Mister T “Fortune Cookie Caper” (part 1 of 8)

SUMMARY: Mr. T and the gang show up in New York’s Chinatown, where the owner of a popular Chinese restaurant carries out a string of antiquities robberies, and hires an arsonist to cover up the crimes. The mystery bookstore owned by Jeff’s deeply stupid parents is the next target, and Jeff himself ends up a suspect. To clear Jeff’s name, the gang must stop the villainous Mr. Fong, and the intensely irritating Phantom Firebug, all the while making sure to rush headlong into every trap the bad guys set for them.

Still need proof that Mr. T is Saturday morning’s all-time champion lunatic? Your wait is over. “Fortune Cookie Caper” is so full of opaque reasoning, hilarious non-sequiturs, and inexplicable departures from reality that it makes Zardoz look like Hitch. This episode will have you saying “OH. MY. GOD.” so many times, that the Supreme Deity will eventually start banging on your ceiling to get you to stop bugging Him so He can get some sleep.

And yet, I have no doubt that the absolute insanity of this adventure is merely an accurate reflection of, and a fitting tribute to, the supremely scrambled marbles of its central star, Mr. T.

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Like all children of the ’70s, I’ve seen my share of awful TV that was clearly designed to rot kids’ brains (but only after they’d begged and pleaded for their moms to clean out every store of its Count Chocula and Hot Wheels accessories). To tell you the truth, I wasn’t very selective, either. I watched the animated crap and the live-action crap. I especially loved the third-rate superheroes whose costumes evidently came from the same CVS where I got mine on Halloween. Like Isis (“Oh, mighty Isis!”), who was later paired with Shazam! in one of Saturday morning’s many peculiar shotgun marriages (a group that also included the queen and princess of the No-Budget Superhero Kingdom, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl).

But I felt a special affection for the junk animation: The Chan Clan. Superfriends. Quick Draw McGraw (I was a big fan of El Kabong). Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids (teen idols solve crime—”I pick bad axe and then I get a call” [!]). One of my favorites was Hong Kong Phooey—C’mon, how can you not love a mask-wearing dog that knows karate, and uses it to fight villainous cats? That’s right up there with Superchicken.

Most of these shows had two things in common: Rock-bottom cheap, three-frames- a-minute “animation”, coupled with all the bizarre nonlinear shit you would make your own action figures do when you were three hours past your bedtime, and having a major post-Pop Rocks sugar rush crash. We’re not talking about plot twists here—these were actual plot sprains. But none of it was ever as batshit crazy as the episode I’m reviewing now, Mr. T in “Fortune Cookie Caper”.

Unlike the previous Mister T reviews, which covered two early episodes, this is Mister T episode number 21, produced deep into the 1983-84 season. This will soon become much more apparent, but as the show found its bearings and settled into a groove, it only got more insane. A lot of shows will start to dry up and run out of ideas once they get past the half-season mark, but not Mr. T. No, he keeps going that extra mile to find us new sources of the crapmation equivalent of bitchin’ high-quality ganja, mon.

The passage of time also means the opening credits have been updated, so let’s take a fresh look at the introductory weirdness that sets the tone for the main body of weirdness sure to be found in every episode of Mister T.

At the beginning of the season, the credits opened with the silhouetted gymnast who morphs into a big red T, and inside the T was a big scary silhouette of Mr. T. Evidently, someone thought that a tumbling girl turning into a T wasn’t an ass-kicking enough way to start the show, so at some point they devised the wild new opening logo we’re about to see.

A big granite T zooms toward us. When it’s filled about half the frame, a huge, gold-braceleted arm suddenly shoots out and grabs it. Excellent eye-hand coordination there, Mr. T. But I guess the stony nature of this particular letter of the alphabet is virulently contagious, because the forearm below the bracelet immediately turns to solid stone [!]. And then the arm reforms itself into a small granite “MR”—with a feather earring hanging off the M [!!].

Caption contributed by Mark

Mister T—now with 50% more rock-crushing!

