Mister T “Mystery of the Stranger” (part 1 of 6)
Welcome back, imaginary gymnastics fans, to another episode of Mister T. Today’s adventure is entitled “Mystery of the Stranger”. It’s a good title because strangers are, by definition, mysterious. “Hey,” I often ask, “What’s the deal with strangers?” It turns out that Mr. T knows the deal. And the deal is not good.
“Mystery of the Stranger” was episode ten of the second season, originally airing November 10, 1984. At the time, I had just turned 14 and was enjoying eighth grade. Actually, “enjoying” may be too strong a word. I enjoyed the eighth grade about the same way Anne Frank enjoyed the attic.
But it was a good time to be Mr. T. He was starring on The A-Team, making lunatic pop art out of a generic motivational video, airing an animated kids show, and wrestling professionally. He was also on a collision course with history, one that would make “Mystery of the Stranger” into the episode of Mister T that actually comes the closest to being about something. And one that would, for a brief moment, turn Mr. T into the least insane character on his own show.
The episode starts with the awesome credits that we’ve come to know and love. The music that plays sounds almost exactly like the incidental music on The A-Team, but with one crucial difference: it has lyrics. Many have commented on this opening sequence. I, however, will be the first to transcribe the words for you. Reproduced below are the complete lyrics to the theme song from Mister T.
And that’s how you do that.
The live-action intro opens with some 11 year-old kids playing in a park. They’re throwing frisbees and the like while Mr. T supervises, along with no other adults. One frisbee goes flying off towards the road, and an amiable black kid runs to get it. Parked on the road is an exceptionally sweet, black convertible. The driver calls the kid over. I have no idea what their conversation is about, but I assume it goes something like this:
Kid: Yes, sir.
Driver: I’ll trade you my sweet, black convertible for it.
Driver: Because all my life, all I’ve wanted to do is acquire things, but now I realize that the happiest I’ve ever been was when I was throwing a frisbee around in the park. Can you understand that?
Kid: No, sir.
Driver: Well, you take this car. And you let it lead you to your destiny. It took me far away, but it brought me back to mine.
Unfortunately for my vivid imagination, this is interrupted by Mr. T blowing his whistle and calling Amiable Black Kid back over. He quizzes the child, “That guy in the car, you know him? Do you know where he lives? You ever seen him before?” The kid says no to all three. This leads Mr. T to his point, which is that “he’s a stranger, and you got no business being around him.”
You know what? That’s not bad advice. It’s not ridiculous advice shoehorned into a preexisting script. It’s not some made up aphorism about self-confidence. It’s just good, solid adHoly crap, this is the child abduction episode!! It’s the frakking child abduction episode!!!
I’m so excited, I can hardly breathe. It’s like the time I was in the Smithsonian and I touched the Enola Gay. You’re not generally allowed to touch the Enola Gay, and I was quickly asked to leave. But it was completely worth it because I touched the Enola Frickin’ Gay! My dream is to one day lick Bockscar.
History begins as T gathers the frisbee players around him. “Now, everybody listen up. We gonna talk about strangers. You gotta learn how to deal with ‘em. You gotta!” Then, without missing a beat, T departs for fantasyland. “Spike ran into a couple of bad strangers and we almost never saw him again.” And then T talks directly into the camera, frisbee players be damned. “I want you to get your mother, your daddy, your uncle, or your aunt. I want ‘em to watch the Mystery of the Stranger with you. It’s a mystery every one of you has got to solve.”
First of all, I have to commend Mr. T on the use of the disjunctive. Kids, get either your father or your mother but under no circumstances get both. And if your uncle is around, keep your parents the hell out of the room. Your grandparents, forget about completely. Their hearts will explode if they watch this. Also, as regards solving the mystery, I think I’ve already done it. The bad guy is the stranger, right? So, am I excused from this episode? What if I have a note from my aunt?
These questions go unanswered as we fade out of the real world, and into the much less animated one of the cartoon. Things are going to get a little odd for a while, so you’re just going to have to accept that the next image you see…
…is Mr. T on an old sailing ship, dressed as a pirate, with a big, billowy blouse, hip-high boots, a cap with a feather in it, and a real, live parrot. He’s standing at the starboard rail when the parrot squawks, “Wave, ho!” It flies away just in time for T to get splashed with about a bucketful of water, making his feather all wet and limp.
The first six times I watched this, I could not fathom what the heck was happening. My best guess was either: 1) that this episode was going to detail the history of child abductions, dating all the way back to 1658, just north of the Spanish Main; or 2) that Mr. T was being promoted to Lieutenant Commander.
His team of gymnasts are all decked out like sailors, as well. They yell, “Pirates off the starboard bow, Captain!” The next thing we see are three rough looking pirate-type individuals boarding amidships, and not at all from the bow. They also don’t seem to have brought their pirate ship with them.
T’s team runs towards the pirates, while Mr. T gets to say one of the most bizarre lines ever: “Let’s shiver their timbers a bit!” How do you only shiver timbers a bit?
The following action scene is just about average for an episode of Mister T. The gymnasts do impossible things that somehow magically knock bad guys over. Two gymnasts leap off a huge, wooden boom, causing it to fly back and knock two pirates off the ship, which is impossible. Two pirates are chasing a gymnast up a rope ladder. He unhooks a line and swings away, hitting a sail and bouncing ass-first into a cannon. The cannon then rolls backwards and knocks two other pirates into the water, but the gymnast escapes ending up in the drink by doing some sort of flip and landing in a handstand on the edge of the deck. And if that’s not impossible, it should be.
Now Robin is being backed down the plank by three very mean-looking pirates. At the edge of the plank, she jumps over them, does a double somersault, and then rolls a large keg at them, knocking them into the water.
Meanwhile, Kim is about to be beheaded, but a quick backflip causes the pirate to bring the sail down over his own head.
Somehow, all of the pirates are now in a small circle surrounding the gymnasts. Mr. T yells, “Everybody out!” and pulls a rope. The gymnasts scatter while the pirates are hoisted into the air inside a net that was… on the ground under them… I think. T ties them off and the gymnasts look proud of themselves. Well, that was utter lunacy.
This may be a good time to mention that this episode was written by Kimmer Ringwald. Ringwald graduated from animation to write and produce Jake and the Fat Man, Trapper John, M.D., Baywatch and Baywatch Nights. But the most amazing thing is that after hours of searching the internet, and two well placed calls to “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, I have absolutely no idea if Kimmer is a guy or a girl. A free Snakes on a Plane T-shirt to the person who brings me biological proof one way or the other.