5) “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” (1994-2004)
One of Cartoon Network’s first original series, “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” deconstructed the talk-show format with the help of some repurposed old-school Hanna-Barbera artwork. The Saturday morning cartoon hero Space Ghost was transformed into a genial friend of celebrities everywhere, and guests ranging from Hulk Hogan to Willie Nelson dropped by to chat. Becoming increasingly surreal over its nine seasons, “Space Ghost” weaned early viewers into the disorienting experience that is Adult Swim.
4) “Infomercials” (2009-present)
One of Adult Swim’s biggest viral hits was the sinister short film “Too Many Cooks,” in which the opening credits of ’80s and ’90s sitcoms are parodied before devolving into madness. Writer Casper Kelly debuted this twisted bit of genius during Adult Swim’s infrequent short film showcase, loosely called “Infomercials.” These unannounced 4 a.m. treats are television’s largest showcase for short films, and whether from the mind of a celebrity contributor (Paul Scheer, Michael Showalter, etc.) or ambitious upstarts, it’s some of the network’s most essential viewing. Want to go beyond “Too Many Cooks?” Try fast-forwarded killer robot spoof “M.O.P.Z.” or pharmaceutical commercial gone wrong “Unedited Footage of a Bear.”
3) “Rick and Morty” (2013-present)
Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s love letter to sci-fi has quickly become one of Adult Swim’s most talked-about shows, thanks to its mix of inventive animation, outrageous plot twists, and balance of philosophical musings with heartfelt moments. With a constant flurry of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them jokes, the show has set Reddit on fire with fan theories and artistic tributes to the interdimensional travels of the titular grandfather and grandson. Still in its prime, “Rick and Morty” is already an all-timer that will introduce new generations of fans to the network.
2) “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” (2007-2010)
After the success of their bizarro Photoshop animated series “Tom Goes to the Mayor,” Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s ultimate artistic achievement came via their live-action series “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” Equal parts community television and David Lynch-style nightmares, the duo’s sensibilities turned camerawork, music, and editing into key parts of their comedy arsenal, twisting scenes into bizarre horror that seemed to have crawled from a lost ’80s VHS tape. With an A-list roster of regulars including Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Will Forte, and Bob Odenkirk, the duo created a cottage industry for their humor, launching a spinoff series for John C. Reilly’s character Dr. Steve Brule, and later furthering their creative partnership with Adult Swim via their anthology series “Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories.”
1) “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” (2000-2015)
Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro’s anthropomorphic food comedy set an early tone for the gonzo possibilities of Adult Swim’s formatting, becoming its longest-running show and setting the programming block’s laid-back vibe. Originally starting as a loose superhero/detective show, the format quickly devolved into a “hanging around New Jersey” format, where Master Shake, Frylock, and Meatwad annoy their neighbor Carl and deal with the various outsiders who are often low-scale, strangely violent grifters. With indelible characters, a hip-hop soundtrack that kept the action moving along, and a fittingly bizarre feature film that became both a cultural artifact and terrorist scare, “ATHF” is Cartoon Network’s rosetta stone.