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A Look Back At HBO's Crashbox

Posted 1/26/2023

When I was about 5 years old (maybe younger or older, I really can't remember. definitely single digits), I watched the show Crashbox on HBO Family's Jam programming blocks. I was a very sensitive child, and a lot of things made me upset for whatever reason. Crashbox was very good at making me upset, but I was FASCINATED by the show and would watch it even if half the segments in any given episode would make me cry.

Here's a link to the entire first episode on YouTube, if you want to "read along" or just take a look at what I'm talking about. Not all the segments appear in every episode, and it takes until the fourth episode for all the possible segments to have been shown (all of them are available on YouTube, and will probably show up in your suggestions in order). These are listed in the order they appear in from the first to the fourth episode, without repeating segments that are repeated in the show since I just do a summary of my thoughts on each one.

It already starts at the beginning of each episode. The show is IMMEDIATELY intense as hell, and after a loud crashing noise of a computer falling onto a sleeping brain, a smarmy voice says "Well, now that we got your attention," and for some reason I took that as a personal insult. I was already paying attention! You didn't have to do that! I wanted to watch your show, don't act like I don't!

I was fascinated by the stop-motion robot animation segments that acted as bumpers between the main "games," and they were one of the few things that didn't upset me, even when the robots were rude to each other. Really, fourth-wall-breaking upset me more than anything else a lot of the time, and this show did a LOT of it - many segment hosts acted very familiar with the viewer, like a friend or “cool” teacher. This upset me greatly for some reason, and escalated to fear when the hosts used a friendly/joking rudeness that neurotypicals often use with each other, but that I had a very hard time identifying as anything but purely mean-spirited.

Distraction News didn't really bother me much. It stressed me out a little bit because I've always had auditory processing issues, but I already knew most of the facts in each version of the segment so I was able to be proud of myself for acing the little tests at the end anyway. I liked the host because I thought she looked like my aunt, who was my dance teacher at the time, and the character wasn't overtly antagonistic - it was the world around her that was overwhelming. I also enjoyed the paper cutout look of the graphics in this segment.

Sketch Pad was one of the ones I really liked. I loved the art style, and the host was calm enough for baby Lucas's high-strung, easily-overwhelmed self. The very concept of the segment was frustrating for me, because I didn't like not knowing what was going on, but it was very straightforward about the fact that it wasn't giving you all the details, so I usually just watched to see what was going to happen. My autism and lack of knowledge of a lot of "common sense" and social things meant I couldn't really figure out the puzzles before the host explained them anyway, and I liked how he went through possible things one may have thought before he gave the real answer. It gave me a little more insight as to how “normal people” thought.

Psycho Math was mostly just visually interesting to me. I loved the art style, as it was pretty close to the robot bumper segments. The professor's constant motion and loud voice overwhelmed me quite a bit, but I liked how he looked. I didn't get a lot of his references (unlucky numbers, baseball innings, etc.) so I wasn't really able to follow along with the problems, and I didn't know how to do addition/subtraction of larger numbers than single digits, let alone division or multiplication, anyway. It was another one of those segments that I mostly just watched for the fun graphics. The short time limits he set (and general fast pace of the segment) would stress me out if I was actually trying to solve the problem, but I rarely was anyway.

Ear We Are scared me mostly because I didn't like how the ears looked. They were far too pink and moved too much, so they reminded me more of internal organs than ears. I really didn't like the one with the earring, because I didn't like its voice and I also thought the earring was not an earring and instead some kind of awful discharge. I already had a hard time with audio processing, and the sounds played in this segment were purposely vague, with that weird element of not telling the viewer everything that many “brain teasing” shows really like to use. It felt unfair, as there was just no way for me to understand what was being talked about. Some of that was due to me not having context, though: this was another one of those segments that was definitely flying over my head and an example of me not being the target age group for this show, similar to Psycho Math. Whoops.

