I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey. Let’s go back in time to the 1980s. It was a time of neon and pop music, of big hair and big egos, of memorable if lamentable fashion choices, when MTV still actually had something to do with music, and kids came home from school to watch cartoons all afternoon. I’ve already commented upon many such shows, and now here’s another. In the harmful tradition of gendered marketing, this is about a show to sell dolls that was aimed squarely at little girls who worshiped Madonna (the singer) and dressed like Cyndi Lauper – Jem.
or, “Further Looting of my Childhood for Profit”
or, “And Not Even Good Looting at That”
or, “It’s Not Even as Good as Transformers!”
or, “But at Least There was No Stuttering”
or, “And I Could See What was Going On”
or, “But the Title Indicates a Sequel Will Be Produced!”
or, “Because We Really Need More Stupid Movies Based on ’80s Cartoons”
[[the movie starts with some backstory about the original Destro, who was a weapons dealing Scotsman in the 1600s who got caught and had his face sealed in a white-hot metal mask that totally didn’t kill him; the movie assures us this will be important later]]
McCullen – Okay, so I’ve developed this nanotechnology and made nano-tech warheads which needs to NATO. I’m assuming the U.S. Army is capable of this delivery service?
Duke – Absolutely. What could go wrong?
McCullen – Aren’t you supposed to sound kind of like John Wayne? Or at least try to have a Southern accent or something?
Duke – Yeah, like kids these days know who the hell John Wayne is.
McCullen – And your partner is a Wayans brother!
Ripcord – You got a problem with that?
McCullen – I’m beginning to re-think giving up the role of the Doctor so I could act in movies. I really don’t have a record of picking good ones here…
Duke – Ambush? Wait, what?
[[Mysterious hi-tech mercenary terrorists ambush convoy with extremely advanced weaponry; things go poorly for the soldiers]]
Duke – Hey, I know the hot brunette in the tight outfit! What’s she doing here?
Ripcord – Dude, focus! We’re totally getting killed here!
[[Different mysterious hi-tech mercenary-types ambush the ambush with extremely advanced weaponry and manage to drive away the first group and save the nano-tech warheads]]
Mysterious Redhead – Give us the case.
Duke – Um, no. I’m grateful you chased away that first group that was trying to take the case, but that doesn’t mean you’re the good guys, so I’m keeping this and will deliver it NATO as planned.
Mysterious Redhead – Fine, we’ll take you to our super-secret headquarters and explain to you why you should give us the case.
Duke – Yeah, because that’s totally what good guys do – kidnap soldiers.
Secret MARS Lair:
McCullen – Damnit, Baroness, you were supposed to steal the case of weapons so your stupid husband could weaponize them for me.
Baroness (hologram) – My husband happens to be brilliant and how is he supposed to weaponize something you already made as weapons?
McCullen – Just go with it. Now, I’m going to send Storm Shadow with you, who despite his fashionable metrosexual appearance is actually a ninja. I don’t like your husband and will kill him as soon as he his no longer useful to us. And then we’ll go on a date.
Baroness (hologram) – That is so creepy and romantic.
McCullen – Just get the case back! [[hangs up hologram]] Hello, scientist I am not naming because that is in no way an important clue, how goes your research? What are you doing again anyway?
Mysterious Scientist with a Respirator – I’m utilizing venom from cobrasss to make all sssortsss of biochemical weapons, including sssteroids, ssshapessshifting, and mind control.
McCullen – That’s cool.
[[The Baroness and her cleavage make a brief appearance at a party to tell the audience her husband’s name is Baron DeCobray because this movie has all the subtlety of an exploding truck]]
Ripcord – Could someone please explain what the hell is going here? Maybe, you, the mysterious redhead with the gun-crossbow thing?
General Hawk – That’s Scarlett, the ninja is Snake Eyes, who doesn’t talk, and the big guy is Heavy Duty. We’re a super-secret para-military force called the G.I. Joes. Thank you for not dying like everyone else and protecting the warheads. We’ll take these to NATO now and take you to the nearest Army base where believe me you are going to have a lot of paperwork to fill out.
Duke – I know the brunette who was leading the raid.
Hawk – Wait, what? You know the Baroness?
Duke – I didn’t know she was a Baroness, but I knew her four years ago or so and she was a blonde then. We were engaged; her brother was under my command. He was killed in a raid and she disappeared.
Hawk – Well, that’s an important piece of intelligence which for some reason is enough for me to allow you to take the G.I. Joe training and see if you have what it takes to serve with us.
