Thursday, September 09, 2004

The Animated Adventures of a Retarded Cyborg Exhibitionist in a Position of Authority 

Inspector Gadget scares the hell out of me. Always has. Like many members of Generation Y, it was one of the many cartoon shows I grew up on, and one of only a handful that has left an indelible imprint on my life. But not for the reason that the creators of the show would have ever wanted. Every time the show came on, I curled into the blanket at the top of my bunkbed as was instantly transported to a surreal, frightening world full of perverted androids and disfigured megalomaniacs, where every side character was actually a brainwashed, tattooed henchman. But before I get too far into this, allow me to present the facts behind the show for the sake of the uninitiated or any of you who might have forgotten it after 20 odd years.

Inspector Gadget was produced by DiC entertainment, which was responsible for many inventive yet poorly animated Saturday morning cartoons. It first appeared on some network or another in 1983, and enjoyed relative success (as far as cartoons go) until 1986.

The show follows the adventures of this guy. No, I'm not kidding. This is the hero. Hook nose, lethal chin, Peter Fonda-spec driving gloves, everything. Voiced by Don Addams of Get Smart, and is in fact exactly like Maxwell Smart...but he's a cyborg. Interesting twist, wouldn't you say? By the way, I don't know exactly what's going on in that picture, but it appears as though he's making a masturbatory gesture with his right hand while demonstrating his inadequate size with his left. The fact that he's wearing a flasher-spec trenchcoat doesn't help this image much.

Gadget works for "The Police". I assume it's supposed to be Interpol, given his globe trotting in every episode, but this is never specified. He has no coworkers, no office, and we never discover exactly what all of his employment benefits are. He drives "The Gadget Van", which is a strange-looking red, white, and blue van. Need to get somewhere fast? The Gadget Van can transform into a fast, '80s-tastic sports car, complete with balloon tires, federally-mandated black rubber bumpers, and sporty-looking slats over the rear window. How changing the external appearance of his vehicle can make it faster is never explained, but it does. One also wonders how heavy the vehicle is, given the extensive machinework required to make the transformation possible, but then again we are talking about a show where the main character has a red police light and a helicopter rotor wedged on either side of his pituitary gland.

Gadget's only real link to "The Police" is not Sting, but this guy. "The Chief", notable for the fact that he looks remarkably like a cross between John Ratzenburger and a white Danny Glover. "The Chief" delivers all of Gadget's assignments personally, which I would assume means "The Police" doesn't employ many people. This guy always drops by while Gadget is on vacation, usually cleverly disguised as a garbage can, mailbox, hot dog, hooker, or whatever. He hands Gadget a piece of paper with his assignment written on it (real high-tech), which will always self destruct in a set amount of time. Gadget always reads it, casually tosses it back to the chief, who then gets blown up and goes "ohhhhhhh". We're supposed to think that the cause of the chief's perpetual third degree burns is the fact that Gadget is a complete tool who can't get anything right, but I've always theorized that Gadget does it deliberately. After all, the guy is always interrupting his vacation.

The inspector's assignments always involve his nemesis somehow: Dr. Claw. Claw runs a international crime ring called "M.A.D". That's supposed to stand for something, but hell if I remember what. So what are these guys into? Smuggled industrial equipment? Cocaine? Money Laundering? Filipino snuff films? Well, it's something different every week, but it's usually something silly like hoarding all the world's water or attempting to turn lead into gold. Dr. Claw is always seen as a metal hand petting a creepy silver cat, while he sits in his totally goth office and monitors everything Gadget does on a TV screen (more on that later). He also has an impossibly gravely, "I've been smoking for 150 years" voice.

Gadget lives with his chucklefuck niece, Penny, who is incredibly perky and positive. She carries a computer with her everywhere, which is disguised as a nondescript purple schoolbook. Wow. She has a laptop. Give her a goddamn cookie.

Bringing up the rear of this crack team (with emphasis on "crack") is Brain, Penny's ultra-intelligent orange smart-assed dog. He's occasionally anthropomorphic, and can disguise himself as a person, albeit a very ugly person, to help save the day. One downside (really more like an upside, when you think about it) is that he can't talk. He just makes weird arfing noises which only Penny can decipher. Don't ask why. Just go with it.

Here's basically how it works: The gang goes on assignment to some "exotic" country (usually Sweden or somewhere), tool around in the Gadget Van for awhile, then meet some colorful local character, who always ends up having M.A.D.'s evil red cat logo tattooed on him/her somewhere. This always goes unnoticed by Gadget, but Penny usually sees it. Considering it's usually in living color right on the ankle or somewhere, I guess we can commend her for being marginally perceptive. Rather than keep her beloved uncle safe from an obvious employee of Dr. Claw, she typically lets him do his goofy thing, then wanders off with Brain to solve the case herself. They crack the case but don't catch Dr. Claw (and we still don't get to see his damn face), Gadget gets all the credit (and basks in it, because he's far from modest), and then it's "tune in next week" time.

I can not express strongly enough how much this show frightened me at the tender age of five, and still haunts my memories even today. Apart from the obvious elements of a vacuous cyborg who blows up his boss and gets outsmarted by his niece's dog every week, we also start assuming with every episode that every side character who gets introduced is automatically an employee of Dr. Claw. No matter where Gadget is, Claw can follow him on his console computer screen. It's as if no matter how far they run or where they try to hide, there's always an agent...spying. Watching their every move. Filming it. Recording it. The entire world has shifted to the the forces of evil, while "The Police" seems to only have one agent. It's sort of like Invasion of the Body Snatchers minus the green pods, or Blue Sunshine, minus Zalman King trying to shoot crazy bald people in the head with an air pistol.

Although Inspector Gadget is too stupid to care, and Brain is too devil-may-care, one can almost see the despair in Penny's eyes, as society crumbles around her. Despite her attempts to maintain a cheery outlook, she knows she will soon be the only one left...the world will be entirely in the grips of Dr. Claw, and his evil henchmen will be in every school, church, strip club, and yes, every home in the entire world. Everyone will have uber-hip red cat tatoos but her, and even those in a position of authority will be in cahoots with a madman bent on stealing all the world's clock gears, or whatever else he has planned. The world is going completely mad, and any attempts to stop it will prove fruitless.

And that is how Inspector Gadget destroyed my childhood.

Calling Penny a chucklefuck is kind of overboard. Yeah, she relies on an awesome laptop, but this is 1985, for crying out loud. It's like she's carrying the Apple Lisa with the computing power of, say, a Pentium XXI, with the world's clunkiest lit-button interface. Though if I were Penny, I'd just go get a job with the Police and eventually nudge Uncle Gadget out to the nursing home or junkyard, whichever is more appropriate. She's got to be like 30 now and probably is a secret operative for the FBI, what with her trained crime-sniffing dog and all. Plus I bet she's totally boner-worthy.
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