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November 21, 2005

Sealab 2021 Season-Three DVD

Cannibals, commies, tourists, robots, substitute teachers—and a new Goz—invade Sealab
Sealab 2021 Season-Three DVD
Voices of Brett Butler, Erik Estrada, Harry Goz, Michael Goz, Ellis Henican, Bill Lobley, Kate Miller, Angela Gibbs and Chris Ward
Created by Adam Reed and Matt Thompson
Warner Home Video
Two-disc set
MSRP: $29.98
By Paul Di Filippo
This is the transitional season, where Harry Goz—and his character Capt. Murphy—died, and we got the replacement of Michael Goz as Capt. Tornado Shanks. The elder Goz appears in the first four episodes.

In "Tourist Season," Capt. Murphy spends $100,000 on ads to bring tourists to Sealab. Too bad all he's got to offer them is carnage in the dive pool and drinks laced with sodium amytal. The inspiration for the Soviet Realist packaging of this DVD set stems from "Red Dawn," in which Sealab's always-dictatorial leader goes whole hog, transforming the base into a Leninist "paradise." Hollywood gets the great idea to do a show based on the "real" Sealab and sends a narcissistic actor down to Sealab to do research in "Meet Beck Bristow." Always open to new experiences, the crew of Sealab swap their brains into robot bodies in "I, Robot, Really," becoming Freakbots who eventually get their own TV show.

Ice Station Zebra in the polar wastes is undergoing a trifling bout of cannibalism, and only rescue from Sealab can save them in "Frozen Dinner." That is, if the rescuers don't end up in the pot as well. Dr. Quinn and Debbie: always a hot item. That is, until they hit "Splitsville" and the other horndogs move in. "Tornado Shanks" introduces the newest member of the team, a self-appointed football coach who shows up out of nowhere and eventually assumes the captain's position. Earth is doomed in the path of a killer asteroid unless Sealab can use its new "Ashdtv" to deflect the rock.

When Dr. Quinn and Tornado Shanks have to substitute-teach Debbie Love's elementary-school class in "Chalkboard Jungle," they don't anticipate a deadly dodge-ball cannon. Sealab hosts a wedding in "Dearly Beloved Seed," but exactly who's getting married to what is the question. Surgery via shrunken humans in a sub: a familiar plot. But nothing goes as expected in "Craptastic Voyage." Every man and woman a sovereign state: that's the plot of "Let Them Eat Corn," when nukes begin to fly. A secret brotherhood of chosen ones: that's the "Neptunati," and they're endowed with the deadly Infinity Trident.

Extras include commentaries, two complete abandoned episodes, some promos and a mockingly political monologue by Stormy Waters.

20,000 laughs under the sea
It seems to be the general fannish consensus, insofar as I can tell, that this series began to decline after the lamentable death of Harry Goz, and I'm afraid I'll have to agree. Some essential chemistry went missing with the departure of Capt. Murphy, and while Tornado Shanks has some good lines, his character—a vaguely Southern but not particularly redneck sports nut—just doesn't jibe with the ambiance and the roles of the others. Without even a pretense that he's an integral part of the team and the command structure, he sticks out like a hamburger on a sushi plate. Nor is Shanks really idiosyncratic or eccentric enough in any memorable way.

Having said that, I have to admit that an episode such as "Dearly Beloved Seed," in which we get to see Shanks' hillbilly family (and learn that his real name is "Bellerophon") still packs in some good laughs. And in "Let Them Eat Corn," there's one killer moment when Shanks solemnly enters a secret room, confronts a massive computer—and orders up a drink from its beverage-dispensing slot. That's played perfectly. (One also has to compliment the writers at this point on their name for the base as an independent nation: "Sealabia.") The other characters remain admirably true to past form, with some "growth." Dr. Quinn's problems with alcohol appear to be accelerating, and Debbie's "romantic" troubles are plainly burgeoning as well. "Black Debbie" gets more lines as well, and Angela Gibbs chews up the scenery with her "foxy mama" stylings. Additionally, the parodies and satires of everything from Asimov's Fantastic Voyage to Star Wars to The Matrix to Adult Swim TV itself remain pointed.

But some vital heart of the show is definitely missing—and mourned.

The caricature of JFK seen in a couple of these episodes owes so much to that of Mayor Quimby on The Simpsons that I kept waiting for Homer to pop out of Sealab's lockers. —Paul