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Horror


From possessed children to homicidal animatronic mascots, horror has a long history of taking seemingly innocent concepts and turning them into bona fide nightmare fuel. And when looking for wholesome imagery to corrupt, what better place to start than the adorable bond between a boy and his dog?

This is likely what Will Carsola and Dave Stewart had in mind when they began the brainstorming session that led to one of Adult Swim’s most disturbing cartoons, Mr. Pickles. An unabashedly nasty show that wasn’t afraid to blend low-brow comedy with deeply unsettling violence, this surprisingly popular experiment stood out even among its hyper-violent contemporaries. And with the show celebrating its 10th anniversary, I think that this is the perfect time to look back on this touching story about a small town under siege by an incredibly satanic dog.

Carsola and Stewart had previously collaborated on HBO’s Funny or Die Presents, a televised spin-off of the popular comedy website, which is how they originally came into contact with Adult Swim executives who invited them to try and pitch a new TV show. Repurposing concepts from one of their recurring “write-offs” (where the duo would try to impress each other with silly drawings and story ideas until they came upon something special), the two presented the studio with a one-line pitch for what would ultimately become Mr. Pickles.

Borrowing the basic premise from Lassie and many of the more cutesy elements from Stewart’s own experiences with his Australian Cattle Dog (which he lovingly refers to as Ms. Pickles and was even used as a model in test animations for the pilot), the show’s creators also drew inspiration from a few less than conventional sources.

Mr. Pickles adult swim

He’s a good boy.

There’s actually a long-standing rumor that the entire show is in fact an elaborate reference to the real-life Son of Sam murders, as convicted serial killer David Berkowitz initially claimed he was simply following orders from his neighbor’s black dog – which he insisted was possessed by a demon. While neither Carsola nor Stewart have ever confirmed this widely publicized connection, I’d be surprised if this infamous demonic canine didn’t have at least some impact on the creation of the show.

Regardless of this unconfirmed bit of gossip, a stand-alone pilot for Mr. Pickles would finally surface in August of 2013, with Adult Swim liking it enough to order a full 10-episode season which premiered the following year. In the finished show, we follow the day-to-day life of the Goodmans, a stereotypically happy family living in the aptly named Old Town with their Border Collie, Mr. Pickles. Unbeknownst to the family, however, their dog is actually a satanic monster that sadistically tortures and murders his victims in a horrific underground lair while also being best friends with the Goodman’s six-year-old child, Tommy.

With each episode running a little over eleven minutes, it’s honestly amazing how the writers manage to cram so much story into such a short runtime. A typical episode will usually combine several classic sitcom yarns (and the occasional movie reference) into a single narrative while also having the titular dog go on some kind of absurd murder spree before tying everything together in the final few minutes. This densely packed formula may not appeal to everyone, but it allows for a high rate of jokes per minute even if it also results in the whole thing feeling like a high-octane speedrun of a half-hour comedy.

Of course, shock value is the name of the game here, as most of Mr. Pickles’ humor comes from the contrast between the cartoon’s wholesome inspirations and its moments of extreme gore and sexuality. From full-body flaying to victims being sewn together into unholy abominations, nearly every form of terrifying depravity is on display here in full two-dimensional glory. In some ways, I’d even compare the show to a classic Troma film, where it seems like the creators are using the story as an excuse to test the audience and see just how much they can get away with before we all walk out of the experience in disgust.

Unexpectedly wholesome.

That being said, the idyllic presentation and amusing side characters end up making this bloody ordeal at least somewhat funny instead of completely off-putting. I mean, the creators themselves describe their show as only 30% horror and 70% animated silliness, and I think that ratio is responsible for Mr. Pickles’ success. For example, I appreciate how the titular canine actually seems to love Tommy despite his homicidal proclivities, with the boy’s naïve trust in his evil dog making the eventual horror elements that much more insane.

There are also plenty of horror references here for genre aficionados to pick apart, with entire episodes paying homage to classic slasher flicks and even some familiar religious horror elements that pop up every now and again. However, none of the nightmarish imagery would have quite the same impact if it wasn’t for the simultaneously gorgeous/hideous artwork inspired by Will Carsola’s hyper-detailed style. Mr. Pickles may have been limited by simplified Flash animation, but the memorable visuals and character designs certainly make up for that.

Ultimately, Mr. Pickles is a quintessential “love it or hate it” program. It didn’t exactly reinvent the adult animated comedy wheel, forgoing witty dialogue and three-dimensional characters in favor of crude jokes and hardcore violence in order to entertain late-night viewers, but I think it’s safe to say that there’s an underlying charm beneath all the blood and guts here. That’s why I’d argue that the show is still highly rewatchable a decade later, even if this formula seems a lot more familiar than it did back in 2014.

And if you’re still on the fence about whether or not you’d like to give Mr. Pickles a chance, I’d recommend taking a gander at its incredibly metal intro in order to decide if this insane dive into demonic comedy is right for you.



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