10. “Black Dynamite” (2012 – 2015)
“Black Dynamite” sees Michael Jai White reprising his role as the titular Blaxploitation hero from the 2009 live action film of the same name. As a film, “Black Dynamite” was hindered by just how much it leaned on its retro 1970s aesthetic as a crutch. The television adaptation foregoes all of that in favor of a sharp anime-inspired art style that frees the show up to be even more visually ridiculous than its predecessor. The original 2011 pilot saw “Black Dynamite” attempting to take down an analog of Kermit the Frog for the CIA, and the show only got stranger from there.
9. “Metalocalypse” (2006 – 2013)
Perhaps the most brutally violent cartoon to grace television, “Metalocalypse” follows the exploits of melodic death metal band Dethklok, whose over-the-top, grotesque lyrics serve as a satire of the metal genre all on their own. The band has a very literal cult following, with members willing to do whatever the band asks to make them happy, even at their own detriment. Much of the series involves the unintended carnage obliviously left behind by the band wherever they go; the carnage often involves decapitations, maimings and burnings, among other things. It takes a dark sense of humor to appreciate this show in all of its blood-red glory, but it’s satirical enough in its embodiment of the excesses of the heavy metal genre to be more than just shock value entertainment.
8. “Sealab 2021” (2000 – 2005)
“Sealab 2021” actually preceded the launch of Adult Swim in the form of a three-episode first season in 2000, but came back as a staple of the Adult Swim lineup in September of 2001. The series was co-created by Adam Reed, who would go on to create Frisky Dingo for Adult Swim, and, more famously, spy comedy Archer for FX. “Sealab 2021” was part of an early trend in Adult Swim programming in which old Hanna-Barbera cartoons were reappropriated to a new, more adult context, in a process that involved re-using much of the animation of the original cartoon. In this case, the underwater scientist crew of “Sealab 2021” had their family-friendly adventures turned into a raunchy reinterpretation that put Adam Reed’s creative brilliance on the map.
7. “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” (1994 – 2008)
Arguably the most important show in Adult Swim’s lineup, “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” went on the air long before Adult Swim did, but was instrumental in providing the block with some of its most famous spin-offs, including “The Brak Show” and “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.” Hanna-Barbera icon Space Ghost returned to television after nearly 30 years with a surreal talk show in which he interviewed live-action guests on a television screen next to him. The blend of cartoon and real flesh-and-blood is jarring, with interviews that are more strange and awkward than anything else.
6. “The Venture Bros.” (2003 – present)
If “Sealab 2021” and “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” are appropriations of classic cartoons, “The Venture Bros.” is a full-blown parody. Christopher McCulloch and Michael Sinterniklaas star as the titular brothers Hank and Dean, the twin sons of brilliant Rusty Venture (James Urbaniak). They, along with their bodyguard Brock Samson (Patrick Warburton), must constantly deal with attacks by the Monarch, a classic supervillain archetype. The show plays out in a fashion very similar to Jonny Quest, clearly its inspiration. “The Venture Bros.” is currently the longest-running Adult Swim series still in production, and its sharp take on the adventure drama makes it obvious why.
5. “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law” (2000 – 2007)
Combining a parody of legal procedurals with classic Hanna-Barbera characters, “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law” sees Birdman of Birdman and the Galaxy Trio working as a criminal defense attorney on behalf of these classic characters. The Jetsons sue present-day humanity for making their future Earth uninhabitable. Shaggy and Scooby-Doo are pulled over for driving while on drugs. Fred Flinston is prosecuted as a mob boss. What makes “Harvey Birdman” the greatest of these Hanna-Barbera reboots is the way it applies an adult cynicism to beloved cartoon icons, essentially reshaping the way we see the classics.
4. “The Boondocks” (2005 – 2014)
“The Boondocks” wasn’t just one of the best shows on Adult Swim; it was one of the sharpest satires on television, period. The series, which was created by Aaron McGruder (who created the original comic strip on which the show is based), follows Huey and Riley Freeman, two young Black boys raised by their grandfather Robert in an affluent white neighborhood. McGruder uses his platform to attack white America in a way that’s both on-point and riotously funny. “The Boondocks” provided an important and unfortunately all-too-rare platform for Black satire, and thankfully, McGruder did not squander such an opportunity.
3. Rick and Morty (2013 – present)
A triumph in the art of improvisation, Rick and Morty is a high-concept science fiction comedy series that follows the exploits of alcoholic scientist Rick Sanchez and his grandson Morty as they travel to different planets and dimensions. In most cases, very little justification is necessary to set the plot in motion, but where Rick’s lack of responsibility might make him nothing more than a cheap plot device, series creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon imbue him with just enough empathy to create a grandfather-grandson relationship that’s occasionally quite tender.
2. “The Eric Andre Show” (2012 – present)
“The Eric Andre Show” is essentially a public access variety show as viewed through the lens of a bad acid trip. He invites guests onto the show for the sole purpose of making them uncomfortable. He goes out onto the street and makes people uncomfortable. Not a single moment of the show feels safe, because, like some sort of Lynchian nightmare, anything could happen. It would be unnerving if it wasn’t so ridiculous.
1. “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” (2000 – 2015)
Few shows have the freedom to reinvent themselves the way “Aqua Teen Hunger Force “had over its 11-season run. Originally conceived as a show about anthropomorphic fast food working a private detective agency, the premise was quickly dropped in favor of non-sequitur plotting with little emphasis on consistency or logic. The show even went through numerous title changes during its time on air. “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” represents the best case for the existence of Adult Swim. No other network would have given Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro room for their boundless creativity, but Adult Swim did. Inexplicably canceled in 2015, “Aqua Teen” left behind a legacy for the programming block as a haven for artists on the fringes of good taste.