Cow and Chicken was an animated television series, running from July 1997 to July 1999. Cow and Chicken are sister and brother, a cow and a chicken, with human parents. The creators were faced with the question of whether and how to explain this scenario. Sometimes opening credits are cumbersome vehicles for an origin story. David Feiss approached this problem in the series' opening title sequence:
This is all that is ever offered in explanation, although some episodes allude that the two of them were adopted, though others imply that they were born from human parents and have an extended family of various other types of animals, including Cousin Boneless, who is a boneless chicken (unable to walk or get up from the floor); Snail Boy, a snail; Cousin Black Sheep, a sheep whose nice gestures and intellectual talk is construed as nasty; and Sow, an evil pig. They also have an uncle Longhorn Steer, who appears in "Professor Longhorn Steer". The episode "Happy Meat" also showed the ghosts of a pair of Cow and Chicken's ancestors, a male (human) farmer married to a female chicken. Friends and close associates include Chicken's two buds Flem and Earl, and a loud and obnoxious school teacher. And then of course, there's the Red Guy, who they run into frequently in various guises.Initially, the show included a Three Shorts format with two Cow and Chicken episodes and one of I Am Weasel. Later on, I Am Weasel was spun off into its own series.As of March 2013 you can find the series on Netflix.
Contains examples of:
Abusive Parents: Red's mother feeds him gruel and keeps challenging him to fight her like a man.
Ambiguously Gay: Pretty much everyone at one point or another has had a Gay Moment, but the Red Guy is the only character on the show whose consistent effeminate mannerisms may be a sign that he's a homosexual.
An Aesop: Averted. Starting halfway through Season Two ("Buffalo Gals", specifically), an episode would end with a character, usually Red Guy, announcing, "There's a moral to this story...", and most of the time, those so-called morals were pretty irrelevant to the actual story. These "morals" became more frequent towards the end of Season Three, to the point that almost every other episode ended with these moments.
Art Evolution: While the show was always pretty well animated (for a crudely animated show made on the heels of Ren and Stimpy's popularity in the early 1990s), as the series progressed the color palette became richer and the line work was stronger. Compare the look of Season 1 and the look of Season 4 and you'll see the difference.
Both Season 3 and 4 are very consistent, Season 2 is like a transition season: the first handful of episodes look like a slightly improved version of Season 1, while the rest of the season better resembles the following two.
Be Careful What You Wish For: In an episode of the same name - Chicken wishes for Cow to shut up, which backfires when she is unable to A) warn him of dangerous traffic, and B) speak in his defense in court.
"Chachi, the Chewing Gum Seal": Cow wishes Chachi, a seal she made out of chewing gum, to life, hoping he will be her friend. As it turns out, he has a bland personality and eventually yells at her.
Shown Their Work: According to Rob Paulsen's Talkin Toons Live special with David Feiss (the creator of this show) and Charlie Adler, Feiss actually knows Spanish (his first wife was from Spain), so all the Spanish Supercow speaks is accurate, including a line that has a vulgar double meaning, as it has the verb "coger" in it, which is notorious for a lot of mistranslations in Spanish-speaking countries (as not all Spanish dialects are alike. The Spanish spoken in a place like Venezuela is different than what you hear in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Spain). In European Spanish, "coger" means "to catch or grab." In Mexican, Chilean, and Argentinian Spanish, it means "to have sex with" (usually translated as "fuck").
"I've been practicing and practicing and practicing, for years"
"Hello. It's me..."
"Supercow al rescate!"
"Can you be helped?"
"I'm sorry, I thought you was my Grandma".
"Is that a crime (cray-am)?"
Chaos Architecture: Although the exterior of Cow and Chicken's house remains pretty consistent [[note: with the exception of the "No Smoking" pilot, and a couple of Season One episodes]], the interior, on the other hand, almost never has any kind of consistency to it at all: a certain layout may stick around for an episode or two, before being changed again a few episodes later. And this went on for the entire run of the series.
Also, Red Guy, depending on what the situation of the episode calls for: most of the time, he is the villain, who doesn't care if either Cow or Chicken are hurt, or even killed, while on a few occasions, he is actually somewhat helpful to them (specifically when he poses as some kind of teacher or instructor).
Cool and Unusual Punishment: In "The Penalty Wheel," Red Guy hosts a game with the same name, and anytime the contestants (Cow, Chicken, Flem, and Earl) are unable to complete the challenges in under five seconds, they have to face the penalty they get when they spin said penalty wheel; while each of the penalties actually seem pleasant, Red Guy explains why they're penalties, such as eat candy (a mouth full of cavities), or eat ice cream (brain freeze).
