You'd better check under the sea,
Cause that is where you'll find me...
Underneath the sealab
Underneath the water
At the bottom of the sea..."
Sealab 2021 is one of the first [adult swim] original shows, which parodies the 1970s animated series Sealab 2020 (and, to a lesser extent, the entire genre of crudely-animated 60s and 70s cartoons produced by Hanna-Barbera) through combining recycled footage and animations with a Gag Dub. The show lasted from November 2000 to April 2005 with a total of fifty-two 15-minute-long episodes over four seasons.
Set 20 Minutes into the Future, the series recasts the crew of the titular undersea colony as a group of extremely unstable individuals, all of whom are too crazy or Too Dumb to Live. Several episodes end with the destruction of Sealab as a result of the crew's hijinks (directly or indirectly).
Major characters include:
- Captain Hazel "Hank" Murphy, the unhinged leader of Sealab, who has the mentality and attention span of a six-year-old. After voice actor Harry Goz died, Murphy was replaced with:
- Captain Bellerophon "Tornado" Shanks, an overbearing former football coach (voiced by Harry Goz's son, Michael Goz).
- Quentin Q. Quinn, a black Token Minority scientist who is usually the only character with half a brain (though he isn't above picking up the Idiot Ball and/or inexplicably becoming a Mad Scientist... or, um, Shaft). As established in two episodes, he's a full body cyborg.
- Debbie Dupree, an easily offended, promiscuous blonde marine biologist who later becomes Quinn's on-again off-again girlfriend.
- Debbie Love (or "Black Debbie"), the schoolteacher and the only other black person on Sealab.
- Jodene Sparks, the scheming radio operator who never leaves his chair, even when scuba-diving. It's not entirely clear if he's actually chair-bound, just really lazy or pulling off a scam by claiming a disability (especially since the answer changes between episodes). He plays the Only Sane Man from time to time, but being criminally insane stops him from doing so as frequently as Quinn.
- Marco Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar Gabriel Garcia Marquez (voiced by Erik Estrada), a Latin lothario. He was originally the Only Sane Man, but this was quickly dropped.
- Derek "Stormy" Waters, a boyishly handsome idiot who seems to always end up in Odd Couple situations with Quinn.
Minor characters include Hesh Hepplewhite, a sarcastic engineer and aspiring rap artist who frequently speaks in ghetto-slang and/or refers to himself in the third person; Dolphin-boy, a rotund human child who only speaks dolphin; Dr. Ilad Virjay, the station's medical doctor and Hindu-rock icon; and Ted from Accounting.
Adam Reed and Matt Thompson initially created the idea while working for Cartoon Network as production assistants; they found tapes of 2020, wrote new dialogue for them, and presented the idea to the network. It passed on the idea in 1995, but reconsidered the idea five years later (around the time it had started to develop [adult swim]). As a result of this approach, Reed and Thompson made the show's pilot and several episodes from the first couple of seasons using Stock Footage from Sealab 2020; they replaced the original banal environmentalist plot lines with Black Comedy and other weirdness, then edited the footage (and added in some original touches of their own). A notable exception to this approach occurs with the episode "7211", which remade one of the original Sealab 2020 episodes with the 2021 cast and played it completely straight — but there's a clue to the viewers that something is up with this remake: after the captain of the sub decides to team up with Murphy despite holding a grudge against him, a '70s-era title card which says "PLACE COMMERCIAL HERE" is displayed. (During the end credits of the episode, Sealab explodes. Again.)
Midway through the show's run, Harry Goz (the voice actor for Captain Murphy) died, which caused a major change in tone for the entire series. The one-off crazy elements of the earlier episodes were dropped, and after Captain Murphy left Sealab to fight in the spice wars, he was replaced with the slightly-more-sane Captain Shanks (who, as noted above, was portrayed by Harry Goz's son). The series retained its trademark surrealism while experimenting with long-form storylines (including as Debbie's relationship with Quinn, the saga of Marco's apparent death, and the introduction of Sharko, Marco's half-shark/half-human son). These episodes also featured more original animation than stock footage, and it's easy to see the shift in tone from earlier seasons. In its typical surreal fashion, the last episode featured a series of fourth-wall-breaking scenes involving the characters as actors who know Sealab is a TV show, and the show faded to black with the promise of airing a trailer for a new horror film starring the characters.
