On general principle, I protest the new Robocop movie. It’s probably not going to be all that bad (none of this recent glut of remakes are; they tend towards the greater sin of being competent mediocrities), but it’s not going to be the original Robocop, so what’s the damn point?

But a remake of Robocop gives me an excuse to go back and watch the Robocop cartoon, so I suppose it isn’t all bad.

Yes, of course Robocop had a cartoon. Why wouldn’t he? Robocop is a cop that is also part robot. What part of that is not designed to appeal directly to the lizard brain of your average eight year old?

Way back in the golden days, when I had disposable income, I spent a fair amount of it accumulating a vast collection of cartoons from the ’80s and ’90s, often through bootlegs. Such classics as Inhumanoids, Dragon Warrior, Robotix and Phantom 2040.

Also, Gobots.

(Hey, fuck you. I like Gobots…)

Anyway, Robocop was one of those shows, and I was more than a little curious about it, just as I would be about any adaptation of a Paul Verhoeven movie that was intentionally marketed to children. Lords knows I’m still holding out hope that someone out there is a long-lost thirteen episode run of The New Adventures of The Fourth Man. So I picked it up, and watched an episode or two before moving on to other things, never getting back to it until just now.

I know at this point, you’re all probably expecting me to go on a rant where I talk about how the show is a terribly written, neutered, kiddiefied version of Verhoeven’s satirical masterpiece.

Only, I can’t do that, because show is awesome.

And the reason that the show is so awesome is that it’s remarkably faithful to the original movie.

Thanks to the Hand of Verhoeven (which is kind of like the Lubitsch Touch, but with more sucking chest wounds), what could have easily been a cheesy high concept science fiction programmer was instead a smart, biting satire that still functioned as a kickass action flick. This is why it’s a classic in the first place.

And it is nothing short of astounding how close the show hews to that vision within the confines of being a animated program for children.

Coming a mere year after the release of the first film, the setup for Robocop: The Animated Series is pretty much beat for beat from the movie (with an exception I’ll get into a bit later): Alex Murphy still gets killed in the line of duty, and brought back as Robocop. The police are still funded by Omni Consumer Products, who are still neglecting things in Old Detroit in favor of building up Delta City.

That right there is the first sign that dealing with something a little more complicated than the general black and white morality of shows at the time. The good guys work for a company that is, at best, an amoral entity, and at worst, a straight up evil corporation. And, far from fighting the system, they more or less accept this as the way things are.

(I like this, because it’s important that kids learn early on that the system doesn’t work, and that there’s really nothing you can do about it besides keep your head down and collect a paycheck…)

Now it’s a well-known fact that an ’80s cartoon is only as good as the vehicles and playsets it’s been designed by market researchers to sell. But those vehicles need people to drive them, don’t they? So with that in mind, let’s take a moment to look at the cast:

The show does an excellent job of making Robocop seem like more machine than man, which is more difficult than it sounds. For the most part, he seems like the character from the movie. The same, unfortunately, can’t be said for Officer Lewis. The voice actress who plays her lacks the natural charm of Nancy Allen, and while the character thankfully isn’t just a hostage and is allowed to be a fairly strong female protagonist (for the time, at any rate) she’s written and performed somewhat shrill, and even more weirdly fixated on dating Robocop, who should be nobody’s idea of great boyfriend material. Though, I suppose from a technical standpoint, he is the ultimate fixer-upper.

*Drops mic; walks off stage. Comes back one minute later when he realizes this article isn’t nearly finished yet*

Anyway. Besides Murphy and Lewis, we’ve also got:

The Old Man, CEO of OCP, and (tragically) the only representation of Dan O’ Hehrily in animated form.

Sgt. Reed (whose main character trait is using sports metaphors which, by episode two have become completely nonsensical and are quickly and quietly dropped).

Lt. Hedgecock (who plays the role of fellow officer that hates Robocop for no real reason except that he’s a robot).

Dr. McNamara (A scientist for OCP that invented the Ed-260 and is jealous that Robocop gets all the funding and glory; he’s essentially the villain of the piece).

Dr. Tyler, the lady scientist who sees Robocop less as a hunan and more of an award winning science project. She and Lewis constantly butt heads over whether Murphy is a person or a machine.

And, lastly;

Dr. Roosevelt, Dr. Tyler’s lab assistant, who comes off as a fawning fanboy for Robocop.

(It’s worth noting that Roosevelt is black. Taken with Sgt. Reed, who is also black, this show is more diverse than pretty much any show outside of Fat Albert)

So that’s the basic cast. Besides Tyler and Roosevelt, every character listed comes from the movie. How deep does the bench go? They even included Casey Wong, a minor reporter character from the film who acts as the obligatory infodump guy in the cartoon.

This is a fairly unprecented level of fidelity to the source material.

All right, Victor, we get it: so it’s faithful. But get to the point, already: how is it as a viewing experience?

Pretty damn good, if you ask me.

Skipping past the pilot ‘Crime Wave’, which sets up the world decently enough (and includes an amusing scene of the ED-260 directing traffic which ends pretty much how you’d expect), things get more interesting with the one-two combo of ‘Scrambler’ and ‘The Brotherhood’, which basically asks the question: “Does our hero do more harm than good to society?”, to which the show answers, “Well, yeah, probably.”

‘Scrambler’ is the story of a former OCP employee who went to jail for embezzlement, which is not a crime that gets a lot of play on Saturday morning cartoons. He vows revenge by using a computer to take over Robocop, which seems like it should be a very difficult thing to do, except Dr. Tyler accidentally left the password screen open.

