The first season of Superjail! is nearly perfect. It proves you can have your cake and eat it too: animation for animation’s sake, kinetic, gory violence also for its own sake, and yet… compelling characterization and salient plotting. All done in eleven minute increments for ten episodes. Maybe it’s not merely perfect, maybe it’s some kind of miracle.
Superjail!‘s success can be attributed to several factors. It was a storyboard-driven project, meaning that rather than writing a script and then tasking an animator to bring it to life, plots were thought up in meetings, a loose storyboard was constructed, and then individual artists were encouraged to let their imaginations fly, dialogue recording and such only occurring afterwards. This is why each episode of Superjail! is exploding with visual gags in every nook and cranny. In addition every frame was hand-animated by Augenblick Studios, an outfit located in Brooklyn, New York. No outsourcing, no tweening, no animation reuse.
The result is an appeal to both my reptilian brain and my inner aesthete. Superjail! keeps one of each of its legs squarely in the realm of both story and spectacle, resulting in something that paradoxically has the feel of an improvisational cartoon jam as well as the comfortable weekly formula of a Saturday morning cartoon.
Series creators Christy Karacas and Stephen Warbrick hand-picked Augenblick Studio for the show because of their confidence in what the team could execute using Adobe Flash, a staple for much of Adult Swim’s relatively low-budget animation. Superjail! executive producer and animation director Aaron Augenblick admitted the show took an immense amount of resources: “most people told me they were working harder, longer hours than they ever had in their life, but it was worth it because it was so much fun.” And boy does it show. Nothing else in the Adult Swim programming block is comparable.
For reasons that were never explained outright, Augenblick Studios hasn’t been working on subsequent Superjail! seasons. I’m still grappling with my ambivalent response to the differences in tone and style as a result of this change. In any case, the first season remains eminently accessible and watchable. I find it hard to imagine there’s an easier way to get a hold of this much explosive animation all in one place.