Initial Impressions: Sam and Max 301: The Penal Zone
TV has become stale with chronological trickery. You know the trope: an episode starts right in the middle of a hostage stand-off. The hero is pointing a gun at someone you thought was an ally, who is, in turn, forcefully restraining a woman you thought was an enemy. The world is upside down and you have no idea why. Then, up comes the black screen and letters reading "24 hours earlier..."
Unfortunately for TV land, that device has been used to exhaustion, such that its shock value is almost on empty. Video games, however, remain virgin ground for such story-telling mechanisms. Enter Sam and Max Season 3, Episode 1: The Penal Zone. I have never seen the above device used for such hilarity before. You start at the end of the story, trapped on the big baddie's hovering space ship while he blows apart the city, leaving the no-nonsense dog and psychotic rabbit crime fighters helpless as they watch from inside a cage. The fourth wall comes tumbling down as Sam (the dog) says to his partner Max (the rabbit), "I still can't quite understand how we got into this predicament." "Don't worry," responds Max, "I'm sure once we see everything in order it will make sense."
I'd be freaked, too, if I was about to be swallowed by a big purple anus.
Quick throwaway lines like "Hey it's our new friend the disembodied, telepathic, alien brain in a jar!" serve to further call attention to the hilarious non-sequitur that is the flashforward, flashback method. And in one last moment of genius, we are finally shown how Max came across his newly introduced super powers. It's a big plot point and deserves a satisfying flashback. As it turns out, Max walks down an alley, picks up toy viewfinder, speaks some spooky, cryptic line about his brain, and bam, the narrarator cuts in to tell us, the audience, that we now know why Max is psychic. It last all of 45 seconds and is brilliant in its brevity. Satisfying, indeed.