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Western Animation / Cow and Chicken

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Sometimes, television shows have deep and meaningful character backgrounds. Sometimes, opening credits are cumbersome vehicles for an origin story. When creating Cow and Chicken, former The Ren & Stimpy Show animator David Feiss approached the ontological problem of the titular characters' existence in the show's opening song as follows:

Mama had a chicken
Mama had a cow
Dad was proud,
He didn't care how!

Running from July 1997 to July 1999 on Cartoon Network, the series reveled in the Rule of Funny, filled to brim with Black Comedy, surrealism and a sense of humour that appealed to its grownup audience just as much as to the kids watching it. Cow and Chicken (both voiced by Charlie Adler) typically spend their days having adventures in their neighbourhood, going to school, getting into trouble with their cousin Boneless Chicken (also voiced by Charlie Adler) and being pestered by a guy from Hell known as the Red Guy (Charlie A-oh, you know the drill).

Their extended family consists of Snail Boy, a snail; Cousin Black Sheep, a sheep whose nice gestures and intellectual talk is construed as nasty; Cousin Boneless, a boneless chicken; 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.

Initially, the show included a Three Shorts format with two Cow and Chicken episodes and one of I Am Weasel, another series by Feiss. Later on, I Am Weasel was spun off into its own series shortly before Cow and Chicken's run ended.

Though the show ended in 1999, the title characters were still frequently featured in advertising for the network. In addition, Chicken ended up being one of the most prominent non-host characters for the Cartoon Cartoon Fridays bumpers.

Many years after the end of the show's run, Cow and Chicken made a memorable cameo appearance in Ben 10: Omniverse.

Contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Red's mother feeds him gruel and keeps challenging him to fight her like a man.
  • A Day in the Limelight:
    • "Factory Follies," a stand-alone cartoon starring the Red Guy as a tyrannical factory boss. Subverted in the end in that Cow and Chicken were bound and gagged the whole time.
    • "Lost As Sea" is one for Flem and Earl. Cow appears in flashbacks but doesn't have any lines, and Chicken doesn't appear at all.
  • Adult Adoptee: In "Goin' My Way", Mom and Dad adopt The Red Guy whom they think is a kid. Cow and Chicken are able to prove he is an adult by showing them his driver's license. Surprisingly, Mom and Dad have no problem with this but the Red Guy flees the house upon being exposed because he thought they were going to kick him out.
  • Aloof Big Brother: Chicken is a parody of this.
  • 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: Parodied. 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.
  • Animated Actors: Occasionally, the characters act as if they're actors for the show.
  • Art Evolution: The show's animation was mostly consistent, but the evolution was definitely noticeable. The pilot was much more crudely drawn but the animation was also more fluid, as David Feiss animated it by himself, and had a darker palette. When it went to series, the drawings and color models (and some of the humor) were cleaned up and over the course of the series got tighter and richer, respectively, all while still retaining it's inherently "ugly" look.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Cattle don't flaunt large udders or produce milk unless they are given hormones. Cow, despite being a 7 year old calf, does both. The implications would be deeply unpleasant if this weren't the kind of show that prides itself on making a total lack of sense.
  • As the Good Book Says...: A variation. When Cow gives Chachi the Chewing Gum seal a pep talk about sticking (No Pun Intended) up for himself, she misquotes The Bible by saying, "If someone smacks you on one cheek, you should smack them on the other."
  • 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.
  • Bicolor Cows, Solid Color Bulls: Cow is brown-and-yellow. While there is no regular bull character, "Professor Longhorn Steer" features a brown bull.
  • Big Brother Instinct: When pushed too far, Chicken will actually jump to Cow's defense.
  • Big Red Devil: The Red Guy is basically the stereotypical depiction of the Devil.
  • Big "WHY?!": In "A Couple of Skatin' Fools", to take Chicken and Earl out of the figure skating competition, Red Guy fractures Earl's knee by tapping with a galvanized steel smoking pipe. Afterwards, Earl continually screams, "WHYYYY?!! WHYYYYY?!!", even as he's rushed to the hospital.
    Earl: What are we gonna do, Chicken? WHYYYY?!! The skating competition is tomorrow. WHYYYY?!!
