It’s nothing short of incredible that Adult Swim has been able to grow from a partial programming block on Cartoon Network to one of the primary homes for adult-oriented animation and a breeding ground for new and post-modern content. Adult Swim hasn’t abused this good will and the network has slowly put together more polished programming and amassed a growing stable of celebrated talent. The block started as a place to watch “forbidden” episodes of classic animated series and programs like Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, and Sealab 2021, which took old Cartoon Network properties and re-appropriated them in new and mature ways.
Adult Swim has progressed beyond this point and even become a network that doesn’t just feature impressive animated content, but an enviable slate of live-action programming, too. It’s been able to evolve far beyond the original mandate of Turner’s Cartoon Network and just focus on programming that’s funny and different, regardless of the medium. As exciting as it’s been to see content creators like Rob Corddry, Adam Reed, Dan Harmon, Loren Bouchard, and so many others use the platform for great things, it’s often even more of a reason to celebrate when the network is able to help discover and foster new talent. Adult Swim’s popularity has never been higher and it has more eyes on it than ever before, which is why it’s such an important time for them to be making a shift back to more undiscovered voices on platforms like YouTube who can benefit from Adult Swim’s support more than anyone else.
Curiously, during the infancy of Adult Swim’s development the ambitious programming block was designed to be the YouTube of television just as much as it was meant to be a home for more adult animation. Adult Swim wanted to carry the kind of content that couldn’t be seen anywhere else and to tap into the gonzo and unbridled material that would be stumbled upon on the Internet. Adult Swim has approached creators that come from all different sorts of fields, but in the past few years there’s been a heavy return to creatives that have grown out of the YouTube scene and built an audience through their earlier works.
It’s very enjoyable to watch a polished project that has a decent budget behind it like Rick and Morty or The Venture Bros., but it’s sometimes more satisfying to come across something that feels like it shouldn’t have been seen; that it’s part of some weird underbelly of the animation world. Taking advantage of this kind of content and the enthusiastic energy behind it has helped Adult Swim build some of their more distinct and interesting programming of their current generation. They’re also the shows that are the most willing to push boundaries (due to how them come from outside of the system) and most closely resemble Adult Swim’s original slate of iconic programming.
Internet creators are often used to a level of limitlessness to their content that’s often restricted by the guidelines of television. This has what’s made Adult Swim’s decision to pull from the YouTube talent pool so interesting because in many of these cases it’s not just the creator that they’re taking, but their YouTube series, too. Apollo Gauntlet, Hot Streets, Tigtone, Final Space (which started at TBS, but has since been shared with Adult Swim, where the second season first premiered), and the upcoming YOLO: Crystal Fantasy all started as YouTube series. Additionally, Lazor Wulf and The Jellies! began as a webcomic and a cartoon on the Golf Media map, respectively. These are all situations where Adult Swim didn’t attempt to tone down any of the series and instead used their resources to help the programs accomplish even more and reach a greater audience.
While the above shows are more 1:1 translations of discovered online gems, Adult Swim has also taken a slightly different approach with some of their talent. For instance, Brad Neely took several of his SuperDeluxe/YouTube series and synthesized the content into one universe for Adult Swim in the form of China, IL. Neely was still just producing material for the Internet when Adult Swim aired a four-part test pilot for China, IL, that would go on to become a full-on series. Neely’s follow-up program for the network, Brad Neely’s Harg Nallin’ Sclopio Peepio, even carefully replicates the bite-sized and frenetic nature of YouTube’s content. It’s no coincidence that the program’s original working title was “TV Sucks.”
Adult Swim has gone on to take a similar approach with Zach “psychicpebbles” Hadel, whose pilot Smiling Friends is an original piece of work that uses the same sensibilities of his online content, rather than a fleshed out version of a pre-existing idea. Even some of the more celebrated ideas to come out of Rick and Morty, like their recurring “Interdimensional Television” installments, have origins that chart back to Justin Roiland’s online House of Cosbys content for Channel 101. Even the programs that don’t strictly begin on the Internet or YouTube are still using ideas that work for and originated on the medium.
In addition to all of the programming that makes it onto Adult Swim proper, the network has also gone out of their way to showcase independent Internet animators through their “Smalls” showcase, which sometimes lead to larger opportunities that end up on television. All of this reflects a heavy respect towards online creators as well as an understanding that there’s where a lot of innovation is happening. After nearly two decades Adult Swim has never taken their finger off the pulse of this thriving community and are still helping it grow.
Adult Swim’s momentum is in no danger of slowing down and if anything, they’re in the perfect position to help usher in the next generation of animation. As Adult Swim continues to try to surprise and impress their audiences, who knows if more animated online shorts from creators who they’ve previously worked with, like Brian Wysol’s Zurtrun Brad Neely’s Queeblo, or Will Carsola’s Scumbags could be the next block of shows to hit their slate.