TV Review: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Season 1 (1985)

Also known as: Action Force (UK)
Release Date: September 16th, 1985 – December 13th, 1985
Directed by: John Gibbs, Terry Lennon
Written by: various
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, Bob Remus, B.J. Ward

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, Claster Television, 55 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“As of now, your little project is deader than disco! Hmmm… Deader than disco… I like that… I would have made a great stand-up comedian.” – Cobra Commander

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is the original G.I. Joe cartoon series that ran from 1983-1986. It actually became a full series in 1985, after two separate five-part miniseries in 1983 and 1984. It was created as a big marketing vehicle for Hasbro’s G.I. Joe toy line. It also paved the way for a similar series, The Transformers in 1984. Both of these Hasbro toy franchises followed the same marketing path and also had their shows created by Marvel-SunBow. Both also had ongoing comic book series produced by Marvel.

I already reviewed the three miniseries events that lead to this regular ongoing series. However, I wanted to review just season one here, as there were a lot of big changes between seasons one and two. I will follow up with a season two review in the near future.

G.I. Joe has had several television series come and go throughout the years but none are even as close to the greatness of the original. This series, along with Transformers, created a megafranchise that was only rivaled by Star Wars, at the time.

The series created a lot of heroes and villains that were all cool and still very memorable. Cobra was, and still is, the coolest villain organization in all of fiction. G.I. Joe were the coolest heroes. As a kid who always sided with the baddies, it was hard not to love the good guys too. This was an animated show with surprisingly good character development.

The characters, for a cartoon about toys, had really good backstories and unique personalities. The stories about Shipwreck were always phenomenal. The show could tap into horrific things but serve it in a way that was okay for kids to handle. It took a lot of risks, offered up a lot of serious lessons but did it in a way that was so cool, at that age, you didn’t realize you were being taught anything. It was a perfect package of badass, cool and educational.

The art was top notch for the mid ’80s. The tone of the show was always adventurous. It was like someone took the best of James Bond, the best of The Avengers, mixed it together and gave it a military twist. G.I. Joe are mortal men without any real powers but they are superheroes. Cobra is essentially a much cooler version of SPECTRE or Hydra.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is still the best version of G.I. Joe ever created in animation form. I’m still waiting for a movie or a series that gets it because nothing since has even come close.

Film Review: G.I. Joe: The Pyramid of Darkness (1985)

Also known as: The Further Adventures of G.I. Joe
Release Date: September 16th, 1985 – September 20th, 1985 (first run syndication, 5 parts)
Directed by: John Gibbs, Terry Lennon
Written by: Ron Friedman
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Rob Walsh
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, B.J. Ward, Frank Welker, Christopher Collins, Zack Hoffman, Kene Holiday, Neil Ross, Keone Young, Corey Burton, John Hostetter, Bill Morey, Lee Weaver, Pat Fraley, Hal Rayle, Will Ryan, Ketty Lester, François Chau, Morgan Lofting

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, 5 Episodes (first run syndication), 22 Minutes (per episode), 100 Minutes (movie cut)

Review:

“Let’s reconnoiter, Snake Eyes. Try not to attract attention… Sure. Who’d notice a wet sailor with a parrot and a silent masked man with a timber wolf.” – Shipwreck

Like the two five-part miniseries events before it, G.I. Joe: The Pyramid of Darkness was made to be combined into a feature length film for VHS release and for weekend replays. Also, this was the first five episodes of the regular G.I. Joe television show. This feels like the third part of a trilogy with the two miniseries releases before it but it is also the start of a much larger G.I. Joe television run. This would also be the last five-part miniseries until the start of season two, which would kickoff with Arise, Serpentor, Arise!

The Pyramid of Darkness really ups the ante. We have all the major Cobra officers from the previous two miniseries but we now get introduced to my favorite fictional twins of all-time Tomax and Xamot, the Crimson Guard commanders. They also run Extensive Enterprises as a corporate front for Cobra and they basically function as Cobra’s CFOs.

We also get the debut of several new members of G.I. Joe. Three of the coolest characters Alpine, Bazooka and Quick Kick have a pretty big spot in the story. In fact, I like their chemistry as a group and they are a good comedic addition to the show.

