Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Forgotten One-Season Wonder

One of the best ways to achieve a cult status among TV aficionados is to be an awesome show that gets canceled after one season or less. After all, if a show doesn't last very long, it doesn't get a chance to jump the shark (or whatever we're calling it these days). Rather than bemoaning how it lost its luster over time, we get to sit around and talk about how it never got the chance to reach its full potential.

Yet among devotees of "brilliant but canceled" television, there's one classic show that rarely gets mentioned- ProStars, which debuted in September 1991 and was yanked unceremonious after one 13-episode season. Maybe it's just snobbery that causes them to overlook a show that was originally broadcast as Saturday-morning animated fare, but that shortchanges one of the greatest shows of its day. Therefore, in an effort to rehabilitate the show's critical rep and rescue it from the dustbin of pop-culture history, I hereby present...


1. Because, well, it's about Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, and Wayne Gretzky solving international crimes. It's like James Bond meets CAPTAIN PLANET, only with world-famous professional athletes, which makes at least 20% more awesome right there.

2. That theme song. It's "We Will Rock You," but with new lyrics - "We are / We are / PROSTARS!" Of course, it seems like the lyricist ran out of inspiration about Michael - "Jordan jams, in your face / gonna put them in their place" - but why nitpick? This was actually the first exposure I ever had to "We Will Rock You," and I remember one time when I was at a baseball game with a friend and they started playing the original version over the PA system. I turned to my friend's dad and asked him why they were playing the ProStars theme song, and he told me to shut and drink my beer so he could get back to watching the game. Ah, memories.

3. Because this was 1991, they made an effort to work a "Bo Knows" joke into every episode. That's what you call topical humor, folks.

4. One of the show's recurring villains was named Clockwork Delorange. For those of you playing at home, that's a Kubrick reference. JUST LIKE ON "THE SIMPSONS."

5. More topical humor: in one episode, the ProStars take on a gang of basketball-playing goons called the Pontiac Hoods. Anyone who remembers the Bad Boy Pistons of the era should appreciate that reference, I'd think.

6. The ProStars team was made up of three members, which is a dramatically clean number. Think of most good jokes you've heard involving a group of people- more often than not, there are three people in that group. One person to introduce the idea, one person to cause the rising action or complicate things, and the third to lead to a resolution. I'm pretty sure Aristotle came up with that. Anyway, there were three ProStars, but they represented all four of the "major" sports. Michael played basketball, Bo played both baseball and football, and Wayne represented hockey, which after Gretzky got traded to the L.A. Kings in the late 80s was a sport Americans were forced to acknowledge was played more than every four years at the Winter Olympics. Today, in our more inclusive times, the ProStars would have to welcome all kinds of other members just so there could be a hero for everyone in the audience. There would be at least one female ProStar (maybe one or both of the Williams sisters, I dunno). There would no doubt be a futbol-playing ProStar for the Latin audience. Who knows, they might even find a way to squeeze in an Asian-American. Meanwhile, ProStars' idea of diversity was that THEY INCLUDED A WHITE GUY.

7. And yet... if there was a third wheel on ProStars (and considering how many members were on the team there would kind of have to be) it was Gretzky. Which is sort of mind-boggling when you consider that America was still struggling with the idea of political correctness and racial sensitivity, and some major-media commenters were still questioning, for example, how successful a black quarterback could be in the NFL (overlooking the fact that Doug Williams had recently led the Redskins to the Super Bowl and Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham were also doing just fine, thank you very much). But on ProStars, the team's most vital members- Michael and Bo- were the African-American ones. Michael was the leader and the brains of the outfit, and Bo was super-strong. Wayne was just kind of there to help out when needed, like if something required skating and/or smacking an object with a stick. A pretty limited skill set compared with the other two. Wayne wasn't just the white guy on the team - he was the TOKEN white guy.

8. So the writers, in an attempt to justify the Wayne character's presence on the show, turned him into the primary source of comic relief. Considering we were just coming out of the 1980s, a golden age for the cliché of the wacky black sidekick, that was a risky enough move. But look at how much of Wayne's comic relief stems from his appetite (seriously, the dude talks about food, like, all the time) and the show becomes downright subversive. That's right, kids - at the height of the War on Drugs and the era of Just Say No, the creators of ProStars were selling kids on the idea that one of the world's most celebrated athletes was HIGH AS A KITE. Suck it, Nancy Reagan!

9. This being the early 90s, they couldn't have a show aimed at kids without including a lesson at the end. But there's something about having the lesson delivered by Wayne Gretzky and Bo Jackson (and less frequently, Michael Jordan) goofing around on soundstages while pretending to talk to each other that makes it go down somewhat easier. Plus there's one episode that doesn't really have a moral, so Wayne just ends up talking about the history of the Stanley Cup. Because he could do that, y'know. His name was engraved on it four times (at the time, anyway).

10. And finally... because after one season, the producers of ProStars already felt like they had enough awesome material for a clip show. That takes some serious cast-iron balls, folks.

So anyway, where's our deluxe-edition ProStars Blu-Ray, Criterion? I hereby volunteer to write the essay.

No comments: