Sunday, Jun. 3
WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary
I’m barely out of my car in the crowded gravel lot at the WakeMed Soccer Park when someone calls out to ask if I want to smoke, and it’s clear he doesn’t mean tobacco. I politely wave him off. It’s going to be that kind of evening.
The scenic vistas of the soccer park are home, at least for this evening, to Adult Swim on the Green, a tour promoting the popular older-crowd-oriented cable channel that takes up the evening hours of Cartoon Network. Surreal humor is the name of the game; the popularity of its Family Guy reruns helped get the show back on Fox with new episodes after it was canceled, while original series such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Childrens Hospital, and the various Tim and Eric comedy series have made it a bastion of low-budget, narrative-smashing comedy popular with teenagers and, as the announcer even admits, “college students in dorm rooms with the windows open and batteries taken out of the smoke alarms.”
The many security guards standing by serve as a reminder that this is still a corporate-sponsored event where chemically altered mindsets are best left in, well, the parking lot. The $10 chair rentals are also reminders. They’re for those who want to watch the large screen dominating the field, where comedian Zack Fox oversees “polite” rap battles and other audience-participation events such as a trivia contest (I get several answers right, but you must text them in, and my carrier is not particularly fast).
Surrounding the screen are carnival-like booths where you can “check in” to get prizes; a few visits get me an Adult Swim pin (sponsored by Geico!), a foil-stamped print of a two-headed owl (I don’t know, either), and, from Raleigh Supercon, a large-headed figurine of Greg Universe from the Cartoon Network series Steven Universe. I do not venture into the large bounce-house-type structure shaped like a multi-eyed cat with an open mouth, where participants must climb a rope ladder to, as a sign says, “Smack My Uvula.” Aside from people wearing masks of Pickle Rick from an episode of Adult Swim’s hit Rick and Morty, it’s the greatest reminder of the network’s sensibility here.
As the humid evening heads into night and the line at the food truck for Backyard Bistro fails to move, I succumb to a $10 lawn chair rental. Suspended about an inch above the wet grass by the tiny seat, I settle in for the evening’s highlight: a special collection of new episodes, long-unseen classics, and new series pilots from Adult Swim. There are some memories (fans voted online to show the last episode of Tom Goes to the Mayor, the first of the Tim and Eric shows), familiar faces (the stop-motion action-figure sketch series Robot Chicken, the John Kraskinski-produced live-action/rotoscoping hybrid Dream Corp LLC), and a few surprises (more on that in a minute).
A couple of pilots are shown; Chuck Deuce is in the hallucinatory tradition of Adult Swim’s best-known shows, with Nat Faxon (Oscar-winning cowriter of The Descendants!) as a brain-addled surfer who perceives the world as a series of mermaids, sock puppets, and other saturated-color figures familiar to anyone who’s seen a T-shirt at Myrtle Beach. The Shivering Truth, from longtime Adult Swim creator Vernon Chatman (Wonder Showzen, Xavier: Renegade Angel) is a stop-motion series of bizarre stories-within-stories; the first episode somehow grows to involve everything from an independently run suicide hotline business to a corpse possessed by butterflies. Of these, Truth holds more promise, but neither’s been officially picked up as a series yet.
The evening climaxes with an announcement that sets the lawn off: the season premiere of the long-absent The Venture Bros., Adult Swim’s elaborate parody of Johnny Quest-type boy-adventurer shows. For those planning to watch when it officially premiers later this summer, we’ll avoid spoilers, but suffice it to say that it involves ghosts, movie parodies, depression, revelations, and complaints about New York traffic.
It’s a reminder that while Adult Swim has been around for a while, it’s still capable of inspiring excitement in viewers who have long since grown out of watching the channel in dorm rooms with bleary eyes and a case of the munchies. But as I go to return my lawn chair, the vaped smoke rising from a nearby picnic blanket also suggests that, like cartoon characters, maybe not everyone grows up after all.