Sealab 2021

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"If you're looking for me,
You'd better check under the sea,
Cause that is where you'll find me...
Underneath the sealab
Underneath the water
At the bottom of the sea..."


Sealab 2021 is a 15-minute long Adult Swim original show which parodies the 1970s animated series Sealab 2020 (and, to a lesser extent, the entire genre of crudely-animated '60s and '70s cartoons produced by Hanna-Barbera). The show lasted from November 2000 to April 2005, for a total of 52 episodes in four seasons.

Set Twenty Minutes Into the Future, the series recasts the crew of the titular undersea colony as a group of extremely unstable individuals, all of whom are too crazy or Too Dumb to Live. Several episodes end with the destruction of Sealab as a result of the crew's hijinks (directly or indirectly).

Major characters include:

  • Captain Hazel "Hank" Murphy, the unhinged leader of Sealab, who has the mentality of a six-year-old. After voice actor Harry Goz died, Murphy was replaced with:
  • Captain Bellerophon "Tornado" Shanks, an overbearing former football coach (voiced by Harry Goz's son, Michael Goz).
  • Quentin Q. Quinn, a black Token Minority scientist who is usually the only character with half a brain (though he isn't above picking up the Idiot Ball and/or inexplicably becoming a Mad Scientist... or, um, Shaft). As established in two episodes, he's a cyborg.
  • Debbie Dupree, an easily offended, slutty blonde who later becomes Quinn's on-again off-again girlfriend.
  • Debbie Love (or "Black Debbie", as she's called in one every episode), the schoolteacher, and the only other black person on Sealab.
  • Jodene Sparks, the scheming radio operator who never leaves his chair, even when scuba-diving (he occasionally explains that he's just really lazy, though he uses the habit in "The Policy" to get himself promoted after claiming to be wheelchair bound). He plays the Only Sane Man from time to time, but being criminally insane stops him from doing so as frequently as Quinn.
  • Marco Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar Gabriel Garcia Marquez (voiced by Erik Estrada), a Latin lothario. He was originally the Only Sane Man, but this was quickly dropped.
  • Derek "Stormy" Waters, a boyishly handsome idiot.

Minor characters include Hesh Hepplewhite, a sarcastic engineer and aspiring rap artist who frequently speaks in ghetto-slang and/or refers to himself in the third person; Dolphin-boy, a rotund human child who only speaks dolphin; Dr. Ilad Virjay, medical doctor and Hindu-rock icon; and Ted from Accounting.

The show's pilot -- and several episodes from the first couple of seasons -- was made using Stock Footage from Sealab 2020, with the original banal environmentalist plot lines replaced by Dead Baby Comedy and other weirdness. The show's producers began branching out into original animation based on the character models from the original show (with even weirder stories to go with the new animation). A notable exception is the episode "7211", which was a direct remake of an original Sealab 2020 episode which was played completely straight -- but there's a clue to the viewers that something is up with this remake: after the captain of the sub decides to team up with Murphy despite holding a grudge against him, a '70s-era title card which says "PLACE COMMERCIAL HERE" is displayed. (During the end credits of the episode, Sealab explodes. Again.)

Midway through the show's run, Harry Goz (the voice actor for Captain Murphy) died, which caused a major change in tone for the entire series. The one-off crazy elements of the earlier episodes were dropped, and after Captain Murphy left Sealab to fight in the spice wars, he was replaced with the slightly-more-sane Captain Shanks (who, as noted above, was portrayed by Harry Goz's son). The series retained its trademark surrealism while experimenting with long-form storylines (including as Debbie's relationship with Quinn, the saga of Marco's apparent death, and the introduction of Sharko, Marco's half-shark/half-human son). These episodes featured more original animation than stock footage, and it's easy to see the shift in tone from earlier seasons.

The series was canceled after a fifty-three episode run; in typical surreal fashion, the last episode featured a series of fourth-wall-breaking scenes involving the characters as actors who know Sealab is a TV show, and the show faded to black with the promise of airing a trailer for a new horror film starring the characters.

Expressing just how deliciously wrong this show is can be difficult -- but this line should give you an idea:


Sparks: (describing Swift's A Modest Proposal) "Like veal... only babies."


The creator of this show, Adam Reed, went on to helm Frisky Dingo and Archer.

Tropes used in Sealab 2021 include:

Quinn:Listen man, you're missing the point. What if everyone started calling you 'White Stormy'?
Stormy: You mean... there's a Black Stormy? [1]

    • And a 3rd time five minutes later, after driving said Debbie into an angry rant with his unwitting racism.

Stormy: Man, don't go out there. That Black chick is crazy!

  • Concussions Get You High: In one episode, the crew is trapped in a malfunctioning storage closet. Beard Guy comes in to fix the problem but Captain Murphy beats his head in. Upon breifly regaining consciousness, he displays this trope.

