Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Wowsers is as wowsers does

Last night I watched a DVD of Inspector Gadget episodes from Netflix. Inspector Gadget was my favorite cartoon growing up, so many years ago. To give you an idea how long ago that was, the Soviet Union still existed, but the Internet didn't. Tom Cruise was considered cool. Nintendo gaming systems cost less than $100 (but maybe that wasn't much, since they only had 8-bit graphics). We didn't have Soundblaster with its realistic sound effects on our PCs; we had MIDIs...but then, most of us didn't have PCs. Commodore 64 or bust.

But it was the Golden Age of kids' cartoons. Men were real men, women were real women. These kids today, that don't know what cartoons can be. When I was growing up, we had REAL cartoons. Inspector Gadget. Thundercats. He-Man. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Voltron. What did I miss? Captain Planet. Dinosaucers, if any of you know what I'm talking about. Count Duckula. Tiny Toons. Batman: the Animated Series, and X-men. Even Disney had better cartoons. Duck Tales. Darkwing Duck. Chip 'n Dale's Rescue Rangers. Tale Spin. The muthaf***ing Gummy Bears. Those were when cartoons were great. But everything went downhill after Power Rangers. How did this show get so popular? It was so transparently the producers' idea of what would happen if Voltron, Godzilla, and the Ninja Turtles had an orgy. But I guess that's the benefit of producing kids' shows. They're too young to know what you're plagiarizing from.

I remember the first time I watched Inspector Gadget. I remember sitting in my parents' living room in Hyde Park as the show came on after Looney Toons. It was the one where Gadget goes to a dinner party at a mansion, and Brain is chased by attack dogs. I remember as the show came on after Looney Tunes and thinking, "What the hell is this?" But I also remember loving it, and spending the next week trying to figure out when it would be on again. 6 pm on Sundays sticks in my mind.

And I remember lying on the couch in our tv room when I had the chicken pox, watching Gadget episodes my parents had rented from the video store on this thing called "Beta." Those were the days, my friend. I thought they'd never end.

The Inspector himself was great and all, but looking back, I think I largely watched the show for Penny. I think I might have had a little crush on Penny. Yes, I'm embarrassed to say when I was five years old, Penny Gadget was my first crush. I had a crush on Penny...and you should have, too. She was cute. She was smart. She was brave. I could go on. She liked dogs. She was doing something with her life. She had that sweet-ass Computer Book. She wasn't much of a dresser, but then, neither was I when I was five. She had those great big anime eyes and that terrific voice. Surely all these positive qualities can compensate for the fact that she wasn't real.

She was also a good role model for girls. She was a strong female character without being tomboyed. True, she did get captured a lot, but she tended to overcome the damsel-in-distress syndrome by escaping via her own resourcefulness. Girls like Penny just don't come into a guy's life often enough.

Last night I found myself wondering what Penny would have been like if she’d been a real person. At school, for example. Was she a social outcast? She seems like a normal enough kid, but she also doesn’t seem to have any friends on the show, and she spends all her time with her weird uncle and talking to her dog. Was she that girl at school who ate by herself at the cafeteria and all the other kids made fun of? Or maybe she was a little aloof toward the other kids. Hard not to be, when you’re fouling the attempts of an international criminal syndicate and your classmates are just learning how to spell “fox.”

And I wonder what she was like as she got older. Did she become a Veronica Mars who, I’ve never watched, but I hear is some sort of high school girl detective? Or maybe she nosedived and became a sorority slut, putting out to frat boys for crack. Who knows? Either way, she probably wasn’t stupid enough to go to law school.

Robot Chicken rules. “I’m too young to have a license, Brain. You drive. You’re a dog.”


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