for us is there’s always something that we haven’t quite touched yet. Part of the fun for me is, I have kids now, and it’s fun seeing the stuff that they’re watching turn into stuff that we’re making fun of. I always laugh that we hadn’t done Ben 10, but the guys who created that show from the comic book world, wanted to try to mock it, and then we did it.
There’s always something that’s out there that you know you can make fun of in some capacity. So it always changes. It always enhances. So the answer is yes, but I couldn’t even tell you. You could probably name some and be like, “Oh, I totally want to do that.”
What is kind of different and special about episode 200 for you, as a creator?
I think it was best summed up by the head of Adult Swim. He said flat out, he said, “You’re Saturday Night Live. You’re our Saturday Night Live. You are a sketch comedy show that comes weekly to people and you’re always making fun of something that’s going to be relevant to pop culture currently and relevant to the nostalgia of what pop culture is.”
And that’s always stuck with me. Hitting 200, it’s just one of those experiences where you’re just amazed. Seth and I started this thing, and it was supposed to be just a little online short. It was something that Seth was supposed to just bring on Conan O’Brien and not turn it into anything else. So to be doing this — I’m playing with friends. That’s what I have to constantly be telling myself is, I’m going to work, but at the same time, I’m still playing with the same people I’ve always loved. And yeah, it’s I get to play with toys and get paid for it. I’m not going to complain.
Justin Morgan helped bring TeslaBel from a weekly newsletter to a full-fledged news site by creating a new website and branding. He continues to assist in keeping the site responsive and well organized for the readers. As a contributor to TeslaBel, Justin mainly covers mobile news and gadgets.