    Chicken: Don't worry, (clinches fist) We'll find a way to win! (brings fist down on Earl's knee)
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • "Super Cow al rescate!"note 
    • In one episode, Chicken has to pose as Supercow and exclaims
      "Oye, ¡¿dónde esta el baño?!"note 
    • In order to keep the joke, the Latin-American Spanish dub made the Gratuitous Spanish Catchphrase into a Gratuitous English one.
    • Shown Their Work: According to Rob Paulsen's Talkin' Toons with Rob Paulsen special with David Feiss (the creator of this show) and Charlie Adler, Feiss actually knows Spanish (his first wife was originally 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 note . In European Spanish, "coger" means "to pick up." In Mexican, Chilean, and Argentinian Spanish, it means "to have sex with" (usually translated as "fuck").
  • Black Sheep: Cow and Chicken have a cousin named Black Sheep, who's actually a kind, smart guy, but the other characters are so stupid that they mistake his big words and kind gestures for insults.
  • Book Dumb: Practically everyone on the show isn't very good with math and reading. They can also be socially stupid, as seen on the episode, "Black Sheep of the Family."
  • Boot Camp Episode: "Confused". "Piano Lessons" becomes one about halfway in.
  • Born from Plants: One episode of has Cow asking where she came from. When she asks his mom and dad, they tell her that she was born in a lettuce patch. She doesn't take this well nor does she accept it as the answer she is looking for.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: There are times when the characters address the viewer.
  • Bringing Running Shoes to a Car Chase:
    • In "The King and Queen of Cheese", Chicken notices Cow has dropped her Crabs the Warthog doll on the platform at the train station after she has already boarded the train and it has left; he chases after the train on foot - all the way to Arkansas - to give her her doll.
    • In "Cow and Chicken Recycling", a pair of art thieves rob Red Guy's museum under the cover of darkness, but after they take off in their getaway truck, Red chases after them on foot - and can surprisingly run as fast as they drive.
  • Bumbling Dad: More like "Bumbling Parents," as the mom is just as nuts as Dad.
  • The Butler Did It: Parodied in "Red Butler", where the Red Guy presents a mystery story to Cow and Chicken involving a man being injured by his own dentures and says that the butler did it because it's always the butler who is responsible. To make things especially weird, the Red Guy himself was masquerading as a butler.
  • Butt-Monkey: Chicken suffers a lot, especially in the episode "P.E.", where he and his friends Flem and Earl have their clothes stolen by bullies while they are showering.
  • Calling Me a Logarithm: Black Sheep's words are often met with this reaction.
  • The Cameo: In "The Babysitter", you can see the title character of the What A Cartoon! Show short "Tumbleweed Tex" appear on TV when Cow and Chicken are watching it.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "END!"
    • "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".
    • "What are you doing?" "I'm walking with my butt. Is that a crime (cry-um)?"
  • Chaos Architecture: Although the exterior of Cow and Chicken's house remains pretty consistent note , 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.
  • Characterization Marches On: Not only that, but it can also do an about face, depending on the writer, and, depending on the medium. In some cases, Cow is shown to be incredibly naive and somewhat simple-minded, while Chicken is a straight man having to put up with his sister's childishness as well as the rest of people in his life - this is more common on the series; other times, it is Cow who is highly intelligent and thinks before she acts, while Chicken is more of a Know-Nothing Know-It-All - this is especially common in the old Cartoon Network Starring and Cartoon Cartoons comic books.
    • The comic book interpretation is also pretty common in the cartoon, especially Supercow episodes. Chicken would avoid a lot of suffering if he listened to Cow more often.
    • 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).
  • Cheek Copy:
    • In "Bad Chicken", Chicken photocopies his butt and other body parts and convinces Cow to do the same.
    • "The Full Mounty" has a scene where Cow and Chicken fool around with a photocopier by using it to copy Cow's butt.
  • Clear My Name: In "Sow and Chicken", Sow plays cruel pranks involving her milk and other mischief, framing Cow for it. Parodied at one point; Chicken sees Sow putting her arms around Flem and Earl at a movie theater and thinks that it's Cow, who is sitting right next to him.
