Ronald Reagan, Boy George, the ascendancy of Michael Jackson...let's face it. The ‘80s were really, really weird. And nowhere was it weirder than in children's entertainment. Don't believe us? Check out these six episodes from the golden age of half-hour long toy commercials.
Source: Sunbow Productions
By Dan Seitz
6. The Bionic Six Were Meta Before Meta Was Cool
You probably don't remember the Bionic Six, but that's okay. It was the ‘80s, and there were hundreds of cartoons to sell action figures. The only reason we're dredging it out is the truly bizarre series finale.
The basic plot is the Bionic Six and their villainous counterparts get sucked into a cartoon dimension, chasing after an old-time animator who decided to pull a Cartman and went home...to an alternate dimension. The entire episode is an out-of-nowhere Looney Tunes tribute, chock full of the kind of pop culture gags you expect to see on Animaniacs or something that isn‘t pushing plastic held together with rubber bands. The punchline, though, is the final scene, where the show flirts with hipster irony:
It's like they knew metahumor would become the trendy thing, twenty years later. But there's no way they could know that! It's not like they had time machines in the ‘80s! Right?
5. Reefer Madness Starring The Autobots
Being mechanical devices, the Autobots can't do drugs. After all, getting high is an organic chemical reaction, and there's nothing organic about the Transformers. No lungs to inhale weed, no nostrils to do coke, no stomach to digest ‘shr -- oh, wait, no, they did do ‘shrooms:
In "The Return of Optimus Prime," we meet a crazed professor and his daughter. We know he's crazed because, in a galaxy where robots are everywhere and do borderline suicidal things all the time, he decides to test to see if his new spaceship can survive a supernova by taking it for a test drive into one, and bringing his daughter. After dear old dad learns the Autobots are helping his daughter walk again with the help of motorized tighty-whities, he decides enough is enough and unleashes some spores he found that make "any sentient being" violent. Even robots. See for yourself:
By the way, this was written by Marv Wolfman. He created Blade. Further proof every artist has his off days.
Among the things Wolfman doesn't explain: how these spores could "infect' robots, why they make the Autobots blow the crap out of everything, and just where the writing staff were getting what was obviously some primo cheeb.
4. The Smurfs Go Romero On Your Ass
We won't belabor just how weird the Smurfs actually were. Little blue shirtless men with tails living in mushrooms together should seem pretty strange to you, unless you live in San Francisco.
We also all know the plot of zombie movies. One bites a human, who bites another, etc., until our heroes are besieged in a small locale that can easily be faked on a sound stage, looking for a way out.
That's also the plot description of "The Purple Smurfs." One Smurf is bitten by a fly, turns purple, and suddenly is only able to hop around, saying "GNAP!" and biting other Smurfs on the ass.
From that one zombie Smurf, of course, a horde of zombie Smurfs are born. No, we're not kidding. Purple Smurfs eventually overrun the village, infecting everyone but Papa Smurf, who they corner in his house, when another purple Smurf waits, ready to bite Papa Smurf's tail and leave the Smurf village a desolate, lifeless place, echoing with the sounds of "GNAP!!!"
Sadly, they go for a deus ex machina and the happy ending with a pretty butterfly instead of the awesome next episode they should have done, "Gargamel Under Siege." Gargamel could kill his beloved pet, and then blow himself up to save the Snorks or something. You were so close to an Emmy, Smurfs. So...close.
3. Bravestarr Wants You To Know Just How Bad Drugs Can Get
Being the '80s, and also being that there were laws on the books saying children's programming had to have some sort of educational pretense, there were a lot of anti-drug episodes. Every show had them, but they were usually pretty innocuous. Kids nearly get trapped in the addiction death spiral by a shady drug dealer, but are rescued at the last minute by the hero.
Bravestarr, which was basically cowboys and aliens on steroids, decided that as obvious as the moral was to kids, anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Hence, when they had the episode about the drug "spin" and how drugs were bad. How bad? Bad enough to punch one of the kid's tickets:
Yes, you just saw a kid climb up into a treehouse, see his friend dead on the floor of an overdose, and faint into the arms of an anthropomorphic horse. This is after he spends the entire episode wondering whether he should sell his friend down the river for buying drugs from a wolf in a pimp suit. We're going to guess that if your drug dealer looks like a wolf in a pimp suit, and you take the drugs anyway, you get what you deserve.
2. Mr. Megatron Goes to Libya
Back in the ‘80s, everybody was scared of Libya. They blew up airplanes, they funded terrorists, they stole your newspaper, Libya was everywhere. So, the writers of Transformers, once again dipping into the stash, decided they were going to make this cartoon series aimed at children all political.
To a point, it makes sense. The Transformers convert fossil fuels into Energon, so a visit to the Middle East was kind of inevitable. What doesn't make sense is why they decided to subtly name the terrorist nation the Transformers visited "Carbombya."
No, we're not kidding. It's named "Carbombya." They don't even bother to disguise the pronunciation at all. It really is pronounced "Car Bomb Ya". The capital city that we see has, apparently, 4,000 people and 10,000 camels, which tells you that the sensitive ethnic portrayals will just keep coming. And do they ever!
We actually spared you the worst of it, although you can probably guess just how racist it gets from there. About the only race gag they don't hit is Bumblebee asking somebody why he's wearing that towel like a hat.
Unsurprisingly, Casey Kasem, who in addition to being the voice of Shaggy and Scooby is a Lebanese-American, got just a wee bit offended and quit the show over this.
1. Cobra Raises Money with Hair Metal
It's really hard to pick out just one insane plot from G.I. Joe. We're pretty sure that once the writing staff ran out of doomsday weapon ideas, they just looked at each other, realized that nobody at Corporate cared what they wrote as long as it featured at least three new toy ideas, and then decided to see just how far they could push it.
So Cobra tried to take over the world with chewing gum, with telethons, by starting the Cobra News Network, basically with whatever was on the cover of the nearest newspaper or in the writing staff's pockets. But nothing quite tops their attempt to turn public opinion against G.I. Joe, and once again try and become solvent, with hair metal:
Yes, that would be "Cold Slither" you're watching. The idea was that Cobra needed cash and recruits, so they inserted mind control messages into hair metal songs to both enslave humanity and pack those Cobra job fairs. Needless to say, it didn't work. Then again, this is the same organization that thought sending out a computer virus would cost them five billion dollars, so we probably shouldn't be surprised.