Beard Guy: I got my think a concussion. Now must remember not fix stuff. Gonna lay down back, cuz our concussion have us sleepy.
Debbie: Uh, should Beard Guy be asleep with a concussion?
Quinn: No, absolutely not.

  • Couch Gag: When the second zero in the Sealab 2020 logo turns into a one at the end of the opening, a different sound effect accompanies the change every episode
  • Cousin Oliver: Parodied with "Sharko", introduced in season 4 as the product of Marco's illicit love affair with a shark, repeatedly summarized as "He put his human penis in her shark-gina".
    • It was probably one of the few times in which this trope was purposefully invoked. Sharko left a few episodes later.
  • Credit Card Plot: Played straight, but everyone dies.
  • Credits Gag: Mike Lazzo's name is anagrammed.
  • Crossover Punchline: "Murphy Murph and the Feng Shui Bunch" ends with the entire episode revealed as a video game--and the players are Meatwad and Master Shake.
  • Cyborg: Quinn reveals himself as one in "I, Robot". A later episode, "I, Robot, Really", has most of the cast getting robot bodies.
  • Dead Baby Comedy: Not usually, but it visited there from time to time.

Narrator: Dead African child indeed! ...[laughter]...I'm sorry, I'm sorry. It's just so fucking awful...


Quinn: Who the hell named it that?
Shanks: Rambo.


Marco:"I have the energy of a bear that has the energy of two bears!"

  • Diabolical Mastermind: Sparks has the rather frequent tendency to hatch evil schemes, including (but not limited to) making millions in life insurance by killing the Sealab crew, addicting them to a medicine made from a deadly neurotoxin, and blackmailing Quinn into turning him into 'Sparkimus Prime,' the chainsaw-handed robot. Also, in what turned out to only have been a daydream of Captain Murphy's Sparks has a secret mountain stronghold, complete with a veritable army of henchmen.
  • The Ditz: Stormy.
  • Electrified Bathtub: Quinn encounters one in "Waking Quinn"; one is used to off Captain Murphy in "Policy".
  • Everything Explodes Ending: Every episode ends with Sealab exploding. Sometimes it's justified by the plot, but sometimes it's just Rule of Funny.
  • Executive Meddling: The episode "Feast of Alvis" was supposed to be a straight-up Christmas Episode... until the executives rejected it. Jesus was then replaced with Alvis, the worship of whom served to make Murphy look that much crazier.

Sparks: Your "lord"? It's a baby with a freaking gun, roasting over a flood light!


Stormy: I'm blind!
Quinn:You're not blind, the lights just went out.
Sparks: Maybe he went blind independently of the lights going out.
Stormy: I'm blind!

    • Then again, Sparks was clearly being sarcastic. Not that Stormy would realize that, or that he cared, but still.
  • Jive Turkey: Name dropped.
  • Judge, Jury, and Executioner: The Knights of Mars, a "cadre" of "knights" charged with enforcing Martian law, seem to uphold the laws of the "sacred red planet" primarily by beating the asses of suspected thieves.
  • Kill'Em All: For the first season, it happened Once an Episode. They dropped that particular Running Gag but a few later episodes would still end with everyone dying or just one or two characters dying.
  • Killer Rabbit: The Gloops, by way of constant farting.

Quinn: Methane Sulfate. Apparently they release it when they're angry. Or threatened. Or just whenever.


Bebop Cola Machine: (singing, but in monotone) And I say to myself, I need exact change.


Marco: Sparks, any idea what happened to [Hank's] happy-cake oven thing?
Sparks: Uhh, yeah. I stole it and dumped it out in the ocean.
Marco: What!? Why did you do that?!
Sparks: Just part of a larger plan to drive him insane. Oh, I also have the orphans wet his bed while he's asleep.

  • Mock Cousteau: One episode had such a character who seemed to like to compare things to wombs.
  • Mushroom Samba: Brought on by multiple near-death experiences via electrocution. This particular episode is probably the strangest episode of the entire series... which says a lot.
  • My Biological Clock Is Ticking: Debbie Dupree's motivation in "Chickmate."
  • Named After Somebody Famous: Besides "Marco," Marco's name consists of the names of two famous Spanish speakers smushed together: Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar being 13th-century nobleman and soldier El Cid, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a famous Colombian author.
  • Negative Continuity: Pretty much every episode ends with the destruction of Sealab and the death of her crew. Lampshaded in the first episode.

Marco: Once again your stupidity has killed us all!

