With shows like The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy being well-known mainstream toons, it seems like every other show is just following the leader. And while some the titles featured below do adopt the shout-outs, callbacks, and breaking-the-fourth wall humor of its predecessors, others don’t need to rely on pop culture references in order to stay relevant as they get their laughs from the absurdity of everyday life. So, make like a blanket burrito and binge-watch these family-unfriendly cartoons on a staycation weekend.
1. For the nihilistic nerd: Rick and Morty
Wubba-lubba-dub-dub! Rick and Morty is the breakout show by Dan Harmon (who created Community) and Justin Roiland (who voices Lemongrab in Adventure Time) that explores multiverses Doctor Who-style but with a lot more burping, stuttering, and R-rated situations. What used to be a Back to the Future parody short called The Real Animated Adventure of Doc and Mharti evolved into its own powerhouse show with an equally popular Pokémon rip-off app game called Pocket Mortys. Every episode is a fun romp, where the grandpa–and-grandson duo visit a dimension, learning a warped moral lesson by the end credits. But to reveal more would be spoiling what makes the show great as it depicts the aftermath of a dangerous adventure and the lasting impact on the human psyche, particularly on the neurotic Morty and even the sociopathic Rick.
2. For the one going through quarter-life/mid-life crisis: BoJack Horseman
Just by the looks of the protagonist and its setting, where humans and anthropomorphic animals co-exist, it would be easy to dismiss the show as another slapstick comedy. But the fantastical world—that wouldn’t look out of place in a children’s storybook—is merely a colorful backdrop that acts as a shock absorber for the sad real-life (sometimes, it gets too real) problems that BoJack and his companions encounter. The animated series could have a Bingo card (or more appropriately, a drinking game) with the number of issues that crop up. Bojack deals with depression and anxiety as a washed-up former '90s sitcom star struggling to get his career back on track. Fame and the destructive consequences that lie in its wake may seem like a downer but hey, the horse keeps trying and it gets a few chuckles in.
3. For the gamers, emo kids, and non-sparkly vampire fans: Castlevania
Gamers have plenty of reasons to cheer because we finally have a video game adaptation that doesn’t suck (bye, Assassin’s Creed)! The Netflix series is based on Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, penned by Warren Ellis (the creator behind The Authority comic book series) and animated by Frederator Studios (the team that also worked on the kid-friendly Adventure Time). There was a lot of pressure riding on this series since it’s based on an iconic video game franchise about the eternal battle between Dracula and the vampire-hunting Belmont clan, but they nailed it. The downside is that the Castlevania series is too short, which will most likely give you blue balls by the end of the first season. Good thing that the second season will be bigger and longer!
4. For the reality show fan: Drawn Together
So, you think Terrace House is as real as it gets? Bitch, please! You haven’t witnessed an authentic experience until you’ve seen Drawn Together. Follow the daily life of fictional characters hailing from different types of genres (which is apparent in the stark contrast between the art styles of the housemates) who are forced to live together with extremely toxic results. You’ve got a black-and-white 1920s Betty Boop expy, a low-budget Pikachu, a crazy Disney princess lookalike, a comic book superhero, a blaxploitative action girl, a sexually confused adventurer, and more. They revel in profanity, nudity, violence, and uncomfortable taboo topics that will make you laugh your way down to the fiery pits of hell. Similar to South Park, it doesn’t hold back on the gross-out humor and may not be suitable for those with a weak stomach—you’ll be retching in the toilet after the first ep. The audacity to showcase such controversial content is what makes it a fascinating, albeit disturbing, look at interpersonal relationships.
5. For the metalhead audiophile: Metalocalypse
The death metal band aptly named Dethklok cranks up the rockstar lifestyle extravagance way beyond 11. The band’s sole economy is ranked in the top 10 (and above Belgium), they live in a gigantic Viking longboat called the Mordhaus, they have expendable executioner-type bodyguards called Klokateers, have daily groupie orgies, and can make a coffee jingle sound brutal. Their music is so hardcore that audiences end up causing death and destruction in the mosh pit—there’s at least one ridiculous Final Destination type of death every episode. And the actual songs featured are far from mediocre, with several Dethklok albums released and selling well IRL. Case in point, the eargasm that is the recurring theme in the show called “Go Into The Water.”