Meanwhile, the hand has stayed human, but no doubt it’s extremely pissed off that its perfectly good arm has been converted into signage. So it takes out its fury on the T by crushing it into dust [!]. The whole mutant assemblage then morphs into Mr. T himself, who takes a moment to smirk at us before letting us meet the team.

Okay, that was weird. So, what I’m getting from this is that Mr. T is so strong, he can crush his own last name with the mighty power of his first name. The question then becomes: what happens to “that period”? It isn’t there in the “MISTER T” logo we’ll see later, for obvious reasons. But here the word “mister” is abbreviated, and the period is still missing. You’d think that if your name consisted of three letters and a punctuation mark, people would be able to spell it correctly most of the time. Especially when it’s part of the title sequence of your own TV show.

The introduction of the team is as before. The redheaded girl bounces off a pommel horse and grins, supremely pleased with herself. This is Robin, voiced by Amy Linker, former co-star of Square Pegs! Man, I loved that show.

Token Black Guy (Woody, voiced by the slightly famous Phil LaMarr) and Apollo-Hair (Jeff, voiced by Shawn Lieber, who was on CHiPs that one time, remember that?) swing off their equipment (now, now) and stick the landing. Then they lean toward each other and smile like they’re about to endorse something. (“We only use Mr. T brand crapmation!”)

Li’l Redheaded Boy (Spike, voiced by Teddy Field III) looks scared in his Mini T duds, but then is strangely comforted by the crushing weight of the ex-bouncer’s slab-like hand on his shoulder. Token Asian girl (Kim, voiced by Siu Ming) hurls herself off the uneven bars, only to suffer another bout of chronic arm-shortening when she lands. I hate it when that happens.

And guess what? Still no Mexican kid. The earlier version of the credits gave us a long look inside Mr’s T’s Magic Tour Bus, and wow, there was a whole Rainbow Coalition in there. But now, not only do we get the introductions of the same four gymnasts (plus the Wanna T), with no Hispanics in sight, but the bus shot is gone! I suspect some sort of Jedi mind trick at work here. There were no Hispanics. You never saw a Hispanic. You can go about your business. Move along.

Now we get some new sample scenes from Mr. T’s excellently warped adventures. First, Woody dives off the top of a ship’s mast, hanging onto a rope. As he swings around, the angle changes to Mr. T on the deck of the same ship, holding the wrist of a big fat bearded guy in a Hawaiian shirt and a captain’s hat, who happens to be holding a harpoon gun in his other hand. Behind him is a flunky in a fish mask [?] with another harpoon gun. I can’t say I really want to know how this particular scenario came about, in whichever episode it’s lifted from.

I guess Cap’n Fatso was going to shoot Mr. T with the harpoon gun at point-blank range (ouch!), but Bat-Woody swings into view and his magic feet knock the guns out of the Cap’n’s hand and the Fish-Faced Flunky’s hand at the same time. Wow, Woody’s superpowers are totally wasted on gymnastics. Especially since he somehow prevented the two villains from foiling his attack by simply moving their hands out of the way. (This whole can’t-move-out-of-the-way thing is actually a motif on Mister T, as we’ll soon see.)

Caption contributed by Mark

Not only can his feet emit a sun-like, blinding glare—but if he clicks his heels together, ice skates come out!

The old shot of Mr. T nodding is retained, so I guess T still approves of violence. Then we get a shot of Mr. T hanging off the side of a catamaran with a strap around his back, and just by leaning back and straightening his legs he arcs his side of the boat a good six feet out of the water. [!!] Mr. T: the most amazing advancement in boat racing since the secret Australian keel!

The crocodile shot is, of course, too good to be replaced, and so we’re still treated to the animated manna of Mr. T swimming under a crocodile, grabbing it by the tail, and swinging it around in circles over his head as if it were a housecat. (Why are you looking at me like that? Cats love it, trust me. And the Doppler effect is awesome.)