Haunted House Party was...a special case. I was a Jehovah's Witness and therefore trained to believe that ghosts and spirits were fake stories but also stories made up by Satan, I guess? I wasn't scared of ghosts - I was scared of stereotypically spooky Halloween-y stuff because I saw it as Forbidden. I literally thought if I watched anything with that sort of stuff in it, I would be punished and Satan would be let into my heart. It was weird. The actual segment was yet another one to fly over my head, because I didn't know shit about history and I think this was before I read/watched Time Warp Trio (a special interest of kid Lucas that I would love to do a write-up on someday). It was endlessly confusing for me, and I usually just tuned it out once I learned that my parents wouldn't yell at me for it existing as part of the show I was watching.

Eddie Bull was...disturbing to me in its cartoonishness. The intro of the segment was fun because I loved animals, but the chaotic music sounded incredibly sinister to me - the whole setup was supposed to be a morbid joke about a keeper getting eaten by animals, but I didn't really get that as a joke and I just felt that there was something Wrong that I wasn't understanding. The visuals inside the animals' bodies worried me, because I knew that was not what the inside of anything's body looked like, and I never knew what to parse the little floating things as. They reminded me of chunks of vomit. The fact that it all appeared to be clay stressed me out for some reason and I'm not sure why. The segment was incredibly mediocre to me because I LOVED animals and these bits were always very short with only some basic facts about a single animal - and a lot of them were herbivores, so I didn't get why they ate the host at the beginning. I also didn't get why he wasn't chewed up, or why he seemed to be unharmed at the end when he had just gone through a digestive system. Hilariously, this segment just was not realistic enough for baby Lucas's tastes.

10 Seconds stressed me out because it was timed, and it was hard for me to understand because I didn't know a lot of idioms and took everything very literally. I really don't have much of an opinion on this one, because I just didn't get it. It was also a little too loud and fast-paced for me.

Riddle Snake was fun because the main character was a snake. I liked snakes. I wasn't fully able to process the irony of the snake charming a human from a basket, but I liked the human's design as well. The segment was calm, so I didn't really have any problems with it, but I didn't really understand it for reasons similar to a lot of the wordplay-centric segments on this show. I was just too literal of a kid to get them. I very distinctly remember asking my dad what on earth most of the riddle answers were supposed to mean.

Radio Scramble was a favorite of mine, because jumbled words were HILARIOUS to me and the scrambled version of the host's name at the beginning and end of the segment made me laugh very hard every time. Many of the puzzles flew over my head because of my lack of general world knowledge, but I liked words and had fun trying my best to solve them. I adored the design of the host and segment's setting, and I still really love it.

Captain Bones was one of my least favorites, however. The fact that the host was a skeleton didn't bother me, because it was pirate-themed and where I grew up there was a lot of that stuff. I enjoyed the setting and the animation, but that's where my enjoyment stopped. Fun fact about me: I scored so low in "nonverbal reasoning" on standardized tests that I was almost put into different classes, but my reading skills were so high they ignored them. Hmm. Anyway, these puzzles were all about that nonverbal reasoning, and they stressed me out to no end. The host was outright aggressive to the viewer, and incredibly impatient. Due to the format of the show being, well, a show, and not an interactive game, he would always have to "step in and help" the viewer, which he made very clear that he hated doing and thought the viewer was stupid. Baby Lucas did not like his intelligence being insulted or proven to be lesser than the genius he was constantly told he was supposed to be, but that's kind of the fault of the parents and education system for insisting "smartness" is an inherent trait and not something that can be cultivated and learned. These segments always made me feel horrible about myself, because I usually didn't ever manage to solve them, no matter how hard I would try, and the host hated me for it. I took people's opinions of me very seriously, even if they were fictional characters.

Poop or Scoop was centered around animals, which of course I loved. The host was a disembodied hand and voice, and I really enjoyed that. It covered several animals instead of just one like Eddie Bull, and since it wasn’t about guessing a particular animal, there could be some really weird and specific ones, which I loved. When I got a fact wrong, I would actually enjoy the fact that I was learning more (though I would get upset if I had said it out loud and gotten it wrong). My only real issue with this segment was the toilet-humor edge to it. I didn't really hate it, but I didn't really find it funny, and my mom hated it. My dad thought it was funny, though, so it evened out. All I really cared about was the animal facts.

