Mister T “Fortune Cookie Caper” (part 3 of 8)

The animation returns with a pan across New York’s Chinatown. We see neon signs, red terraced roofs, Chinese lanterns, banners across the street—all the stuff that’s straight out of The World of the Hollywood China-Man. I doubt I even have to describe it, or tell you that the real Chinatown in Manhattan is nothing like this.

For one thing, the real Chinatown is crowded and bustling, full of short, narrow streets, tons of parked and moving cars, and thousands of people. Only part of it is decorated (for the tourists) with dragons and bright neon and stuff like that. (When Sam Raimi went to the real Chinatown for Spider-Man 2, the art director had to hang up extra signs and neon so it looked like Chinatown.)

But this Chinatown has huge broad streets with hardly any people. And no cars. Not one. Even more amazingly, as we’re panning across the scene, a rickshaw goes by [!!]. A rickshaw? In Manhattan?! That is just profoundly stupid.

Caption contributed by Mark

“Wercome to velly honollable China Town!”

The net effect is that an animated depiction of Chinatown has still managed to evoke the unconvincing air of a Hollywood back lot. I mean, I know these people were probably out in Los Angeles. But they’re not photographing New York, they’re drawing it. They can get it right with pretty much the same amount of effort it takes to get it wrong. This is the sort of thing that makes me think that anything that originates in New York, including films, books, photographs, and postcards, is just plain illegal in California. They must have a government-mandated device out there, like a catalytic converter, that turns off your TV if you try to watch Letterman.

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Inevitably, this scene is scored with “Chinese music”—that dunh-dunh-duh, ting-tiddle-ing-ting-ting you’ve heard a hundred times before, because there’s simply no other music you can lay over a shot of anything Chinese. It’s the aural equivalent of a Highly Visible Landmark, only more offensive.

We zoom in on a big Chinese restaurant that’s dolled up to look like a Buddhist temple, and we see Mr. T’s Magic Tour Bus is parked outside. Again, there are no cars anywhere, parked or otherwise, so I feel relieved that Miss Bisby didn’t have to hunt for a space. Whereas, in the real Chinatown, the only way you’d be able to parallel park a bus is if Godzilla helpfully cleared a path for you.

We fade to the interior of the restaurant, where it looks pretty much like a fancy Chinese restaurant—red carpets, dark wooden paneling, jade and green marble, dragon motifs, and so on. I’m not going to rank on this, because there are plenty of Chinese restaurants in Chinatown that do look like this, for the benefit of the tourists. Don’t worry, there’ll be lots of other things for me to make fun of.

We pan across the other diners to a table where Mr. T and the gang are finishing up their meal. Robin is bossing the others around, telling them not to forget Dozer’s doggy bag. Okay, so at some point in the first season, they bothered to name the dog “Dozer” (originally, T just called him “Dog”). It’s kind of a funny name for a dog, but okay. At least it’s not a cliché like Butch or Rex, for which I’m grateful. I’m assuming it’s Dozer, because he sleeps a lot, and not ‘Dozer, because he pushes down buildings. Though in this series, the smart money probably would go the other way.

While Mr. T is blathering about how Dozer likes all kinds of ethnic food, the camera, bored already, pans off him (again with the panning) to pick up a Chinese man sitting in another corner of the restaurant. How do we know this gentleman is Chinese? Well, let’s see. He’s sitting in a fan-shaped throne, he’s wearing long emerald robes [!], black slippers, and a skullcap. He might even have a queue—I’ll have to get back to you on that—and his feet are resting on a black silk pouf. So just your average, ordinary, everyday Chinese-American guy.

Caption contributed by Mark

“Son, I’m sorry I never told you this before, but—you’re adopted.”

Some flunky walks up to him and lifts the cover off an empty platter. Chinese Gentleman lays—um, something—on the platter, and the flunky puts the cover back on and walks off. I can’t really tell what it was, but it was green and rumpled, and from the sound-effect, not metallic. A couple of spinach dumplings, perhaps. So if you go to this restaurant, remember: don’t order the spinach dumplings! They’re not made in the kitchen, if you catch my drift.

Actually, on closer examination, I’ve come to the conclusion that the green lump was supposed to be a roll of cash. Ever notice how in cartoons, money is always printed on green paper? When I made my own fake money as a kid, I always started out with green construction paper, and because of that one little error, it was spotted as fake nine times out of ten.

Regardless, I’m just going to go on thinking it was spinach dumplings. Anybody can put wads of cash on a tray, but it’s the rare man indeed that can sit on a throne and conjure up spinach dumplings.