  • Circus Episode: "The Great Pantzini" has Cow and Chicken sent to the Red Guy's circus to be performers.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Cow and Chicken comic stories were featured in Cartoon Network Presents, Cartoon Network Starring, Cartoon Cartoons, and Cartoon Network Block Party.
  • Construction Catcalls: The episode "Chicken Lips" featured female construction workers whistling at a muscular guy.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Crippling the Competition: The Red Guy injures Chicken's ice skating partner, which is most likely a Shout-Out to the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan fiasco.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Red Guy has 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 have 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.
  • Defrosting Ice King: Although he had his moments beforehand, this happens to Chicken, particularly towards the end of Season Three and throughout Season Four, where he's shown to express more empathy and sincerity towards Cow, and his overall personality becomes more mellow.
  • Deus ex Machina: "Supercow al rescate!"
    • 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.
  • Discretion Shot: Milking discretion shots.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The episode "Horn Envy", in which Cow has a crush on a boy from her school, uses horns as a metaphor for breasts.
    • Don't forget "Cow's Instincts...Don't It?" where herding seems to be treated similarly to puberty or menstruation the way that Cow talks about it, though Chicken's wording might have something to do with it.
      Chicken: It's something that happens to all young cows when they reach a certain age. It's called a herding instinct.
      Cow: Ohh! A herding instinct! Think I'll get one?
      Chicken: Eventually when you start commiserating. [He pronounces it similarly to "menstruating."]
      Cow: I think I'm getting one now!
    • Linda dating Chicken who is only a minor is basically an adult grooming a kid.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": Not just with Cow and Chicken themselves, but apparently, "Mom", "Dad", and even "Teacher" are those characters' actual names, respectively.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: Alluded to in the episode "Orthodontic Police", where the Red Guy pretends to be an orthodontic policeman and goes around forcing people to wear huge, uncomfortable braces. When Cow and Chicken try to report him to the police, they find the police chief with braces and lamenting that his braces keep him from eating donuts.
  • Downer Ending: At the end of "Chicken in the Bathroom" Cow who was very desperate to go to the toilet could not hold it any longer and ends up flooding the bathroom with urine/milk causing her and her family to tragically drown.
  • Dressed to Heal: The Red Guy whenever he's a doctor.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Sergeant Weenie Arms and The Red Guy in certain episodes both follow the character archetype of a belligerent and demanding military leader.
  • Drop-In Character: Jolly Roger. He appears only once on Cow and Chicken at the beginning of Season Two, but afterwards, it isn't uncommon for him to make a completely random and unexpected appearance in any segment of I Am Weasel.
  • Dropped After the Pilot: The Red Guy's three-headed canine accomplice Cerberus made no appearances outside of the original "No Smoking" pilot.
  • 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!
  • Dub Name Change: The main characters (and therefore, the series' title) become "Cleo and Chico" in the french dub (Probably for the phonetic similarity).
  • The End: Every short ends with a character shouting "END!" as the word "End" shows up.
  • Everyone Hates Mimes: The episode "Send in the Clowns" has a family of clowns move into the neighborhood. At the end of the episode, a family of mimes move in and Chicken states that he thinks he hates mimes even more than clowns.
  • 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 equivalent of a black belt), he confronts his bully, who is actually seen helping old ladies cross the street, and consoling a traumatized veterinarian, 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.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: In "Cow's a Beauty", all of the Beauty Queen contestants' names are some sort of "mis-" pun. (Miss Demeanor, Miss Ionary, Miss Issipi, etc.)
  • Freshman Fears: An episode featuring Chicken, Flem, and Earl starting middle school sees the trio getting hazed by a pair of lunkhead upperclassmen, particularly with regard to the practice of showering after PE. This proves so traumatic for the three of them, that they decide to NOT go to middle school after all.
  • Freudian Excuse: Red had a slew of these late in the series.
    "It all began when I was a little boy of nayn..."
  • Furry Confusion: Jesus, so much. Just read the opening.
  • Furry Reminder:
    • Cow frequently moos and can milk herself.
