Space Ghost episodes have long been condemned to out-of-print, incomplete DVD collections and sketchy YouTube uploads. But with the recent passing of animator and voice actor Clay Martin Croker, and the release of most of the episodes online, there has never been a more important, more convenient time to appreciate the show that kicked off the Adult Swim phenomenon. So here are 10 of Space Ghost Coast to Coast’s greatest episodes.
What better place to start than with the late-night spoof’s spoofiest episode ever? Space Ghost, voiced by George Lowe, leaned decidedly toward Letterman more than Leno in his delivery and personality, so it’s not a far reach that “Late Show” is a slam on America’s then-recently departed, heavily bearded, crazy grandpa.
Former Letterman writers Spike Feresten and Steve O’Donnell lent their talents to the script, and it absolutely shows. Just about every joke is a send-up of the writers’ day job, from Space Ghost’s reliance on non sequiturs to fill painfully long lulls, to the commercial break intros and outros, Zorak wholeheartedly embracing the Paul Shaffer role, a “Big 10” list, and an interview with Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters. Even the copycat opening was created specifically for “Late Show,” but reused in future episodes against the staff’s wishes to justify the expense. An unforgettable visit from Space Ghost’s mom – quite literally the host, plus some hair and lipstick – completes the parody.
Some of my earliest childhood memories involve watching Jerry Lewis’ Labor Day telethon with my mom. Of course, these memories are also some of my most depressing, which is precisely why I have a soft spot for “Telethon.” Combining the saddest excuse for a talk show with the saddest form of begging is a brilliant idea, made even better by a rare appearance from the criminally underused Council of Doom. Lokar insulting Tansut for his body odor will never not be funny, and the same can be said for Brak’s beef with the Ming Dynasty. But no discussion of “Telethon” could ever be complete without recognizing the genius of Pete Michael and his cringeworthy Kramer impression. I don’t know if Pete Michael is a real person (IMDB says he might be), but if there was any justice in the world, this performance should have been the beginning of something greater.
An invasion of murderous replicating alien pods threatens the Ghost Planet gang and comedian Steven Wright in “Snatch.” Like many guests in this era, Wright is barely featured, and he’s killed off in one swift, hilarious stroke. But his delight in learning Space Ghost is his long lost father makes that brief appearance worthwhile.
Ultimately, our heroes are trapped and unable to fall asleep without risking certain death, so they start brainstorming ways to make it out of the studio alive. The back-and-forth between Space Ghost and Moltar as they bounce inane idea after idea is why “Snatch” makes this list. Lowe and Croker’s obvious chemistry is a thing of beauty in these mid-to-late seasons, and when they’re on their game, there’s little need for a guest, or a script. Moltar’s priceless reaction when Space Ghost mentions ordering a mind-erasing kit for the sixth time is proof of that.
This hallucinogenic romp isn’t quite the series’ most objectionable episode (oh, we’ll get to that in a minute), but it’s arguably the most bizarre. Space Ghost orchestrates a mystery dinner night, and loosens all the gas lines in the building. This causes him to become violent and nearly kill Zorak. Once he begins sucking on the pipes, things begin to get seriously weird. Space Ghost sands his face off, there’s an impromptu trip to a grocery store/hospital, and guest Busta Rhymes giggles pretty much the entire time.
Coast to Coast had a reputation of being impenetrable from the start, but “Flipmode” truly is the final nail in the coffin. The talk show has completely fallen apart at this point, and it would never recover. How appropriate, then, that this was one of the first episodes to premiere on Adult Swim, rather than Cartoon Network proper.
Where “Flipmode’s” LSD-fueled madness withheld truly offensive content and probably could have passed for broadcast on Cartoon Network, “Dreams” takes full advantage of the Adult Swim watershed. In the penultimate episode of the series, Space Ghost launches a foundation that aims to “create a retardo-free society.” Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’s talk of “banging Lassie up the ass” provokes the ire of Moltar, who unsuccessfully tries to censor the show only to find that Space Ghost will say or do anything for attention.
You could look at it as a neat little meta-commentary on the entire Adult Swim experiment, or just the writers trying to see what they could get away with in one final hurrah. Either way, “Dreams” is an important (albeit late-coming) landmark for the series, inasmuch as it gives us a window into an alternate universe where Space Ghost didn’t launch on a kids’ network, and is no less offensive than South Park. And although I prefer reality, this was definitely a universe worth exploring.
The next five episodes are on page two!