As much as we all love classic cartoons it’s not hard to deny that most of them were designed to push plastic. For the cartoons that didn’t have a cool angle like transforming robots or mutated ninja turtles, they needed something else entirely. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s there was this obsession with dropping C and D-list celebrities into their own animated adventures to try and compete. And this stuff was just confusing. Sure, maybe you might have watched Bobby's World or Life with Louie before Batman: the Animated Series or Power Rangers, but we’ve gone to the very fringes of celebrity cartoons to show you just how completely nuts some famous folks were back in the day. So grab a bag of popcorn and sit back for some of the most off-beat cartoons in existence without stepping into the realm of outsider art.
7. The Gary Coleman Show
Don't believe me? That's fine. Maybe you would if I told you that Gary Diff'rent Strokes Coleman had his own TV show. Yeah, the guy from Diff'rent Strokes had a cartoon based on a made-for-TV movie.
I can't find the movie, but The Gary Coleman Show is one of the weirdest things I have ever seen. It features angel-in-training Gary Coleman and a bunch random kids and their adventures doing stuff that people — who have obviously forgotten what it means to be a child — think that children do.
The only reason I know this show even exists is because once upon a time when I was in middle school, I was fascinated by what might be on TV at weird hours in the early morning. That sounds really stupid when I write it out, but at the time I was burning with curiosity. I assumed that late night TV was some sort of magical period of time filled with shows good enough to be picked up by cable networks, but too niche to ever be popular during the day. I don’t know why I thought this. I’d been sick before and watched daytime TV, and I knew it was terrible. But again, I figured that maybe they, whoever they were, couldn’t risk putting on niche stuff on TV when cranky, conservative stay-at-home parents could complain.
I realize now what I was looking for was Adult Swim. I was looking for The Boondocks and The Venture Brothers. I was looking for FLCL and Cowboy Bebop. Unfortunately, I was a little ahead of my time because it turns out that before Adult Swim, Cartoon Network filled its off-hours with pretty much whatever they could find. Y'know, like The Gary Coleman Show. A basic plot is as follows: Gary Coleman comes down to Earth to visit earth children doing something that only a room full of out-of-touch writers or semi-informed space aliens assume children do. In this case, let's say they're training for a fitness race of their own free will while wearing their street clothes. While all this is going on, they're being stalked by Hornswoggle, the most inept and stranger-danger-y version of Satan ever.
If you think about it, that's all he could possibly be. He dresses like a pimp, and he's hunting children and a child-like guardian angel. He's either the most persistent version of the guy with a windowless van ever because he keeps chasing after kids, or he's the devil himself because it takes an angel to fend him off. Personally, I'm going to assume both. Anyway, one thing leads to another, the kids learn a valuable life lesson, and Hornswoggle goes home sexually frustrated yet again. Oh, and did I mention one of the children speaks entirely in rhymes?
What makes the series especially morbid now is the real-life Gary Coleman’s passing in 2010. The poor guy struggled throughout his life and was cursed with a child-like body thanks to rare genetic condition. The whole series feels like some sort of twisted post-script. Maybe Hornswoggle was the devil all along and his ultimate torture for Gary Coleman was to be stuck in animation limbo, where he’d forever be forced into servitude to other obnoxious kids in animated purgatory while Hornswaggle stalks his every move.
6. Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos
Next up is Karate Kommandos. Again, we have a celebrity and a couple hangers-on. This time it's Chuck Norris. Why? Shut up! It's Chuck Norris. While the internet might have loved this if it had been rediscovered only a few years ago, this series has aged poorly. Really poorly. For instance, this show is full of painful Asian stereotypes. There's a sumo wrestler named Tabe and a Samurai called Kimo. Oh, and did I mention his “young ward” is called Too Much. No, that's not an expression. His name is actually “Too Much.” This is almost as bad as the Flintstones episode where the Flintstones and Rubbles take Judo lessons. Norris also has an apprentice named Reed, but we won't spend too much time on him since he's one of the few people on this show who isn’t an offensive stereotype.
We haven't gotten to the best part yet either. Who is Chuck Norris fighting? Ninjas. Of course he's fighting Ninjas. With the wealth of stock characters who populate this show, it couldn't possibly be anything else. Well, actually that's not quite true. Obviously Chuck Norris needs a better quality of enemy than just ninjas. He's Chuck Norris, and he needs to fight a superior grade of ninja or something. Or maybe a super ninja. Yeah. That's it. He'll fight Super Ninja.
I'm not kidding either. Yes, technically the arch nemesis is “The Claw,” another stock Asian guy with a giant robot claw, but the big show stopper here is Super Ninja. He is one of the most baffling things I've ever seen. What's even super about him? He has no powers! Just long hair that makes no sense with the rest of his costume. And let’s just point out that his costume is something that no self respecting ninja would ever wear. Judging from all the clips, the only amazing thing about him is how well he can pretend to be Cobra Commander.
5. Hulk Hogan’s Rock 'N' Wrestling
Third in line is Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling. Originally we were going to use this in a “Five Kid's Shows That Are Actually Just Extended Commercials” article, but we realized that technically Hulk Hogan isn't really a product. The wrestling federation he works for is, but it didn't quite make the grade for us. Well, it made the grade here, even if it's still something of an oddball. Rock 'n' Wrestling is the only show here that doesn't have a bunch of children following the celebrity around. Instead it has more celebrities. Sort of.
It features more wrestlers. So you get Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, The Iron Sheik, and a bunch of other people who were immortalized as oiled-up, body-building gods on posters in the ‘80s. Oh, and just so we're all on the same page, some media higher up decided that actual professional wrestling wasn't cartoony enough. The over-the-top drama filled with super buff guys in leotards or speedos smashing each other and making blustering speeches to antagonize the caricature bad guys like “Gorgeous George” wasn’t ridiculous enough. Somehow they decided to make a children’s cartoon of something that should have easily been an over-the-top spectacle and, well, take the spectacle out of it.
I'm no wrestling fan, but even I can appreciate the spectacle and pageantry of it all. At least they try making it entertaining. There's rock music, violence, pyrotechnics, screaming, and usually some convoluted ongoing plot that takes honest to God effort to follow. You can appreciate the fight choreography and live dramatic performance even if you’re not really a fan of the finished product. A lot of work goes into it. Rock 'n' Wrestling strips all of that out. It’s kind of weird when real-life wrestling is more interesting and animated than the actual animated wrestling show given the fact that in the realm of animation you can have practically anything happen. While you could argue that the show is meant for kids, just because something is made for kids doesn’t mean it has to be boring or lazy. Although we’d pay hundreds of bucks for an animated update featuring Hulk Hogan’s court crusade to bring down Gawker. It’d make a great companion piece to Mike Tyson’s Mysteries.
4. Mister T.
Sure, Mr. T might have gotten a second lease on life thanks to the weird webcomic ring in the mid ‘90s and his World of Warcraft ad in the late 2000s, but the true zenith of his popularity culminated in the Mister T. cartoon. Once again, we're we're back to our original formula. We have one relatively low-ranking celebrity, a bunch of children, and a generic problem to be solved each episode. Mr. T is a gymnastics teacher, and in standard Hanna-Barbera fashion, when you can't figure out what a bunch of people should be doing together, they're automatically going to solve a mystery.
I still have no clue what gymnastics has to do with solving crimes, but it makes about as much sense as a talking shark or dune buggy solving mysteries. It doesn't matter though. What does matter is that somehow Mr. T retains all of his A-Team powers and he uses them all the time.
Watch the intro — he throws an alligator. He's just supposed to be a gymnastics coach. Is he retired CIA? Did he get bored of “stompin' fools” and quit the A-Team? To be fair, Mr. T. himself was at one point in his life an MP (Military Police Officer) and later on a bouncer and hired bodyguard, but this seems so out of context in a show that is ostensibly about gymnastics so none of that really matters. Unless he's a Green Beret, there is no reason he should be jumping on runaway eighteen-wheeler.
Then there's his side kick. Mr. T has a little ginger child who dresses just like him. Whoever wrote this show managed to find the only thing weirder than a mystery-solving gymnastics team. On top of that, they had the audacity to name him "Spike O'Neil." Spike has the most grating voice ever. He's like a human version of Scrappy Doo, and he dresses and acts like a tiny Mr. T. This perfect storm of quirks makes me wish he’d try and live up to his idol by trying to wrestle an alligator, so we could watch the results.
Stop! Change the channel! It’s hammer time! Remember MC Hammer and his parachute pants? In all honesty, the only cultural relevance that MC Hammer still has, aside from a huge amount of outstanding debt to the IRS, is dance emotes in Destiny and World of Warcraft. However, back in the early ‘90s MC Hammer was the go-to guy for clean hip-hop. He had enough popularity that he also got his own cartoon. Only this one was weird. Unlike other celebrity shows MC Hammer wasn’t actually in Hammerman. No, he just rapped the opening theme song. In the world of Hammerman, magical, talking, dancing shoes find mild-mannered youth center worker Stanley Burrell and bestow upon him the powers of gold chains and purple parachute pants.
But here’s the really funny thing. Apparently Stanley Burrell is MC Hammer’s real name. So in some ways, Hammerman is almost like some weird self-insertion fan-fiction where real-life Stanley is living out his fantasy of turning the MC Hammer persona into a superhero story. Or maybe this is all a long con and the only reason Stanley became the rapper MC Hammer in the first place was so he could make a cartoon show where his real-life persona becomes a musically empowered superhero.
Just imagine Thor’s hammer if the hammer would allow those who are worthy to be transformed into the ultimate ‘90s anachronism. You see the magical shoes have lived for eons, with their previous owner being a guy named Gramps who used the shoes to transform into Soulman. I guess the magical dancing shoes transform you into a musical superhero persona rather than bonding with an individual person. Since Gramps represented old-school jazz he became Soulman while Hammerman is the manifestation of the early ‘90s hip-hop. You can almost see the germ of a cool idea here, but nooo, Hammerman just dances, usually in a painfully obvious social message. And just in case the message wasn’t clear enough, the shoes would come back at the end of each episode in real-life puppet form to hammer home the lesson.
2. Little Rosey
When we first read about this we were pretty sure it had to be an animated series starring Rosie O'Donnell. In case you forgot, Rosie O'Donnell was the go-to kid ambassador of fun in the mid ‘90s. She had a talk show where she was famous for flinging koosh balls at guests, she made frequent appearances on the Nickelodeon Kid’s choice awards. However, Rosie O’Donnell was smart enough to keep her dignity. The other famous R-named comedian didn’t seem to have that same sense of discretion.
Honestly, we’re just kinda baffled by this. Roseanne Barr was the star of once a highly regarded sitcom named Roseanne. If you haven’t seen it, I can actually say without a lot of reservation that you should probably watch it. It’s one of the first female-centered shows around that focused on a woman as being important for something other than her appearance. There aren’t any low-brow fat jokes, and the entire show centers around a lower middle class working family that actually has to make important choices regarding their finances. Two Broke Girls can piss off. This show actually depicted what it was like to have enough to get by, but not much more. Barr herself was especially proud of creating what she coined as “fierce, working-class, domestic goddess.”
Anyway, the point is, looking at Roseanne and then Little Rosey, you might be able to see our confusion. Both featured Roseanne Baar, but one was a slice-of-life show with some pretty important social messages despite being a network sitcom and the other was kind of a rip-off of the Muppet Babies. Rosey ping-pongs from one forgettable, imagination-fueled jaunt to another, but all of the grit was washed away in order to avoid worrying their target audience. I very much doubt it was meant to be this way, but knowing both shows, I can’t help but read into this and see Little Rosey as a contextually depressing look at the past of Roseanne’s central character.
We see Rosey, a spunky, intelligent girl with a limitless imagination doing pretty much everything and anything she can dream up. Then cut to 30-some years later and we find a woman named Roseanne beaten down, worrying about bills, stuck with children, working in a factory, and married to an equally working-class husband. It is completely beyond the scope of the show to even let them dream of advancing into another economic strata, let alone anything else. In fact you can almost say that the two shows represent a perpetual looping cycle of disappointment. Showcasing how the working class will always be stuck in their situation — well, that is unless blue collar workers can channel their experience into stand-up comedy bits and be allowed to rise above their roots (so they can tell working-class comedy bits to enough blue collar people that a white collar executive will offer them their own TV show). I guess there’s always revolution. Of course, if we did that, how would we get our TV shows?