Filled with surreal humor and meandering, random, nonsensical stories, Sealab helped set the tone for the emerging [adult swim], and its influence can be felt across the first several years of the program.
This show now has a Recap page in progress.
Oh, there go my tropes again:
- Actor Existence Failure: Harry Goz, the voice of Captain Murphy, died after two seasons. The character was Put on a Bus out of respect.
- Admiring the Abomination: Dr. Virjay calls the predator that attacks Sealab in one episode "a perfect killing machine" and is honored to be one of its victims.
- Amnesia Danger: "In the Closet" where Beard Guy forgets how to fix things because of his concussion.
- Ancient Conspiracy: The Exalted and Supreme Brotherhood of Neptune, keepers of the Infinity Trident. Also, for certain values of "ancient," the five Jew bankers that control international finance.
- Aside Glance: In the "Happy Cake" episode, Marco does a very obvious one to the audience when Captain Murphy says he can't see the squid on the radar.
- 'Mouse Brain' actually gives a quick wave to the audience at one point in "I, Robot (Really!)"
- Back to Front: The episode "Shrabster". Lampshaded when Quinn (or possibly his V.A. Brett Butler) says he liked this episode, especially when it was on Seinfeld.
- Bilingual Bonus: Some of Marco's lines, where he speaks Spanish.
- Bizarro Universe: Which in this series, is a universe where everyone shouts "Bizarro!" a lot and is even weirder and more insane than the main cast.
- Black Comedy: Not usually, but it is visited from time to time.Narrator: Dead African child indeed! ...[laughter]...I'm sorry, I'm sorry. It's just so fucking awful...
Sparks: I got something for ya.
- Also, when Debbie is trying for a baby:
Debbie: What is it?
Sparks: A book.
Debbie: What's the book called?
Sparks: A Modest Proposal.
Debbie: And what's the book about?
Sparks: (beat) Eating babies.
- Bland-Name Product: Happy Cake Oven for Easy Bake Oven.
- Bottle Episode: "Fusebox", which only showed Sealab in the middle of a blackout until the end
- Building of Adventure: Sealab itself was touted as this in "Tourist Season"
- Call-Back: A few episodes after the Bizarros show, Stormy introduces himself as "I'm Regular Stormy!"
- Character Outlives Actor: Technically, Captain Murphy didn't die; he just left the station to lead the rebels in "The Great Spice Wars".
- Chekhov's Gun: Stormy's Douché watch in "Lost in Time", originally shown to showcase Stormy's stupidity (he sets it fifteen minutes fast), later revealed to have a two-way radio that they use to reach the Stormy and Quinn of that timeline.
- Chest Blaster: Robot Murphy's "D-cups...full of justice!" in "I, Robot, Really".
- Cluster F-Bomb: The FCC agent that shut down Murphy's pirate radio station in "Radio Free Sealab". Ironically, Murphy made a point to run a profanity-free show, his violation was all about broadcasting without a license.
- Cold War: Parodied in "Red Dawn"
- Comically Missing the Point : Stormy manages to do it twice in one conversation when the others try explaining why calling someone "Black Debbie" isn't a good thing,Quinn: Listen man, you're missing the point. What if everyone started calling you "White Stormy"?Stormy: You mean... there's a Black Stormy? note
Stormy: Man, don't go out there. That black chick is crazy!
- And a 3rd time five minutes later, after driving said Debbie into an angry rant with his unwitting racism.
- Concussions Get You High: In one episode, the crew is trapped in a malfunctioning storage closet. Beard Guy comes in to fix the problem but Captain Murphy beats his head in. Upon briefly regaining consciousness, he displays this trope.Beard Guy: I got my think a concussion. Now must remember not fix stuff. Gonna lay down back, cuz our concussion have us sleepy.
Debbie: Uh, should Beard Guy be asleep with a concussion?
Quinn: No, absolutely not.
- Couch Gag: When the second zero in the Sealab 2020 logo turns into a one at the end of the opening, a different sound effect accompanies the change every episode
- Cousin Oliver: Parodied with "Sharko", introduced in season 4 as the product of Marco's illicit love affair with a shark, repeatedly summarized as "He put his human penis in her shark-gina".
- It was probably one of the few times in which this trope was purposefully invoked. Sharko left a few episodes later. He came Back for the Finale and promptly got hit by Shanks's 'Captain's Log' to cheers from the audience.
- Credit Card Plot: Kicks off the plot of "The Policy". Sparks convinces Murphy to get a credit card and buy junk with it, then convinces him to send the rest of the crew on a wild goose chase so he can commit Insurance Fraud.
- Credits Gag: Mike Lazzo's name is anagrammed.
- Crossover Punchline: "Murphy Murph and the Feng Shui Bunch" ends with the entire episode revealed as a video game—and the players are Meatwad and Master Shake.
- Cyborg: Quinn reveals himself as one in "I, Robot". A later episode, "I, Robot, Really", has most of the cast getting robot bodies.
- Death World: The titular "Isla de Chupacabra".
Quinn: Who the hell named it that?Shanks: Rambo.
- I believe you mean Happy Funtime Island.
- Department of Redundancy Department:Marco:"I have the energy of a bear that has the energy of two bears!"
- Diabolical Mastermind: Sparks has the rather frequent tendency to hatch evil schemes, including (but not limited to) making millions in life insurance by killing the Sealab crew, addicting them to a medicine made from a deadly neurotoxin, and blackmailing Quinn into turning him into 'Sparkimus Prime,' the chainsaw-handed robot. Also, in what turned out to only have been a daydream of Captain Murphy's Sparks has a secret mountain stronghold, complete with a veritable army of henchmen.
- Dirty Communists: The episode "Red Dawn" as a whole. Quinn tries to point out all the flaws in communism, but ends up in jail for his efforts.
- Electrified Bathtub: Quinn encounters one in "Waking Quinn"; one is used to off Captain Murphy in "Policy".
- Everything Explodes Ending: Nearly every episode ends with Sealab exploding. Sometimes it's justified by the plot, but sometimes it's just Rule of Funny.
- Expository Theme Tune: Quoted above.
- Eye Catch: Parodied in "7211", with the "Place Commercial Here" title card
- Failed Future Forecast: In "Chickmate":Debbie the teacher: Now, can anyone tell me what the Internet was, and how it almost destroyed mankind in the year 2007?
- "Fantastic Voyage" Plot: Parodied in "Craptastic Voyage" where Quinn, Debbie and Stormy have to enter Shanks's body to destroy a tumor since he won't let Virjay operate on him.
- Foreigner for a Day: In the episode "Let 'Em Eat Corn", Capt. Shanks has Sealab declared a sovereign nation (to get out of paying income taxes), which sets off a wave of increasingly goofy sub-secessions amongst the crew. By the end of the cartoon, even Stormy's furniture and bathroom fixtures (which he claims are robots known as "Change-A-Trons" and "Plumb-bots") have declared their independence.
- "Freaky Friday" Flip: "Brainswitch"
- Played with in that it's clear to the audience pretty much from the start that Quinn and Stormy have not switched brains but everyone up to and including Stormy seems convinced because he used a few big words and said he felt smarter.
- Gag Dub: The early episodes are constructed from entire scenes of Sealab 2020, just dubbed over with new dialog.
- Flipflopped in "7211", which was a word-for-word redub of a Sealab 2020 story, told totally straight. Until midway. Then back immediately after. And again at the end, anyway.
- Gaslighting: In "Happy Cake" Sparks reveals that he has been enacting a secret plan to drive Captain Murphy crazy. As part of this he threw his Happy Cake Oven into the ocean and was having the orphans pee in Murphy's bed. In this specific case, the whole episode is revealed to be a dream of Capt Murphy, although it is totally within Spark's character to be doing this anyway.
- Grand Finale: "Legacy of Laughter", presented as a glitzy Q&A/season premiere/movie trailer premiere.
- Gratuitous Ninja: Scuba ninjas.
- Handshake Substitute: Respek Knuckles! (in "Sharko's Machine)
- Hard-Work Montage: Parodied in "Sharko's Machine"
- Head Desk: One episode has Sparks performing this while Captain Murphy rambles on about a video game.
