Aqua Teen Hunger Force: The Secret of Its Longevity

How did such a ridiculous show last so long with so little change? Every character connects with another in their own unique way.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force just ended its eleventh and final season, otherwise known as Aqua Teen Hunger Force Forever. The show lasted a whopping fifteen years with 130 episodes (before the new season), a movie, a PlayStation 2 game, and several spinoff attempts that didn’t quite work out.

It’s kind of crazy that it lasted so long when you think about it because the show has shown virtually no change. It isn’t like The Simpsons where the basics are the same, but characters develop slightly over time. Aqua Teen is always the same. They change the show title, the intro, claim that the show is suddenly taking place in Seattle, and so on, but there’s never any actual change in the formula. The most we got was the fifth season, where they did three episodes where their landlord Markula had them captured. Once that was over, things went back to normal and Markula was only mentioned one other time.

Ad – content continues below

No, Aqua Teen Hunger Force never strayed away from what it is. It’s about a sociopathic milkshake cup, an optimistic ball of meat, a totally square box of French fries with laser eyes, and their long-suffering neighbor. They’re all pathetic and they’re all dysfunctional. Creators Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro figured out how to make a ridiculously long-running cartoon out of four characters who hate each other.

But having everyone simply hate each other isn’t quite enough. The rules of comedy state that you need some sort of agreement to move everything forward. If Carl refused to ever talk to or even acknowledge the three food mutants, we wouldn’t be getting anywhere. The real genius of the show is the intersecting relationships. Almost every combination of two characters is able to see eye-to-eye on some level and work on common ground to some extent…but that’s it. Once you add three characters, it all falls apart.

Ad – content continues below

There are exceptions, but they usually show how bizarre the very idea is. In the fourth season, the episode “Party All the Time” played with the idea of Frylock dying of cancer while the other three are brought together via some out-of-character emotional distress at the idea of losing him. You have three characters on the same page, but it’s played up as weird and wrong. Similarly, the only time everyone is shown to be in full 100% agreement is the tenth season episode “Skins” where at the end, the Aqua Teens are a terrible band and Carl is (for some reason) really into their music.

But for the rest of the series, it’s all about the pairings.

Ad – content continues below

FRYLOCK AND MEATWAD

Meatwad: Man, it makes me sad they had to open their gifts in front of an ape and they were all made out of doodoo. What kinda Christmas is that?!

Frylock: It’s okay, Meatwad. This is all a bunch of bull.

Ad – content continues below

Frylock and Meatwad are the only two characters who seem to legitimately like or even love each other. Throughout the series, Frylock acts as a father figure to Meatwad and essentially tries to defend him from Shake’s constant abuse and lies. Without Shake, the two would live relatively happy lives. Plus with Frylock being a big science guy, he keeps trying to educate Meatwad, both to better him and because Meatwad is the only character willing to actually listen to Frylock, even if he can’t comprehend him.

Even their relationship isn’t perfect, though. Frylock’s patience for Meatwad only goes so far and Meatwad tends to shun Frylock’s guidance for the sake of goofing off and reveling in his own stupidity.

Ad – content continues below

SHAKE AND CARL

Shake: DON’T TELL ME HE’S DEAD! PLEASE, NO!

Carl: Hey. Your welfare check come in, yet?

Ad – content continues below

Shake: Payment will be received upon discovery of the body. You know the contract.

Simply put, Master Shake and Carl get along because they’re both corrupt. They’re greedy, womanizing, insulting assholes and they’re able to regularly work together based on being just the worst people. When Shake was turned invisible and Carl was shrunken down, the two decided to make the best of it by spying on women in the bathroom. When Shake got way into cumbersome, overly heavy “mobile” phones, he was mainly able to get Carl to join him via a never-ending collection of bestiality porn.

Ad – content continues below

The two would probably be better friends if it wasn’t for Shake being an even worse person than Carl. Carl distrusts Shake and outside of some of the weird racism Carl seems to have for food-based life forms, Carl is completely right because Shake has no qualms in exploiting Carl and stealing from him in any way possible. That brings us to the next pairing…

FRYLOCK AND CARL

Carl: “Tonight you will get your dick ripped off.” …That doesn’t sound right, does it? Here, read this.

Ad – content continues below

Frylock: “Tonight you will get your dick ripped off…”

Carl: Is that a prize, or…?

Ad – content continues below

Frylock: I think you might wanna go the manager about this one, Carl.

Despite his problems, Carl has some semblance of responsibility. He and Frylock are actual adults and that’s what links them together and separates them from Shake. While Carl usually wants nothing to do with Frylock, Frylock is usually sympathetic enough to actually help him…sometimes because it’s his own fault. Still, he does try to go to bat for him, even if he does give up after a while.

Ad – content continues below

At the end of the day, the two are the straight men of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Relatively speaking. They’re the two guys who are almost kind of normal and recognize each other for it. They each even had their own episodes (“The” for Frylock and “Carl” for Carl) dealing with how despite being the voice of reason, they’re lonely pariahs without the others. They need Shake, Meatwad, and each other around because they’re the only ones who can stomach their company.

