Saturday mornings belonged to me. Always the first up, I had over an hour of blessed free time to surf the channels and watch whatever I wanted. I was only supposed to watch an hour a day, but I was sneaky. I didn’t count television I watched alone, and neither did my parents. We had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. They assumed I followed the rules and I didn’t disabuse them of their assumption.
I preferred to watch cartoons alone, anyway. I snuck around school day afternoons, too, but watching cartoons then was less magical.
My dad liked westerns, football, and wrestling, so I had to vie with these to get my cartoon fix once he was up. My strategy was twofold: complain a lot, and make obnoxious noises while playing with my toys. As a matter of routine, I usually started my shows by 6:30. (Before 6:30, the only thing on was Disney’s You and Me, Kid, a show where parents and children did stretches in matching jumpsuits. The host was a Richard Simmons knock-off. I despised this show, but often watched it.)
My mom nixed a lot of the cartoons; they were deemed Satanic. He-man was forbidden. So was The Smurfs. Anything with Dungeons or Dragons in the title was verboten. Mighty Mouse was off-limits, too, thanks to some report from Focus on the Family people. She-Ra, obviously, but even G.I. Joe made the forbidden list after Destro turned out to be of European devil-worshiping stock, this the only time my mom sat down to watch the show with me. Care Bears was off-limits, too, but I didn’t care about that.
Ambling through the corridors of memory, here’s a rundown of the shows I remember, the ones I loved and the ones I hated. Note: I’m not included the Warner Brothers or Disney serials; these are on the whole excellent. I’m also not including live action shows, despite the fact that I loved Zorro, Star Trek, Buck Rogers and Lost in Space.
G.I. Joe was always my favorite. I liked Snake Eyes, Quick Kick, Storm Shadow, and the Saboteur. I had a thing for ninjas and karate. (This led to a later fascination with Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and Michael Dudikoff.) Intro here.
Spiderman and His Amazing Friends was my number two, although it wasn’t on for very long. I sort of hand a thing for Firestar. My favorite episode was when the X-men guest-starred, and they all fought the Juggernaught. Episode available here:
Transformers was a great show; Gobots wasn’t. (The name—and I cringe to write it here, but I have to be honest about my former self—sounded gay.) The story followed these giant robots who had adapted, through some odd evolutionary path, the ability to transform into cars, planes, weapons and ghetto blasters. (You have to watch this, the best, nuttiest, awesomest scene from the animated movie.
I hated Babar. My grandfather in Houma, Louisiana, had HBO, my cousins and I loved this, but Babar was always on, this swishy elephant in a tuxedo. The big conflict was usually what they would have for tea, crumpets or biscuits? God, I hated Babar.
I tolerated Bravestarr, although it watches like a bad idea handled poorly. The spaced out western thing was weird (they got there way before Firefly, I just realized), and the villain was an obvious Skeletor rip-off, who speaks with an absurd Strother Martin impression. Here’s an episode where he loses his fancy pants powers.
I liked Thundarr the Barbarian. It was a combination of Conan and Star Wars, but also with dinosaurs and weird monkey people. But I never knew when it was on. Steve Gerber was one of the creators, and he gave it a funky off-kilter feel. I remember Thundarr had a crown with lightning bolts on it. And a comet cracked the moon, removed our atmosphere, and tossed us back into the dark ages. Intro here.
I loved Defenders of the Earth, too, but could never catch it on television; it seemed to always shift around. I always assumed it was a European show. The heroes were wacky, and Ming The Merciless, who I knew from Flash Gordon, was often the villain. Check out the intro.
Duck Tales was hit or miss, but often great. Darkwing Duck, an offshoot, was a step down but I still liked it. Talespin was an improvement; I loved the plane and the Indiana Jones feel. Here’s a taste of Darkwing.
Bionic Six was the mutt’s nuts, but it was on in the mornings during the week, and I only caught it when I was home sick, or faking. The main villain was this depraved doctor with a stethoscope. theme song and intro here.
Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears was just okay, although the episode with the boomerang mercenary was incredible. Episode available here.
My buddy Jason loved M.A.S.K., but I couldn’t get into it. The toys were cool, but main villain was some old guy with a silly mustache. Who would be scared of him, really?
I did not like The Real Ghostbusters, but I always watched it. (And, something that still annoys me, the cartoon ruined the end of Citizen Kane.) There were two Ghostbusters’ shows, and I disliked but watched them both. Here’s the intro to the less famous one.
I regretted watching Alf Tales even as a child. Some poor bean-counter got boofed on this one.
Ed Grimley gave me the shakes. I still don’t know how this ever got made. It’s so creepy.
The Monchichis were strange. (And, in 7th grade, Carson Winn made fun of me on a school trip for knowing the words to the song, forever twinning this harmless little show with bullying.) They were like monkey creatures? Who played all day? I don’t remember a villain. (intro here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MppEZvhLm5g)
The 1988 Superman series was superb. It aired at 6:30 in the morning, and I never missed it.
Inspector Gadget was neat, and I recognized the voice from Get-Smart, another show I loved. But the show was never very funny; I always wanted more action, but never got it.
Heathcliff was blah. I yawn when I think of it. It’s the first place I heard the word, “Dadgummit.”
Silverhawks (intro here) and Thundercats were similar, middle-brow action fantasies that attempted to teach its viewers lessons. I saw right through them. Kind of liked Thundercats, though.
Visionaries was awesome—these knights had holograms in their chests that became laser animals that could claw and bite people—but it aired on Sunday mornings, when television was banned, and therefore I saw it exactly once, at a friend’s house. Intro here.
I liked Alvin and the Chipmunks; I thought the songs were cool, and thought that the characters were interesting. The best episode was Alvin singing against the horrors of East Berlin. I’ve linked to the video here. It explains the whole Cold War shebang.
Cartoons meant a lot to me. These old ones still do. They represent boundless freedom, that mish mash of achy tiredness with just-awake wonder. Sure, they were holding me captive to ads for sugar cereals and toys manufactured by wage slaves in China. Their messages were simple and direct. They were loud, brash affairs where most every problem was solved with violence. They held little subtlety.
Simone won’t have Saturday morning cartoons to watch. We don’t have cable, and the world has changed. When she wakes up at 6, scrambles out of bed to the living room, she’ll probably insert the jack into her ear and wander the digital ether, looking for the things that brought the child in her father so much happiness.