Red Guy: WHAT ELSE DO I KNOW ABOUT SUPER COW? WHAT ELLLLSE?! OKAY, THINK! A) She speaks Spanish. 2) She's a superhero...
Chicken kicking Cow out of his new treefort
Chicken: 1) It's for men only. And B) You're a six-hundred-pound girl!
Credits Gag: During Season 1, whatever aliases that Red Guy posed as in the entire half hour episode is how he would be listed during the closing credits. For example, in "Confused / The Molting Fairy", Red Guy poses as a drill sergeant, a sensitivity trainer named Mrs. Beaver, Larry the Molting Fairy, and his brother the Scab Fairy... so, rather than listing, "Charlie Adler as Cow/Chicken/The Red Guy", the listing would be, "Charlie Adler as Cow/Chicken/Drill Sergeant/Mrs. Beaver/Larry/Scab Fairy".
Criminal Doppelgänger: Invoked in "Bad Chicken," in which Chicken makes a copy of himself with the school's copy machine; Red Guy (as the Copy Fairy) brings the copy to life, as it assumes Chicken's identity and begins wrecking havoc throughout school and even tries to kill Chicken with the paper shredder.
A Day in the Limelight: Red Guy had a hilarious "tour de forced" episode where he throws himself a birthday party... "Oh birthday boy, add one more year! Oh birthday boy, with the big fat rear!"
And just a couple of episodes later, Flem and Earl had one where they believe they're lost at sea, and reminisce about past events that never really happened, such as eating cheese in France, being chased by bulls in Spain, and hanging out in a milk bar in Germany.
A little more literal example from "The Ugliest Weenie", but also later serves as a subversion. In Cow's play, weenies want to be picked by The Giant Hand, Cow's character tries to help Chicken as the Ugliest Weenie, though it doesn't work, and The Giant Hand picks her instead; shortly thereafter, all the weenies learn that to be picked by The Giant Hand pretty much them being prepared for their doom (being roasted and cooked over fire and subsequently eaten).
Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Chicken once had no choice but to allow his cousin Snail to join his team for a relay race. Snail's adversaries fell into this trope. Chicken even told them they could just keep running.
Drop-In Character: Jolly Roger. He appeared only once on Cow and Chicken at the beginning of Season Two, but afterwards, it wasn't uncommon for him to make a completely random and unexpected appearance in any segment of I Am Weasel.
Drunk on Milk: Lampshaded. In-universe, just about all the bars serve is milk, it's not uncommon to see someone at a bar counter drinking from a little carton with a bendy straw, or even just straight from a glass; in most of these cases, the characters are very emotional when they drink.
Red: (Sobbing) You know... that Cow will never know how much I'll miss that udder... (Takes one last sip, then begins crying) Hey, bartender... set me up with another!
Evil Is Petty: The Red Guy is supposed to be Satan, yet he has nothing better to do with his time than constantly mess with a cow and a chicken (and occasionally a weasel and a baboon).
Exactly What It Says on the Tin: In the episode "Karate Chick", Chicken takes up karate to defend himself against a bully at school. After Chicken earns his butt belt (Red Guy's equivilant of a black belt), he confronts his bully, who is actually seen helping old ladies cross the street, and consoling a traumatized veternarian, refusing to fight with Chicken. When Chicken questions why he won't fight, the bully explains he's a school bully, and that he only fights with him Mondays through Fridays, but on weekends, he's nice.
Expy: Mom and Dad are all too similar to Mr. and Mrs. Pipe (only more mentally disturbed), Cow is a lot like Stimpy, and Chicken has some visible likeness to Ren. Also, the Red Guy and how he changes jobs and roles depending on what is needed for the plot is very much like Mr. Horse. Granted, Dave Feiss worked on The Ren & Stimpy Show, and John Kricfalusi doesn't seem to mind how much influence he took from it, openly admitting he likes Cow and Chicken (and Kricfalusi usually dismisses every cartoon as not being as good as the stuff Bob Clampett did back in the Golden Age Of Animation).
Many other ex-Ren and Stimpy artists also worked on the show, such as Bob Camp and Chris Reccardi.
The Faceless: Mom and Dad from the waist up (exaggerated as they actually have no upper bodies at all, if their shadows and the throwaway joke of Cow finding the top halves of a man and woman and brushing it off as a "science project" she did that was unsuccessful are indicative of anything).
For the Evulz: Most of the Red Guy's actions seem to fall under this justification. It's never explained why he keeps trying to scam, torture, or even outright kill Cow and Chicken; he seems to just do it for fun.
Gender Bender: "Which Came First?" revolves around Chicken being convinced that he is a girl because he laid an egg (when in reality, it was just a bird egg that the Red Guy put in Chicken's bed sheets overnight as a prank). Of course, Flem and Earl jumped the gender barrier once they find out Chicken's current gender identity.