Ripcord – That sounds like a grueling and time-consuming training regimen. Do we really have that much time?
Scarlett – It’s only one night.
Duke – Seriously?
[[Seriously; after just one night of various physical tests and shooting tests, they pass with the best scores ever and are made full Joes]]
Scarlett – You beat my record!
Ripcord – So?
Scarlett – I’m a perfectionist with daddy issues and that really bothers me!
Ripcord – Really? That’s where the movie is going with this? Why can’t you just be a totally kick-ass redhead in a tight outfit without the burden of a stupid backstory that doesn’t make any sense and no one cares about?
Scarlett – To prove this isn’t a mindless summer blockbuster?
Ripcord – Well, I’m not going to complain too much since it looks like we’re totally going to get together in this movie.
Duke – Hey, I thought Scarlett hooked up with me in the show!
Ripcord – Dude, you’ve got some weird love story with the Baroness. Give me a break, already!
The Pit, Later:
[[The mysterious hi-tech mercenary terrorists who are never named as Cobra but I’m not going to keep typing out “mysterious hi-tech mercenary terrorists” when we all know they’re Cobra find the secret base via tracking device in the weapons case and use giant drill-machines to drill right into the Pit]]
Baroness – Wow, I would have thought such a hi-tech facility would have some sort of perimeter alarm.
Storm Shadow – That’s why we went through the walls.
Baroness – True, but shouldn’t there still be some kind of alarm because the walls have been breached and may be unstable? Also, why aren’t there any cameras or any sort of security at all?
Storm Shadow – Just go with it. Although I hope I run into someone because I need to prove I’m actually a ninja, damn it!
[[Eventually the Joes realize their base is being invaded and try to stop Cobra from getting the warheads; Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes get into a fight which prompts a flash back]]
Flash Back, Asia Somewhere:
Li’l Storm Shadow – Hey! Homeless white kid! You can’t just steal food because you’re starving! I’m going to try to kill you now!
[[Li’l Storm Shadow does try to kill Li’l Snake Eyes until the sensai comes in and breaks things up]]
Sensai – Li’l Storm Shadow, you should be nicer. I’ll take in the little mute boy and train him to be a ninja just like you. You’ll have a friend. Won’t that be nice?
Li’l Storm Shadow – I am totally going to kill you for this.
[[Li’l Storm Shadow totally kills his sensai which Li’l Snake Eyes witnesses, leading him to say the only word he ever says in the movie]]
The Pit, Again:
Storm Shadow – Wow, that establishes me as a homicidal maniac from a young age and establishes why you don’t speak. This is also by far the most interesting story in the movie. Have you got those warheads yet?
Duke – Ana, wait, no!
Baroness – Yep, although it would be nice if this blond guy I totally don’t know would quit calling me by a name I clearly don’t recognize.
Ripcord – How did they even find us? This base is supposed to be secret! It’s like they had a tracking device or something totally obvious like that!
[[Cobra heads on out with the nano-tech warheads; the Baron weaponizes the weapons as expected and then Storm Shadow kills him; then Cobra threatens to destroy Paris; presumably afterwards McCullen will take the Baroness out to dinner and a movie (but not in Paris, clearly)]]
Heavy Duty – Could anyone explain to me why the new guys are the only ones that get power armor here? This seems really unfair.
Duke – Yeah, I know, because this is totally awesome! Let’s fight!
[[Cobra and the Joes fight and the Joes seem oddly unconcerned with death of innocent bystanders or property destruction, but it doesn’t matter because Cobra unleashes the nanobot things which destroys the Eiffel Tower and then they escape, capturing Duke in the process and the rest of the Joes are arrested for terrorism; on the bright side, the Joes manage to put two and two together and come up with McCullen as the guy who lead Cobra right to them]]
Cobra Arctic Lair Set, Lab:
Duke – Oh, man. Hey, who are you creepy guy with the face mask and where’s the Baroness?
Mysterious Scientist with Respirator – You don’t recognize me? And you can’t see the totally obviousss plot twissst?
Duke – Um, yeah, no, I got nothing.
Mysterious Scientist with Respirator – Maybe a brief flashback will help.
Flashback 2, the Doomed Raid:
Duke – Okay, Rex, I need you to go inside that bunker where it’s safe!
Rex – No problem! [[does so]]
[[Random and poorly understood violence happens and despite Duke’s best efforts, the bunker is blown to pieces]]
Duke – Oh, no! My fiancee’s little brother has been killed on my watch! She’ll never forgive me!