- Home Porn Movie: Not quite home, but when Stormy asked the ASHDTV to show him porno bloopers, it showed him one featuring Debbie and, based on context clues, Hesh. Debbie is more offended that they don't believe that her breasts are real.
- I Control My Minions Through...: Sparks reveals his minions to Marco and tries to recruit him.
- Identical Stranger: In addition to the Bizarros (and the Groovies), there are the folks on Spacelab, who are identical in name, personality, and, except for skin tone differences, appearance.
- Also, for some reason, they all have breasts.
- In Medias Res: Many episodes. Lampshaded in the late series episode "Shrabster", which plays out like the movie Memento, with the announcer from Superfriends cutting in frequently with "Earlier...!"
- Jive Turkey: Name-dropped by Kid in "Return to Oblivion"
- Judge, Jury, and Executioner: The Knights of Mars, a "cadre" of "knights" charged with enforcing Martian law, seem to uphold the laws of the "sacred red planet" primarily by beating the asses of suspected thieves.
- Jumped the Shark: Lampshaded when, in one episode, Sharko is seen jumping his motorcycle over a large tank filled with Fonzies.
- Kill 'Em All: For the first season, it happened Once an Episode. They dropped that particular Running Gag but a few later episodes would still end with everyone dying or just one or two characters dying.
- Killer Rabbit: The Gloops, by way of constant farting.Quinn: Methane Sulfate. Apparently they release it when they're angry. Or threatened. Or just whenever.
- Although they can also attack on command.
- Littlest Cancer Patient: Subverted in "Little Orphan Angry", where the character turns out to be a Con Man.
- Machine Monotone: The Bebop Cola machine from "All That Jazz".Bebop Cola Machine: (singing, but in monotone) And I say to myself, I need exact change.
- May Contain Evil: The addictive titular "herbal dietary supplements" in "Stimutacs".
- Mock Cousteau: One episode had such a character who seemed to like to compare things to wombs.
- Mushroom Samba: Brought on by multiple near-death experiences via electrocution. This particular episode is probably the strangest episode of the entire series... which says a lot.Whale: Ah... mercury. Sweetest of the transition metals.
- My Biological Clock Is Ticking: Kicks off the plot of "Chickmate". Debbie eventually decides she doesn't need a baby: the other crew members are Man Children enough for her.
- N+1 Sequel Title: Sealab 2021, the spinoff/sequel of Sealab 2020
- Named After Somebody Famous: Besides "Marco," Marco's name consists of the names of two famous Spanish speakers smushed together: Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar being 13th-century nobleman and soldier El Cid, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a famous Colombian author.
- Negative Continuity: Pretty much every episode ends with the destruction of Sealab and the death of her crew. Lampshaded in the first episode.
- Marco: Once again your stupidity has killed us all!
- As the series went on, more and more episodes would be referenced (including episodes in which everyone died) or they would show a Continuity Cavalcade every now and then. The last few episodes had the closest thing to a linear continuity as the series got. For instance, Sharko was the focal point of the one and only story arc in the entire series.
- Never Heard That One Before:Stormy: The reason I hate Marc is, he's a mailbox head?
Murphy: Oh yeah, real original, jerkface!
- Not Now, Kiddo: In "No Waterworld", Debbie Dupree is repeatedly silenced by being told "The men are talking!" as a Running Gag.
- Obfuscating Disability: Sparks when he tries to claim he is paralyzed from the waist down, hence why he is always sitting. Debbie tests this by repeatedly stabbing him in the legs. Only after she jams a battle axe into his legs does the pain make him break down and admit that he's just really lazy.
- Off-Model: Several shots from the stock footage are almost unrecognizable (especially notable is one of Marco which looks like a Hispanic He Man). As the series used more and more new, Flash-animated footage, it became less and less common to use the more Off-Model shots.
- The Oner: Of sorts. The episode Fusebox has only shot showing the outside of Sealab for the whole episode. The only thing that changes visibly is when Sealab explodes at the end.
- One Steve Limit: An Averted Trope, thanks to "Debbie" and "Black Debbie". They Lampshade the fact that "Debbie" is not called "White Debbie" for laughs.
- Only Six Faces: It's pretty obvious that all the background characters tend to have reused faces, hair, etc.