The episode "Horn Envy" has Cow crushing on a boy at school. To get his attention she tries numerous ways to make her boobs...I mean, horns look bigger by stuffing them with toilet tissue inside a bra.
The constant jokes and references to gender-bending and possible transsexuality are way too high for a typical kids' cartoon.
The tribe in "Boneless Kite" are called the "As-Wi-Pe" (It was spelled out as "asswipe" in closed captions).
The chicken farm jingle from "Part-time Job" includes the line, "Nobody flips a boid, like Rear Admiral Floyd!"
In two issues of the old Cartoon Network Presents comic books (they were the precursors to the later and better-known Cartoon Network Starring and Cartoon Cartoons comic books), the word "Hell" is slipped in, uncensored - in the story "Recycling Daze," Chicken, Flem, and Earl come to Red Guy's junk yard, where the sign reads, "We'll give you a hell of a deal;" meanwhile in the story "Mayhem on the Midway," Red Guy introduces Cerberus as, "The Three-Headed Hound of Hell."
Gone Showering, Clothes Stolen: In episode "P.E.", Chicken, Flem and Earl became Junior High students. While they were having a shower after P.E. classes, some bullies stole their clothes. To compound the problem, the only place in school where gym towels were offered was the cafeteria.
Gratuitous Spanish: Supercow and Wonder Wattle speak this. David Feiss's first wife was from Spain and the idea of Cow and Chicken speaking Spanish in their respective superhero alter-egos was her contribution to the show.
Inversion - the Spanish-language version has Supercow and Wonder Wattle speaking Gratuitous English, but only in the Latin-American dub, because in the European Spanish dub the Wonder Wattle speaks with a Gratuitous Mexican accent.
Grossout Show: Justified in that most of the people who worked on Ren and Stimpy also did this show (including show creator David Feiss) and, well, old habits really do die hard.
Halfdressed Cartoon Animal: The Red Guy, who never wears pants. His aliases are always puns referring to his lack of dress (Ben Panced, Mr. Jeans B. Gone, Larry Lackapants, Baron von Neinlederhosen, Cleo-Pantless, etc) or his prodigious heinie (Mrs. Barederriere, C.D. Heinie, Rear Admiral Floyd, etc).
I Am Not Weasel: The Red Guy often thought Chicken was a duck or turkey and Cow as a moose, horse, or antelope (considering how Off Model they are, it may be a reference to what viewers thought of them when they first saw this show). Weasel from the Trope NamingI Am Weasel was often referred to by The Red Guy as a squirrel, a gerbil, a ferret and several other species of rodents, despite weasels not being rodents, I.R. Baboon got this treatment too, being often mistaken for other species of primates (mostly a lowland gorilla).
In the episode "Duck, Duck, Chicken" The Red Guy (as a door to door doctor) thought Chicken was a Duck and surgically altered him into a non-sapient one.
One episode had Chicken perform a magic trick and pull Weasel out of his hat. After being referred to as a squirrel, Weasel responds, "I am not a squirrel. I am Weasel!"
I Have Many Names: the Red Guy. Most of his aliases are puns on the fact that he doesn't wear pants (Baron von Neinlederhosen, Ivan Panced, Ben Panced, C.D. Heinie, Mrs. Barederriere, Larry Lackapants, Rear Admiral Floyd, Geraldo Rearviewa, Cleo-Pantless, etc).
Inexplicably Identical Individuals: the Red Guy seems to have a lot of identical "relatives," including a beige version of him known as "The Scab Fairy," who collects scabs for money the same way the Tooth Fairy (or in this show's case, the Molting Fairy) does.
Interspecies Romance: Cow and Chicken's great grandfather was married to a non anthropomorphic hen and the family has a lot of animals as relatives.
One of their relatives being married to a normal sized, but talking snail.
Cow has had crushes on human boys too, and Boneless Chicken attempts to date a human girl.
Anytime Red Guy says, "Walk this way," to instruct people to follow him somewhere, they literally mimic his very walking style (which is usually bouncing on his butt cheeks).
In one episode, Chicken, Flem, and Earl head down to the mall to pick up girls to prove their manliness; cue a montage of the three physically lifting girls out of their seats at the food court (much to their amusement), while Chicken even comments, "I don't see what's so great about picking up girls."
Made of Iron: Chicken has been through a lot throughout the series.
Nigh-Invulnerability: Super Cow & the Red Guy can't be harmed easily, and all injuries they suffer go away almost instantly.
Off Model: Happens on occasion. The animation for "Field Trip to Folsom Prison", "The Girl's Bathroom", and both parts of "The Ugliest Weenie" from S1, as well as "Dream Date Chicken", "Sumo Cow", and "Yard Sale" from S2 look significantly different from the other episodes.
