The Most WTF Saturday Morning Cartoons Ever
"Saturday! What a day! Groovin' all week with you!"
At the risk of sounding like everybody's Grandpa, kids today don't know how good they have it. Take cartoon shows, for example. If kids want to get a fix of their favorite animated hi-jinks, they can pick from a number of 24-hour kids' channels entirely devoted to cartoon mayhem, grab a DVD off the shelf or steal Mom & Dad's laptop or Smartphone and stream an entire season's worth of "Spongebob Squarepants" via Video On Demand.
When I tell my kids that I didn't have such luxuries when I was growing up, they look at me with a mixture of amazement and pity. "You mean, they only showed cartoons on TV on Saturday mornings, Dad? Wow!" "There were no DVDs? How did you live?"
As a child of the late 70s and early 80s, your humble narrator was part of the last pre-cable TV generation. Up until our neighborhood got wired for cable circa 1979 or '80, we had to make do with over-the-air broadcast channels, of which there were only four or five in our area. Precious little airtime was devoted to us young'ins on the major networks, therefore, Saturday mornings were a sacred time for us. Each weekend I'd get up early, tiptoe past my parents' bedroom door (a habit that I wish my own kids would cultivate sometime soon), pour myself a big bowl of cold cereal, and spend a few hours zoning out with all of the newest, coolest 'toons that network TV had to offer. Ahhhh, memories!!
...the only problem with such rose-colored bouts of childhood nostalgia is that in this age of Video On Demand, YouTube, and retro-themed cable TV networks, it's easy to revisit some of the oldy-but-goody 'toons of my youth...and therefore it's easy to see that most of them were pretty freakin' awful!! After reviewing some of these old shows, I am now quite sure that the writer's rooms in Hollywood animation studios in the late '70s/early 80s were populated exclusively by coke-headed psychopaths who didn't have kids, didn't understand kids, and probably totally hated kids. I mean, how else can you explain nonsense like Jabberjaw?
Maybe Jabberjaw was somewhat "hip" by late 70s standards, but have you seen it lately? Saying it "hasn't aged well" is being far too kind. For the uninformed, Jabberjaw followed the adventures of a great white shark (an obvious nod to the Jaws-mania of the late 70s) who not only talked, but also played drums in an otherwise all human rock band (!!) called the Neptunes. Double-J and his bandmates lived in an undersea city of the future and every week they'd have to solve a mystery or foil a plot by evil aliens or ocean monsters on their way to their next gig, then they'd close the episode with an awful song. My kids caught a re-run of Jabberjaw on the Boomerang channel some time ago and a few minutes in, my ten year old suddenly piped up, "Dad, this show sucks." I probably should've scolded him for his choice of language, but unfortunately... I agreed with him!!
"The Robonic Stooges" intro:
It's just gonna get weirder...
Sliding even farther down on the "What the @#$%?" scale, there was The Robonic Stooges. I can only imagine how the pitch meeting for this (thankfully short lived) series went:
"Gentlemen, as you know, everyone loves the legendary slapstick comedy stylin's of the Three Stooges. But how can we possibly update the Stooges and make them relevant to children of the 1970s?"
"I'VE GOT IT! We'll turn them into a trio of robotic cartoon superheroes!"
"Great idea! Have another snort of coke, Johnson. We start production tomorrow. I smell a hit! That's lunch, everybody! Hey...what's that sound?"
"Um...I think it's the spirits of Larry, Moe, and Curly, turning over in their graves."
Gotta Basketball Jones?
Major cocaine use is also the only possible explanation for the creation of 1979's Super Globetrotters, in which the world famous basketball court tricksters lead double lives as super heroes. When the world is in peril, the team gets an alert from a basketball-shaped satellite, dives into their magic lockers (!), and emerges as costumed crusaders ready to protect Earth from any and all basketball-related threats. I am not making this up. Seriously. THIS SHOW ACTUALLY EXISTED. You can look it up!!
Video Games and TV Sitcom Transfers...
As the '70s became the '80s, super heroics and mystery solving were "out," and corporate synergy was "in." Cartoon studios were busily trying to get in bed with the next "hot property" that they could translate into a Saturday morning show, then spin off into merchandising bonanzas. Video games were the hot new trend, which led to a variety of cartoons based on game characters. The weekly Pac-Man show was the first to hit the airwaves and was a huge hit, in spite of its cheap-ass animation and utterly nonsensical storylines. I suppose it must've been a challenge to translate a simplistic, 8-bit video game that didn't have much of a 'story' to begin with into a coherent TV show, but the writers on Pac-Man barely even tried. Maybe they were creeped out by the idea of having to write scenes where the hero ate the villains week after week. Cannibalism rarely translates well into cartoon form.
Even stranger was an animated version of Q-Bert, which for some reason chose to portray the big-nosed, foul-mouthed, orange video game fuzzball as a teenager in a 1950s style world, complete with hot rods, sock hops, soda shops and saddle shoes. Geez, had any of the guys who wrote this show ever seen a video game??