Revolting Slob was very specifically intended to be incredibly gross. It succeeded at that. I actually liked the game, because I liked words, but there were a lot of noises that triggered my misophonia, and visuals that stressed me out a lot because of the dirtiness. I was very disturbed by the Slob exploding at the end of the segment, and I still don't really know why they did that, honestly. Funnily enough, I didn't realize the Revolting Slob was actually saying words in English and not just shouting gibberish until watching the show while writing this.

Wordshake was fun for me because I was already accustomed to listening to people with European accents, even the silly fake French one. The exaggerated acting of the human host was very funny to me, and I liked to imitate him. I wasn't particularly good at figuring out the puzzles before they were revealed, but I always loved the experience of seeing what the solutions were, especially because the host always seemed about as excited about it as I was. Fun fact about this one: my younger sibling had an “imaginary friend” based off the host of this segment. They used their hand to “speak” as a chef named Fizzy, who spoke in a mock italian accent and made non-food dishes using words my sibling found entertaining. They were a literal baby when I was watching this show, but I think I showed it to them later or they just watched it on their own, since Jam didn’t go away until 2015.

Mug Shots was a particularly interesting one. I really liked mysteries as a kid, and I liked that the host was a serious female detective. I really liked picking out the discrepancies in the stories, especially because I knew a lot of words and their definitions - I was good when it was simple definitions, but when there was more context needed, I was kinda lost. I liked learning the actual context, though, and I liked the idea of busting someone for lying. There was always a feeling of “winning” in this game, and I liked it.

Paige and Saige was a favorite of my mom's - it made her feel nostalgic, and she's always loved spot-the-difference games. I, however, was completely neutral on this segment as a kid. I don't even remember liking or disliking any aspects of it, honestly. It was what it was.

Think Tank entertained me because I liked that it took place in a fish tank. Reggae music made me think of my aforementioned dance teacher aunt, since she always played it for our warm-ups. I liked trying to use my creativity to guess the similarities between the items, and even if I didn't get the "correct" solution I liked to see what it was compared to my idea. It was like a more Lucas-friendly version of the other riddle/wordplay games like 10 Seconds and Riddle Snake.

Dirty Pictures was entertaining because I loved seeing things being cleaned, and the cleaning lady that acted as a host reminded me of my grandmother on a good day. I liked the secondary host that held up the signs, too, but I didn't really understand the signs as they used references I didn’t understand...or the puzzles as I didn't really know artists. Kind of similar to Haunted House Party in my lack of knowledge, but much more fun for me to actually watch. When I was a kid, I really liked animation that didn't use speech, and this segment was a nice break from the often loud, overwhelming vocals present in the rest of the show.

Lens McCracken had that mystery element I liked, but it had the "missing information" aspect of Sketch Pad with less of a direct disclaimer. The hints were all wordplay that I did not understand, and the close-up images were so devoid of context that I couldn’t get them and the hints meant nothing to me. The stories that the host made out of the pictures were always totally outlandish, and looking back on it that may have been intended to make the host look like an overconfident braggart who didn't actually know anything. Who knows. I was always incredibly annoyed by this one, because it had elements of other segments I enjoyed, but I didn't like this one at all. I liked the art style a lot, though. The "Solution-ator" computer is still a great design.

That's all the individual segments. I liked aspects of many of them, but it was not a show intended for people like me, in many ways. For one, I was way too young to be the actual target audience. It was also intended to be an educational show for kids who didn't want to be educated, who wanted to be "cool" or just have fun with games and who shied away from anything labeled with "learning." I was honestly the opposite - especially as a young kid, I strongly preferred nonfiction to anything else. I would have my dad read me pages from my children's encyclopedia instead of bedtime stories. I didn't need loud, in-your-face games to get me to learn, and they just overwhelmed me more than anything. Crashbox is a great show. I’m glad it was able to get to kids who may not have wanted to be Educated in the traditional way, and it taught stuff in a way that was objectively really fun. It was incredibly weird, but that's a compliment. I bet it was really fun to work on, and it had such a varied yet distinct art style direction that still holds up to this day. Maybe I shouldn't have watched it as an autistic crybaby preschooler, though.

Note: this article was originally written on August 11, 2020.