Smurfin’ Smurfs. Like most Americans raised on TV, I learned about the Smurfs not from the 1950s comic strip in which they first appeared, but from the Hanna-Barbera series that ran from 1981-1989 on NBC. Who could forget when Greedy Smurf got greedy or when Brainy Smurf said something smart? Not I, says everyone. But as much as the new Neil Patrick Harris-starring Smurfs movie would like you to remember otherwise: the Smurfs kind of suck, and the TV show really sucks. But! It’s not the worst series to come from Hanna-Barbera — which, to its credit, did create some great series like “The Flintstones,” “Space Ghost,” and “Johnny Bravo.” But this is the Internet, so let’s talk about the ones that sucked hardest.
Here they smurfin’ are.
Any Flintstones Production That Isn’t “The Flintstones”
The original “Flintstones,” which ran on ABC from 1960-1966, is a great show, and not only because there wouldn’t be a “Simpsons” without it. Unlike most televised animation of the time, it took its cues not from other cartoons, but from great sitcoms, like “The Honeymooners.” Hanna-Barbera knew that just because “The Flintstones” was a cartoon, that didn’t mean they’d have to constrain the show to only appeal to children.
Unlike every “Flintstones” spin-off and special, that is. Notable turds in this category include “The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show” (1971-1972), “The Flintstones Meet Rockula and Frankenstone” (1979), and “The Flintstones: Fred’s Final Fling” (1980), as well as the John Goodman and Mark Addy-starring films in 1994 and 2000. Nobody cared about Fred meeting the Thing; people watched the show because (a) it was funny, and (b) it was oddly relatable, that even in the Stone Age, an overweight oaf could be loved by a charming female. Seth MacFarlane, who will remake the show for Fox in 2013, understood this when he said, “I think America is finally ready for an animated sitcom about a fat, stupid guy with a wife who’s too good for him.” Like anything from the guy who brought us “Family Guy,” I’m skeptical, but it can’t be any worse than “The Flintstones: Jogging Fever.”
“Partridge Family 2200 A.D.” (1974-1975)
Hanna-Barbera wanted to make an updated version of “The Jetsons.” CBS, however, asked that they instead find a way to mooch off the success of “The Partridge Family.” The two awful ideas came together, and like the beauty of a child being born, “Partridge Family 2200 A.D.” came out of TV’s womb, all wet and slimy and screaming. Nothing about the show makes sense—Why are they in the future? Was including “A.D.” in the title really necessary, other than they needed something to rhyme with “see’ in the theme song? Why was Danny Bonaduce allowed to have a platform to do anything?—and because it was such an obvious “Jetsons” clone (another question: why did Hanna-Barbera rip off their own show?), nobody watched. I’d rather much the year 2200 look like it did in The Matrix than the shudder-inducing future of “Partridge Family 2200 A.D.”
“A Pup Named Scooby-Doo” (1988-1991)
One of TV’s more regrettable trends over the past 30 years was when networks thought it was a good idea to “baby-fy” shows. It began with “Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies” in 1984 (the first time I ever heard of Star Wars was in an episode of that show) and has since given the world “Baby Looney Tunes” and “Yo Yogi!” Hanna-Barbera, never one to not take an idea from another company, came up with “A Pup Named Scooby-Doo,” featuring pre-teen versions of the Mystery, Inc. Gang. The show had one funny joke (every episode, Fred would blame a character named “Red Herring” for a crime he never committed), but what still doesn’t make sense to me is why Hanna-Barbera would create an entire series around an annoying younger version of Scooby-Doo when they already had the equally annoying Scrappy-Doo in their arsenal? There’s only one diminutive character worse than Scrappy…
Yes, there have already been movies about Godzilla (28, actually) — not including the American whatever-that-was. But never was there a character as terrible, as irritating, as nauseating as Godzooky, Godzilla’s nephew. He’s the Cousin Oliver of the Godzillasaurus Bunch, singlehandedly dragging down an entire show with his wacky demeanor and unnecessary comic relief actions. I remember seeing an episode of “Godzilla” as a kid and just staring at the screen when Godzooky tried to breathe fire and instead just coughed up smoke. If you can’t make a seven-year-old laugh, particularly a seven-year-old who thought Mr. Ticklesnezzer from “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” was the FUNNIEST character ever, you’ve got problems.
Also: Godzilla was a good guy in the show. I later learned he became a protagonist beginning with the series’ fifth film, 1964’s Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, but what the f**k? The best part of any Godzilla or King Kong movie was obviously when the beast stepped on some poor innocent human who, instead of running out of the way, just looked at the giant foot that was about to crush them and screamed into the air—and they took that away from me. When I make my own Godzilla show or movie, it’ll be nothing but people being smashed and it won’t star Matthew Broderick as an action hero.
