By Adam Lovinus
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Yet getting the group to the small screen took more than a decade—mostly because of another boob-tube spectacular that Jacobs helped to create.
"Yo Gabba Gabba! pretty much got in the way of the Aquabats," Jacobs says matter-of-factly. "But that's okay. Because essentially, Yo Gabba Gabba! saved the Aquabats."
Probably the hippest kids' show since Electric Company, the success of Nick Jr.'s Yo Gabba Gabba! caught everyone off-guard. Geared toward preschoolers, Jacobs peppered the show with the same elements that made the Aquabats so popular: bright characters, loveable monsters, catchy songs and funny skits. It was hosted by a real DJ. Devo singer Mark Mothersbaugh held regular art lessons. Cool bands such as the Shins and MGMT performed on the show.
Jacobs and the rest of the Aquabats had been trying to make a TV show for so long that when they thought the Aquabats would never happen, they eventually shifted gears to a new project, Yo Gabba Gabba! And for much of that time, the Aquabats were in limbo. "We'd make an album and play shows from time to time, but it was really hard to do because we weren't making money—it was like this elaborate hobby," he says. "And when you have a wife and kids and your hobby is putting on a tight shirt and a helmet and a mask, well, you start getting weird looks from your in-laws and people asking you what you're doing with your life."
Yo Gabba Gabba's success showed the industry that Jacobs and company could make a show. "We took the momentum from Yo Gabba Gabba! and decided to produce The Aquabats! Super Show! independently," Jacobs says. It worked: "We're very grateful to the Hub for [picking up the show] and taking the risk."
The Hub ordered 13 episodes for the first season, which starts at 8 a.m. Saturday.
Ted Biasseli, vice president of programming for the Hub, calls the The Aquabats! Super Show! "the only live-action, animated, musical comedy, action-adventure series on TV right now." That description is a mouthful, and it doesn't actually need so many words to spell out how wonderfully surreal it is.
In the first episode, "Manant," the Aquabats have to figure out who's burning down burger/burrito joints around town. They end up battling a half-man, half-ant villain who wants to use their powers to populate the world with giant ants. There's a montage in which the band bathe in hamburger rain. It's similar to the Power Rangers, only goofier. And, as with Yo Gabba Gabba!, it's hilarious. It may be a little too intense for little kids, but your 10-year-old will get it—and love it. And, as with Yo Gabba Gabba!, The Aquabats! Super Show! is a trip to watch when stoned—supposedly. . . .
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In January, we take a tour of the set at the show's studio on the border of Santa Ana and Fountain Valley, just down the street from the Observatory. We get a glimpse of the official Aquabats vehicle, the Battletram, which looks like a mommy's version of the Batmobile from the outside, but actually houses the Aquabats headquarters, Jimmy the Robot's lab, bunk beds and a full-on bathroom inside. There are the ultra-cool props, including beautifully created monsters (Manant; Cobraman; a giant monster chicken; and a hairy, tentacled beast named Snakey were all crafted by some of the same people who made the Muppets through the years). As we walk through the lab, Jimmy the Robot's detachable moving hand is in action. Over lunch, Weird Al Yankovic pops in to make a guest appearance as the President (the role is for a revolving cast; Yanlovic also guests as a superhero later in the season). No one does an ultra-fan freak-out—he's just one part of the crackly energy around the set. As Fowles says, "The fact that we have been able to make our own TV show has just been a big bonus to already being in such a fun band."
These days, not a lot is made of Jacobs' religious background, but its sounds like a big reason he is inclined toward creating PG shows. "I'm interested in making stuff for kids and families because then everyone can join in the fun," he says. "I don't like excluding people. I say, 'Let everyone into the party; let everyone come.'"
At 19, Jacobs left the world as he knew it to be a Mormon missionary in Sendai, Japan, and those two years were critical in developing this philosophy. "When you're living in another country and discovering that culture as a missionary, the point is to live outside yourself and help other people by doing service [work]," he says. "You have to find common ground with people, even if they're an elderly couple who live in the woods. You constantly meet people whom you think you would have nothing in common with, but it's always right there beneath the surface."
And that includes making things that everybody can enjoy. "It flies in the face of what a lot of people believe—that as long as you're happy with it that it's okay. You might be okay with it, but you're not going to be able to sell it, and no one's really going to come to your show. You have to have a balance between art and commerce, which is what we wanted to do with the Aquabats. We're having a lot of fun, but it's gotta be inclusive or it doesn't go anywhere."