- Overly Long Gag:
- "UH-OH", which goes on for what feels like several minutes. Twice. And almost a third time if not for direct intervention. On two separate occasions.
- "It is... Bizarro!"
- Packaged as Other Medium: The second season DVD provides the page image for this trope, with a cover inspired by Uncanny X-Men #100.
- Parody Sue: Hesh in Dearly Beloved Seed. Even more so by the end, when the whole episode is revealed to be some kid's (possibly mcheshpants420, the writer of the episode, who may or may not be Hesh's VA mc chris) fanfiction.
- Political Correctness Gone Mad: "Article 4" centers around everyone using affirmative action to get promoted to captain. The only ones that don't by the end are Murphy (already captain), Quinn (has too much pride), Stormy (too stupid), and Allen (as the article actually discriminates against Asians).
- Precision F-Strike: Subverted in the episode "7211", which is a redub of an episode of the original Sealab 2020, and thus doesn't contain any swearing from the characters. When the Credits Gag comes up, you'd expect the Obligatory Swearing to come up, but all that is said is Captain Murphy going, "Hmmmmmmmm, m'kay."
- Product Placement: Parodied in some episodes that feature constant and intrusive advertisements for the fictional "Grizzlebee's" restaurant chain.
- The Bebop Cola episode was revealed at the end to just be a commercial pitch.
- Quarter Hour Short: One of the earliest [adult swim] cartoons to employ this.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: The replacement of Murphy by Shanks, as noted above.
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: Squishface, until she and her offspring start threatening Sealab's existence by eating their harvest and farting methane sulfate. Even then, Murphy's still on her side and goes to war with the others.
- Ridiculously Human Full Body Cyborg: Other than the show occasionally mentioning it, and Quinn showing off a chest plate full of lights in one of the first episodes, you'd almost forget that Quinn's entire body is robotic.Quinn: [very drunk] Don'shu remember? Waaay back! Biiiiig speech about how I put my brain in a robot body? Ripped open my chest! Had a little TV in there!Marco: Yeah, I remember that!Debbie: That would explain some things...Quinn: Like my hydraulic penis! Which is huuuuge...!Debbie: Yeah. Guess so.
- Riding the Bomb: Quinn at the end of "Red Dawn" since he found out the president and his brother banged Debbie."Nobody shucks my corn but meeeee!!"
- Running Gag: Sealab blows up. A lot.
- Scary Surprise Party: "Der Dieb" ends like this: the whole episode, which involved Murphy going mad with power and accusing Quinn of theft, ending up with him beaten up and nearly dead, was all for a surprise birthday party they threw for Quinn. The kicker? It wasn't even his birthday
- See You in Hell: Used surprisingly calmly and straight when Captain Murphy realizes that he is about to be murdered by Sparks in "Policy". He then proceeds to bring down Sparks with him. And Sparks even admits to it being a distinct probability. And they do in fact meet in Hell over the credits.
- Seinfeldian Conversation: "I, Robot" is about Quinn rushing to prevent Sealab's imminent destruction, while literally everyone else is busy talking about the implications of a baboon's brain being successfully transplanted into a robot body. For the record, Murphy would like his robot body to have chainsaw hands.
- He also wants it to resemble Adrienne Barbeau.
- Self-Deprecation: The Season 1 finale combines this with Who Writes This Crap?! and Lampshade Hanging throughout, culminating in this exchange at the end"That Sealab show is funny!""Only sometimes."
- Set Right What Once Went Wrong: "Lost in Time" Combined with "Groundhog Day" Loop in the same episode because, naturally, they kept not setting it right.
- Shout-Out: The show has frequent pop culture references, often subtle and/or obscure. Among them:
- Apocalypse Now. There's a scene that copies the dialog between Kurtz and Willard line for line. Right up until the wet willy. The entire episode was inspired by Waking Life.
- There's a small cleaning robot which is identical in every way to a non-floating version of VINCENT from The Black Hole.
- The avatars series creators Adam Reed and Matt Thompson use for themselves in the faux behind the scenes episodes are actually from the 70's Scooby-Doo clone Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids.
- One episode references the short story "The Scarlet Ibis".
- Hesh's desire for metal teeth in "Happy Cake" is a nod to Jaws from the James Bond entries The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.