“The Gary Coleman Show” (1982-1983)
In 1982, Gary Coleman, the diminutive, sassy star of “Diff’rent Strokes,” starred in the treacly made-for-TV movie, “The Kid with the Broken Halo.” It was about as popular as Coleman was small, but NBC still gave the movie an animated spin-off, dubbing it “The Gary Coleman Show,” in an attempt to lure all the wild Arnold Jackson fans to a show about a displaced angel (Coleman) who must do good deeds before returning to Heaven. Wikipedia says, “The character of Haggle, voiced by Geoff Gordon, was the first cartoon character to rap,” a fact that seems impossible to verify, but one I often pray to St. Willis to be true. Whether there were any rapping angels on the show is beside the point—what matters is that “The Gary Coleman Show” lasted as long as “Firefly,” “The Tick,” “Wonderfalls,” etc.
“The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang” (1980-1982)
“Happy Days” isn’t a good show. It was never as funny as people want to believe it is, and its complete oversight of anything that was happening in culture in the late 1950s and early 1960 was, and remains, insulting to viewers. The famous “jumping the shark” incident happened in the show’s fifth season—“Happy Days” would run for six more after that, before it finally rocked around the clock no more in 1984. That being said, “The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang” is even worse. It teamed the Fonz, Richie, and Ralph Malph with a talking dog named Mr. Cool and a futuristic female called Cupcake, and they all traveled through time together. Then they died on their way back to their home planet. The End.
“Casper and the Angels” (1979-1980)/”Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels (1977-1980)”
“The Jetsons” and “The Flintstones” will always resonate with viewers, even though they were set in the future and long ago-past, because they’re both shows about a family. Time hasn’t been kind to “Casper and the Angels” and “Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels,” however. They had wild, ridiculous premises about a friendly ghost and an unfrozen caveman assisting a pair of motorcycle-riding female badasses and a trio of mystery-solving female badasses, respectively. They should have been awesome, but they turned out to be horrible, blatant attempts at capitalizing on the success of “Charlie’s Angels.” And because they were animated, you couldn’t even masturbate to them. It’s like producers don’t even listen to focus groups.
“The Robonic Stooges” (1977-1978)
An entire franchise built around hand slapping, face smacking, and nose grabbing, with absolutely no mind paid to how hurt the heroes get, should be hilarious. But the Three Stooges have never really done it for me. I much prefer Laurel and Hardy, who did just as many physical gags at roughly the same time period, but were somehow less obnoxious. I also prefer Hanna-Barbera’s “Laurel and Hardy” animated series to “The Robonic Stooges,” starring Larry, Moe, and Curly as bionic crime-fighters. By the time the show aired, all three of the original Stooges had died, making “Robonic” disturbingly maudlin. The bad animation, stale jokes, and not-quite-right voice acting didn’t help things, either. “Robonic Stooges” does prove one thing, however: no matter the decade, there will be shows and movies about superheroes, and they will probably suck.
“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids” (1973)
In real life, Butch Cassidy was a train and bank robber, and although his gang, the Wild Bunch, claimed they never killed anyone, this is totally untrue: they murdered at least a dozen individuals. Clearly, Butch would make for a great animated hero! An animated hero who plays guitar and sings lead vocals in a band! But no! Butch Cassidy isn’t that Butch Cassidy—it’s just a total coincidence. Cassidy and the Sundance Kids weren’t a real band, at all; that was just their alias. Instead, they were undercover CIA agents who used the musical group as a front. The real crime: that just because they added an “s” to the end of “kid,” the show avoided a lawsuit.
“The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1968-1969)
Huck Finn is a son of a bitch. On last week’s episode of “Louie,” Louis C.K. summed it up best when he called Finn “a dirty little homeless, little white-trash creep,” whose fondness for the N-word is seriously distributing. So, like Butch Cassidy, he’d obviously make for a great main character in a children’s show. “New Adventures” teamed Huck with Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher, and they were always on the run from the evil Injun Joe. That part of the show was live-action. When they had their newish adventures, like the time they went to the city of Baghistan and that other time that they rowed to an island inhabited by nothing but apes (it’s like an island, nay a planet…a planet of apes), they were superimposed over an animated background, like in the equally racist Song of the South. The words of Mark Twain are often misquoted on the Internet, so let me right this wrong and contribute a totally accurate passage from one of Twain’s journals: “This show is a piece of sh*t.”