    • At the end of "Chicken Lips", Chicken discovers his special talent— crowing like a rooster.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: A showering variant in episode "P.E.", Chicken, Flem and Earl become Junior High students. While they're having a shower after P.E. classes, some bullies steal their clothes. To compound the problem, the only place in school where gym towels are offered is the cafeteria.
  • Gonky Femme: Cow, who is ugly and fat, despite being a very sweet girl with girly interests.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: Supercow and Wonder Wattle speak this. David Feiss's first wife, Pilar, 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 Spanish, but it's Mexican Spanish; and in the Latin American dub of the pilot, Wunder Wattle spoke Spaniard Spanish.
  • 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. Though in a slight twist, the show relied more on surreal and demographically inappropriate humour.
  • Grounded Forever: Happens in Send in the Clowns.
  • 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).
  • Halloween Episode: "Halloween with Dead Ghost, Coast to Coast", where Cow and Chicken try to go trick-or-treating as adults and end up running afoul of the Red Guy masquerading as a Space Ghost pastiche.
  • Hand-or-Object Underwear: Occurs in "P.E." when Chicken, Flem, and Earl have to hide their nudity after bullies steal their clothes while they're showering. Chicken covers himself using a big clock, Flem covers his nether regions using a potted plant, Earl hides his privates using a bucket, and all three of them later cover themselves using cafeteria trays.
  • Handy Feet: Mom and Dad have feet that they use like hands, due to them being a extreme case of The Faceless. Apparently, they're both only a pair of legs each.
  • Happily Married: Mom and Dad seem WAY too happy.
  • Heart Beats out of Chest: Happens to Chicken in the episode "Stay Awake" as the first indicator of the caffeine from the Sugar Frosted Coffee Flakes kicking in.
  • Held Back in School: In "The Bad News Plastic Surgeons", Chicken ends up participating in his school's plastic surgery tournaments and eventually faces off against the reigning plastic surgery champions, who are clearly adults. Chicken finds it incredulous that his opponents are still in elementary school, to which the Red Guy replies by explaining that while the other plastic surgeons are great at plastic surgery, they're terrible at math.
  • Here We Go Again!: Subverted in "Tongue Sandwich". After Cow's tongue returns to her mouth, Chicken's wattle tries to escape after coming to life and detaching himself from Chicken, but Chicken steps on him before he can get away.
  • I Am Not Weasel: The Red Guy often thinks Chicken is 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 Naming I Am Weasel is 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 gets 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) thinks Chicken is a Duck and surgically alters him into a non-sapient one.
    • One episode has 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.
  • Inherently Funny Words:
  • Instant Wristwatch: Cow does so in "Duck, Duck, Chicken", and Chicken does in "Cow's Pie". One episode takes this trope to the extreme and has the Red Guy pull up the flesh on his arm to check his wrist watch.
  • Interspecies Romance:
    • Cow and Chicken's great grandfather was married to a non-anthropomorphic, non-talking chicken and the family has a lot of animals as relatives.
    • One of their relatives being married to a non-anthropomorphic talking snail.
    • Cow has had crushes on human boys too, and Boneless Chicken attempts to date a human girl on occasion.
  • Island Help Message: Parodied with a message that is way too long.
    "I threw my boneless cousin too high and we got stuck on the roof. And now we need...need what?"
  • Jerkass: The Red Guy always tries to scam and abuse Cow, Chicken, and their loved ones.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Chicken is conniving, sarcastic and mean, but he really does love his friends and family...deep down.
  • Karma Houdini: The two bullies in "P.E." get no comeuppance for tormenting Chicken, Flem, and Earl and humiliating them by stealing their clothes while they're showering.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Chicken does this in a promo for the show, in which he interrupts the show's theme song and remarks, "Believe it or not, we have not been asked, not even one time, to be on Springer..."
  • Large Ham: A lot of characters, but kudos to The Red Guy. All the scenery he eats goes straight to his butt.
  • Laughing Mad: Mom & Dad's laugh by default.
    Cow: Sometimes, I question their sanity.
  • Lions and Tigers and Humans... Oh, My!: Humans and anthropomorphic animals coexist in this show.
  • Literal-Minded:
    • 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 "Grandma at the Mall", 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.
