1. Wonderbug – Part of the Krofft Supershow in the back half of the ’70s, Wonderbug was about some kids who find a magical car in a junkyard.
In its non-wonder state the car was called Schlepcar and was pretty hideous.
Then, when a magical horn was sounded, Schlepcar would turn into Wonderbug, a mildly less hideous supercar that had some sort of computer dashboard, articulated eyes and mouth, and also could fly. The original Smartcar! Sorry!
The intelligent flying Wonderbug would help the kids solve crimes and stuff like that, but like most Krofft offerings the articulation was pretty crude. Kind of like Speed Buggy on ketamine. Still, the show’s got Seventies Good-Time all over it, especially in the also-signature-Krofft explanatory intro:
I’m not sure what constitutes a Krofft sucess versus a Krofft failure, but I think a gorgeous metallic lunchbox is a point in the “win” column. Check out C.C. in the back seat! What a blast that dude is having!
1. Salute Your Shorts – The ’90s saw Nickelodeon throwing a ton of programming against the wall to see what would stick. A lot of it was animated, but there were also several cheaper, faster-to-produce live action sitcom and sketch comedies filling out the lineup. This was the breeding ground of their current live action success and while I don’t know if any of these ’90s shows were “successful”, Hey Dude, Clarissa Explains it All, and All That certainly made their imprint on the minds and memories of kids of that day. The one for me, though, was Salute Your Shorts.
Salute Your Shorts was a series about a bunch of un-relatable kids at summer camp, kids who filled every convenient niche of storytelling. You had Budnick, the unofficial leader and bad-boy, his heavyset minion Donkey Lips, the Radar-like genius Sponge, Dina the princess, Telly the tomboy…you get the idea.
You might think that ‘un-relatable’ is a dig on the show and maybe in this day and age it could be, but in the ’90s there were no relatable casts. The Saved By The Bell/90210/Boy Meets World television landscape showed us that we weren’t meant to identify with characters back then, merely watch them through windows.
Anyway, the bulk of the show focused on the gang’s efforts to “get one over” on the head counselor Ug.
Ug wasn’t even really that bad a guy, just the authority figure; again, though, ’80s and ’90s television taught us that it was the job of the children to show the adults who was boss. Ultimately they would usually only end up sort-of ruining Ug’s life, coming around by the end of each episode to help him pick up the pieces of his dignity that were shattered by a group of bored children.
I bag on the show now, and I probably bagged on it then, but the fact remains that this show made me laugh as a kid. While I was entertained by many, many TV shows back then, very few of them got actual laughs out of me. That’s something.
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1. Starman – John Carpenter’s 1984 film Starman is kind of hokey and hamfisted, but at least it ends pretty tidily: the Starman, a well-meaning alien who arrived Earth in response to Voyager 2′s message of peace, escapes our awful government’s wrath and leaves behind the Earth as well as a human woman whom he has impregnated. Nice and tidy.
ABC couldn’t leave well enough alone and in 1986 Starman the television series graced the air. The series took place fifteen years after Starman left Earth forever, fifteen years in which Starman appeared to have a change of heart and return to awful Earth to be with his son that he abandoned. Who had to just be thrilled to see him.
He comes back as a different looking human (good save, there) and his son’s a teenager at this point (and an orphan?). The movie sets up that Scott, the son, inherited all of the Starman’s powers and the series focuses on the kid learning those powers. Because this is an ’80s prime time television action/drama, the pair go on the road from town to town, running away from the awful government and looking for Scott’s mom, Starman’s girlfriend.
1. McDonaldland Video Game - Also known as M.C. Kids in the US, this game was released by Virgin in 1992 for the NES as well as for Amiga, Commodore 64, and PC.
If that cover doesn’t promise an exciting rad time, I don’t know what does. Some cool teens or preteens hanging out with Ronald, what could be cooler? It’s better than the M.C. Kids cover:
Couple of toddlers in the same outfits, no Ronald in sight. Lame. I’m trying to imagine how these kids will land from this hi-five and the physics aren’t adding up. It’s going to be messy.
Basically, the Hamburglar has stolen Ronald’s magic bag (why? I thought he only stole burgers), and for once Ronald is powerless to take matters into his own hands. Instead he employs two children and sends them on a journey across seven different areas of McDonaldland, where they interact with many of the classic McDonaldland characters and find secret cards that unlock the next area.
Once you find the Hamburglar the kids learn that the magic bag got away from him and they’ll have to fight the bag itself, which raises the question of why Ronald would have such an evil bag in the first place.
The game’s a cult classic but didn’t get much praise when it came out. There’s an interesting take on its performance and a (perhaps unfair) comparison to the Mario games here by one of the developers.
The graphics are pretty good for the time, but the ever-watchful eye of the Ron Don in the corner is more than a little creepy. The mechanics of the game seem pretty solid, but the concept and licensing tie-in are typical 90s tacky.
Here’s a playthrough:
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1. Bart vs. The Space Mutants - By 1991 the Simpsons marketing machine was fully oiled, churning out just about anything that could possibly fit a character’s face on it. Bart Simpson T-Shirts were being blamed for creating subversion among children, yet he could sell Butterfingers until the cows came home and that was somehow okay.
The gist of the game is that aliens have invaded Springfield and Bart’s the only one who notices because he has a pair of x-ray glasses. The aliens have plans to build some sort of doomsday machine and they only need one ingredient…purple things. So Bart’s got to go through the town and paint all of the purple things red. In addition to having the only pair of x-ray glasses in town, Bart’s a wiz with spray paint so this task fits right into his wheelhouse. Once he’s painted everything red, the aliens change the ingredient they need to balloons. Then, once the balloons are gone, the ingredient changes to…exit signs. THEN, once the exit signs are gone, the final ingredient is a nuclear rod. FINALLY, one that makes sense.
1. Alyssa Milano’s Teen Steam – Alyssa Milano, Queen of the ’80s, lent her talents to this god-awful workout video aimed at teens who really needed a productive way to burn off that suburban angst. For some of these kids with serious issues, like having to babysit your younger brother instead of going out, it was either expensive therapy or the Teen Steam routine. This thing was advertised in every commercial break on Nickelodeon and MTV from 1988 to 1990.
Alyssa takes you through a half-hearted 20 minute routine that amounts to not much more than a few stretches, then walks through a mirror into an empty studio-slash-alley-slash-fight-club to lead a group of suburban teens in the Teen Steam theme song. Either this dance is meant to finally “get it out” or to celebrating having already gotten it out. It’s hard to tell.
Here’s part 1 of the video.
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1. Sierra 1988 Catalog – As a kid, Sierra’s adventure games were at the top of my list. I was obsessed with King’s Quest, Police Quest, Space Quest, Manhunter, Quest For Glory, and Leisure Suit Larry. Each title was contained on anywhere from five to ten floppy disks, and you had to swap out disks as you entered (and returned to) certain areas in the game. I didn’t care!
The games came in these huge boxes with intense artwork, comically huge considering they contained a handful of 3.5″ floppies and a manual. And a catalog. Sierra always packed in a catalog that displayed the rest of their offerings for the year, and I would read those things to shreds. The design of the catalogs really ‘over-hipped’ the product, and the 1988 catalog is a good example of that:
They also produced “trailers” for their lineup and distributed these to game retailers for potential play in their stores. In many cases, the game creators starred in their own trailers. Check these guys out from 1988 – that’s Jim Walls, the creator of Police Quest, getting shanked in that prison.
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1. RoboCop Sells Out – RoboCop had a brief window of mega-popularity in the ’80s to make the most out of every marketing and licensing opportunity, and you better believe they did. Sure, the franchise continued its popularity well into the ’90s, and with the upcoming reboot we can expect to see more product tie-ins, but these are really some perfect examples of that ’80s movie shilling.
The U.S. starts it off big, with a Chevy Ad:
Because when I’m making a major purchasing decision like a car I tend to wonder how robotic the process of its construction was and what my favorite fictional characters might think of it.
Over in Korea they brought it down to a more actionable purchase, but I’m not sure how well this sells their chicken.
*insert “buy that for a dollar” joke here*
1. Omnibot 2000 – As a kid I thought robot companions were just around the corner. I was pretty sure that I would have an android friend when I was an adult, and that most of my daily buttling needs would be handled by a stiff robot without much personality. That sadly hasn’t come to pass (yet), but in the ’80s there was a rush of remote controlled robot toys that reflected and fueled my optimism that a robot utopia wasn’t far away. Omnibot was at the vanguard of that rush.
Omnibot seemed to occupy a butler role, but only if you didn’t really rely on his abilities. From the ad it seems like he’s more of a wiseguy than a standout butler. That would have been fine by me, though. We’d have been pals.
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There’s something about toy ads from the ’80s, with their perfect settings for playing in and amazingly beautiful days outside and toys that seemed to animate themselves. It was like every kid had a mountain, river, underground battle cage, and forest in their back yard and lots of smooth, flat surfaces upon which to lay out all toys of any given toy line. In the spirit of “I want that!” here are five toys (and their ads) that I bugged my parents for relentlessly back then.
1. MASK. – One time, I was playing MASK with a friend and I commented something to the effect of “M.A.S.K. is really like the Wuzzles of the vehicle world,” and instantly regretted it, realizing I had exposed a familiarity with the Wuzzles that I perhaps should have been embarrassed of. Regardless, it’s true!
MASK was basically a world of duality; every vehicle could transform into another vehicle. Even the base was a innocuous gas station until the switch was flipped and it became a battle fortress. A motorcycle could (somehow) become a helicopter and a big rig transformed into a missle silo. I think my favorite was Thunder Hawk, a really hot car with that would pop its winged doors at the touch of a button and then somehow fly with those winged doors:
Here’s another spot, this one for the entire toy line.
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