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Entry updated 22 January 2024. Tagged: TV.

US animated tv series (2007-2014). Augenblick Studios, Titmouse, Inc. and Williams Street. Created by Christy Karacas, Stephen Warbrick and Ben Gruber. Directed by Christy Karacas. Writers include Aaron Augenblick, Chris Burns, Christy Karacas, Adam Modiano, Stephen Warbrick and Michael M Wartella. Voice cast include Teddy Cohn, Sally Donovan, Christy Karacas, Richard Mather, Chris McCulloch and David Wain. Thirty-seven (including Pilot) 11 minute episodes. Colour.

Superjail (see Crime and Punishment), "the largest Prison this side of Dimension 56-12", is owned and run by the enthusiastic but unstable Warden (Wain), whose dress sense recalls Willy Wonka (see Roald Dahl). Advanced Technology is commonplace; despite the large number of extremely violent male inmates, The Warden relies mainly on four staff members: Jared (Cohn), his assistant; Alice (Karacas) the well-muscled Transgender prison guard; the multi-purpose Jailbot (see Robot) and The Doctor (McCulloch), a Mad Scientist whose work includes "pre-emptive killing automatons" and "splicing animal genes with humans to make more docile inmates" (see Genetic Engineering), the latter experiment not a success. Also prominent are the Twins (Mather), Aliens who look and sound like Euro-trash, and regularly interfere with the Warden's plans, delighting in the chaos.

Season one includes a mermaid civilization Under the Sea and Time Travel, the latter involving the warden being put on trial and convicted by a Time Court for the consequences of his future acts (see Time Police). Aside from much casual violence, each episode has at least one extended panorama of gore-filled mayhem (see Horror in SF). In season two the plots focus more on the characters, rather than building up to these set pieces; violence is still commonplace but less often holding centre stage. Stories include the Twins' father sending a Shapeshifting pet to bring them home: we discover they are exchange students who do not want to return. In another the Doctor temporarily kills The Warden, sending him into the afterlife to find out why Superjail is haunted (see Eschatology; Supernatural Creatures). The prisoners are taken on vacation to the Skylands, a region of floating Islands – only to find this Archipelago inhabited by warrior women (see Women in SF) and assorted Monsters. The season ends with Superjail controlled by Mistress (Donovan), warden of the Ultra-Prison for women, whose staff mirror Superjail's.

Accordingly, season three opens with a gender-swapped intro, though by the first episode's end the status quo has been restored, with the Mistress departing in the Ultra-Prison, a Spaceship. This season sees a return of the violent set pieces, though retaining the more character-centred plotlines, such as the first prisoner to be granted parole distressing the Warden, fearing this is but the first step to a deserted jail; fortunately, the prisoner does not want to leave his boyfriend. The Twins' bullying siblings arrive with a monster but are defeated by the prisoners whilst under the impression they are in a Virtual Reality game. Below Superjail is Superhell: in the season three finale the Warden's fixation with fire leads to Superhell's denizens pouring into the jail. Alice departs in an escape rocket, and the fourth season's opener has her fighting alien monsters on another planet, to be rescued by Mistress in a spaceship; Mistress returns her to Superjail, which now resembles a medieval Hellscape. The season finale has the Warden romancing a reptilian hillbilly, but cutting down her people's sacred tree (see Religion) leads to an all-out assault on Superjail by humanoid reptiles.

The highlights of the series are the violent panoramas which, at their best, are a creative display of psychedelic surrealism (see Absurdist SF) that sometimes seem inspired by the works of Hieronymus Bosch. Genre tropes are frequent; aside from those already mentioned, they include giant Mecha, Clones, plant/human hybrids and Weather Control. Assorted cultural references are also sprinkled in, including nods to The Residents' eyeball-headed people; Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time (1962); and the Dr Seuss-written film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1953). Christy Karacas would go on to direct the similarly toned Robotomy (2010-2011). [SP]


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