Welcome to Animation for Adults, proving that cartoons ain’t just kid’s stuff. Tonight we take a look at Korgoth of Barbaria, the greatest show that Adult Swim never aired… Well, kind of.
In June of 2006, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block aired the pilot episode of a show called Korgoth of Barbaria. It was created by Aaron Springer, who had previously worked as a writer for Spongebob Squarepants, and was typically a parody of the sword and sorcery genre of shows and movies like Conan the Barbarian and Xena: Warrior Princess. The art style and humor was very similar to other Adult Swim shows like Venture Brothers and Metalocalypse, filled with all the blood and tits one could ask for. The response was generally positive, and there were hints all over the place that it was going to be picked up. But alas, some things were just not meant to be. The show never got green-lit, and only one episode was aired. I’ve seen the lone episode several times on YouTube, and after a few watches, I can kind of see why.
Because I’m only reviewing a brief 20 minute episode, I’m just going to do a summary of the show while throwing in the criticisms. If you don’t want to be spoiled, I suggest you turn back now. Otherwise, abandon all hope ye who enter here.
Onto the plot!
The setting is a distant future long after modern civilization has collapsed. Primordial beasts reclaim the wilderness, magic and ancient covenants have become dominant, and remnants of ancient technology and long lost civilizations are still scarcely scattered. The titular character Korgoth has gained a notorious reputation as a ruthless warrior whose savagery may be the key to his survival. If the show had been picked up, I’m assuming that it would just follow him around and show examples of his survivalism and badassery with some battles with wizards and demons thrown in. Kind of like Samurai Jack, but with more talking and a lot more over the top violence and partial nudity.
The show’s single episode starts with a gang of mooks, lead by the hook handed Horgan, who are hired by Goggmagogg, the Baron of Thieves, to find and bribe the legendary Korgoth into doing some dirty work for him. They eventually find him at a tavern and try to negotiate with him, but their words fall upon deaf ears. After some threats that fall flat, Horgan spills Korgoth’s beer. Big mistake. He then proceeds to hold his head down against the counter with just enough pressure so that he doesn’t crush his skull like a squishy grape. The rest of the gang attacks him, and then this happens.
This is the part that most people remember, since it, along with the opening, promises a ton of epic slaughtering. Sadly, this is the best part of the whole episode. The rest bounces back from over the top gore to simplistic and childish, but we’ll get to that later. This scene is still fantastic though. I especially love that last part. It’s so gruesome and morbid that it just circles around back to over the top and wacky.
After Korgoth dispatches of seven of his men, Horgan finally remembers that they were supposed to bribe him, and they take him to Goggmagog’s hideout. He presents the warrior with a feast and tells of a wizard named Specules who is believed to be dead, and sends Korgoth off to retrieve his coveted Golden MacGuffin- I mean, Golden Goblin. Korgoth refuses, but his options are whittled down when it’s revealed that a parasite was embedded in his food and Goggmagog will only give him the antidote if he does what he’s told. So the thief baron sends Korgoth off to find the Golden MacGuffin and sends a few mooks with him for shits and giggles- I mean backup.
Okay, I have to get this out of the way. The gang of mooks is by far the worst part of the show. Their only purpose is to serve as red shirts and get randomly slaughtered and inexplicably regenerate. Horgan in particular is a moronic, belligerent prick who gets way too much screen time than he deserves, he contributes absolutely nothing, and his arrogance just becomes annoying after a while. Seriously, if he wasn’t voiced by Tom Kenny, I’d be tempted to drive his own hook through his eye socket.
And about that regeneration remark, one of the things I kept noticing about the animation is that a lot of the background characters, especially with the gang of mooks, seem to reappear after they’re dispatched of. Korgoth kills seven of them in the tavern brawl and almost all of them come back unscathed at some point. Hell, if you look at the clip from earlier, you can clearly see Horgan charging towards Korgoth for a brief second when we all can clearly see that he’s having his head clamped down on the bar. I understand there might have been budget problems or something, and that they’re all just a bunch of red shirts whose sole purpose is to be killed in comedic fashion, but it’s kind of hard to ignore.
We then get a traveling montage where several mooks die and reappear and Korgoth rescues and bangs a scantily clad girl with the personality of sawdust, and they eventually find their way to Specules’s floating castle. They fly there on the backs of giant pigeons and Korgoth begins searching for the Golden Goblin while the rest of the gang begins looting the place. They’re bewildered upon the discovery that Specules wasn’t actually dead, but on vacation, and he himself is shocked to come home to see a bunch of men ransacking his home.
It was at this point that I realized the only real funny moments come from the over the top violence. All the jokes are just lame. They rely on stock gags that have been done by almost every show that’s ever been done on Nickelodeon, and they also fall back on other clichés like gratuitous immaturity or lame anachronism without any irony or acknowledgement. As I mentioned earlier, the writer had previously written for Spongebob Squarepants, and it’s pretty obvious with the jokes. These gags would be so much more at home in Bikini Bottom than in Barbaria. There was also a wasted opportunity to rip on the tropes of low fantasy. We could’ve gotten to see some battles with some really creative monsters, but instead we get giant pigeons and a monster made of chewing gum. Whoop-de-tap-dancing-doo.
So Specules uses his magic powers to make the goons stab each other, jump off the balcony and make out with each other (no, I am not kidding), then finds Korgoth in his chambers, who had just found out what makes the Golden Goblin so valuable. But it’s so stupid and anti-climactic that I’m not even going to tell you what it does. Then Specules decides he must kill Korgoth in the most childish way imaginable: with a monster made of chewing gum. Really? You could’ve gone with a five headed hydra or a blood sucking nematode, but you chose a chewing gum monster? God, this series.
After a decent albeit underwhelming fight where Korgoth emerges victorious, he tries to take the goblin by force instead of just ripping off his head, and Specules takes this advantage to blast his mind with laserbeams. Keep in mind this is the same guy that nearly caved in a guy’s skull for spilling his beer, but doesn’t try to tan the hide of an old man who attacked him with a French kissing Medusa. Go figure. The nameless woman barges in and bumps into Specules who accidentally gives her a Scanners makeover. Distraught, Korgoth stabs him through the eyes with a candlestick, but the wizard reattaches his head on the girl’s body (somehow) and makes his escape. Korgoth returns the Golden MacGuffin to Goggmagog, gives him the antidote, and the show ends with Korgoth on the crapper.
So what it all comes down to is that Korgoth of Barbaria had a lot of potential, but it obviously had a rocky start. The music is awesome, the voice acting is top notch and Korgoth himself is actually a pretty badass protagonist, but the humor is either over the top Itchy and Scratchy type gore or childish cliché gags delivered by annoying characters, and only the former managed to get any laughs out of me. I know I was kind of harsh on this show, but that’s because I saw a lot of potential in it that was just wasted. I think if it had actually been picked up, it could’ve perfected itself and gotten better over time, but Aaron Springer seemed to still be in Spongebob mode during the writing when he needed to be in Conan mode. One show that does what Korogth does better is Metalocalypse, and that show aired only a few months after this one. It had the potential to go that far, the first five minutes definitely prove that it’s capable of it. But nevertheless, I still would’ve loved to have seen the show grow into what it was truly meant to be, and still recommend checking it out so you can see for yourself what it was all about. If you love over the top and senseless gore and don’t mind a few rough edges, then you’ll definitely like it more than I did.
I give Korgoth of Barbaria 6/10.