Cobra Arctic Lair Set, Lab:
Duke – I knew that part. Wait, unless Rex didn’t actually die, and you’re actually Rex!
Rex – You’re not much of a thinker, are you?
Duke – But why are you evil?
Rex – Oh, it’s turnsss out there was thisss guy called Doctor Mindbinder trapped in the bunker with me after the explosion. He turned me to evil and helped me keep me alive until I could get this ressspirator.
Duke – That actually makes sense. I mean, how could you not end up evil when you were trapped with some guy called Doctor Mindbender?
[[Rex leaves briefly and the Baroness sneaks into the lab to free Duke]]
Duke – Ana! I thought you didn’t remember who you were!
Baroness – Yeah, well, seeing you brought back memories, so I’m getting you out of here.
Rex – Hey! You can’t do that! I injected you with mind control nanobots!
Baroness – You what! You little brat! I’m going smack you so hard our mother’s going to feel it… [[Rex causes her to faint]]
Duke – Dude, that’s your sister!
Rex – What part of me being evil don’t you get? Now, I’ll do horrible things to you!
Duke – Or the Joes will come rescue me.
Rex – Yeah, like that’s going to …[[cue explosion]] I hate you.
[[The Joes, who followed Duke through a poorly explained plot device, I mean, tracking signal, go to bust up the base, but Cobra launches a bunch of missiles to destroy major cities]]
Ripcord – We’ll have to blow up the missiles in mid-air! Luckily I am a highly trained pilot and can do that!
Duke – I’m going to rescue my financee!
McCullen – She’s my girl whether she likes or not! [[tries to kill Duke but ends up with horrible burns on his face, causing him to flee]]
Storm Shadow – And I’m going to fight my nemesis again! [[he fights Snake Eyes, who ends up stabbing him and dumping him in the frigid Arctic waters so he’s probably dead, but then again, maybe not]]
McCullen – Oh my face!
Rex – I’ll fix it. [[injects him with nano-bots, which turns his face into metal]]
McCullen – You jerk! You didn’t have to make my face all metal like my evil ancestor!
Rex – Yeah, that’ssss true, but I am evil. You can call me Cobra Commander and I’m going to call you Dessstro!
McCullen – Whatever.
[[the Joes blow the joint and manage to capture the fleeing Cobra while Ripcord takes out the missiles]]
Duke – So, we win, right? I get the girl, Ripcord gets a girl, and Cobra’s in custody.
Zartan – Sure, except that the whole missile thing was a ruse so I could shapeshift and take the place of the President of the United States.
Duke – Well, it doesn’t matter. We’ll just defeat you in the sequel. Yo Joe!
This is one of those shows that I watched when I was younger (I realize I may be showing my age) without realizing how terrible it really was. Later, in re-runs, I came to that realization in spades. “Saved by the Bell” actually started as a show called, “Good Morning Miss Bliss,” which focused on a middle school teacher in the Midwest and the wacky kids she was teaching. The characters of Zack Morris and Samuel “Screech” Powers were part of the cast. For whatever reason, the show was re-tooled in the next season to star a bunch of high school kids at a trendy California high school called Bayside. Zack and Screech made the jump to the next series, which is what most people remember. There was also a short run in college which didn’t last very long for various reasons (mostly that it was even worse than the high school series).
The show featured mainly the following characters:
Zack Morris– he’s the preppie kid who could do the work required of him if he applied himself to it but prefers to think of crazy schemes to get out of the work, which of course end up more work than just doing the work straight out.
Albert Clifford “AC” Slater – a token hispanic minority and dumb jock wrestler. In the beginning he did not like Zack and even after they become friends he often competes with Zack (even disparagingly calling him “preppie” [which, in fairness, he was]).
Samuel “Screech” Powers – the spastic scapegoat of the group whom one assumes is allowed to hang out with the obviously cooler kids for reasons that are never actually explained.
Jessica “Jesse” Spano– the tall, gangly smart girl who is in fact Zack’s longtime friend.
Lisa Tuttle – the cool, token black minority girly-girl more concerned with popularity than grades.
Kelly Kapowski – the new, peppy girl that Zach and AC spend a lot of time competing over.
Mr. Belding – the hapless, clueless but well-meaning principal.
