On October 28, 2014, a normal-ish sitcom intro aired on Adult Swim at 4 a.m. Eleven minutes later, the intro was still going and some really fucked up shit had happened. You probably are already humming the song, as it went viral in the days and weeks afterward: Too many cooks are gonna spoil the stew / There ain’t nobody cooking but me and you.
Days afterward, The New Yorker, your trusty source for viral Internet content, mused that “It was a postmodern satire of television and Web culture, a commentary on the power of nostalgia, a glimpse at the violence that lurks within us all.”
That’s a lot of credit to give a viral video, but considering the brief and bright impact of Too Many Cooks (fan recreations, Twitter parody accounts, oral histories, election versions on CNN), it clearly had tapped into something.
Adding yet another layer to the Too Many Cooks story is the sixth episode of Mr. Robot‘s second season, which opened with a 15-minute vintage sitcom starring Elliot, Darlene, their parents, and a surprise appearance by Giddeon and Tyrell.
Mr. Robot is a sum of its influences, built from some sort of algorithmic analysis of the interests on Sam Esmail’s OkCupid profile (most obviously The Matrix, Fight Club, and Anonymous). References to these sources appear—sometimes subtly, sometimes not—in nearly every episode. So too are the parallels between Too Many Cooks and this week’s episode: Lo-fi film. The Mr. Robot title card in the same Too Many Cooks font. The ironically and inappropriately cued canned laughter. The gratuitous violence and absurd plot twists. The breaking of the fourth wall. The length—you think this might last for a minute or two, but it keeps going.
There’s something sinister lurking underneath all of it: In this case, it’s how the last episode concluded, with Elliot getting captured, and Darlene in a pretty shitty situation with the FBI and the Dark Army. But like this entire season, this 15-minute segment is more about style and experimental TV than telling any coherent narrative. As Too Many Cooks was a satire of television and web culture, Mr. Robot‘s sitcom dream sequence foregoes plot (mostly) for the sake of commentary.
“It used to be you could trust in the story, vilify the villains and trust in the heroes … those were the better days,” the Mr. Robot intro sequence preaches. “Imagine a world gone insane / imagine a world numb of pain.”
It’s an absurdist satire, calling back to another absurdist satire speaking to the nature of modern television. But the question is, where does Mr. Robot place itself in the commentary? Is the show the exception to the clinical nature of TV? Or is it, for all its anarchist themes, just another way corporations sedate us?