One-Person Birthday Party: In the episode "Factory Follies", in which Red Guy plays the foreman of a factory who treats his employees like worthless slaves. At the end of the workday, he reminds everyone that his surprise birthday party will be held in the conference room later that night. Of course, nobody shows up, so he throws the party for himself and sings, "Oh birthday boy, add one more year/oh birthday boy with the big fat rear!"
Parental Abandonment: Mom and Dad actually do this quite frequently, for one reason or another (and it's lucky that Cow and Chicken are actually rather capable of looking out for themselves):
In "Confused," Mom and Dad drop Cow and Chicken off at military school, feeling they need better discipline.
In "The Babysitter," after seeing Cow is a good babysitter, Mom and Dad decide to leave for a three-week overseas vacation.
In "Chickens Don't Fly," Mom and Dad send Cow and Chicken off on their own three-week overseas vacation, meaning they'll fly on a plane by themselves. To make matters worse, Chicken is terrified of planes.
In "The Great Pantzini," Mom and Dad decide Cow and Chicken need to run away and join a circus, so they dump them at the titular Great Pantzini's circus.
At the "END!" of every episode, a screen with the text "END" in it will appear. Oh, and cue a character from said episode saying "End."
Chicken keeps telling the audience he's got to be adopted.
Cousin Boneless asks for bones. Everyone laughs, thinking he was joking.
Boneless: I'm serious! * everyone laughs again * Boneless: What is wrong with you people?
Chicken losing his feathers for whatever reason. It was implied in one episode that his plumage returns by Christmas, but considering that this is Cartoon Network continuity, that just means the next episode.
Appearances of "Milk Bars", where milk is drunk like an alcoholic beverage.
Shout-Out: In "Journey to the Center of Cow", as Chicken is paddling down a river of Cow's stomach acid, he has to paddle faster. Why? Because he hears banjo music. On top of that, he passes a redneck enzyme plucking away at a banjo, who remarks at him, "Hey, boy! You got a real purty beak!"
Soap Punishment: The Halloween Episode featured the Red Guy (impersonating Space Ghost and hosting his Coast-to-Coast show) trying to use this on Chicken, albeit he initially thought it was "soup" punishment until Chicken corrected him.
Super Hero: Cow's alter ego, Supercow. When Chicken dons Supercow's costume, he becomes Wonder Wattle.
Clark Kenting: Parodied when anyone entertains the thought that Cow and Supercow could possibly be the same cow (being the only Sentient cows in the Universe no less) that idea is always shot down by the fact that Supercow speaks Spanish.
Temporary Bulk Change: The Red Guy attempts to sell a product he calls 'Fat Sauce' to the kids by showing its effects on Chicken, who almost immediately becomes fatter than Cow. Even the Red Guy is surprised it actually works.
Too Dumb to Live: While vacationing in Oregon, were the rest of the populace live in fear of savage head hunters and wear diving helmets to protect themselves, Chicken asks if they can buy some of those helmets and dad refuses, saying they are going to rough it. They are almost immediately singled out by the Head Hunter leader who manages to easily trick them into letting him take Chicken away to get his head cut off.
In "Free Inside," after Cow and Chicken leave the used car lot, The Red Guy gets in a car that he tried to sell to Cow and Chicken and turns on the ignition. The car he was in was rigged with a bomb labeled "Big Boy."
Ungrateful Bastard: Chachi the chewing gum seal. Cow teaches him to stick up for himself. After she congratulates Chachi for doing so, he berates her, causing her to cry.
Unishment: In one episode, the Red Guy was planning to punish chicken by...washing his mouth with soup (though see the Fridge section of this page for a possible Fridge Horror scenario). It is then subverted when chicken corrects him by saying soap. The Red Guy finds this a better idea, and proceeds to put a bar of soap in chickens mouth.
Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs??: The Red Guy, although there may actually be many Red Guys (as seen in "The Molting Fairy," when it's revealed that the Red Guy has a beige brother who works as The Scab Fairy). And the warden of Folsom Prison made a cameo in a story where another Red Guy had more onscreen time and the two of them appeared together. I Am Weasel had a story where a female Red Guy had three Red Guy kids.
The intro for Cow and Chicken has several Red Guys, though that could just be The Red Guy himself showcasing the many aliases he has on the show.
There is, however, one episode where Cow and Chicken move away and the Red Guy begs them not to go, because he needs someone to scheme against. This seems to imply it is in fact the same Red Guy.
And when he can't get a job, he just makes one up. Office Mountie, anyone?
Yawn and Reach: Done by Flem and Earl on Chicken in "Which Came First?"