Most of the adventures start with the trite plot hooks that almost all high school sitcoms have – interschool contests or intraschool contests being the biggest. The wacky hijacks start when Zack (who is the main character among main characters) comes up with a crazy scheme to get the prize/girl/whatever. Zack is even allowed to break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience. Screech is either the willing but incompetent or the easily manipulated minion who can be counted on in both cases to say or do the wrong thing at the wrong moment and jeopardize Zack’s plan. AC and the girls, especially Jesse, are either in on the plan or trying to foil Zack’s plan. Mr. Belding was almost always being bypassed or otherwise manipulated in these schemes. As the series went on, Zack’s crazy schemes became a little less about what he wanted and a little more about his misguided attempts to help out his friends. The writers also started putting in more obvious moral messages (don’t do drugs, stay in school, etc.). Eventually Zack starts dating Kelly, AC starts dating Jesse although it’s obviously a bad match and they do nothing but fight, and Screech pines for Lisa, who is well aware of Screech’s feelings but won’t go out with a spastic moron.
Good points – Zack and Jesse have an established history as childhood friends. And this is one of the few shows I’ve seen in which a pair with this history does not end up dating. There is an episode in which they land lead roles in the school play that has a kissing scene, leading them to reconsider the standing of their friendship and of course leading to dramatic misunderstandings with AC and Kelly, whom they are dating at the time. But ultimately they decide they are just good friends, and all is resolved happily. Screech obviously pines for Lisa and ineptly tries to win her over, and Lisa does take advantage of his affection while berating him for his futile efforts, but she does not ever go out with him. She occasionally is nice to him, but again this is one of the few shows I’ve seen where this pair of stereotypes (beauty and the geek) do not end up dating.
Bad points – pretty much all the rest, but this is a discussion of those bad points beyond what is typical of this kind of sitcom (not stellar acting, shallow stories, heavy-handed morals, etc.). Most of the extra bad points are due to the character of Zack. He is the main character and is supposed to come across as a loveable scamp or dashing rogue. He’s the boy who’s just bad enough for all the girls to want him but not bad enough to be overtly dangerous. Except he’s not loveable. He came across to me as a selfish, spoiled kid who expertly manipulated his friends and enemies alike to get what he wanted. Even his misguided attempts to help his friends still involved manipulating them. Often he had to apologize in those cases, but he didn’t change his behavior. He was a jerk. A charming jerk, but a jerk nonetheless. There was also an episode in which the gang is discussing their SAT scores and Zack had a 1500, while Jesse (the established brain) had only a 1250. SAT scores are their own rant, but the point is that the SAT isn’t an IQ test, it’s a test of what students have learned in school. I don’t care how intelligent Zack may be, if he wasn’t paying attention in classes, he would not have done well on the SAT. His behavior in the college years is even worse and he mostly uses his charming scheming to get girls, although he has no interest in long-term relationships. One of his recent conquests laments to him, “You collect girls like baseball cards.” Normally I like meta-characters, and in theory Zack’s pausing time and breaking the fourth wall should have been enduring, but usually he only paused time to make smug comments about his own awesomeness. In updated slang terms, he was kind of a douche-bag.
Screech also wasn’t a great character. I don’t remember if Zack and Screech were longtime friends (although Screech was present in the junior high episodes) but it came out in one episode that Screech isn’t even that good in school. In that same episode of SAT scores, Screech had maybe an 1100, which is barely above average. I never really understood why kids so obviously cooler than Screech allowed him to stay in their group unless he provided some use to them, such as Zack copying his homework from Screech (if not tricking him into doing it outright). Screech may have had value as a minion, but it becomes clear that he’ll screw up the plan which reduces his value as a minion. As the show went on, the writers made Screech more and more spastic and stupid until he was almost nothing more than a walking excuse for slapstick.
Other bad points – AC and Jesse’s dating was also not good. She came off as a shrew, and he came off as a bumbling chaveanistic he-man. They fought nearly every episode and finally broke up before the “summer break” season. Mr. Belding was perhaps the worst principal in the history of schools. He was personally manipulated by Zack several times and never disciplined him in any way. He never even gave any of the kids detention. Some of the crazy schemes were borderline illegal and yet these acts are clearly never reported to the parents.
Mostly though the problem was Zack. He was not likeable. He was a manipulative jerk who was always forgiven by his friends when his plans went wrong and rewarded when his plans went well. I’m not sure what that says about the attitude of the 1980s that portrayed such a preppie jerk as a hero. Or maybe that perfectly incapsulates a LOT about the ’80s.