More new clips. First, Mr. T not only ski-jumps, but he performs an in-the-air triple somersault. Holy crap. We cut away before we get to see if T is really the “agony of defeat” guy from Wide World of Sports. Next, he turns and grins at us, and Albert wasn’t kidding—he has four teeth in his head and they’re each the size of floor tiles. The shot of Woody and Robin flying forever through the air before knocking over two goons is recycled. Then, we get something that is, well, truly special.

Mr. T is deep in the low end of a long, depressed underground cavern somewhere. At the top of the cave is the mouth of a tunnel. For some reason, Mr. T grabs a couple of three-foot long stalactites and hurls them across the cave (during which time they somehow double in size). And get this, he hurls them with such amazing force that the pointy ends impale themselves [!] deep in the rock floor of the cave, sticking more or less horizontally out of the high end of the cave floor. Did I mention it was a rock floor? And aren’t stalactites just sedimentary deposits? Shouldn’t they shatter into a million pieces on impact?

But we’re not done. Turns out T did have a reason for doing this, because as soon as the stalactites are in place, some sort of Zamboni-like vehicle hurtles out of the tunnel. It heads straight for T—but instead roars up Mr. T’s makeshift stalactite ramp and zooms up into the air [!], accompanied by a hilarious sproing! sound effect from the flexible but perfectly embedded stalactites. The vehicle flies out of the shot and then the picture shakes, so I suppose we’re meant to infer that the Zamboni slammed hilariously into the cave wall. No doubt the lethal shrapnel from this explosion also sliced Mr. T into a gory mess. But after watching a few episodes of this show, I’m pretty sure Mr. T is immortal, so that’s okay.

Caption contributed by Mark

“Mr. T will never escape from our giant rolling tongue despressAIIIEEEEEE!”

Then we see T in the cockpit of a fighter jet [!?]. The jet has evidently crashed into a snow-covered mountain, and he and his ejector seat suddenly shoot straight up into the air, like he’s a cow about to be skeletonized by a pizza-shaped flying saucer. So, not only can Mr. T ski, but he can also fly fighter jets. Although, given the whole crashing thing, maybe not. Anyway, it looks like he ejected just in time, because the jet immediately explodes. Too bad he drops right back down into the middle of the flaming wreckage, and smashes himself into jelly. No wait, that last part only happened in my vivid daydreams. Sorry.

We close out the opening credits with a group shot of Mr. T, the four gymnasts, and Mini T, and guess what? Except for that brief reused shot of Robin flying through the air, everyone but Woody totally whiffed their chances of getting into the opening credits. They should just go ahead and retool this show as Mr. T and His Best Friend Woody.

To top off the credits we get the silhouetted gymnast who turns into the big red T, as before, and another group shot appears—and hey! All the Rainbow Coalition kids from the bus are back! Who are these people? We may never know. In fact, we probably didn’t really see them. No, we definitely didn’t see them. Moving along…

Caption contributed by Mark

…and this is the team they bring out for EEOC inspections.

This group shot, by the way, has become the first we see of the dog with the Mohawk. His individual intro, which was in the original opening credits, got cut for some reason. I hope it was to make room for the stalactite scene, because that was just fantastic. For all the wrong reasons. But still fantastic.

The animation fades out and we’re looking at Live Action T. Yes, the live action bookends are still part of the show. No way are they getting rid of these. Everybody knows these are hilarious. Even the producers of the show. Especially the producers of the show.

Mark "Scooter" Wilson

Mark is a history guy, a graphics guy, a guy for whom wryly cynical assessments of popular culture are the scallion cream cheese on the toasted everything bagel of life. He spends his time teaching modern history at Brooklyn College, pondering the ancient Romans at the CUNY Graduate Center, and conjuring maps and illustrations for ungrateful bankers at various Manhattan monoliths. Readers are welcome to guess at reasons why he’s nicknamed Scooter, with the proviso that all such submissions are guaranteed to be rather more interesting than the truth. Mark lives in the Midwood section of Brooklyn with a happy-go-lucky, flop-eared dog named Chiyo who is probably, at this very moment, waiting patiently for her walkies.

Multi-Part Article: Mister T "Fortune Cookie Caper"
TV Show: Mister T

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