(And If the idea that Robocop is password protected doesn’t do anything for you, then you and I just see the world differently…)

And so Robocop goes on a rampage, robbing banks, attacking OCP offices, and generally being a giant metal jerk all over town. Of course, the situation eventually resolves itself just as you’d expect, and things are restored to normal. We don’t have to worry about Robocop being taken over again, because Dr. Tyler is smart enough to change the password. I imagine it’s now her cats birthday or something.

Now, seeing as how I’m watching these on a bootleg DVD (taped off of Philly’s Channel 57, with neat promos for The New Leave It To Beaver over the end credits), I can’t be sure that the episodes originally aired in the order I watched them in, but if ‘The Brotherhood’ came right after, it’s a stroke of genius.

‘The Brotherhood’ is a plea for tolerance that comes out strongly against being racist against robots, while doing everything in its power to make it clear that robots are an incredibly dangerous threat to the public at large. The titular group are anti-robot terrorist that use magnetic science weapons to make robots short circuit and go on destructive rampages. Sure enough, Robocop is affected and goes on his second rampage in as many weeks, culminating in him accidentally yet ruthlessly blowing up a childs’ ball that for some reason looks exactly like the Brotherhood’s magnet weapons.

Now what I’ve described so far probably doesn’t seem all that different from your typical cartoon stuff. In fact, the effectiveness of these episodes in tandem is reliant on their placement in my viewing schedule. I don’t know if they would have worked for me if they’d been separated.

But even these more typical plots benefit from the higher general quality of the writing. Even though the plots are nothing new (And hey, who’s the mysterious, masked leader of the Brotherhood? Why, it couldn’t possibly be that new cop that agrees with everything the robo-phobic Lt. Hedgecock says, could it? Nah…), the dialogue is a cut above what you’d expect. It’s always a bit more pointed and clever.

It takes a few episodes for the stories to catch up to the level of the dialogue, but when it does, we get an outright classic like “No News Is Good News’, where a suspiciously Geraldo Rivera-like anchor attempts to goose his ratings by doctoring footage to make Robocop look like a menace to society. Oddly, the public at large has absolutely no reaction to the stories. I’d imagine that by this point, an out-of-control Robocop is hardly a scoop…

Also, mostly unrelated, is a subplot where Dr. MacNamara sabotages a prototype tank OCP is trying to sell to the U.S. Army. The tank goes on a rampage through Detroit, until Robocop shows up to save the day.

In the end, having seen the attacks on Old Detroit and being convinced of its offensive potential, the Army decides to buy the tank after all.

It’s a happy ending for big business!

Really, I could go on and on. There’s “A Robots Revenge”, wherein Robocop and Lewis prevent a war in the Middle East, for the sole purpose of making sure OCP doesn’t have to pay higher oil prices; “Rumble In Old Detroit”, a morality tale in which a crippled youth falls in with a street gang, and we learn the important lesson that if you help the cops, your legs will be crushed and you’ll be totally paralyzed (Luckily, OCP swoops in to give him new cybernetic legs, with the secondary moral of the story being corporations can fix everything); or “Into The Wilderness”, a pro-environmental tale where the bad guy isn’t defeated by the efforts of our heroes, but by a hilariously cynical bit of corporate backstabbery.

There’s also the episode where Robocop finds a giant blob monster that gives him a cold, making him sneeze out lightning bolts.

Okay, well; they can’t all be winners.

There’s a lot of subversive fun to be had here, but perhaps the best episode is “Menace Of The Mind”. At any rate, it’s my favorite.

The story begins with a report on an illegal headband-type device that enhances cognitive function, kind of a digital Adderal, if you will. The side effects include lobotimization, which makes it a problematic product at best. It turns out stolen microchips produced by OCP are one of the key components of the headbands, which means OCP is putting pressure on the police to find the thieves. A stakeout on the next shipment leads to a firefight with the thieves who are led by Clarence Boddicker.

You know, the guy that killed Alex Murphy.

Boddicker gets the best of a stunned Robocop and manages to escape in a copter, slicing off Robo’s arm in the process.

We are treated to an animated recreation of the murder of Murphy (part of which makes it into the opening credits). And it’s surprisingly accurate (within childrens’ TV guidelines of course), down to the phrase “I’ll bet you don’t think I’m a very nice person…”

(We also find out that this version of Murphy also had a wife and son, which makes Lewis’ romantic overtures even more unseemly…)

At any rate, in this version of reality, Boddicker literally got away with murder, and Robocop swears revenge (as one does). While he recovers, OCP sends in the Ultra Police to help out the police. Now, the Ultra Police are clearly a toy company invention, and sure enough a cursory google search reveals them to be based off of some fairly crummy looking action figures.

But once again, to the show’s credit, subverts expectations, making them almost completely useless and ineffectual before writing them out with a speech about how they never should have tried to upstage Robocop on his own fucking show.

Anyway, that’s enough about the Ultra Police. Fuck those guys, we’re here for Robocop, and his one-man, motorized mission of vengeance against cartoon Kurtwood Smith.

A recharged and re-articulated Robocop tracks down Boddicker, leading to a scene where Robocop clips Boddicker while firing from a helicopter, leading to this completely awesome exchange:

LEWIS: What are you doing? You could have hit that police officer! ROBOCOP: No. My aim is very precise. Boddicker would have killed him if I had not acted immediately. LEWIS: Couldn’t you have just scared him?

ROBOCOP: He IS scared…

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