  • Magic Feather: Subverted in "Cow's Magic Blanket". After convincing his sister to give up her blanket, Chicken realizes he shouldn't have done that when Cow reveals that her blanket also functions as Supercow's cape and that she can't become Supercow without it. After going back to retrieve the blanket, Chicken dons the blanket to become Wonder Wattle, but fails to defeat the Red Guy. Chicken thinks that this means that Cow didn't need the blanket to become Supercow after all, but Cow reveals that the blanket actually didn't work because Chicken was wearing it upside down. Once this is corrected, Chicken gains Supercow's powers and successfully beats the tar out of the Red Guy.
  • Malaproper: Characters sometimes confuse their words with similar-sounding ones.
    • In "The Cow with Four Eyes", Chicken replies to Cow saying that he needs a prescription in order to get glasses with "So I'll get a subscription".
    • In "Comet", Cow says "posterior" when she meant "posterity".
    • In "The Lonliest Cow", Chicken calls a tree a "inanimatronic object".
  • Meatgrinder Surgery: Used for plastic surgery in "The Bad News Plastic Surgeons".
  • Mirror-Cracking Ugly: In "The Ugliest Weenie", the gag of a mirror breaking because an ugly person looked in it is used in the school's production of the titular play written by Cow.
  • Mister Seahorse: At the end of "Me An' My Dog", the imaginary man whom Cow let have her imaginary dog Kevin shows up to reveal Kevin had puppies. The imaginary man claims that the weirdest part isn't that an imaginary dog managed to give birth, but that Kevin is a boy dog.
  • Mood-Swinger: The Red Guy constantly switches between being suave and calm and being loud and ranting (and often breaking down in tears) at a moment's notice.
  • Naked People Are Funny: The Red Guy is portrayed as both a half-dressed demon and a butt naked demon.
  • Name and Name: The show's title is Cow and Chicken, the two main characters.
  • Negative Continuity: When it comes to character ages and other information, the show seems to bounce back and forth. Cow's age and weight seems to change more frequently than anything; in some episodes, she's six, others she's seven, while David Feiss has said that Cow is 400 pounds though some episodes give her weight as being 600. Similarly, Chicken's established age is 11, yet on occasions, it's said that he's turning 11.
  • New Job as the Plot Demands: 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 makes a cameo in a story where another Red Guy has more onscreen time and the two of them appear together. I Am Weasel has a story where a female Red Guy has three Red Guy kids.
    • The intro has several Red Guys, though that could just be The Red Guy himself showcasing the many aliases he has on the show.
    • This is most pronounced in episodes at Cow and Chicken's school. On separate occasions, he's been a cafeteria lady, a reporter for the school paper, a janitor, and even the principal.
    • 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?
  • No Animals Were Harmed: Stated by the Red Guy near the end of "I Screem Man" ...right before he complains that he was harmed.
  • No Indoor Voice: Subverted with The Red Guy, who's voice osculates between this and Tranquil Fury. Similarly, Mom and Dad, while they don't speak in screams, rarely speak gently.
  • No Sense of Personal Space: Cow is ridiculously fond of her older brother, and expresses it by squeezing him tightly or even licking him. (She IS a cow, though).
  • Officer O'Hara: The Red Guy pretends to be an Irish cop named Officer O'Fannahey in "Black Sheep of the Family".
  • One Crazy Night: "The Babysitter" takes place in one night, in which Mom and Dad go out on the town, and leave Cow in charge of babysitting Chicken; after Mom and Dad have a happy time at the Sad Club, and return to see Cow is (in their perspective) a great babysitter, they leave on the spot for an extended overseas vacation.
    • "Night of the Ed" deals with Dad deciding one night that the family needs a pet, and brings home a jackal, leaving Cow and Chicken home alone with the savage (albeit miniature) beast.
  • 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!"
  • Only Sane Man: Chicken is often the only sensible person on the show. Nearly everyone else is completely insane.
  • Organ Autonomy: In the episode "Tongue Sandwich", Cow's tongue becomes sentient and leaves her mouth, never returning until he gets in trouble with the law. At the end of the episode, Chicken's wattle tries to make a break for it, but Chicken steps on him before he can get away.
  • Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: In "Duck Duck Chicken", Spanky the Pig goes on a rant after the events of the story seem to invalidate the moral he was trying to teach on his show at the beginning. The Red Guy appears that the producers wish to apologize for Spanky's rant, and then a narrated text disclaimer comes to apologize on the producers' behalf for The Red Guy's apology.
  • 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.
  • Persecuted Intellectuals: The episode, "Black Sheep of the Family," invokes and lampshades this. Because Cousin Black Sheep is actually a very articulate sheep, and the rest of this universe is a Cloud Cuckooland, other characters take Black Sheep's big words as insults, to the point that even Red Guy, who is Officer O'Fannihee, deems Black Sheep as a wanted criminal. Subverted with Officer O'Fannihee because this is not his primary reason to deem Black Sheep as a criminal. He just blames Black Sheep for something other people did.
  • Playing Sick: In "Playing Hookie", Chicken pretends to be sick so he won't have to take a test he didn't study for. When he finally convinces his parents, they call a Doctor who happens to be the Red Guy. After deeming Red's treatments scarier than the test, Chicken admits to be playing sick, prompting the Red Guy to confess he was just playing doctor.
  • Poverty Food: In "Confused", Cow and Chicken are sent to military school, where for chow they are served yellowish-brown goop to eat out of their helmets, which Red Guy (as their Drill Sergeant) says is beans and biscuits.
  • Prison Episode: "Field Trip to Folsom Prison" has Cow and Chicken's class go on a field trip to a prison, where Chicken ends up switching places with an inmate named Rhode Island Red.
  • Pronoun Trouble: One of the show's many running gags is male characters being addressed with female pronouns and vice versa purely for Rule of Funny.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: One episode has Chicken take karate classes to get back at a bully. When he arrives to fight him, Chicken discovers that the bully only beats him up on weekdays. He helps the poor on weekends.
  • Punny Name: The Red Guy's Running Gag of names that refer to the fact that he doesn't wear pants.
    • Mrs. Beaver, the sensitivity trainer and Lance Sackless, the referee and host of "Canada's Funniest Home Vidiots" go beyond the "Not Wearing Pants" puns and right into genital puns. What's worse is that "Lance Sackless" was originally "Lance Slackless", but an apparent spelling mistake or a flubbed line that got thrown in at the last minute led to something more risque.
  • Purely Aesthetic Glasses: Parodied on "The Cow with Four Eyes": Cow actually needs her glasses, and they somehow make her more intelligent. Chicken, jealous of his sister's popularity, gets glasses despite not needing them and somehow becomes stupider.
  • Raised by Humans: The basic premise, more or less, is that Cow and Chicken are animals who were raised by human parents.
  • Rule of Funny: As with all great cartoons, any leaps in logic, disregard for the laws of nature or just plain, anarchistic nonsense exist only because the writers think it's funny.
  • Running Gag:
    • 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 is joking.
      Boneless: I'm serious!
      [everyone laughs again]
      Boneless: What is wrong with you people?
    • Chicken losing his feathers for whatever reason. It is implied in one episode that his plumage returns by Christmas, but considering that this is cartoon continuity, that just means the next episode.
    • Appearances of "Milk Bars", where milk is drunk like an alcoholic beverage.
    • Dad making references to either his former life as a woman or how much of a man Mom is compared to him.
      • Red referring to everyone as "men" or "ladies" whether or not it correctly corresponds to their sex.
    • Pork butts and 'taters!
    • Chicken's need for socks.
    • Everyone seems to like saying "piehole" or, more oddly, "pork trap" when they mean "mouth."
  • Sanity Slippage: Red Guy in "I Scream, Man".
    • Chicken in "Stay Awake".
  • Satan: The pilot episode called the Red Guy "The Devil". But he's a petty, effeminate moron and mostly harmless. For the series, he was known as "The Red Guy."
  • School Play: The Ugliest Weenie is a story written by Cow that ends up becoming adapted into a school play.
  • Seadog Peg Leg: Whenever Red Guy poses as a pirate - such as Cap'n Butz Pirate - he will often tape his feet to his butt and attach peg legs to his knees; however, in "Lawnmower Chicken," he actually had peg legs, despite just being a grumpy old neighbor.
