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Review: Code Monkeys Season One DVD

Jerry and Dave throw up the horns on the main menu

What is it?

Code Monkeys is an animated series that runs on G4TV. The animation is done in the style of 1980s video games like those on the NES, complete with numerous sight gags that would be lost on most of the population, but could be funny to those who recognize the references to gaming and other aspects of 1980s culture. The writing is intended to be very coarse and offensive, something like South Park. This DVD release is the entire first season of the show, which is 13 episodes, spread across two discs, with some bonus material thrown in.

How does it look and sound?

There’s nothing astonishing going on here visually, so it would take a lot for the visuals to disappoint. While the opening sequences of the episodes are done with a panning 3D effect, the episodes themselves are specifically designed to look like old video games. There is a great deal of creativity involved in producing the sitcom-like episodes with what look like 8-bit sprites, and it’s something that’s definitely going to appeal to pixel art fans. The amount of expression that comes out of the characters despite the low detail is pretty great.

Benny, Clarence, Mary, Jerry, Dave, Todd, and Clare are the usual suspects when a bag of Larrity’s money goes missing

The audio throughout the compilation is surprisingly unbalanced, so if you’re in a situation where you can’t push the volume all the way up, you’re not going to hear it when people mumble or whisper. Some of the bonus content is loud or even distorted, while the episodes are very quiet. Further complicating this is the lack of captions. That’s right, no captions here at all, so you will need to crank the volume, sleeping toddlers be damned, or listen with headphones, which turned out to be my solution.

The voices are pretty well done, particularly considering many of them are done by the staff who are actually producing the show. The one established voice actor in the project seems to be Todd’s, which is that of the character Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The experience is apparent, but as I said, most of the voices are well done. In fact, the worst voice acting comes from the many celebrity appearances. Most of the problem with these is that they seem to have been recorded out of context, as though they didn’t know what they were talking about while recording. This doesn’t matter, because these celebrity scenes are some of the best moments in the show. The late Gary Gygax lived in a big blue d20, folks.

How’s the show?

The show is set in the early 1980s and centers around the Gameavision offices, where the main cast is a small team of game developers. There are frequent video game-style situations within these game designers’ lives. For example, a trip to the basement to check on the imprisoned Korean boy who does the game testing (in exchange for Pixy Stix and cigarettes) involves pushing two blocks to uncover a stairway, an oversized key that’s just sitting on the floor, and a guard in a military uniform who looks like something out of a Commando game.

Some of the gags in the show were entertaining for me, such as a recurring Castlevania reference where a Belmont-esque character shows up with a whip and starts lashing away at the other characters. An early Mega Man reference was amusing as well, and my wife and I both laughed when a scene in the boss’ office showed that his desk had three items on it, both clearly marked with price tags in the style of old adventure games like Legend of Zelda. Beyond this, it’s the small details. When characters walk off the scene, the screen scrolls a room to the side, also like Legend of Zelda.

The show seems to stumble when it tries too hard to offend, which in the first few episodes is most of the time. While it’s common for shows like South Park and Family Guy to make jokes on a variety of groups, those are handled in such a way that it makes the ignorant characters making the remarks the butt of the joke. In this show, the characters fit the stereotypes and the joke seems to be on them, whether they’re black, female, or gay. Bashing homosexuals in particular seems to be a very strong theme, with Clarence the music designer showing up, singing all his lines (most of which are about his own promiscuity) and then floating away on a wave of sparkles. Trying to assume that this is a commentary on how many video games are filled with stereotypical characters, or how development houses are very much a “boys club”, that may seem too great a stretch for some to make for this show.

Dean, Larrity, Giovanni (who killed a rare gorilla to protect his girlfriend) and the warden

What surprised me was how much the show began to grow on me a few episodes into the season. While I still roll my eyes at every appearance of Clarence, I started to appreciate some of the concepts a lot more. The jokes work best with some level of context: for example, an appearance of one Giovanni (obviously Mario) as a convict imprisoned for killing a rare gorilla was amusing. The Belmont character’s appearance in an S&M club was genuinely funny.

The show is mostly in-jokes, though. The second episode is called “ET” and is about the hastily-developed video game that has now become legend. In a bit of a revisionist history lesson, Gameavision buys the rights from Steven Spielberg to produce a game based on the ET film. When one of the coders is given a ticket to see the movie so they can find out what they’re making a game about, he scalps the sold-out ticket and goes to a strip club instead. When he returns to work, he makes up an outlandish plot. Hilarity ensues.

“Yeah, I’m f—ing Dave Jaffe!”

A child David Jaffe appears in one episode, voiced by the man himself, seeking a job as a designer. He has a very oversimplified but specific idea about a game called God of War, and is wearing a stripe of paint on his face. When Mary sees him, she’s shocked and excited (even though David Jaffe is not a game development star in the early 1980s). She explains that’s he’s Dave Jaffe, child prodigy, to which Jaffe adds, “yeah, I’m f—ing Dave Jaffe!”

Other celebrities appearing are Steve Wozniak (Apple Computer), Nolan Bushnell (Chuck E Cheese… and oh, Atari), Matt Hullum, Joel Heyman, Bernie Burns (all three from Red vs Blue), David Jaffe (God of War), Lorne Lanning (Oddworld), and John Romero (Doom).

How’s the additional content?

Here are the bonus features.

• A behind the scenes feature. The audio on this is poor, but it has some amusing moments where creator Adam walks around the offices where the show is made and generally gets in the way of those working.
• Commercials for the fictional GameAvision games “Barfight” and “Crosswalk” which were used in a viral marketing campaign on YouTube.
• A clip of G4’s Cheat host Kristin Holt offering game tips for several other fictional GameAvision games. What? Why?
• A “2-card monty” flash game that runs in your web browser off the DVD-ROM where you’re offered two cards, and whichever one you click is automatically wrong. After seven tries, the game is over. It’s unfortunate that Barfight and Crosswalk were not thrown together for this package instead, as those commercials made those two games look pretty entertaining.
• Six different Code Monkeys wallpapers, some of which are available in multiple resolutions.
• A series of brief clips called “Daily Pranks” where various slapstick misfortunes befall the show’s characters. Some of these are really funny.

Benny, Steve, and Clare in the opening sequence

How’s the replay value?

This is going to depend very heavily on how you feel about the show. There are shows like Family Guy, Futurama and Invader Zim that I can watch endlessly without tiring of them. I could see myself watching the episodes repeatedly, particularly with others who haven’t seen them yet. At the same time, much of the comedy depends on surprise and shock value, and a lot of that could be lost in repeated viewings.

Is it worth it?

Without the captions, the episodes for me are incomplete, as there is very little opportunity for me to watch video with headphones on. If you record them to your DVR from G4, you’ll get to have the episodes with the captions. On the other hand, the visual quality is always going to be better like this, and it’s much easier to pull the video from a DVD to your other devices than it is from the average DVR. If you’re a fan of the show, I’d say pick up the set. If not, watch a few episodes on TV before you make the decision. I’ve actually become a fan while watching the season, which I didn’t expect even just a third of the way through.

The content is solid and the menus are adequate. The visuals are fine and the audio is pretty disappointing, along with the lack of captions, alternate languages, and in-episode commentary. Overall, I rate Code Monkeys, Season One on DVD a 3.5 out of 5.

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