- Skintone Sclerae: In most of the Sealab 2020 footage, everyone (except Captain Murphy, oddly) has these. As the series used more and more new, Flash-animated footage, it became less and less common.
- Spiritual Successor: Frisky Dingo and Archer.
- Some see SpaceStation13 as a video game version of Sealab 2021 IN SPACE!
- Subverted Kids Show: Especially in the early episodes.
- Take Our Word for It: Parodied when Shanks fights a Kraken offscreen in "Neptunati".
- Take Over the World: The side story to "Happy Cake" has Sparks secretly building an army for this. He tries to recruit Marco as a henchman and Hesh unsuccessfully tries to volunteer for the same position.
- Take That!: A brief one toward Stargate SG-1, when Quinn suggests that having your only black character be a primitive alien outsider who carries a "space spear" is racist.
- Take That, Audience!: Captain Shanks' fourth wall-breaking rant against the predicted fan backlash against his character, culminating in "And if you don't like it... you can go watch anny-may."
- This was particularly mean-spirited because the episode aired right when [adult swim] was axing anime left and right to make room for original programming.
- That Came Out Wrong: Subverted in "Vacation". Marco leaves some tamales outside Quinn's door and tells Debbie that they should leave without bothering him because he'll probably be "busy with that hooker for awhile." Cue Debbie's outraged "WHAT?!? A HOOKER?!??" and several minutes of people going "Uh-oh!" Finally:Debbie: I cant believe hes with a hooker!Marco: No, no! Hes watching T.J. Hooker.Debbie: I thought you said he was with a hooker.Marco: No, hes watching T.J. Hooker. On television.Marco: (laughs)Debbie: (laughs)Marco: (laughs)Debbie: (laughs)Marco: (laughs) ... with a prostitute.Debbie: WHAT!?!
- The Chew Toy: Dolphin Boy and all of Pod 6. Especially all of Pod 6.
- The Voiceless: The drummer in Virjay's band.
- To Fallen Friends: Captain Shanks celebrates the day of the deaths of his brothers by drinking.
- Too Dumb to Live: Pretty much everyone except Quinn. Although even he is not always immune.
- Trust-Building Blunder: "Isla de Chupacabra" has this as its central plot. Shanks dragged everyone to the titular island to build up the team by having them hunt the Chupacabra together. It doesn't go well.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: Takes place in 2021.
- Underwater Base: The Sealab colony itself.
- Underwater City: The Sealab colony declared itself a sovereign state in the episode "Let 'Em Eat Corn". Blame Shanks — or Sparks!
- Unfortunate Names: Fatass McBlobbicus. Quinn doesn't even believe it's a real name, and the other kids are just insulting him when they say it until his name is pointed out on the roster.
- Ur-Example: This show is basically a prototypical example of The Abridged Series, as it splices parts of Sea Lab 2020 with a Gag Dub, exaggerating the characters' personalities and generally parodying the original, although it was produced with the permission of the owners of the original show.
- When Trees Attack: The Stormy-eating tree in "Isla de Chupacabra".
- Wildlife Commentary Spoof: The Frenchman's monologue in "Happy Cake".
- Worth It: Stormy making a period joke in front of Debbie was worth getting thrown into a dungeon.
- Yet Another Christmas Carol: A rejected episode entitled "Quinnmas" would have been one of these plots, revolving around ghosts staging an intervention for Quinn and his alcoholism. They dropped it when they realized it wasn't a very good episode.
- You Mean "Xmas": "Feast of Alvis" is a parody of Christmas Episodes. Due to Executive Meddling, every religion was replaced by a fictional equivalent. For example, Jesus was replaced with Alvis, a cowboy whose total dissimilarity to Jesus just makes the obvious parallel all the funnier.Sparks: How can you worship that guy! He killed a man!
Murphy: Hey, only for revenge! 'Vengeance is mine', quoth Alvis, and then he shot that guy right in the freakin' face!
- Celebrated, of course, with an over-abundance of the traditional gifts of ham, firearms, and whiskey. Then again, 7030's offices were located in Atlanta, which is in the Bible Belt. "Alvistide" isn't so far around the bend in some parts of the country.
- Do you want the mustache on, or off?