1. New Kids On The Block
OK, full disclosure. I was around 4 years old when this band hit their stride, so I don’t know a ton about them outside the context of this cartoon. Like all the others on this list, it’s an attempt to cash in on name recognition and fans willing to consume anything branded with the band’s image. Unlike a lot of these cartoons though, there isn’t really anything that over-the-top or fantastic going on. Nobody has super powers. Nobody is throwing crocodiles or fighting ninjas or wearing outlandish outfits. Well, OK. Nobody is wearing anything outlandish in the context of ‘90s fashion.
The entire plot of the show is that these boys are in a band and the band is famous. I almost miss the crazy surreal antics everyone else seems to be getting up to. There is an episode where one of the band members longs to go to a regular high school, so they stop by and sneak into classes for a day before their show. Are you so bored with fame and money that you’re doing the exact opposite of what every normal teenager wants to do?
The problem here is actually pretty simple. This show is trying hard to be a slice-of-life show that gives the fans more of the celebrities they love in a relatable down-to-earth way, but because the band’s members were marketed in what would eventually become typical boy band fashion. Their personalities are pretty one dimensional. You see, what drives a good slice-of-life show is personality and depth of character that you relate to and come to care about. Their troubles are pedestrian, but that doesn’t matter because you’ve been presented a cast of well-developed, interesting people, and you want to know if they’ll be OK, even if being okay just means finding love or getting a job rather than saving the universe. Think Bob’s Burgers rather than Star Wars.
By definition, the New Kids cartoon was pretty much set up to fail in that regard. I hate to say it, but even Hannah Montana did a better job than the New Kids cartoon. Maybe that’s because Hannah Montana wasn’t real, and so could actually give the audience details about her life and feelings without broadcasting private information to fans. The actual person behind the character, Miley Cyrus, didn’t fare nearly so well as her onscreen counterpart when it came to handling fame, so you can kinda see why giving the kids any depth would ruin the carefully constructed PR image. Even if it hadn’t, you can’t really blame the band members for not wanting to share intimate details of their lives and emotions with a horde of screaming fans that would latch onto anything that was given to them. It’s less terrible and more just sad that even in show devoted to the behind-the-scenes antics of this band, all anyone could do is default back to shell personalities. It becomes especially sad when you realize that the band finally broke up because one of the band members suffered from anxiety attacks.
These celebrity endorsed cartoons have kind of become a relic of the past, we’re really happy we've moved away from the kind of obsessive hero worship that spawned these strange shows. The last vestige of this died off a few years ago in 2005 with the end of The Jackie Chan Adventures. Things have come full circle and we’ve even gotten to the point where we’ve gotten all post-modern about this. Mike Tyson Mysteries on Adult Swim is pretty much designed as a direct parody of these kinds of celebrity endorsed cartoons.
They’ll probably be back eventually since all things come in cycles. Let's face it, a lot of celebrities aren't actors, they're just personalities and even fewer are good writers. Now, I know that they aren't directly involved in writing themselves into children's television (that would just be strangely sad), but they are involved in approving the content. You would think there would be a little bit of shame involved in agreeing to something so sub-par and just slapping their name on it, but instead everyone here lent their face and their name to an obvious cash grab, and didn’t care about the end results.
Thankfully we won’t ever have to worry about seeing something like a Justin Bieber cartoon all we have to deal with is just that weird Instagram photo of that Native American anime girl from his adult coloring book. At least we got to enjoy Mike Tyson Mysteries out of this weird little fiasco of pop culture. Anything that justifies the existence of Norm Macdonald voicing an alcoholic pigeon is worth it in the end.
Sometimes animation has the opposite effect and inspires changes in Hollywood. Check out the video below to see how anime has make an impact on Hollywood:
What do you think is the strangest celebrity cartoon? Let us know in the comments.