It’s a shame, considering Frylock and Carl have nothing in common and nothing to socialize over. Hell, Carl even offered to bring Frylock to the strip club with him and got shut down, which is probably the nicest thing Carl’s ever had to say to him.

Ad – content continues below

SHAKE AND MEATWAD

Meatwad: Hi, I’m high. Heheheh, you get it Shake? This is awesome.

Master Shake: You know what we need to do? We gotta get some instruments, take lessons, and learn to play them, and then we’re gonna have the hottest jam of “Comfortably Numb” that anyone has ever heard in their life!

Ad – content continues below

Shake antagonizing Meatwad is like 40% of the show and has been since the beginning. That doesn’t mean that the two can’t get along. Throughout the series, Shake has had his increasing moments where he and Meatwad see eye-to-eye and let their rivalry rest for a second. The reason is simple.

Shake and Meatwad are both really, really stupid.

Ad – content continues below

Meatwad is basically mentally challenged and Shake is dumb because it’s his nature to not want to learn, but this occasionally brings them onto the same wavelength. Especially if it’s in contrast to Frylock being a genius. The opening minutes of “Unremarkable Voyage” is basically Shake and Meatwad being peas in a pod against an increasingly disgruntled Frylock. As they play around with his shrinking ray, Shake cheers on Meatwad for sassing Frylock, and they share an immature laugh over Frylock saying, “poop.” Sure, the second half involves Shake’s megalomania causing Meatwad to have to help kill him, but they had their moment.

It isn’t just the stupidity, but also the disinterest in following Frylock when it comes to any kind of responsibility. That gave us the amazing segment in “Rabbot Redux” where the two got into it and almost came to blows, only for Frylock to hold them back and decide that he didn’t want them helping him move boxes into their new home. Once he was gone, Shake happily discussed how Meatwad went off-script, but it was okay because his improvisation was on-point.

Ad – content continues below

Mission accomplished: they got off the hook and didn’t have to do any work.

MEATWAD AND CARL

Carl: Okay, time out here. Look, ever since my son was…never conceived since I’ve never had consensual sex without there being money involved, I’ve always thought of you as something that I could sorta…live next to…in accordance with state laws.

Ad – content continues below

Meatwad: That’s so sweet. You tryin’ to say that you love me.

Carl: Whoa, let’s not put people on the spot here.

Ad – content continues below

Carl hates Meatwad and has little-to-no patience for his antics. Not only because of how his low intelligence regularly causes damage to Carl’s property (ie. his house being burned to the ground), but because Carl’s outright disgusted by his greasy, meaty grossness that stains whatever he touches.

The two have bonded at times, usually at the expense of Shake, based on their joint hatred of him. There’s also that weird instance where MC Pee Pants’ hit single “I Want Candy” and its follow-up “I Need Candy” caused them to go on a candy bender. But hey, nobody loves candy more than children and gluttons, so that makes all the sense in the world.

Ad – content continues below

FRYLOCK AND SHAKE

Frylock: I stole this ultrasound program off the internet.

Shake: Well that’s stealing.

Frylock: I said I stole it.

Shake: Would you get me The Lord of the Rings?

Frylock: I already have that. It’s on my hard drive. Okay, Meatwad, now–

Shake: How ’bout watchin’ it?

When you really look at it, the main conflict of Aqua Teen Hunger Force isn’t the Aqua Teens vs. the monster of the week or Shake vs. Meatwad or even the Aqua Teens vs. Carl. It’s really about Frylock vs. Shake. Of all the character combinations, these two are the least cohesive. It’s practically Shake’s DNA that all of his actions are there to oppose Frylock.

For real, Frylock could tell him that the sky is blue and Shake will insist that it’s red and will probably go on some kind of one-cup mission to bring Hell on Earth just to prove him wrong. He regularly puts himself in mortal danger just to counteract Frylock’s logic. Much like how he abuses Meatwad just as much as Frylock comforts him.

Even Shake’s sense of being an evil dickbag comes out of that. Sometimes Frylock will act sketchy and when he does, Shake doesn’t congratulate him on it. He simply calls him out on it like Shake is now the voice of reason by default.

The one time the two really seem to be working as one is in “Kangarilla and the Magic Tarantula” in season 7, where they’re both too enamored by Frylock’s kickass mobile app game to care about anything else. Hell, going back to my earlier point, prior to getting into that game, Shake chastises Frylock for almost allowing Meatwad to drown. Shake, of all people! What madness is this?! He really is just there to negate Frylock 99% of the time.

So why do they coexist so well? Necessity, I guess. Shake needs to lean on Frylock financially and Frylock is simply compassionate (and I suppose lonely) enough to keep Shake around. Frylock even admits in “Multiple Meat” that he has a serious codependency problem.

It’s that problem that’s helped the show keep its longevity. Frylock, Shake, Meatwad, and Carl are four guys who can get along with some people some of the time, but not all people all of the time. It’s the perfect balance of dysfunction and understanding.

Am I overthinking it? Maybe. Possibly. But keep in mind that I just watched all 130 episodes over the course of several days. My mind is fried, dude.

Gavin Jasper was Carl for Halloween many years ago. Don’t dress in a wife-beater in late October in Rochester. It’s a bad, bad idea. Follow Gavin on Twitter!