"Fonz and the Happy Days Gang"
Speaking of the 1950s, everyone remembers the classic sitcom "Happy Days" and its most popular character, "The Fonz"...but do you remember The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang? Yup, just as the popularity of the live-action prime time sitcom started to dip, someone at ABC got the bright idea to move Fonzie into his own Saturday morning show...with a science fiction twist. In this stinker, Fonzie was saddled with a cartoon pooch named "Mr. Cool" and met "Cupcake," a "future chick" who dropped in on Milwaukee 1957 via time machine. Yes, really. Fonzie, Ralph Malph and Richie Cunningham accepted Cupcake's invitation to come time traveling with her, then spent the rest of the series trying to get back to 1957 when a mechanical mishap aboard the machine sent them spinning randomly through time. I guess ABC figured that since Fonzie had already "jumped the shark" (both literally and figuratively) on his "real" show, there was nothing to lose by embarrassing him even further on Saturday mornings.
"Laverne & Shirley in the Army" (1981)
Other klutzy sitcom-to-cartoon transitions around this same time period included Laverne and Shirley In the Army, in which the man-hungry pair suddenly decide to leave the Shotz Brewery behind and join the armed forces, where their commanding officer is a pig in an Army outfit named "Sergeant Squealy." Obviously the show was inspired by Goldie Hawn's then-hit movie Private Benjamin, though Lord only knows where the idea for the pig came from. (Cocaine's a helluva drug!!) Reruns from this show, as well as the Fonz 'toon and an additional short lived Mork & Mindy animated spinoff were eventually packaged together and syndicated under the unwieldy The Mork and Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/The Fonz Hour title. I seriously doubt that any sane child ever actually made it through an entire hour of this combo platter..
"The Dukes" (1983)
Meanwhile, over on CBS, the hit live-action series The Dukes of Hazzard also made the jump to Saturday Morning toon-dom with 1983's The Dukes, in which them good ole Duke boys took part in a "Race Around the World" against the villainous Boss Hogg and Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane and visited a different country every week. Wait a minute. Call me crazy, but I bet The Dukes was actually some sort of ham-fisted attempt at hiding an educational cartoon about world geography under the guise of car-crashin' redneck fun!! Nice try, Network Powers That Be! Ever'body knows that Saturday mornin's ain't for learnin' stuff!!
The Most WTF Cartoon EVER?
Make no mistake, all of the cartoons I've talked about thus far in this Hub have been bad. However, for my money the most WTF Saturday Morning Cartoon EVER... yes, even more screwy than Fred and Barney Meet the Thing or the Fantastic Four cartoon that replaced the Human Torch with a robot named "Herbie"... the absolute nadir of the animated art form...has got to be 1983's Rubik, The Amazing Cube. How do you make an animated cartoon out of an inanimate puzzle toy? Simple. Make it into a MAGIC puzzle box that fell from an evil magician's wagon. (Shades of Clive Barker's Hellraiser!) "Rubik" ended up in the hands of the the Rodriguez kids, who spent the rest of the series protecting him from the magician, who tried to steal him back in every episode. Whenever the kids ran into trouble they'd "solve" Rubik's puzzle, causing him to sprout legs and a little Yoda-looking head (again, I want to stress, I am not making any of this up) and he'd save the day with his ability to fly and other magical powers. I wonder why they didn't just solve Rubik once and keep him that way so he could fly around doing good deeds all the time, but that's neither here nor there. It must be noted that in spite of its utter WTFness, Rubik the Amazing Cube holds a special place in television history because it was the first-ever Saturday Morning series to feature Latino main characters (take that, Dora the Explorer!). Rubik's theme song was even performed by the then-hot Puerto Rican boy band, Menudo! Seriously, does it get any cooler than that?? None of of the above, however, helped make the show watchable. I saw the show once -- ONCE! -- three decades ago, and it's haunted my nightmares ever since. (Comic Book Guy Voice) "Most. WTF. Show. EVER."
"Rubik, the Amazing Cube"
That'll do for now...
I love vintage cartoons and animation as much as the next guy, but it's obvious that there are far more bad cartoons out there than good ones. For proof of this theory, all you've got to do is turn on the Boomerang channel or Cartoon Network and wait a couple of minutes...something truly awful will march across the screen fairly quickly. Maybe that's why, as I approach middle age, I still stick to the classics like Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, Max Fleischer's Superman, etc... they don't make'em like that anymore, and if the shows in this Hub are any indication, they haven't made'em like that in a very long time, either!! Thanks for reading, and if you've got a bad 70s or 80s 'toon that you think deserved a mention in this Hub, feel free to remind me of it in the comments below. If there's enough response, there may be a sequel to this article somewhere down the road... till then, stay tooned!!