Robot Chicken DC Comics Special 2: Villains in Paradise
We've discussed, more than once, how hard it is to write comedy that regularly hits all the right buttons. With any long running series it's easy to take a horse and beat it within an inch of its life. Any running gag can, inevitably, be run into the ground and the longer a comedy series goes on (and this seems to happen even quicker for a sketch comedy series) the higher the risk becomes that the series will lean more and more on the same gags, the same characters the same beats. Comedy is only funny when its fresh, and it's too easy for a long running series to lose that freshness.
You can actually see this in play with a lot of sketch comedy shows, such as Saturday Night Live, The Kids in the Hall, Key & Peele, and it's no different for Robot Chicken which, despite the animated format, it still very much a sketch comedy show. Either you see a show run itself into the ground or, over time, it has to morph into something different, something with more of a story and less reliance on sketches. One example I can think of the latter for this is the Nickelodeon show Welcome Freshman which went from a pure sketch comedy show in season one to a story-based episodic show in the second season (and then was canceled).
Although the main meat of Robot Chicken remains in pure sketch comedy mode, the specials have evolved over the years into a kind of story-based mix. There are still plenty of sketches in the specials but, as an episode like the DC Comics Special 2: Villains in Paradise shows, it's easier to come up with material in these one-offs if there's a story running behind it. Without that kind of backing, what is even the point of these things?
The main story for this second special is the father/daughter tale of Lex Luthor and his teenager, Lena (normally Lena is Lex's sister but they changed it here for whatever reason). Lena just wants to go to the beach and hang out with her friends (maybe even see a boy she likes) but her father wants her to learn responsibility. Instead of letting her gallivant off for the Summer he puts her at the coffee bar at the Legion of Supervillains' base, working shifts while he runs the whole evil operation.
Somethings in the episode do work. I really like Lena as a character, and her rebellious streak is absolutely hilarious here. Putting a normal teenage girl in amongst all these villains adds a certain spark to the episode and the sketches are certainly better when she's around. I also like the bond she strikes with Gorilla Grodd, and this creates for a version of Grodd I hadn't seen before, one that I like better than other interpretations. Him being a catty bitch on social media while being besties with Lena is some great stuff.
There just isn't enough around it to really support the episode. Unlike the first special where I could name off at least half the sketches in the episode -- Real Characters of the DC Universe, Superman Kisses Everyone, That's Bane, Everyone Hates Aquaman, Superheroes at a Bar, the Death of Captain Carrot -- I can't remember much of anything in this second special outside of Lena, and even then most of what she does is vague before she leaves and the episode loses all its steam. It's just a waste of time and potential.
I still laughed during this episode but it was with neither the frequency nor loudness as during the previous special. When Robot Chicken is firing on all cylinders it can be absolutely hilarious. But this special also proves there's only so much gas in the tank for this series. This time around the creator just couldn't muster the energy for their subject and the special lacks the zest to be something really good. A mild episode just isn't good enough for this series at all.