Television that Needs More Love: Mighty Orbots

In the primeval year 1984, I ran across a keen animated show called Mighty Orbots on ABC.  It only ran for a single season before disappearing without a trace.  Years later when describing it to others, skepticism arose.  No one else acknowledged its existence.  At times I wondered whether or not I had hallucinated the entire series. 

Then came the wonder of the internet and–voila!–it turns out to have existed after all.  Although I didn’t know why it disappeared.  It was vastly superior to the other animated shows at the time, especially the shows it derived from–namely Voltron and Transformers.  With superior animation, better characters and decent writing, the show should have been renewed for several seasons.

Unfortunately not.  My suspicions leaned towards poor marketing, but a lawsuit by Tonka was the real culprit.  Tonka accused the show owners of ripping off their GoBots franchise.  For those of you unfamiliar with GoBots, those were a toy line that basically ripped off Transformers and had its own animated series Challenge of the Gobots (the animation was weak, however the writing wasn’t terrible.)  GoBots has since faded into obscurity and I wouldn’t expect to see a big screen adaptation anytime soon.  Anyway, Tonka torpedoes Mighty Orbots and we only get a single season.  Pity.

The basis for the show is familiar.  Six robots with individual powers merge to form a more powerful robot.  Nothing new there.  However, the robots all have unique powers.  Tor is a super-strong brute.  Bort is a skinny ‘geek’ that can shape shift.  Bo is a ‘female’ Orbot with the ability to control the four elements (earth, air, fire and water.)  Boo is another ‘female’ Orbot with light and illusion powers.  Crunch is a ‘fat’ robot that can eat anything and transform it into energy for the rest.  Ohno is the last Orbot, and she’s a tiny ‘child’ robot who is necessary for the other Orbots to merge into “Mighty Orbot”. 

The leader and leader of the Orbots is Rob Simmons, who is your standard Nerdy Scientist Hero archetype.  He actually has a secret identity when he isn’t working with the Galactic Patrol (which is exactly what they sound like.)  They fight the obligatory evil organization SHADOW in the far future.

The tone of the series was light-hearted and much closer to an American superhero team than either Voltron or Transformers.  The Orbots have ‘superpowers’ instead of a bunch of guns and unlike Voltron, are actually pretty competent and interesting individually.  Also unlike Voltron, this wasn’t a simple Japanese import.  They produced this show specifically for American audiences and it feels like it.  The animation is first rate, especially for a television series.

I watched a couple of episodes recently and, yes, it’s a kid’s show and a bit dated, but still not bad.  Despite having only a single 13-episode season, it also does what few other franchised animated shows do: has an ending.  At the end of the only season, Mighty Orbots fight and defeat the ‘big bad’ leader of SHADOW, a supercomputer critter called Umbra.  So you can watch the only season and still get a satisfying conclusion.

Go check it out. 

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Television that Needs More Love: The Middleman

You may be asking yourself: “What the hell is The Middleman and why should I care?”  A fair question.  Obliviousness to the series is forgivable.  The series appeared in 2008 and disappeared after a mere 12 episodes.  Until a friend showed up one evening wearing a “Jolly Fats Wehawkin Temp Agency” T-Shirt, I was equally in the dark.  Intrigued by the premise, I found copies of the series and watched them. 

The story goes thusly:  A secret agency trains and equips a Middleman to defend the planet against unknown threats. The present Middleman (Matt Keeslar) recruits a struggling artist named Wendy Watson (known alternatively as “Dub-Dub” and “Dubbie”).  Her calm behavior during a tentacle beast attack tells him that she has the right mindset.  Following a few tests, she starts her training.

The series follows her rise as a Middleman-in-training.  Wendy (Natalie Morales) incorporates her weird adventures into her artwork.  She lives with Lacy Thornfield (the incredibly sexy Brit Morgan) and the lyric-spouting Noser (Jake Smollett.)   Wendy and The Middleman are assisted by the caustic robot assistant Ida (Mary Pat Gleason.)

Recurring themes consist of comic-book threats with amusing twists.  Intergalactic despots disguised as a boy band (“The Boyband Superfan Interrogation”.)  Zombies which crave trout (“The Flying Fish Zombification”.)  A cursed tuba from the band of The Titanic (“The Cursed Tuba Contingency”.)  And so forth.  The names in each episode have pop-culture themes and names, such as the cover names of Dr. Stantz and Dr. Zeddemore (from Ghostbusters) in “The Ectoplasmic Panhellenic Investigation”.

To put it plainly, this series is a fanboy’s dream.  It never gets too serious, but doesn’t fall into slapstick, either.  Just amusing enough to get a chuckle, but no more.  The acting is good and the actors aim to please–in on the joke, but always in a nod-and-a-wink fashion. 

Also, even though ABC Family produced this series, it has enough edge that it doesn’t feel like a kid’s show in any way.  It approaches adult themes with enough seriousness that some reality intrudes, but blunts them with wry humor.  There are many running jokes such as Lacy calling The Middle man “Sexy Boss Man” or “Pillow Lips” or the villains always saying “My plan is sheer elegance in its simplicity”.  Or Noser always greeting visitors to Wendy’s loft with random questions in the form of song lyrics.

Conceived as a comic book series for Viper Comics by Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Les McClaine, it was later adapted to television after some urging by Paul Dini.  Sadly, it suffered the ignoble death of a television series given insufficient chance to succeed, perishing after 12 episodes.  It has since developed a mild cult status and the cast did a reading of the unproduced 13th episode at the 2009 San Diego Comic Con.

It appears that all 12 episodes are available online on dailymotion.  I recommend you watch them.

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Television That Needs More Love: Brimstone

brimstone-01Brimstone came out in 1998, roughly the time another hellish series called GvsE (Good versus Evil) appeared.  Both series were similar in plot, and I don’t know if one copied another.  I do know I enjoyed Brimstone, whereas I found GvsE forgettable.

Basic plot goes like this: Ezekial “Zeke” Stone (played by Peter Horton) is a NYC cop whose wife is raped.  Zeke tracks down the rapist and murders him.  Shortly thereafter, Zeke is murdered and goes to Hell for the sin of murder.  Jump forward fifteen years and Zeke is sprung from hell by The Devil (played by a bombastic John Glover.)  Turns out there was a jailbreak from Hell.  113 damned souls are free and loose on Earth.  If Zeke uses his detective skills to find and return all of them to Hell, he gets a second chance at life.

brimstone-02Great hook.  Grabbed my interest from the start.

Any catches, you ask?  Several.  The damned souls are impossible to kill unless you destroy their eyes.  Also, it turns out the longer you’re in Hell, the more of Hell comes with you.  This translates into the longer souls are in Hell, the stronger they are on Earth.  Nearly all of the souls are older than Zeke, and some are hundreds or even thousands of years old.  Even worse, not only are they stronger, but many of them have hellish ‘magic tricks’.  Some can turn invisible, spread hellish diseases or cast magic brimstone-04spells.  Zeke relies on old-fashioned police work and his own immortality.

The sole reason I even know this series exists is because the Sci-fi Channel (before they called it “SyFy”,) had a marathon one Saturday afternoon.  Lasting a grand total of 13 episodes, it was a mid-season replacement that fizzled.  A pity, since it had great promise.

brimstone-03Lori Petty fills out an enjoyable minor role as a hotel clerk.  (Usually people either love or hate Lori–I am one of the former.)  John Glover as The Devil chews scenery like a teething beaver.  No joke, he’s a pleasure to watch.  My favorite episode (“It’s a Helluva Life”) has John playing both The Devil and an angel.  The two of them take Zeke through is life, alternately showing him every bad brimstone-05thing he ever did and the good he’s accomplished.  It’s surprisingly moving.

Is Brimstone great?  No.  Plot stumbles and misfires are in evidence.  The special effects are dated and clunky.  I will say that there was enough there that I wanted more.  It picked up steam as it went, and the writers and actors were hitting their strides–just in time to be cancelled. 

Should someone with a modicum of power in television get a chance, resurrecting this brimstone-06series wouldn’t be the worst idea. 

Go dig up the 13 episodes or watch them online somewhere.  You won’t regret it.

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