Stop-motion animation used to be the province of smiley claymates like Davey and Goliath. But in Seth Green's twisted new sketch-a-minute pop-culture parody, Robot Chicken (premiering Feb. 20 at 11:30 p.m. during the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block), the Gumby science is used for evil, not good. Some examples: A Transformer action figure gets a prostate exam, a man cold-cocks a baby on a reality show called World's Most One-Sided Fistfights, and Captain Kirk's privates get slammed between the Starship Enterprise's pneumatic doors. ''You'll hear a lot of 'Wow, that's wrong,''' says actor-turned-wicked puppet master Green (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). ''But it's undeniably funny.'' Somewhere, Wallace and Gromit cower in fear.
Robot's weekly 11-minute episodes are a speedy pastiche of random gags and pop-culture send-ups ''ADD TV,'' as Green's producing partner, Matthew Senreich, calls it. (The title, borrowed from a Chinese food entrée the creators ate while writing the show, was a last-minute suggestion when the network rejected such ideas as The No-No Place and Junk in the Trunk.) While of-the-moment references, like the MTV take-off Pimp My Sister, occasionally pop up, most of the gags come from the creators' undying obsession with the entertainment of their youth: the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica, Fisher-Price peg people, and the Honeycomb cereal monster, to name a few trashed icons. ''It's pitch-perfect nostalgia refiltered,'' says Adult Swim head Mike Lazzo. ''What was deadly serious to us at 8 [years old] is pretty hilarious 20 years later.''
To giddily punk their childhoods, Green and Senreich assembled a Satan's toy shop in Santa Monica. There, 15 animators move eight-inch figurines that a team of doll makers create by digging into boxes of doll limbs and yanking the heads off of old Happy Days, Star Wars, and Mr. T action figures. ''We have a budget that rivals any [toy] collector's,'' says Green, ''so we can track down anything we need.'' As for the voices, Green, who's spent three years speaking for Family Guy's Chris Griffin, performs many of them himself and recruits friends and former costars, like Macaulay Culkin (Party Monster) and Burt Reynolds (Without a Paddle), to do others. But he's not above bowing down in order to land retro idols that he's never met. ''I was on the phone with Don Knotts' manager yesterday,'' says Green. ''I tried to explain that Don is a hero and legend to everybody here, and will be treated as such.'' Is that what he told the Transformer?