‘Structurally Sound’ is a recurring feature where each week we examine a different structurally unusual, rule-breaking anomaly of an episode from a comedy series.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole was always one of the more unusual shows in Adult Swim’s lineup. The under-appreciated series was consistently pushing boundaries – one episode involving Mother Theresa has still never been released. Series creator Dino Stamatopoulos’s previous series on the network, Moral Orel, ran into similar trouble, and his latest animated series, High School USA!, also saw an episode going unaired. Frankenhole, which sees various dead celebrities being transported to Dr. Victor Frakenstein via handy frankenholes, featured a concept that has an offensive edge baked right in. It’s easy to ruffle feathers with that sort of blueprint, which is why each episode of Frankenhole feels like a special thing in itself. But in spite of people largely being unaware of this show, it had a lot – sometimes too much – to say, with “Hyralius, Mutant Monster!” being one of the standout examples.
Frankenhole always pushed buttons, but this episode goes further. It’s audacious in a different, multi-tiered way. If nothing else, the episode ditches its entire cast for a joke, which is something I can only think of happening a handful of times anywhere, and never in this context. Adult Swim programs are notorious for bucking convention and doing what they please, but this is a sort of bewildering experiment that just makes you smile more and more as you watch it unspool.
A lot of television has taken aim at Godzilla films, with their shoddy dubbing and plentiful stereotypes. It’s a genre that’s almost been lampooned for as long as it’s existed, so when taking it on it’s especially important to have something original to say. Frankenhole absolutely does, with “Hyralius, Mutant Monster!” not only putting the litany of Asian stereotypes under the microscope, but pushing them to the extreme.
Not only is this send-up of Asian cinema illustrated as a poorly done dub job (right down to faux credits citing “Whoops Studios” for the translation), it actually has Ken Jeong voicing every single character in the process. Right down to him doing the Starburns production company audio (“Hi, Ken here. ‘It’s-a good-a show!’ Can I go now?”) to close out the show. The result is almost unlike anything you’ve seen before, and a real testament to not only having faith in this idea, but in Jeong himself. He does a great job with his own personal takes on the cast, with subtle touches abound.
This experiment is pushed one step further when the Hyralius monster is ultimately revealed to be a man-in-suit creature that is none other than Ken Jeong himself, pushing the episode as far as it can go by actually placing Jeong – not just his voice – into the episode. It’s also the only piece of live-action footage that the show would use in its run, emphasizing its anomalistic significance even more.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole is a generally smart show, but the wordplay in this entry is off the charts – it feels like it’s operating on an Arrested Development level. Even the episode’s title slyly mocks things by transforming itself into “Maly Sherrey” instead of Mary Shelley. The fact that this Asian stereotype Godzilla rip-off that is destroying everything is named “Hyralius”, a cleverly offensive inversion of “hilarious,” is the icing on the sushi cake. And if that gag didn’t get through to you, the monster is also blatantly sporting buckteeth and a pointy hat, as a nice representation of both the subtle and in-your-face aspect of “Hyralius.”
While one might expect this to be one of Frankenhole’s broadest episodes, it ends up making the deeper statement that the real monster here is Asian stereotypes and representation in pop culture. In a bizarre, but fitting, final sequence, Jeong as himself (and we’re sure of this, as he mentions also being a doctor) accepts an award – for Asian stereotypes, no less – claiming that without these stereotypes to fall back on, he wouldn’t have been able to make a career for himself. Jeong looks at the camera and explains his actions, “Laughter brings love, people… And I’m just a hack who wants love.”
By giving a face to Jeong and having him embrace all of the ridiculousness that came before, it almost acts as a cleansing of sorts. If all of these problems can be clarified so succinctly, then perhaps this can simultaneously fix them in the process. Make no mistake, this is largely just a very silly episode of television, but it is still saying something bigger, and the extremely different way in which it is presented to the audience helps them pay attention and see what’s going on.