  • Shared Dream: One episode has Mom and Dad waking up from a nightmare where disciplining their children has Gone Horribly Right. They discuss the dream between themselves and lampshade they "must have had one of those shared dreams".
  • 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!"
    • The Red Guy's show in the Halloween episode is "Dead Ghost, Coast to Coast".
    • In "The Laughing Puddle", the word "Poit" is written on the ball that Cow, Chicken, Flem and Earl are playing kickball with.
  • Smart People Wear Glasses: Lampooned in the episode "The Cow with Four Eyes", where Chicken observes that his sister Cow appears to have become more intelligent ever since getting her new glasses and tries to get a pair of his own so he can be smarter as well. He gets his own glasses by deliberately flubbing his vision test, but clearly doesn't get any smarter, as he spouts off hilarious nonsense like claiming that the Spleen are a hostile alien race intending to invade Earth.
  • Soap Punishment:
    • "Halloween with Dead Ghost, Coast to Coast" featured the Red Guy (disguised as a Space Ghost ersatz named Dead Ghost and hosting his Coast-to-Coast show) trying to use this on Chicken, albeit he initially thought he was supposed to wash Chicken's mouth out with soup until Chicken corrected him.
    • In "Bad Chicken", the paper duplicate of Chicken at one point mouths off the Teacher, which causes her to threaten to wash Paper Chicken's beak out with soap.
    • In "Duck, Duck, Chicken", when Cow and Chicken's family sue the Red Guy for surgically transforming Chicken into a duck, the lawyer tries to prove Chicken isn't a duck by showing slides of Chicken's childhood. One of the slides depicts Chicken as a baby with a bar of soap in his mouth, which is referred to as "Chicken's first word".
  • Song Parody: In "The Legend Of Sailcat," Flem's Dad sing the kids a folk tale in the style of the classic country song "(Ghost) Riders In The Sky." He even briefly imitates Johnny Cash.
  • Spin-Off: I Am Weasel started out as a segment of this series but eventually became its own show.
  • Stealth Pun: The Red Guy has a habit of walking with his buttocks, which is also known as the nickname "moon". Get it?! Moonwalk?
  • Steven Ulysses Perhero: Cow's superhero name Supercow doesn't really do a good job in hiding her true identity, not that anyone's smart enough to notice.
  • Suddenly Shouting: A Running Gag is characters speaking in normal or otherwise subdued voices and randomly screaming for emphasis. Dad and The Red Guy are particularly fond of this.
  • 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 solely in Spanish.
  • Super-Strength: Supercow & the Red Guy have been shown as capable of moving things several times their weight.
  • Surreal Humour: Quite a lot of the show's humor deals with the absurd, like the Red Guy trying to make cheese by sucking it out of various animals and inanimate objects in "The King and Queen of Cheese".
  • The Talk: In "The Day I Was Born", Cow asks how she was born. Her brother Chicken claims she was adopted, which only confuses her because she doesn't know what "adopted" means. Mom claims that the stork brought Cow to her family, Dad gives the story that Cow was found in a cabbage, and the Teacher's answer is that Cow hatched from an egg. The Red Guy tells Cow the truth that he was the one who delivered her when she was born.
  • Talking Animal: There are plenty of non-anthropomorphic animals here that can speak.
  • Technical Euphemism: In "Chicken in the Bathroom", Cow and her parents have to use the bathroom quite badlynote  and they unleash a barrage of euphemisms to describe their urgency. Some of them sound rather fancy, such as Cow saying she needs to "visit the reading room" and the mother saying she wants to "resolve a family crisis".
  • 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.
  • There Is No Rule Six: The episode "Night of the Ed!" has Cow reading about what to do when their pet jackal turns vicious. Step one is "Panic". Step two is "There is no step two".
  • Those Two Guys: Flem and Earl are two guys who are seldom seen apart.
  • Three Shorts: Every episode consisted of two Cow and Chicken shorts and one I Am Weasel short before I Am Weasel became its own show.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: After throwing himself a birthday party at the end of "Factory Follies," the Red Guy has a rare moment of humanity and considers lightening up on his employees. He decides not to.
