As one episode states, Squidbillies takes place in “the deepest backwoods buttcrack of Georgia.” I, for my part, have a special connection to that deep backwoods. I’m a Georgian by birth, and a North Georgian more specifically, so I am in the best position to evaluate the content and characters of this weird, Southern-fetishistic show. So here are the best characters from one of Adult Swim’s strangest and most troubled programs.
While his father Early is the prime mover of Squidbillies, Russell is certainly the character we’re supposed to bond with. He’s continually harrowed and abused by his family. He’s taken advantage of, and his desire to bond on an emotional level with literally anyone makes him the vector through which the horrible characters of Squidbillies enact their plots of violence and betrayal. He’s the good times Southern guy who just wants the world to move on along while he makes a little home for himself, and he’s all the more tragic for it.
The Sheriff is, well, the Sheriff of Dougal County. He’s the eternal sad sack of the show, and he chain smokes away the days while dreaming of being a dancer, fitness guru, or other profession. He’s also brutally murdered in many episodes, and he appears good as new in the next one, leading the viewer into thinking that this might be a kind of Kenny-from-South Park ordeal. It isn’t, though, because the Sheriff is part of a massive Dan Halen conspiracy to create a clone army of hybrid Sheriffs grown from cornstalks. Each Sheriff, sad sack that he is, is a new being fed into the grist mill of the show.
Ghost stories are the bread and butter of a Southern upbringing, and nothing is scarier than Hellish Jay. He’s a giant orange monster with a glowing ass that will say he wants to go on vacation with you but gets a refund on the tickets. While Squidbillies is silly through-and-through, Hellish Jay might be the apex of that impulse, and should be celebrated for it.
David Allan Coe is the ringer for an episode of Squidbillies that starts out in the shape of a rags-to-riches tale about line dancing. Eventually it turns to the perennial Georgia problem: drought and what we can do about it. Despite Dan Halen’s attempts to create a water park with spit and wolf urine, it’s clear that water is actually needed. David Allan Coe performs the song of songs for Squidbillies: “Dam Jam.” It’s a rowdy country tune that tells the story of a working man who blows up public infrastructure in order to get rid of a water usage ban. “Rig the detonator!” Coe coos.
Yes, that’s this little squid’s entire name. The product of squidly inbreeding, HWCTDIHDT is the younger, more badass brother of Rusty. Initially assumed to be worthless, this character quickly asserts himself as the “better” brother by shooting the Sheriff, drinking liquor straight from the bottle, and establishing himself as the original Gator Hater. The only episode that Herschel appears in ends with him passing “the test,” which involves throwing Early in front of a train and stealing his hat.
The brutal criminal Ga Ga Peep Pap is Rusty’s grandfather and Early’s dad. He’s the vehicle for two amazing plotlines is his episode of the show: a “con has hidden money” plot and an “Early has daddy issues” plot. The latter generates the amazing line “now you get on back there and tell that man to tell me where that damn money is, but you also tell him that I ignore him the same way he ignored me. Just don’t tell him a damn thing! You go up to him and shut your damn mouth!” Squidbillies is always circling the drain of exploring new genres in a bizarre parody of Lifetime films and Southern stereotypes, and Ga Ga Peep Pap allows them to bring it all with an excellent dusting of Justified. He’s also trained bees to help him escape prison.
Other animated shows use Satan (or the Robot Devil) to make grand commentary about the nature of evil and the history of literary uses of the devil. Squidbillies has a chaotic squidbeing with snakes for arms that sings songs about ramming your corpse through impossibly small holes. While a squidly Jesus also makes appearances on the show, it’s never the treat that it is when a truly evil, weird, monstrous Satan appears to play guitar (because that’s the only thing Satan can do in this truly Southern cosmology).
These guys show up in a single episode of the show, but they have stuck with me constantly since I saw them in that appearance. There’s something really wonderful and true to life about the transplant “bro” who comes to the South and fetishizes Southern culture, and Squidbillies goes the extra mile by taking this as seriously as possible. These guys get addicted to “pine cone liquor,” the horrible concoction Early makes in a still, and they provide a conduit to the massively popular drink GLUG. The episode might be the most nihilistic in the entire series, and it’s a damning condemnation of basically everyone who exists in the contemporary world. And it’s all because of bros.
Squidbillies hinges on Unknown Hinson’s performance as Early Cuyler aka Awesome Bill from Dawsonville. Early is an outlaw with a heart of gold, or alternately, an asshole with a heart that is also, inexplicably, also an asshole. He’s a stalker, a murderer, a thief, and a domestic terrorist. He wears a new hat in most episodes. There’s nothing that should make us like Early, and mainlining many episodes in a row should make you genuinely hate him. In contrast with other shows that have “bad” characters, there’s no core in Early that redeems him. There is no caring soul here. Instead, there is a void that only progresses further and further. The show’s writers plumb the depths of depravity and violence to fuel Early’s plotlines, and it’s honestly shocking what they come up with.
Seemingly immortal and historically associated with the Black Plague, Nazis, medieval torture and more, this furry man-thing is the root of all evil. One of the opening episodes of the series depicts his invention called “The Baby Death Hammock,” which does exactly what it says on the label, and Dan Halen has only become more evil from there. He’s opened gates to hell, created a clone army, and rigged the lottery. He created a pool that’s in the middle of a lake that is, itself, an above-ground pool. He’s also contracted David Allan Coe to mind control Early Cuyler into domestic terrorism. Dan Halen is the pure, unalloyed vector of evil that, no matter how outsized, feels 100% appropriate for a character who represents corporate and political interests in the South.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released last year. It’s available on Steam.