Metalocalypse is a violent musical adventure that no metalhead should miss out on.
6. For the nostalgic sci-fi adventure nut: The Venture Bros.
If you were a big fan of Johnny Quest growing up then you will enjoy all the allusions to the adventure genre in this show. The Venture Bros. deconstructs the boy adventurer tropes as we follow Rusty Venture’s life, complete with flashbacks from his happy-go-lucky childhood. His downer personality balances well with his twin sons, Hank and Dean, who fit the 1960s kid hero mold. What started as a parody series lampooning old-school action cartoons developed into an overarching lore that strays from its original genre. It’s a world with leagues of campy heroes and villains plus, it has the late, great David Bowie immortalized as The Sovereign.
7. For the pretentious foodie: Bob’s Burgers
The family sitcom strays from the classic Simpsons formula by moving the dynamics from home to the workplace, with the whole Belcher brood (including the kids) running a burger joint. Most of the humor comes from the many ways the Belchers try to keep their business afloat despite a shitty location and mediocre service.
The show’s also notable for their “Burger of the Day,” which changes every episode and always bears a punny name (See: “Jagged Little Dill,” “The Human Polenta-pede” and “Don’t You Four Cheddar ’Bout Me”). There’s also a fan website called The Bob’s Burger Experiment that’s dedicated to recreating every burger special featured in the show.
8. For the politically incorrect: F is for Family
The series harks back to the less PC era of the '70s, when people smoked wherever the hell they wanted, corporal punishment was the norm in the household, and everything was a lot more analog. It’s based on comedian Bill Burr’s stand-up routine about his childhood and the dark humor he gets from it. Unlike most domestic comedies, F is for Family depicts the actual consequences of having a dysfunctional set-up such as the one in Family Guy. The conflicts aren’t easily resolved in order to maintain status quo, piling up as the series goes on. Sounds a bit too real for you? You’ll be surprised at how often you’ll be chuckling at some of the lighter moments and finding humor in the pain.
9. For the horror film aficionado and resident dog lover: Mr. Pickles
A “heartwarming” tale about a boy named Tommy and his Satanic dog Mr. Pickles. If you enjoy blood and gore, then the aforementioned evil pup serves it up on a platter with entrails spilling all over. Mr. Pickles secretly enjoys murdering the townsfolk (although some of the citizens are quite fucked up and downright criminal so it’s like karmic retribution) and performing demonic rituals with Tommy none the wiser. With the amount of graphic violence and body horror in this show, it crosses the line so many times that you can’t see where one line ends and the other one begins.
10. For the viewer with the munchies: Aqua Teen Hunger Force
What started as a bit appearance on Space Ghost Coast to Coast became a long running show of its own. Aqua Teen Hunger Force follows the adventures of anthropomorphic fast food and oddly enough, it doesn’t take place in some outlandish fantasy place but in a New Jersey neighborhood. It just so happens that a lot of weird, random occurrences happen to Master Shake, Frylock, and Meatwad while they’re chillin’ in their hood such as alien invasions and people with a penchant for castration.
11. For the 007 wannabe: Archer
From the creator of Sealab 2021 comes a long-running series about a James Bond archetype named Sterling Archer and the spy agency he works for. Archer’s a very skilled agent but is weighed down by being a narcissistic selfish asshole with no regard for other people. Well, he’s more like a lovable jerk working in a highly unprofessional environment, where employees get drunk and Archer shoots coworkers. If you enjoy fast-paced action, irreverent humor, and workplace comedies, then you should ride into the Danger Zone with Archer. Plus points for Malory Archer being voiced by Jessica Walter (A.K.A. Arrested Development’s Lucille Bluth).
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Spoilers ahead—read at your own risk