    • As the series went on, more and more episodes would be referenced (including episodes in which everyone died) or they would show a Continuity Cavalcade every now and then. The last few episodes had the closest thing to a linear continuity as the series got. For instance, Sharko was the focal point of the one and only storyarc in the entire series.
  • No Ending
  • Not Now, Kiddo: In "No Waterworld", Debbie Dupree is repeatedly silenced by being told "The men are talking!" as a Running Gag.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Sparks when he tries to claim he is paralyzed from the waist down, hence why he is always sitting. Debbie tests this by jamming a battle axe into his legs. He eventually admits that he is just really lazy.
  • One Steve Limit: An Averted Trope, thanks to "Debbie" and "Black Debbie". They Lampshade the fact that "Debbie" is not called "White Debbie" for laughs.
  • Only Sane Man: Quinn. To a lesser degree, Sparks, who is fairly smart but too lazy and greedy to be a responsible employee.
  • Overly Long Gag:
    • "UH-OH", which goes on for what feels like several minutes. Twice. And almost a third time if not for direct intervention. On two separate occasions.
    • "It is... Bizarro!"
  • Political Correctness Gone Mad: "The Policy"
  • Power Glows: "You want some of the glowing?"
  • Precision F-Strike: Subverted in the episode "7211", which is a redub of an episode of the original Sealab 2020, and thus doesn't contain any swearing from the characters. When the Credits Gag comes up, you'd expect the Obligatory Swearing to come up, but all that is said is Captain Murphy going, "Hmmmmmmmm, m'kay."
  • Product Placement: Parodied in some episodes that feature constant and intrusive advertisements for the fictional "Grizzlebee's" restaurant chain.
    • The Bebop Cola episode was revealed at the end to just be a commercial pitch.
  • Promoted Fanboy: mcheshpants420, a member of the Adult Swim message board, who wound up writing "Fusebox" and "Dearly Beloved Seed." It's generally theorized that this is mc chris, one of the writers on the show and the voice of Hesh, simply mocking the fans.
  • Property Line: Parodied in "Let 'Em Eat Corn"
  • Quarter Hour Short
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The replacement of Murphy by Shanks, as noted above.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Squishface
  • Riding the Bomb: Quinn: "Nobody shucks my corn but meeeee!!"
  • Rule of Funny: Justification is for pussies.
  • Running Gag: Sealab blows up. A lot.
  • Sadist Show
  • Scary Surprise Party: "Der Dieb"
  • See You in Hell: Used surprisingly calmly and straight when Captain Murphy realizes that he is about to be murdered by Sparks in "Policy". He then proceeds to bring down Sparks with him. And Sparks even admits to it being a distinct probability. And they do in fact meet in hell.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: "I, Robot" is about Quinn rushing to prevent Sealab's imminent destruction, while literally everyone else is busy talking about the implications of a baboon's brain being successfully transplanted into a robot body. For the record, Murphy would like his robot body to have chainsaw hands.
    • He also wants it to resemble Adrienne Barbeau.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: "Lost in Time" Combined with Groundhog Day Loop in the same episode because, naturally, they kept not setting it right.
  • Shout-Out: Apocalyspe Now. There's a scene that copies the dialog between Kurtz and Willard line for line. Right up until the wet wily. The show has frequent pop culture references, of a more subtle variety than those usually seen on Family Guy or The Simpsons.
  • Snap Back: One of the series' central tropes.
  • Somebody Else's Problem: Parodied in several episodes.
  • Something Completely Different
  • Sound Effect Bleep
  • Spiritual Successor: Frisky Dingo and Archer
  • Subverted Kids Show: Especially in the early episodes.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Captain Shanks.
  • Take Our Word for It: Parodied when Shanks fights a Kraken offscreen in "Neptunati."
  • Take That, Audience!: Captain Shanks' fourth wall-breaking rant against the predicted fan backlash against his character, culminating in "And if you don't like it... you can go watch anime."
  • That Came Out Wrong: Subverted in "Vacation." Marco leaves some tamales outside Quinn's door and tells Debbie that they should leave without bothering him because he'll probably be "busy with that hooker for awhile." Cue Debbie's outraged "WHAT?!? A HOOKER?!??" and several minutes of people going "Uh-oh!" Finally:

Debbie: I can’t believe he’s with a hooker!
Marco: No, no! He’s watching T. J. Hooker.
Debbie: I thought you said he was with a hooker.
Marco: No, he’s watching TJ Hooker. On television.
Marco: (laughs)
Debbie: (laughs)
Marco: (laughs)
Debbie: (laughs)
Marco: (laughs) ... with a prostitute.
Debbie: WHAT!?!


Sparks:How can you worship that guy! He killed a man!
Murphy:Hey, only for revenge! 'Vengeance is mine', quoth Alvis, and then he shot that guy right in the freakin' face!.

    • Celebrated of course with an over-abundance of the traditional gifts of ham, firearms and whiskey.
      • The offices of 7030 are located in Atlanta, which is smack in the Bible Belt. "Alvistide" isn't so far around the bend in some parts of the country.

Do you want the mustache on, or off? Off, please. Too bad.
  1. Subverted, in that there really is a Black Stormy