Like the other miniseries before this, Cobra has a superweapon. In this one, it is the Pyramid of Darkness. The way this one functions is a lot more interesting and cooler than the previous two superweapons. Basically, Cobra positions four giant black cubes around the Earth. They also send the Dreadnoks to space to overtake a G.I. Joe space station, which is needed to link the four cubes. Once all five points are secured and operational, the top half of the Earth is covered by an electric pyramid that works like an EMP, killing the electrical power of anything within its massive reach. This gives Cobra a huge advantage in world domination. The Joes have to then battle it out with Cobra in exotic and dangerous locations once again.

The Dreadnoks in space element is really cool, especially when their genetically engineered beasts, the Fatal Fluffies, grow to monstrous proportions. I actually wished that the Fluffies would have returned to the show and also had toys, back when I was a kid. With Duke on the space station, this makes the third time in three stories that he is a Cobra captive. Really, Duke? Get it together, bro! You’re the leader of G.I. Joe until General Hawk comes along in season two.

I also wanted to mention the character of Satin. She was a pop singer that worked the Cobra nightclub circuit. Really though, she was working her way into the organization because her father was framed by Cobra for crimes he didn’t commit, which ruined his life. Satin works as an ally to Shipwreck and Snake Eyes and was instrumental to the story, yet we never see her again after this.

The Pyramid of Darkness is my favorite story of the Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe universe. Actually, it’s my favorite Joe story, period. Well, not counting Larry Hama’s G.I. Joe comic books because that dude wrote some amazing shit.

Comic Review: Batman ’66, Vol. 3

I’m really loving this series and it actually keeps improving with each collected volume.

This third collection starts by bringing in one of the established comic book villains to the Batman ’66 universe. A character that has never appeared in the ’60s Batman show. Her name is Harley Quinn. In fact, she was actually invented in the ’90s for Batman: The Animated Series and wasn’t even brought into the comics until the end of that decade. But seeing a popular Batman villain get ’66-ized is kind of cool.

The Harley origin story happens alongside a Joker and Catwoman team up that also features a lot of cameos from various villains locked within Arkham Asylum.

After that epic tale, we get to see the return of TV only villain, Marsha Queen of Diamonds, originally played by Carolyn Jones of The Addams Family. That is followed by a short tale featuring Van Johnson’s The Minstrel. We then get a False Face story, followed by a bigger team up adventure that puts the Joker with the Riddler and has cameos by the Clock King and the first comic book appearances of Art Carney’s the Archer and Milton Berle’s Louie the Lilac, one of my all-time favorite Batman ’66 villains. Following that is another team up, this time featuring Tallulah Bankhead’s Black Widow and the Penguin. The last story gives us Egghead and comes with small cameos by the Otto Preminger version of Mr. Freeze and the Riddler.

This volume was heavy on the team ups and cameos but I like that it showcases a lot of the villains and think the stories work really well this way, as Batman ’66 was a short lived series and the show had a lot of villains to cover, many of which were exclusive to just the show.

Ultimately, this is just another great collection of the series that I had hoped would go on forever.

TV Review: Red Dwarf – Back to Earth (2009)

Original Run: April 10th, 2009 – April 12th, 2009
Created by: Doug Naylor
Directed by: Doug Naylor
Written by: Doug Naylor
Based on: Dave Hollis: Space Cadet by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
Music by: Howard Goodall
Cast: Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Chloë Annett, Sophie Winkleman

Grant Naylor, UK Gold Services Limited, BBC, Dave, 3 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

It took a decade but after the weird eighth season that capped off the original run of the Red Dwarf televisions series, we finally got the promised followup. While a theatrical film was teased for years, it never materialized. Instead, we got this three-part special that aired over Easter weekend in 2009.

Back to Earth was a vast improvement over seasons seven and eight, which left many fans baffled and sad. It also brought Red Dwarf back into people’s minds and allowed for the show to actually return in its normal form which happened in 2012 and we have since had three seasons of the show following this special.

