"Shake power activate! Master is my name, and thirst is what I tame.
"Baffle yourself with flavor!"
-- Master Shake
"The bun is in your mind ...
"... So they gotta use bare hands. They're gonna rip out my eyes and thread an easy-grip handle through the holes. Please, God, kill me."
The Aqua Teen Hunger Force made their conceptual debut as characters on the "Baffler Meal" episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast
However, this version of the Aqua Teens is rather different. First off, they actually behave as though they're a superhero team, or at least attempting to be one. Master Shake is their leader, and he sounds and acts rather like Mooninite Ignignokt. Frylock is a childlike box of rippled fries who ineptly wields an amulet and a fry wedge sword; he has a high-pitched, lispy voice. Meatwad's voice and appearance are quite similar to the version we all know from the show; however, he is depressed and more intelligent than his show counterpart, and his face bears slight but noticeable resemblance to that of Strong Sad from the Homestar Runner cartoons.
All the Aqua Teen voices in "Baffler Meal" were done by Dave Willis, who at the time was a regular Space Ghost Coast to Coast writer and voice artist. Willis soon after co-created and co-wrote the ATHF series with Matt Maiellaro, who also helped write "Baffler Meal".
In the current incarnation of the show, Willis voices Meatwad, Carl, and Ignignokt, while Dana Snyder does Master Shake and Carey Means does Frylock.
"Baffler Meal" opens with an unaired scene of Space Ghost playing with a huge pile of mangled hamburgers at a fast food joint called Burger Trench. Someone hands him his bill, which is over $90. Space Ghost hasn't got the money and demands to see the manager, who is Dave Willis dressed up like an 18th century aristocrat named Colonial Man. The manager says he has a deal for Space Ghost, and threatens to have his head between two steamed buns if he doesn't go along with it.
After the episode opens, we see that the show has been taken over by Master Shake and his group. Space Ghost has, in exchange for letting the Aqua Teens run his show, gotten a houseboat and a really powerful speaker that causes his nose to bleed ("You will receive the second speaker upon the elimination of all hunger," Shake tells him).
We battle hunger with nutritious salt and oil-based weapons. We fight hunger and that is all you need to know, lever man."
-- Master Shake
Space Ghost of course becomes tired of Master Shake's constant talking, and he fatally slaps Shake and blasts Frylock. Moltar kills and eats Meatwad offstage.
The episode ends at a rock club, where Colonial Man and his band are singing the Burger Trench theme song to a rough variation of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog". Space Ghost looks on in horror as he realizes that killing Master Shake has altered the course of classic rock.
It's a demented debut for the Aqua Teens, and it puts their inept superhero roots and the reason for their name into a context that's generally lacking in the TV show. The death of the trio at the hands of Space Ghost and Moltar also foreshadows the tendency of the show to kill off Carl and Shake only to have them return alive and well in the next episode (Carl dies in ATHF almost as often as Kenny dies in South Park).
Aqua Teen: A Brief Review
I started liking Aqua Teen rather against my will. I was spending time at a friend's house, and this friend was quite keen on ATHF. I initially thought it was crude, but soon it grew on me.
The first season of ATHF, like South Park, has fleeting moments of genuine demented brilliance. The second season likewise has some very funny bits, though some episodes are hit and miss.
The third season, sadly, was mostly miss. The last episode I saw left a fairly foul taste in my mouth, and I doubt I'll be watching it again.
Adult Swim staged a publicity prank in 2004 by falsely claiming that ATHF was going to be cancelled; if the new shows continue to be unfunny and icky (and I won't be there to see if they are, one way or another, and I suspect I'm not the only one) then I expect in a year's time the show's cancellation will be no joke.