“Behold the gaseous stench of Skeletor’s breakfast burrito!”
Eight words that likely never crossed your mind before, now offered up courtesy of the twisted mind of Seth Green. Here’s the scenario in question: Skeletor, notorious arch-enemy of He-Man, is behind the wheel of a small sedan stuck in freeway gridlock. His fellow evil-doing carpoolers, including Cobra Commander at shotgun, Lex Luthor and Mumm-Ra (from “The Thundercats”), twist away in revulsion. Mumm-Ra tries to lower his window, only to find that the child safety lock is on. Skeletor erupts in gleeful, malicious laughter.
That’s just one of dozens of skits aimed at the pop culture junkies who have made Green’s “Robot Chicken” (Sundays, 11:30 p.m.) the hottest new show on the Cartoon Network. And with his return last night to primetime TV — as the voice of the Griffin family’s teenaged son, Chris, on the FCC-envelope-pushing comedy, “Family Guy” — Green appears to have several fingers on the medium’s comedic pulse at once.
With “Robot Chicken,” especially, the humor is as off-the-wall and downright surreal as anything currently available on cable. The show’s distinctively inexpensive-looking, stop-action vignettes might feature a Darth Vader action figure explaining aura-enhancing “midi-chlorians” to a bewildered Luke Skywalker; Charlie Brown hunted down by a homicidal Great Pumpkin; deleted “Dukes of Hazzard” love scenes between Boss Hogg and Uncle Jessie and other nightmarishly funny scenarios that will have you wondering how something so wrong can feel so right.
“The sky’s the limit,” says Green, best known for performances in the “Austin Powers” movies and a three-year “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” stint. “It is just amazing. We have three different clearance houses that approve each of the jokes before we get a final script or send it to be animated. We have a lot of things [where] we have to clarify the parody, or you’re not allowed to use a property or a toy.”
Once that legal hurdle is cleared, Green and co-creator Matthew Senreich can let their demented imaginations run wild as part of the hugely popular cartoon block targeting 18-34-year-old men that the network designates as “Adult Swim.”
“Ultimately, they defer to the creators,” Green says of the network and the freedom it has allowed him and Senreich to portray, for example, a Transformer getting a rectal exam. “They give you the opportunity to fall on your face.”
Admitting that he balances a tough schedule between his TV and film duties, Green loves to place his scattered mind, as well as his Rolodex, at his new show’s disposal. “Dude, we’re not [mess]ing around,” he says of guest voices that have included Sarah Michelle Gellar, Topher Grace and Scarlett Johansson. “I’ve made a bunch of phone calls to people I know, but you have to give somebody something that’s worth their time. That’s the fun of offering something like this to big celebrities — they get to come into a booth and be really silly.”
Getting paid to be silly is mighty fine work if you can get it, but Green wants his fans to know he plans to keep his face on the big screen, as well.
“He made one movie during the course of this production,” says Seinrich of the show’s early episodes. “I think we broke him by doing that, because he would work on the movie from nine-to-five in Budapest, and then from five-to-three in the morning he’d be working on our show.”
“Which was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done, ever,” Green admits, laughing with his friend. “I like how you say nine-to-five like that was my schedule. I’d get up at four in the morning and I’d work until about six or seven at night. Then I’d get back to my hotel and be nine hours ahead of the L.A. office, so I could use the Internet or phones to do my work on the show. I’d work an additional eight to ten hours, and then go to bed for six hours, and get up and work again.”
The film, about a guy (Green) who helps his best friend woo the woman of his dreams, is currently aiming for a 2006 release. “It’s called ‘The Best Man,’” says Green. “It’s a romantic comedy with Stuart Townsend and Amy Smart. I’m the troublemaker. They have U.K. distribution right now, and I think they’re working on the U.S.”
In addition to “The Best Man,” Green represents an epicenter of Internet myth-making due to the beloved franchises he’s supposedly furthering. There’s the “Italian Job” sequel (“There’s no script. It’s not real. Nothing’s going on.”), the “Family Guy” movie (“There’s not really a movie as much as there’s a three-part episode that we’re talking about making into a feature.”), and of course, a fourth Austin Powers film (“There’s no script. Mike Myers is M.I.A. I haven’t talked to Mike Myers in over a year. To the best of my knowledge, there’s nothing legitimate or official going on, so the rumors you hear are probably just that.”).
Green knows that the rumors will likely be hounding him for years to come.
“I’m sure I’ll be answering Austin Powers questions until I’m ninety,” he laughs. “There are worse things to be associated with.”