10 Terrible Cartoons and Shows That Went Sci-Fi (For No Discernable Reason)
?To quote the immortal words of Captain James T. Kirk of the starship USS Enterprise, “Space: the final frontier. …where no man has gone before.” While the general population views the vastness of space as the next great voyage of discovery in mankind’s storied legacy, the ever jaded nerd has a more cynical perspective of the universe, especially where beloved franchises are concerned. True, a cartoon or live action TV series with a space age/futuristic theme — if done correctly — can make for epic storytelling, but more often than not it becomes a hospice for programs that are losing steam and trying in a vain attempt to maintain some form of relevancy in the minds of a fickle audience. Even worse, some of these shows ended prematurely because of low ratings, leaving untied loose ends and unresolved conflicts forever floating through the lonely void of outer space; only to be picked up by passing fan fiction writers wanting to force romance between otherwise incompatible characters.
From the Dark Knight to the appropriately apt shark-jumping Fonz, no man, woman or superhero was safe from being drafted into the aerospace program and jettisoned into parts unknown. Blast off with 10 terrible cartoons and shows that went sci-fi (for no reason) and blasted off into a galaxy of goofiness.
10) Batman Beyond
Batman Beyond is divided into two fervent camps: those that feel it’s a welcome addition into the Batman mythos and others who view it as nothing more than a series riding the coattails of the inimitable Batman: The Animated Series and its sequel series, The New Batman Adventures. There are a few reasons why Batman Beyond may not be so fondly remembered by fans, but chief among them is the partial loss of the sophisticated storytelling and urban neo-noir setting of the previous due to the show pushing futuristic themes and the teen angst plaguing series protagonist Terry McGinnis/Batman — because that’s what the kiddies go crazy for: in-your-face cyberpunk edginess. Not to mention the last vestiges of ’90s grunge hanging over the cartoon like a storm cloud of apathy.
But be honest here for a second, we were no doubt spoiled with the level of artistic brilliance of Batman: The Animated Series, and because of that we had high expectations with anything that succeeded it. That and us nerds are an indifferent lot, we’ve had more than our fair share of hover cars, robots and future technology from various shows, movies and other media. Am I saying that Batman Beyond is unforgivably awful? No, but still, is all that sci-fi nonsense really going to improve a timeless character?
9) Spider-Man Unlimited
To answer the question above: yes it does apparently, if you happen to be a Fox Network executive desperate for ratings. Like Batman: The Animated Series, Spider-Man Unlimited was another follow-up series to its predecessor Spider-Man, and thrown into the futuristic setting of Counter-Earth for no other reason other than to resuscitate a dead animated franchise. Unlike Batman Beyond‘s redeeming quality of maintaining the same animation style and voice cast, Spider-Man Unlimited did the complete opposite, leaving the possibility that it follows previously established continuity of Spider-Man dubious.
And the enemies that Spider-Man faced couldn’t be anymore generic: an uninspired race of humanimals called Beastials and their master — a totally unrecognizable High Evolutionary that deviated from his classic design in the comics. Although Venom and Carnage followed Spidey to this otherwise trite locale, the fact that there were no actual classic adversaries from his rogues gallery — and all the grudges that come with — made for a less than an engaging experience. But the show’s worst offense? The design and themes reminded us all of that god-awful “Clone Saga” of the mid-’90s. Luckily, Pok?mon was just hitting airwaves at the time and its popularity snuffed out the life of the series before it could do anymore damage to our psyche. And it ended on a cliffhanger to boot!
8) Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century
“It’s elementary, my dear Watson, that this show is absolute swine bollocks!” Even James Moriarty himself couldn’t even come up with a concept more sick and twisted than Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century. Children nowadays don’t read books like they used to unless it’s a pseudo-comic about fat superheroes in underwear, stories where kids rule and adults drool or whatever these little bastards are passing off as literature. Try getting them to read a classic novel and — watch out — they’ll smack you across the face with their novelization of Adventure Time! Not to worry, though, the geniuses at DiC Entertainment remedied that situation back in the ’90s by taking everything that made Sherlock Holmes a literary classic and replacing it with mutants, robots and 3D animated sequences that look like a computer animation student’s rushed final project. Holmes’ cocaine addiction was also, regrettably, omitted…
The series barely lasted a year before the plug was pulled and was doomed to float around in syndication on the early morning cartoon blocks of obscure television channels. If the show had succeeded, it definitely would have paved the way for more bastardized versions of literary characters like Dorian Gray and the Galactic Command, or Space Scrooged.
7) Sonic Underground
Sonic Underground falls into the same category as Spider-Man Unlimited and to an extent Batman Beyond in that it is a cartoon franchise that refuses to pull the plug and throws its characters into a futuristic/post-apocalyptic setting simply for the sake of doing so, as well as removing nearly all recognizable elements save, of course, Sonic and Dr. Robotnik. The storyline of the series revolves around Queen Aleena the Hedgehog and her three children — Sonic, Manic and Sonia — all living in peace on the planet Mobius. But when Dr. Robotnik seizes control of Mobius, Aleena heeds one of the most poorly written and executed prophecies in fiction: place the children in hiding, come back for them later and overthrow Robotnik and his robotic cesspool of an empire. Oh, and in the meantime Sonic and his siblings form an underground rock and roll band. How original!