For the most part, this is a pretty good outing for Lister, Rimmer, Cat and Kryten. I wasn’t a fan of the multi-episode experiments they did in season eight, as they really contributed to the slow and drab feeling of that series. Here, the concept works though. But thankfully, this was the last time that they did a multi-part story.

This three parter is called Back to Earth because the Dwarfers actually get back to Earth but it is the Earth of our time. Furthermore, it isn’t the Dwarfers Earth it is literally our Earth. You see, the Red Dwarf crew discover that they are fictional characters made up to entertain us in the real world. They then go on a quest to get their show to continue because they don’t want to die with its cancellation. Of course, there are some twists in the plot and luckily for us, the show did continue beyond this.

This series is also an awesome homage to the sci-fi/neo-noir classic Blade Runner. It has a lot of gags and moments that are recreations of key scenes from the film and they are done beautifully. It added a cool aesthetic to this story.

Also, the story is a throwback to a really popular older episode. I’m not going to say which, as it may spoil some of the twists.

The only really weird thing about this series, is that it didn’t have a live audience or even a laugh track. The lack of canned laughter is actually kind of distracting but you do get used to it, once the Dwarfers leave their normal surroundings and get to modern Earth at the start of the second episode.

The crossover between Craig Charles’ two biggest shows Red Dwarf and Coronation Street was really damn cool, as well.

Ultimately, this isn’t as good as the classic series, as a whole, but as a standalone story, it is one of my favorites. Had it been the final time we saw these guys, as many believed in 2009, it would have been a fine and honorable sendoff.

But I’m pretty happy that we’ve gotten three more seasons after this with more presumably to come.

Comic Review: Batman ’66, Vol. 2

In the second collected volume of Batman ’66, the series really finds its groove. It felt even more like the ’60s Batman show than the first collection, which did a good job of kicking off the series.

I think, by this point, the creative team was more comfortable and really locked in to what made the ’60s Batman so special. We also get to see more of the classic villains from the show, who were show creations and not taken from the comics. And frankly, I adore a lot of the TV villains, especially Roddy McDowall’s Bookworm and Victor Buono’s King Tut, both of whom get resurrected here.

This volume actually kicks off with a Bookworm story. I loved this because the Bookworm story from the television series was one of my favorites and unfortunately, Roddy McDowall only played the character once. This was a good expansion on the character and fleshed him out more than the show did.

We then get to see the return of Anne Baxter’s Olga, Queen of Cossacks in a fun tale. There is also the return of Malachi Throne’s False Face in a chapter that also has a cameo by Frank Gorshin’s Riddler. Then the Cesar Romero Joker has a funny little chapter about cost cutting in regards to labor. After that, we get the return of King Tut and the Caped Crusaders get sucked away to ancient Egypt.

Following the Tut adventure, we get a short chapter about Egbert Pennyworth, Alfred’s evil identical cousin. We then see the return of Anne Baxter’s other villain, Zelda the Great, Cliff Robertson’s Shame, an Otto Preminger Mr. Freeze story and then have the book capped off by the new villain Cleopatra, who was once an accomplice of King Tut.

I liked the stories here a lot and I don’t know how the series can improve upon the great work done in this collected volume but I have three more to go. Needless to say, this is one of the best and most refreshing newer comic series that I have read in quite a while.

Film Review: G.I. Joe: The Revenge of Cobra (1984)

Release Date: September 10th, 1984 – September 14th, 1984 (first run syndication, 5 parts)
Directed by: Dan Thompson
Written by: Ron Friedman
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Gregg Berger, Arthur Burghardt, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, B.J. Ward, Frank Welker, Christopher Collins, Zack Hoffman, Kene Holiday, Neil Ross, Will Ryan, Buster Jones, Keone Young

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, 5 Episodes (first run syndication), 21 Minutes (per episode), 98 Minutes (movie cut)

Review:

“Remember, Cobra’s a snake, and “snake” is “sneak” spelled sideways.” – Flint

After the huge success that was the miniseries G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Hasbro commissioned Sunbow to follow it up with this miniseries, which also was released in feature film length for home video and weekend replays.

