Growing up I never really got into G.I. Joe, but instead was a Transformers kid. I realize now that was a mistake. After all, the fact that it was a kids’ show in a country that tolerates little or no anime-style violence or Doctor Who-style bleakness in its mainstream children’s entertainment meat that G.I. Joe couldn’t do a lot of the things you’d expect from a show about an American paramilitary organization. No storylines about Cobra supporting the Lord’s Resistance Army in order to create a power vacuum in the Central African Republic, and no episodes that show G.I. Joe storming Pyongyang to rescue a group of tortured hostages. This meant that instead the writers of G.I. Joe had to eschew the obvious and aim for the creative – and by “creative” I mean “drug-trippingly insane.”
The challenge of taking a potentially very serious topic and making it mostly toothless also meant that Cobra had to be the most bizarre, non-threatening terrorist organization ever, sort of what Al Qaeda would be if you took away their death toll and left them with nothing but their attempts at corporate branding and hip-hop. This episode more than most really reveals why that makes Cobra one of the more memorable villains to come out of Saturday mornings. Who else would steal a bunch of satellites in order to launch their own TV network? Not the Decepticons!
Feel free to make your own FOX News jokes.
All this is from the episode titled “The Wrong Stuff”, and as you might guess from the almost thirty-year old reference it’s sadly not really about Cobra’s TV network. See, the Himalayan base Cobra is broadcasting from is, according to Cobra Commander, too well-hidden for the Joes to uncover.
Jesus Christ! Even Dr. Wiley would accuse Cobra Commander of being too flamboyant! Well, I guess at least this base doesn’t have a giant cobra on top of it like so many of their other ones. I guess in Cobra terms that is a secret base.
Well, apparently the Joes really aren’t that bright after all or they really need to put more money into their reconnaissance budget, because the only way to stop Cobra is actually go out into space and take out their satellites. it’s all just an excuse to get G.I. Joe to fly a space shuttle, and fight in zero gravity, and there’s a training montage while they’re tested to see who can go out of space that takes up about five minutes, and…well, how can you keep up your interest with the heroes when the villains are airing things like Mr. C?
Unfortunately, we only get to see him say “I pity the fool that doesn’t join Cobra!” Does he sing songs like “Treat the Baroness right!” or does he travel the world with a gymnastic team as they steal state secrets for Cobra? Sadly we will never know. At least Mr. C“wasn’t the worst, most shameless attempt to exploit Mr. T’s good name by a powerful organization promoting a deranged, nonsensical ideology.
Speaking of which, we do also get to see Cobra Commander on his very own talk show, where we learn, “I was six when I realized that I could run society better than the morons that are in charge!”
This just raises even more questions that Mr. C. For example, is really just a full hour of Cobra Commander ranting at an empty suit? Or would they have kidnapped and/or blackmailed celebrities as guests? “We’ll hear some more about Cobra Commander’s trying years in junior high, but now…Cher!” Or would it just be the other members of Cobra? Would the host ever ask the Baroness and Destro about their simmering sexual chemistry?! Anyway, it’s the Cobra Commander interview that proves the last straw to the Joes, with Lady Jaye angrily commenting, “Some people would watch anything!” Now this is an episode that literally speaks to me.
But it’s not just infotainment and knock-offs of popular shows; CTN also has original programming designed to promote what Cobra Commander calls Cobra’s “social philosophy,” like The Likeables. Three Smurf-like beings (only green) are walking down a road, with one complaining that nobody likes him. The other two cheerfully remind him that it’s because he’s “different” and use their magic to make him look more like them. Then we get some hardcore Cobra “social philosophy”: “”Only when everyone looks alike and acts alike and thinks alike and never ever gets angry, can we achieve world peace.” Leave it to an international terrorist organization to finally give us a young children’s show moral that realistically prepares viewers for what school and, let’s be honest, what working in most offices is like.
I kind of lost interest after the show was clearly done with the CTN idea. From then on, it’s just space battle, space battle, Destro is awesome as usual, Joes win, hooray. Well, to be fair we do also get Cobra Commander playing with a giant globe for absolutely no reason. Who wouldn’t follow this man? And, really, I’m not sure if I meant that as a joke.
That is one of the things that made G.I. Joe so much fun, and still makes it more distinctive than the inevitable “darker and edgier” adaptations. Destro and the Baroness come across as at least very rational, competent villains, but they still play second fiddle to the backstabbing, cowardly, inept, and pretty crazy Cobra Commander. It’s Dilbert before Dilbert, The Office before The Office…but with hi-tech terrorists! Seriously, if Shredder and Krang were the dysfunctional sitcom family of kids’ shows, then Cobra had the screwball office environment.
Really, though, this episode would have been so much more fun if it had Cobra trap the Joes in some kind of Running Man-like game show, or if we had more clips from CTN’s Thursday night line-up. But at least we do get to see Cobra host a fundraising telethon, but that’s a tale for another time…