    • He is a straight example, overall. By Season 4, episodes where he's friendly to Cow and Chicken or at least harmless outnumber episodes where he's antagonistic or a threat.
  • Toilet Humour: Not as frequent as it was in other cartoons at the time, but there were some examples.
    • In "Me An' My Dog", Cow tries and fails to warn Chicken that he was about to step in dog doo left by her imaginary dog Kevin.
    • "Chicken in the Bathroom" revolves around Chicken torturing the rest of the family by sitting in the bathtub and not doing anything after being told that he's not allowed to leave the bathroom until he's bathed. Most of the episode consists of Cow, Mom, and Dad pleading Chicken to let them use the facilities while using a series of bizarre euphemisms. In the end, Cow can't hold it any longer and everyone ends up drowning in Cow's milk/pee.
  • Toilet Paper Trail: In "Red Butler", the Red Guy takes his job as a butler seriously to the point that he goes to the bathroom on Cow's behalf when Cow asks to be excused during class. Once he gets back from the bathroom, the Red Guy discovers that he has some toilet paper stuck to his foot.
  • Too Dumb to Live: While vacationing in Oregon, where 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."
  • Trademark Favorite Food:
    • Pork butts 'n taters (fed to Cow and Chicken with a catapult).
    • In one episode, Red Guy, and his three identical sons (oh yeah, he was a mother in this episode) had an obsession with saltine crackers.
    • Of course, the entire in-universe favorite beverage: milk.
    • Everyone in the show also has a thing for weenies.
  • Trans Nature: Played for Laughs. A lot episodes imply Dad was once female, or identifies as one despite being male.
  • Two Words: I Can't Count: Used three times in "Bad Chicken".
    • The Teacher acknowledges she didn't get the number of words right, but her correction is itself incorrect.
      Teacher: Two words: "Beak washed out with soap!" Okay, three words.
    • Chicken's paper copy replies with another miscounted statement.
      Paper Chicken: I got three words for youse: Bye!
    • Lastly, Chicken does it before his paper clone falls into a paper shredder.
      Chicken: Three words: good bye.
  • Tuckerization: In "The Karate Chick," the school bully is named "Dick Purcell" note , after Richard Pursel, one of the show's writers.
  • 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 is 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 Chicken's mouth.
  • Unusual Euphemism: In "Chicken In The Bathroom", Cow, Mom and Dad churn out a endless supply while informing Chicken of the mass Potty Emergency he is causing. Quite a few of those euphemisms sound less like needing to use the bathroom and more like needing to do something else, which is par for the course on this show.
  • Vengeful Vending Machine: Cow and Chicken try to get snacks from an uncooperative vending machine that later crushes the Red Guy in "The Full Mounty".
  • Villain Decay: While the Red Guy's moral alignment is always in flux, he is significantly more pathetic and less violent in the later episodes than he was in Season 1. He also often has some kind of Freudian Excuse in later episodes.
  • World of Ham: Literally and figuratively. Not only is there an abundance of melodramatic acting, with characters randomly screaming for no reason, but meat byproducts are a running theme. Plus, Charlie Adler does a huge number of characters.
  • Wounded Hero, Weaker Helper: Exploited by the Red Guy as a ruse to expose Cow's Secret Identity. He rings the doorbell, and Cow responds to see a Superman expy lying prone on her doorstep with a huge green rock embedded in his spine. The expy pleads for Cow's help to remove the kryptonite, but Cow defers, saying, "I'm just a widdle cow." She may have seen through Red Guy's hammy acting, or Cow may be Too Dumb to Fool.
  • Yawn and Reach: Done by Flem and Earl on Chicken in "Which Came First?"
  • Your Mom: In "Send in the Clowns", one scene has Cow and a clown exchange "Your mom" jokes for fun after they've inhaled helium from balloons.
    Clown: Your mom has a peg leg with a kickstand!
    Cow: Your mom has a glass eye with a fish in it!



Video Example(s):


The Manure the Bear Show

Cow and Chicken watch the theme song for Manure the Bear (a spoof of Winnie the Pooh). The lyrics appear on screen for the audience to sing along, with a weenie in place of a bouncing ball.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / ShowWithinAShow

Media sources: