How I Learnt to Stop Worrying and Love The G1 Cartoon
by Inflatable Dalek
Nostalgia is a funny thing. In many ways it's based around a love for things that meant a lot to us when younger. But, going hand in hand with that is what I like to call the Peter Kay factor, the slightly sneering way of looking back at the past and taking the piss out of it for looking old. Yes, believe it or not, things you liked as a child often seem pretty crap when revisited as an adult.
Someone put t'big light out. Please.
Nostalgia booms are nothing new of course, I was born pretty much halfway through the 1950's love in that lasted from American Graffiti
and peaked with Back to the Future
(where Marty McFly is almost literally Peter Kay. If Peter Kay's mother tried to shag him rather than asking for a Bungalow). We've since run through the following decades in rapid succession -- with Kay's material being mostly based around 70's nostalgia, so if nothing else every celebrity from that period being a child molester is at least killing his material -- before winding up with the big 80's boom in the early 2000's.
Believe it or not, there's far more
squick in the rest of the series.
It's probably worth mentioning at this point that, however recycled and overheated a lot of the 80's revivals we've seen have been -- yes, I'm looking at you Ford Gilmore's Thundercats
for Wildstorm (the only official licensed comic to actually rape your childhood) -- the decade that has always had the biggest hold on the nostalgia market is the 1960's. As evergreen as Transformers
may be, and as much as Hasbro would love to make money through cheap recycling, you'll never have a situation where repeats of the original cartoon made faithful recreations of the original toys the must have Christmas toy, selling so fast Anthea Turner has to show you how to make your own. All of which did happen when thirty year old episodes of Thunderbirds
were re-shown in the UK back in the early 90's.
Indeed, compared to 80's franchises that are currently on film/TV (which is basically, what, Transformers
and possibly G.I. Joe
if you allow for it being based on the 80's version of an older franchise) we're almost drowning in a sea of 60's revivals even twenty years after the 60's boom really kicked off. Star Trek, Doctor Who, Mission Impossible
, various Marvel properties and James Bond (and the fact that Skyfall contained a scene that depended on the viewer remembering Goldfinger better than they remember the only six years old Casino Royale in order to make sense kind of sums up the hold of the 1960's on popular consciousness over anything else pretty much perfectly) are all currently ongoing with more such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. set to join them.
On the left, the car with machine guns and an ejector seat given to Sean Connery in Goldfinger. On the right the perfectly
normal classic car won by Daniel Craig in the James Bond reboot Casino Royale. Guess which one was in Skyfall.
And that's just the ones I can think of from the top of my head. That almost makes the 80's nostalgia craze seem like a quaint cottage industry in comparison.
Though I'll bet now you cheered along with everyone else in the cinema when those machine guns were used aggressively for the first time ever.
And were a bit upset when the car was then destroyed.
And only thought for the first time when reading this article,
"Wait... that shouldn't be the same Aston Martin from Goldfinger".
That, my friend, is successfully played nostalgia.
However, all that said, there's still an entire generation with a deep rooted fondness for the adventures of Michael Knight and Hannibal Smith, and even Optimus Prime. Back in the early 2000's when we all liked Dreamwave, I suspect many of us rented one of the initial "Selected episodes" DVD's, or maybe caught a cable repeat, of these various shows. Shows we'd not seen since childhood but had such great memories of, because the A-Team were so cool with brilliant action scenes and KITT was such an amazing bit of kit, and of course Transformers was a brilliantly animated war epic.
And then we watched these shows again.
Hey, every episode of The A-Team
has exactly the same plot (except in the crap season after they got tried for the crime they didn't commit, where the episodes still all have the same plot but it's a different one from the previous years), David Hasselhoff looks a bit silly and is even harder to take seriously once you know he's loved by Germans. And as for Transformers
This is how you remember the TV series looking.
This is how it really looked.
The animation is usually terrible (and even in the better episodes it's not up to the anime masterpiece you remember in your head), the plots are less about a galactic civil war and more often just cops and robbers with robots. There's no character development. The humans wear yellow hard hats all the time. There's a guy in a wheelchair who's better in a fight than most Decepticons. It's certainly not up to the standards of cartoons watched by people over the age of 10 made over a decade later.
[Of course, that's if you picked up a DVD of the "proper" series. I wonder how many curious potential fans in the UK bought a copy of the Star TV dub of Headmasters in a case that didn't really explain what it was?]
The opportunities for ironic post modern piss-taking are endless, and I'll fully admit I cheerfully joined in. For a perfect example of the Peter Kay factor, have a look at this www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3BcG882SwY
excerpt from the BBC's I Love 1984, that even made it onto the first DVD release of the original film in this country, with its hi-hi-hilarious comments from vaguely famous comedians about the fact that, like, one of the robots was, like a tape deck! What's that all about hey? And, as is so often the case with our loved ones, fans are even worse for taking the piss.
It is also worth noting that the above video the played automatically every time you put the DVD in the player. Only in Britain could a film come with an introduction saying what you're about to see is a bit crap.
But then, a couple of years ago I had a mini-epiphany. A random impulse purchase had seen me pick up the complete A-Team
box-set at an insanely cheap price. Going into it again, I realised that, for all the flaws mentioned above, it was actually an incredibly well cast show with likeable characters (as much as a figure of mockery he may be now, you can easily see why every child wanted to suck on a Mr. T ice lolly) and surprisingly decent stunt work. Had it dated? Oh yes. Was it less sophisticated than series that had the advantage of an extra quarter century of developments in the television industry behind them? Well, you'd take that as a given really wouldn't you?
Plus, as simple as it may be, a lot of the lazy Kay style criticisms are subverted or sent up by the series itself if anyone out to mock it could actually be bothered to watch. It's intentionally a slightly silly show that frequently takes the piss out of itself, even if it's as straightforward as lamp-shading the number of catchphrases ("Smith! You've got 60 seconds!" "He always says that"). We took it seriously as kids because we didn't realise it was supposed to be a send up (much as my mother would play at being the Adam West Batman without having clicked it was a comedy. She was 37 years old at the time).
This made me realise that a lot of my smug mockery of the G1 cartoon had been entirely based around me being a self satisfied twenty-odd year old holding the show to a standard it was never intended to meet. So, having now hit real old age in my 30's, I decided to give it a more forgiving re-watch.
As a result, what I found was much the same as with The A-Team
. Yes, it's stupid in many ways, but there's also a lot to actually like about it. The voice acting and sound-scape is generally excellent (especially Peter Cullen, who is genuinely iconic right from the off), and there's often some surprisingly snappy dialogue. Even the bad episodes fly along fast enough not to get really annoying and the series as a whole is pretty much perfect to have on in the background whilst you're ironing. It's not the best Transformers cartoon, but then the others have had the advantage of being able to build on the foundation it created.
Even that favourite episode of the UK VHS releases, the deeply problematic and sexist The Girl Who Loved Powerglide
, at least has moments where it's intentionally and successfully funny ("What force field?"), suggesting a more self-aware creative team than interviews with the likes of Don Glut imply.
The moral here, is to treat shows for what they are, a thirty year old TV series -- especially an action TV show as that's a genre that's always benefiting from advances in editing techniques that something like Scooby-Doo
wouldn't be affected by -- will age. Sometimes gracefully, sometimes disgracefully but extracting the Michael out of them just for having aged at all is a bit obvious and rubbish. Certainly the original cartoon is in better shape after all that time than I am.
As a final thought, I think it's fair to say the regular recycling of a past decade for the sake of nostalgia is now pretty much done, we're certainly now overdue the start of the 90's kick if the pattern were going to hold true to form (there's nearly as much time between, say, Beast Wars and now as there was between G1 and Dreamwave). The difference between now and original Transformers making its big comeback can be summed up by two things: Wikipedia and YouTube. Nostalgia is based on hazy "Hey, remember that show with the robots? What was that called?" style memories and the need to refresh them. We now have all the information we could ever need about our childhood loves at our fingertips.
Throw in the boon of satellite TV and its constant hunger for new content and the DVD market and the 1990's has never really gone away for people. I don't need to rely on my vague memories of The X-Files, I have the whole series on DVD, and it began to be released when it was still on telly. The same kick of rediscovering a shared experience thought long lost won't be had by anyone born after 1990.
This, like all change, might seem a bit of a pity, almost as if these youngsters have it too easy. But it has one distinct advantage: There will be no future Peter Kays. That's what I call a result.