Flash in the Pan: The Ingredients of "Too Many Cooks"

Curator's Note

One of the more recent instances of Adult Swim content breaking out into the mainstream is the 2014 short Too Many Cooks. Despite premiering in a 4 AM timeslot, the sitcom intro parody quickly became a viral hit online. As the success of television shows become more dependent on capturing the elusive praise of influencers, many would keen to reverse-engineer its winning qualities, but with a good understanding of Adult Swim programming, the recipe ends up being rather unsurprising. The comedic direction of the short starts to become apparent after what feels like a thirty second TV show intro continues, introducing an impossibly large cast. This simple premise is definitively aligned with the character of the Adult Swim block's original animated shows, which employ regular use of implying, and then subverting the viewer's expectations based on the perceived genre. As the short travels through multiple cliche TV show premises, it takes on an additional layer of genre expectations beyond that of the sitcom intro format, showing sequences and characters from each passing genre. Like the faux talk show of Space Ghost or the redubbing of Sealab 2021, this meta playfulness is the main ingredient of Too Many Cooks and is a tried-and-true staple of Adult Swim programming. The premise is slowly deconstructed as the character with the machete interrupts the progression of the opening credits, treating the viewer to an increasingly gory slasher sequence. This dramatic shift towards exaggerated and shocking content is another characteristic associated with Adult Swim programming, this time most commonly found in their original live action programs like Tim & Eric and The Eric Andre Show. These shows commonly employ vicious assaults on the viewer's senses, using elements of surprise or graphic imagery to generate a shock reaction. Too Many Cooks employs this technique throughout the second act, further revealing the fingerprint left by Adult Swim's influence on the short. Despite seeming like an aberration, Too Many Cooks has an easily recognizable formula that points to the most successful characteristics of Adult Swim original programs. Though the ingredients of the short are not as conceptually innovative as it may appear, the phenomenal breakout performance the short experienced is a testament to its execution, and its style, as well as a validation of the identity of Adult Swim itself.


Too Many Cooks does seem to be almost a summary of the Adult Swim ethos, not only in content but in distribution. I first saw it on a trending article on social media that said something along the lines of, "Adult Swim released this in the middle of the night, with no explanation. What's it mean??" This seems to be a consistent trend with Adult Swim programming. Put something ridiculous on a late night time-slot, provide no advertisement nor 'explanation,' wait to see how the Internet responds. Not only does this model allow the network an avenue to experiment with programming in a relatively safe way, but I'd also argue that this is one of the key ways they generate their 'cult' appeal.

Their narrative techniques fit well and are no doubt enhanced by the persona that Adult Swim employs and the form in which their content is distributed, especially in regards to getting attention from the media and fans.

I agree that this fits very well with Adult Swim's approach to parody: replicate aspects of a familiar televisual form, seize opportunities to reveal its potential fissures, and fill them with content that is absurd and/or inappropriate. However, part of what made this so successful in online circulation is that it took one particular era (80s/90s) of a formal convention (the intro sequence) and parodied it in a way that echoes the digital form of the "supercut." Of course, it also introduces causal narrative threads into it (i.e., Bill the Killer, the malady "intronitis," etc.) that offer some fragmentary rationale for this collection of components from different genres, but it nonetheless uses its autonomy as a project as a way to bring in a quality unlike most of what airs on Adult Swim. Others of the "infomercials" have taken the aesthetic(s) in different directions, but none quite as successful in their viral recirculation.

I enjoy the way that so much of [adult swim]'s original programming--especially its stand-alone projects like "Too Many Cooks" or "This House Has People in It"--fully invests in its foundational, fictional conceits, only to ride them into the ground. This narrative self-destruction not only grants these texts with critical, meta-level layers of meaning (e.g., its fun to be media savvy and literate), but this technique also suggest a willingness to take an idea to its logical (or illogical conclusion). There is something pleasurable and gratifying about watching this quasi-punk rock aesthetic play out on basic cable.

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