The Revenge of Cobra is everything that was great about A Real American Hero but with even more cool stuff added into it. This massive G.I. Joe story has a special place in my heart because it was the debut of the Dreadnoks, my favorite branch within the Cobra organization. It also introduced Cobra members Storm Shadow, Firefly, Scrap-Iron and some others. On the G.I. Joe side we got some other awesome debuts: Flint, Mutt & Junkyard, Shipwreck, Lady Jaye, Roadblock, Spirit, Cutter and more. I also realized that G.I. Joe leader Duke spent most of his time in these first two film length stories as a prisoner of Cobra. I guess I never realized he spent more time as a P.O.W. than a hero in the earliest stories.

In this massive tale, Cobra once again has a super weapon. This time the weapon is the Weather Dominator. At one point, it gets split into three parts, which all end up in different locations around the world. This is sort of a rehash of the first G.I. Joe story, as the Joes and Cobra race against one another for three MacGuffins located in dangerous exotic locations. But that’s not a bad thing, as these situations made for the best G.I. Joe stories.

The highlight of this story is the big battle at the derelict carnival that the Dreadnoks call home. The Dreadnoks are holding the last MacGuffin ransom, waiting to see who bids highest for it between G.I. Joe and Cobra. We get a three-way battle at the carnival that is pretty friggin’ glorious. This then segues into the big finale that sees G.I. Joe raid Cobra’s desert fortress.

While the first miniseries was a great kickoff to what would be a long running series, The Revenge of Cobra is where the show finds its stride and style.

TV Review: Hell On Wheels (2011-2016)

Original Run: November 6th, 2011 – July 23rd, 2016
Created by: Joe Gayton, Tony Gayton
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Kevin Kiner
Cast: Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Common, Dominique McElligott, Tom Noonan, Eddie Spears, Ben Esler, Phil Burke, Christopher Heyerdahl, Robin McLeavy, Kasha Kropinski, Dohn Norwood, Jennifer Ferrin, MacKenzie Porter, Jake Weber, Tim Guinee, Byron Mann, Reg Rogers, Angela Zhou, Chelah Horsdal

Nomadic Pictures, (Gayton)2, H.O.W. Productions, Endemol, Wirthwhile TV, Entertainment One, AMC, 57 Episodes, 43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2016.

I didn’t start watching Hell On Wheels until recently. I watched the pilot when it originally aired but it didn’t immediately capture me and I didn’t have a lot of time, back then, to keep up with the show on a weekly basis. Shows play much better for me when binge watched.

Having a strong desire for a good western television series and after years of friends touting this show, I figured that it was time to give it a real shot.

Well, AMC has kept their track record of stellar television alive with Hell On Wheels. It is the best western TV series since HBO’s Deadwood and it has actually surpassed it a bit, at least for me.

The cast of Hell On Wheels is marvelous. Anson Mount as lead character Cullen Bohannan is the perfect western protagonist. He is ex-military, has a vendetta against some evil men, is good with a gun, is no nonsense and just a good old badass. Colm Meaney, most famous for playing the lovable and nice Chief O’Brien on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, is better than fantastic as Thomas Durant – a mean and sometimes sinister railroad baron. Common has his best acting role to date, as Bohannan’s friend and badass partner, Elam Ferguson. The cast is rounded out with other great talents and every regular on this show is perfect. But the absolute cream of the crop has to be Christopher Heyerdahl as Thor Gunderson a.k.a. The Swede, who is quite possibly the best villain in television history. The guy is magnificent, his execution is absolute perfection and he seriously gives you the chills.

This show is a work of art. It feels meticulously crafted and the writing is superb. I have read where some people don’t like the direction of the show after the second season but I am fine with it. The show evolves, it changes from year-to-year after the first two seasons were very similar. There just isn’t a low point for me. Granted, there is still a half of a season left where it could go off the rails but I’m pretty confident that when the show returns in a few months, we won’t get an ending on par with the crappy final episodes of Sons of Anarchy or Dexter. And we hopefully won’t get a big unanswered cliffhanger like the similar Deadwood.

I love Hell On Wheels. I would have liked to see it go on for more than five seasons but many great shows don’t make it past a single year. Luckily for us, this solid show got half a decade to shine and develop. One thing is for certain, I will be paying close attention to the careers of Mount and Heyerdahl after this show ends.