The entire tone of the show feels like even the writers, voice actors and animators weren’t giving their all in the series, knowing full well that the day of the blue hedgehog had come to an end. But the main reason the show likely failed before it could reach a conclusion was because it was still holding onto the Sega Genisis-era Sonic of the early ’90s. By the time Sonic Underground hit television, Sega had already released the Dreamcast and the game Sonic Adventure, a stark contrast from the light-hearted gaming fare a few years back. Rather than make proper changes, DiC stuck to their guns and watched the ratings nosedive.
6) Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?
An appropriate title for this game show should have been Where in Time Did Carmen Sandiego Run Off with the Budget?, because this sequel series pales in comparison to its predecessor, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, in nearly every respect. First, the melodious singing troupe Rockapella was replaced with a group of singers/dancers probably from the community performing arts center down the street from the studio simply called “The Engine Crew.” Second, the show’s various villains were all played by, yep, “The Engine Crew.” And lastly, the computer graphics were on par with the FMV cutscenes of the game The 7th Guest. Where in the World? always felt like a much larger production, but at the same time it didn’t rely on all the cheap-o sci-fi bells and whistles of its successor to rake in the ratings; back then we actually appreciated its subtleties and the use of a 40’s era private eye theme. If that’s anything to go by, Where in Time? was no doubt using the future/time travel theme to distract viewers from the suck.
5) Partridge Family 2200 A.D.
True story: Partridge Family 2200 A.D. started life as a pitch for an extension of The Jetsons, which would have featured Elroy Jetson as a teenager (still wearing his overall/baseball cap ensemble presumably) and Judy as a reporter. The executives at Hanna-Barbera ultimately rejected the idea, having seen the Partridge Family as a more profitable venture. Working ever diligently, the animators toiled around the clock reusing and tracing over stock images from The Jetsons and throwing in the Partridges in the place of George Jetson and his family. A few outdated and recycled spacey sound effects later, no one was the wiser… except for a few kids smart enough to know the wool was being pulled over their eyes and the Partridge Family franchise had at this point run its course. Just like that the series barely lasted a year and ended up as filler for the syndicated cartoon show Fred Flintstone and Friends.
4) Gilligan’s Planet
Professor Hinkley, after years of inventing coconut radios and other pieces of useless island technology, has created what the residents of Gilligan’s Island so desperately needed: salvation in the form of a fully functional spacecraft, able to fly them off the island. But, hey, if it’s capable of interstellar travel, why not fly around the universe a bit before returning to the comforts of civilization — what can go wrong? Always tempting fate, the Skipper failed to do the one thing that he should have learned a long time ago: tie up and gag Gilligan, then throw him into a barrel until the trip is over. So thanks to his lack of foresight, and Gilligan’s trademark assholery, everyone gets stranded again, this time on a planet light years away from Earth. Sadly, the first episode didn’t consist of the crew going into a blind rage and ripping Gilligan limb from limb, so we were forced to endure 13 episodes of Filmation’s penchant for overusing the same character animations and backgrounds throughout the one season.
3) Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space
Of all the shows on this list, Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space was probably one of the first to pioneer the concept of launching tired characters into space and watch as they escape the clutches of galactic dictators and evil aliens through their crazy antics. Flying aimlessly through space in their phallic-shaped spacecraft, the Pussycats and the rest of the gang try desperately to get back home, but that doesn’t mean they can’t squeeze in a concert or two for the various worlds they visit; I seriously just explained nearly every episode of the series in a nutshell. It’s a little hard to believe, however, that nearly all the alien races they encountered in the series had a firm grasp of the English language, but what would have made the cartoon a bit more believable was if one of their preachy songs about love was misinterpreted as an alien racial slur, resulting in the characters working tirelessly to stay one step ahead of bounty hunters and assassins sent to hunt them down.
2) Casper and the Angels
When you think of space, the last thing that would even come to mind is Casper the Friendly Ghost. But there must’ve been some insane executive over at Hanna-Barbera who associates the cosmos with everyone’s favorite dead kid because then we wouldn’t have the abomination Casper and the Angels! In the year 2197, Casper is a guardian angel (contradiction, ahoy!) for two galactic policewomen named Minnie and Maxie, and has a companion in the form of Scary Hairy — whom of which I’m assuming is the restless spirit of a yeti who wore a yellow bow tie in a previous life. Seriously, what I just described makes you question the mental health of whoever pitched this. Look, finding the preserved body of Sherlock Holmes and reviving him in the 22nd century kinda makes sense. Spider-Man traveling to Counter Earth and fighting futuristic threats is, to a degree, plausible. But making Casper a space cop just defies all logic and is tantamount to hammering a square peg into round hole: it’s not going to fit, but sure as hell going to try, damn the results! But while we’re on the topic of making incongruous elements work…
1) Fonz and the Happy Days Gang
…here we are at #1. I know the burning question that’s assaulting your cranium right now: why? Why the talking dog named Mr. Cool? Why the future chick named, of all things, Cupcake? And why the Fonz and the Good Group? It’s all quite simple really: it’s the result of the BBC not granting Hanna-Barbera (them again!) the license to create an animated series based on Doctor Who. That’s right, children of the early ’80s were deprived of a long overdue cartoon featuring the good doctor and instead were treated to an animated spin-off of a show that had jumped the shark years ago (both figuratively and literally).
The intro’s narration by Wolfman Jack alone conveys how asinine the entire concept is; the man sounds clearly confused. I can just imagine Jack in the recording booth reading his lines and then mouthing “what the fuck?” through the soundproof glass, only for the bitter voice director to gesture with his hands “keep reading!” It’s too bad the series didn’t last that long, I’m sure we would have seen an episode where Mr. Cunnigham becomes a despotic cyborg overlord who fights Chachi and his freedom fighters on a regular basis.