Wednesday, July 08, 2009

TV: Inspector Gadget

Have you ever revisited something that you loved in childhood only to discover that, without the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, it doesn't hold up that well? I found this was the case with "Inspector Gadget," a cartoon series created by Andy Heyward, Jean Chalopin, and Bruno Bianchi (who also helped direct the first season):

For people who didn't grow up in the 1980s, "Inspector Gadget" followed a bumbling, overconfident police inspector with cartoony cybernetic enhancements. Each episode, Inspector Gadget foiled the plans of MAD, an evil organization headed by the mysterious Dr. Claw. Since Gadget was essentially incompetent, he was helped surreptitiously by his young niece Penny and her super-intelligent, semi-anthropomorphic dog Brain.

The first thing that jumps out when you watch the show as an adult is how brutally formulaic it is. Every episode has the same story - Gadget (voiced by Don Adams) gets an assignment, Gadget meets the villains (whom he invariably thinks are the good guys), the villains try to off Gadget, and then Penny and Brain find a way to save the day without anyone knowing.

There are still genuine moments of slapstick bliss, if you look for them. Most of these involve Gadget's gadgets, which malfunction at inopportune times. Seeing Gadget, after falling off a cliff, call forth a parachute - "Go go gadget parachute!" - only to have a flower pot pop out of his hat is pretty funny, in a Theatre of the Absurd kind of way.

So maybe I'm being a little harsh on "Inspector Gadget." What's funny and comprehensible for a kid (broad humor, easily digestable plots) usually isn't appropriate for adults. I appreciate it when people try to make work that appeals to all age groups (Pixar's "The Incredibles" being the best example, I think), but there's something to be said for a world in which only kids can inhabit, a work that can only be fully appreciated when you're young.


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