Aqua Teen Hunger Force was either the dumbest show ever made by smart people, or the smartest show made by dummies—who could tell? Even if later seasons may have waned, as the surreal lunacy of the early years (Ol’ Drippy!) was gradually replaced by a MacFarlane-esque willingness to resort to gross-out gags and puerile offensiveness (Dr. Wongburger, ugh), it never got bad in the same way as, say, certain later seasons of The Simpsons. The chemistry between Snyder, Willis, and Means never diminished, and really, could any show whose main appeal lay in its cultivated stupidity ever err on the side of too much dumb? But it was lapped by generations of strange shows for whom Aqua Teen Hunger Force was itself an influence, and for whom the original excitement of Coast To Coast was, at best, a distant memory.
Try as they may, however, the absurd high concept of talking fast-food people has never been matched. Perhaps it never will be. As Frylock, Master Shake, and Meatwad ride off into the sunset one last time (the show has been canceled before, after all, we’ll see if it sticks), they leave a TV landscape that was, if not directly shaped, at least midwifed by their success. You can draw a direct line from The Simpsons, Coast To Coast, and the Aqua Teens through toBob’s Burgers, Too Many Cooks, Archer, Adventure Time—and yes, everything Seth MacFarlane has ever done, for better or for worse.