Robin now looks around at the other diners and, apropos of nothing, offers up one of the dumbest lines of dialog I have ever heard in my life (and remember, I recapped Eddie and the Cruisers II):

Robin: Gawwwsh! If anyone was in the market to buy some mystery, they ought to shop in this place!

I have no idea what that means. “Buy some mystery”? The other diners all look like ordinary tourists to me, dressed up for dinner. True, there’s a higher proportion of thin moustaches than normal, and the clothing is perhaps more, I dunno, Edwardian than you’d expect. (And just so you know, both of these elements will resurface later when one of the team goes “undercover”.) But there’s nothing to prompt that line at all, other than the blanket “inscrutability” of all things Chinese.

I was going to say the only mystery is why Robin said something so stupid, but that puzzle is immediately solved: her line allows Jeff to respond, and establish that his family runs a “mystery bookstore” right here in New York. He brays that the bookstore has every mystery book ever written, and a bunch of priceless first editions. Great, Jeff. Next time you do the exposition, can you try to be less snotty about it?

As the angle changes we see an old friend over Jeff’s shoulder—Neighborhood Watch Guy! That’s right, sitting nonchalantly in this crowded restaurant, close enough that he can overhear Jeff’s bragging, is someone wearing a trenchcoat, a matching fedora, white gloves, and a full black face mask that makes him look like he’s related to Marvin the Martian.

Caption contributed by Mark

Obvious Villain doesn’t normally eat alone, but Snidely Whiplash and Cruella De Vil both canceled.

The flunky/goon/waiter brings a covered tray to Obvious Villain guy (presumably the tray with the spinach dumplings). So, assuming you’re paying attention, and that you could figure out the spinach dumplings are really money, you find out here that Obvious Villain is working for Chinese Gentleman. It goes by really fast, though, and it’s uncharacteristically subtle for Mister T. Maybe a Ruby-Spears intern, or the receptionist handled this scene instead of the regular writers?

Then suddenly another waiter, or maybe it’s the same one, is at Mr. T’s table announcing he has their fortune cookies. Unfortunately, he trips over nothing, and the fortune cookies go flying, ending up strewn across their table. Everyone immediately reaches for one, and there are like ten times too many cookies. So, at this restaurant, they bring all of their fortune cookies to your table and scoop a few out for you? Do any Chinese restaurants really do that?

In fact, it becomes clear from later in the episode—well, I guess “becomes clear” is too strong of a term—that Obvious Villain was served, or was supposed to be served, a fortune cookie before Mr. T’s party got theirs, and that all of these cookies come from a common source.

Caption contributed by Mark

The unfortunate result of the attempt to cross-breed fortune cookies with tribbles.

Jeff reads his: “He who brags about his good fortune shall soon lose it!” Everybody laughs maliciously [?], and Robin says she couldn’t have written a better fortune herself. Wow, both these characters are just so likeable.

Then we get a shot over Obvious Villain’s shoulder while he cackles that he agrees—he wants those priceless first editions. And for some reason, a spatial anomaly has opened up and Mr. T’s table, which was a few feet away just a minute ago, is now clear across the restaurant. So how can he even hear them? Is Obvious Villain really Jaime Sommers?

Then Mr. T reads his: “Strike where Columbus’s Year meets Pilgrim’s Rock!” Hmm, could this be a clue of some sort? What could it possibly mean? Eventually, Mr. T realizes that this is not a proper fortune (no, really?). But it’s too late: a black-gloved hand switches off a light switch, plunging the entire restaurant into darkness. Only one light switch for the whole damn place? Somebody needs to hire a less lazy electrician.

After a moment, someone switches the lights back on. Chinese Gentleman approaches Mr. T’s table and apologizes, saying the lights were “accidentally” turned off. And the way he says it, you can actually hear the quote marks around “accidentally”. He might even be making finger quotes, but we can’t see, because (of course) his hands are down the sleeves of his robe.

I gather from this that Chinese Gentleman owns the restaurant. And if owning a restaurant means sitting on a fan throne all day and magically manufacturing spinach dumplings, tell me where to sign up.

T notices someone snatched the fortune out of his hand when the lights were off. Standing firm on his Constitutional right to a fortune cookie, he growls menacingly, “I’m takin’ another one!” That’s right! Sesame chicken without fortune-cookiefication is tyranny!

Caption contributed by Mark

“I don’t know—could I be any gayer?”

The new fortune says “Adventure is headed your way!” And hilariously, Woody responds to this by tossing up his hands and saying, “So what else is new?” Honestly, the gesture and the way he says this are so gay that I laughed for, like, three days straight. For reading that line in that way, Phil LaMarr is totally my new hero. I mean, he could have added in exactly the same voice, “Honey, your fortune cookie gets two snaps up!” and it would have sounded completely natural and expected.

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"

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