I've recently been thinking about a lot of the shows I watched when I was growing up. And I'm thinking of obscure stuff - not just talking about Mr. Belvedere, Alf, or Mask - those were too mainstream.
The first show I want to mention is Tranzor Z. This was one of my favorite cartoons. It was similar to Voltron, I guess, but there was only one super-robot, with more weapons embedded in his three-story body than I can even remember. And the pilot, who flew an odd-looking hovercraft into Tranzor Z's head to pilot it, was for some reason obgliged to shout the names of the various attacks. Chest Ray!! Rocket Punch!! Photon Beeeeam!!
Tranzor Z's companion robots were even better. Aphrodite A was the obligatory female robot, but she was sadly lacking in the weapons department. While Tranzor Z had near-limitless supplies of lasers and missiles, Aphrodite A had only two rockets. Yep, you guessed it, her breasts were actually rockets. And once she'd fired one, she'd run around for the rest of the episode with a big hole in one side of her chest. Tranzor Z's other buddy was Bobobot. My favorite. Bobobot was the comic relief. He really had no weaponry at all. I believe that some guy had just managed to assemble the giant robot from spare parts in some junkyard.
The next show I'll mention is The Wizard, a show about a technological genius who just happens to be a midget. What a great gimmick! Otherwise, it was a lot like MacGyver. I remember one particular episode in which the guy rigged a car so that the steering and petals were nonfunctional and he could drive the car from a secret compartment under the hood where (of course) only he could fit. The bad guy got into the car and found, much to his chagrin, that he wasn't in control. Ah, you've got to love eighties television.
Next, Thundarr the Barbarian.
The year 1994: From out of space comes a runaway planet, hurtling between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic destruction. Man's civilization is cast in ruin. Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn... A strange new world rises from the old: a world of savagery, super science, and sorcery. But one man bursts his bonds to fight for justice! With his companions Ookla the Mok and Princess Ariel, he pits his strength, his courage, and his fabulous Sunsword against the forces of evil. He is Thundarr, the Barbarian!
That about says it all - I was pretty fond of that cartoon.
How about Automan? It was a show about a computer-geek police officer (played by Desi Arnaz Jr) who codes a "hologram" that can fight crime. Automan was essentially jumping on the Tron bandwagon. Tron had been a hit two years earlier, but Automan couldn't quite match up. It was cancelled after twelve episodes.
I still remember the pilot episode: Automan, I built you! On a scale of one to ten, you're an eleven! Automan also had a sidekick named - (brace yourself) - Curser. Curser could create sports cars, helocopters, anything Automan needed. Once again, I give you eighties television.
You may remember Battle of the Planets, although you may know it by another name - G-Force. It was re-edited and re-dubbed years later under that name.
Battle of the Planets! G-Force, five incredible young people with superpowers! And watching over them from Center Neptune, 7-Zark-7! Watching, warning against surprise attacks by alien galaxies from beyond space! G-Force! Fearless young orphans, protecting Earth's entire galaxy, always five, acting as one! Dedicated! Inseparable! Innnnnn-vincible!
Gosh, that must have been my absolute favorite cartoon growing up. About ten years ago, I caught some of the re-dubbed episodes on The Cartoon Network and scrambled for a blank VCR tape. But sadly, this was the re-edited version, and the characters' names were different than I'd remembered. Still, it was a trip.
Listen to the names of the enemies they faced: The robot sea anemone creature, the micro-robots, giant robot ants... do you detect a theme? And the best thing was that G-Force's ship, The Phoenix, could burst into flames on command, making it somehow invincible. The problem was that the crew inside the ship could hardly stand the temperature, so it was always a last-ditch effort. Oh, and somehow, by standing on each others' shoulders in a pyramid and flapping their capes, G-Force could form a tornado.
One thing I didn't realize until I watched the show as an adult was how downright violent it was. In one episode, the bad guys create an earthquake which swallows up some random scientist and then the ground closes back up on him - squish. The man's daughter, a little girl, ends up with G-Force inside The Phoenix when they confront the enemy, and the crew lays into the little girl, saying that she has to press the button which will launch a missle and kill the bad guys - for revenge. The little girl insists that she doesn't want to hurt anybody, although she's obviously torn, her finger hovering over the button. Eventually one of the G-Force guys grabs her hand and forces her to press the button and kill the bad guys. How non-PC is that?
In one scene from another episode, everyone is on some giant airplane, in some kind of giant hangar-bay. On a high balcony above the plane's docking port, Jason (one of G-Force's members) pins one of the generic bad guys to the wall and repeatedly punches him in the stomach. It was probably just to save animation frames that so many stomach-punches were thrown, but it came out looking just a bit overviolent and overdone because that shot went on so long. Then, he hits him one last time, and the bad guy goes flying over the rail, falls about fifty feet to the floor, bounces about three times, and then falls out of the plane to his death. I gawked when I saw that one.
This is the television that I grew up on. I think it was before I was even in Kindergarten.
Street Hawk was almost Robocop-like, although it was three years before robocop. I suppose they were trying for more of a Knight Rider thing. Still, same theme: a tough cop gets the crap kicked out of him by bad guys and returns in the employ of a secret government agency with high-tech equipment to beat the crap out of the bad guys. So Street Hawk was an all-terrain attack motorcycle designed to fight urban crime. Geez. The part I remember most is the music that would play when the motorcycle would turn on the rocket thrusters and drive upwards of 200mph, somehow taking sharp corners (even 90° turns!) at that speed.
Nobody I've talked to remembers Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors. In this show, The Lightning League, led by nineteen-year-old Jayce, battles the Evil Monster Minds whilst searching the universe for his father.
The Monster Minds, led by Saw Boss, are basically alien plant-men who can change at will into plant-vehicles resembling tanks, except they've all got big guns, giant jaws, and/or giant spiked wrecking balls at the end of tentacles. Of course, the good guys have their own vehicles, mounting guns, cranes, and giant drills. Most episodes consisted of the vehicles all driving around on the enormous vines that seemed to have conquered most planets, and fighting with the vehicles' melee weapons rather than the guns.
I'll bet you don't remember the Misfits of Science. I just recently got a copy of the entire seasons' episodes on DVD from EBay. The group was kind of a disorganized X-Men. A Scientist - Dr. Billy Hayes - leads a research team trying to help "misfits". His co-worker, 7'4" Dr. Elvin Lincoln invents a shrinking serum and becomes a misfit as he can then shrink down to 7 inches tall by yanking at the back of his neck. They're joined by two misfits they've helped: Gloria (courtney Cox) who's a telekinetic, and "Johnny B", the token cool-guy who was electrocuted during a rock concert and now can shoot lightning bolts and run at near-light speed. He's forced to wear shades to conceal his glowing eyes - he's not wearing them just to be cool - honest. But if he touches water, it burns him - could be deadly. How the heck is this guy even alive?!? The human body is mostly water!! How does he not die without water?!?
Anyway, This group is occasionally joined by Arnold Biefneiter, a.k.a. The Iceman. This is a cryogenically frozen worker from 1937 whose mind was apparently damaged in the freeze. He's obsessed with Amelia Earheart, and the only thing he can say is "AMELIA!!" as he stumbles around like the abominable snowman. Delightfully bizarre.
The last show I've got to mention is Kidd Video. This MTV-inspired show was big in its time. It was a combination of live action and cartoon, the premise being that the characters were members of a rock band who were snatched away by The Master Blaster and turned into cartoons. Having escaped The Master Blaster, they spend each episode cruising around in the flying Kiddmobile and avoiding capture by Master Blaster and The Copycats, trying to escape The Flipside and get back to the real world.