Given that success of an American television series is defined by how long that series stays on the air, it’s not every day that you have the chance to complain that something on TV is too short. But I’m starting to wonder if Metalocalypse might be chafing a bit against the limitations of its 11-minute format. More surprisingly, I’m also wondering if it might not be right to chafe. Most of the best short shows in the Adult Swim lineup are such antic, anarchic barrages of silly jokes that it’s easy to imagine they’d run out of gas, fast, if they extended their lengths to full half-hours. During its first two seasons, it was easy to make the same assumption about Metalocalypse, and also to guess that its mock-intense imagery might become too overpowering if it were long enough to support its own commercial breaks. But when the show expanded to fill a half-hour slot during its third season, Brendan Small and his enablers demonstrated that they could keep the show fast and funny while telling longer stories that enabled them to develop the characters and their world in greater detail.
Tonight’s episode moves us a little closer to the release date for the new Dethklok album, a signal event in what Vater Orlaag calls “the new metal economy.” (A new denomination of currency, the Klokillion, has been developed to properly honor the event, and the album’s predicted role as “the engine driving the world’s economy.”) While the full stash of limited-edition copies, to be made available in “a totally unrippable liquid format,” sets sail from China, the bandmates are focused on their recreational activities. Murderface ignites a prank war with Toki and Skwisgaar, sending them to a seedy dive in their bathing trunks to make obscene demands of the patrons, on the pretense that this is a necessary step toward obtaining free water-park tickets. Meanwhile, Nathan and Pickles make plans for their “Friender Bender,” a “post-album tradition of drinking around the world” whose point seems to be to find out which exotic location provides the best backdrop for the human equivalent of a rolling blackout.
Pickles is eager to get the show on the road so as to distract the perfectionist Nathan from his latest morbid obsession: The red on the cover of the new album, which he thinks should be “more blood red,” strikes him as more of a wan tomato-soup pink, and he does not respond well to the news that it’s too late to recall the ships to port so that this can be corrected. Pickles’ other concern is that Nathan may, in a moment of weakness, stray from the accepted checklist of intoxicating beverages and sample some tequila, which has a history of turning him into “a dark person.” Anyone who’s seen Gremlins can guess what the upshot of all this will be.
The whole of “PrankKlok” is tight and well-worked-out, but it’s hard not to look at the episode as a whole and not see it as a cornucopia of missed opportunities. The lecture on the roots and history of the American prank phone, which traced the invention of the telephone to a desire on Alexander Graham Bell’s part to better facilitate his ability to “humiliate friends and strangers,” and explained that prank calls were the cause of both Pearl Harbor and the Bay of Pigs, was over when it just seemed to be getting warmed up, and I wouldn’t have minded much more of a look back to the last time Nathan sipped tequila. (What we saw of him running amok in what seemed to be Tokyo was more of a flash card than a flashback.)
There are, God knows, worse things you can say about a TV show than that it leaves you wanting more. And the season looks as if it’s going in an interesting direction. On the one hand, the show is offering its take on the economic crisis. (The stewards of The Tribunal smugly brush off any concerns that the band's indulgence in “excessive drinking” and pranks can disrupt the triumphant success they anticipate for the album, but events show these conspiracy freaks to not be conspiratorial enough.) Which is to say that, like one of those special, “realistic” superhero comics that try to explain exactly why Superman is powerless to stamp out world hunger, the show is addressing the question of how it’s even possible for the global economy to suffer the occasional hiccup, much less collapse, when a salable product as dependable as Dethklok albums can be made available in the universal marketplace. It’s a challenge fit to rock the foundations of the Metalocalypse universe; here’s hoping the creators can find enough rope to do it up right, in the double-album fold-out jacket style it deserves.
- Since I started covering this show, I’ve been waiting for just the right moment to point out that the character of Orlaag seems to be here mainly to demonstrate Brendon Small’s no doubt passionately held belief that Alan Moore really ought to wear a military uniform and sound like Malcolm McDowell. I’m not sure that the right moment is ever going to come, so I’m pointing it out now. I have nothing to add, except to say that I find Brendon Small’s ideas intriguing and would like to subscribe to his newsletter.