Mister T “U.F.O. Mystery” (part 1 of 4)
You just have to love a show that makes the premise of Scooby Doo seem reasonable. If you’re able to grok the idea of a superhuman Mr. T (I know, that’s redundant) roaming the world as coach of a team of young gymnasts, solving mysteries along the way, you’ll have absolutely no problem with a stoner and his talking dog doing the same thing, right?
Looking back into the depths of the early 1980s, it’s startling to see how quickly the public persona of Mr. T changed. Mr. T clearly cultivated an image of a badass, but he also paradoxically managed to be kid-friendly at the same time. In 1982, he was the “wrecking machine” Clubber Lang in Rocky III, and yet, by 1983, in the premiere episode of The A-Team, Mr. T was explaining who Hannibal was to a group of kids. No, not George Peppard or Anthony Hopkins, the Carthaginian Hannibal. A year later, he was hanging out exclusively with kids and wearing shiny speedos and see-through pants. It’s like Mr. Rogers suddenly morphing into a gangsta rapper, but in reverse.
This episode begins with the usual live-action introduction, where the weekly bonbon of wisdom is doled out. Mr. T pitches a softball, underhand, to a young boy in a green tank top, matching green shorts, and Atlanta Braves hat. The moppet whiffs badly, and the rest of the kids laugh.
Mr. T immediately diagnoses the problem. It’s not that the boy sucks at softball, but rather that he needs glasses! The shame! At least that’s what “Eddie” must think, because he actually does have glasses. He’s just not wearing them.
Mr. T commands the boy to put the glasses on, while the kids from the sidelines crowd around. I don’t think Eddie’s shorts have pockets, because he seems to pull his glasses out from inside the waistband. Eww. At least clean off the lenses before you put ‘em on your face, Eddie!
Mr. T expresses sympathy for the ignoramuses who make fun of people who wear glasses, because “there’s nothin’ wrong with wearin’ glasses. If you need ‘em. Right?” Absolutely. Sir.
Mr. T then introduces the animated portion of the episode.
The episode proper opens with a nighttime, aerial shot of a farm. The windmill and barn both cast very definite shadows for some reason. Must be a full moon. Like, the fullest moon ever.
The barn is lit up like a Christmas tree, and the door is ajar. A jet-engine turbine sound is coming from inside, and a poorly animated old man rushes into the barn. The old man yells, “Stop! You can’t do this!” And then he runs into the open door of the thing making the turbine noise: a flying saucer!
Once inside the I.F.O. (identified flying object), someone grabs him. The door slides shut, and the machine takes off, apparently right through the roof of the barn. Completely confused? Good! That means this is just like every other episode of Mister T.
The scene then shifts to the gymnastics team driving in their magic tour bus to a meet in Rapid City, South Dakota. We know it’s South Dakota right away because the bus happens to drive right under the presidential faces on Mount Rushmore. Of course, you can’t really drive right under the monument like that, but a little geographic license can be forgiven, especially considering the way physical reality is warped later on in this episode.
As they pass the monument, Ms. Bisby asks if Spike knows which presidents are represented up there. Spike has the answers right in the palm of his hand: “That’s easy! President Penny, President Nickel, and President Quarter!” Ugh. It’s downhill from here, people.
Woody now lays a little exposition on us. He wants to visit Professor Andrews, who is apparently an old acquaintance. Prof. Andrews also happens to be an inventor. Who builds flying saucers in his barn in South Dakota. (Texas, I could see. But South Dakota?) Mmmm-kay. Mr. T promises that they can hang out in Rapid City for a few days after the meet so Woody can reconnect with Prof. Andrews.
Cut to Rapid City, where the team is inside a Pepto Bismol-colored gymnasium for the meet. Woody is doing his routine on the parallel bars, but he totally muffs his dismount. Well, okay, all that happens is he doesn’t stick the landing. It’s not like he face-plants or anything. The rest of the team, though, thinks it’s a disaster. Spike even thinks that Dozer—Mr. T’s mohawk-coifed dog—could have done better! Burn, Woody!
Robin waves at Woody (don’t ask me why), but Woody seems to be having problems seeing her. He squints a bit, and then we’re shown the horror, the very soul-wrenching tragedy of what Woody sees.
Robin immediately intuits the problem, and sets in motion a plan to test her hypothesis. She writes “If you can’t read this note, you need your eyes examined” on a notepad, and hands it to Woody. He sputters, unable to see the words. Mr. T snatches the pad out of his hands. Woody claims it’s just a little eye strain that will go away, but Mr. T says, “You don’t borrow trouble by putting things off!” Or at least, that’s what the line sounds like to me. Mr. T commands Woody to get his eyes checked ASAP.
Outside by the Mystery Machine—er, the team bus—Woody is having a meaningful conversation with Dozer. With his eyes, he probably thinks he’s talking to Bisby! Hah! ‘Cept that he mentions Dozer by name, twice, so that joke doesn’t really work. Oh, well. Here’s the (admittedly one-sided) conversation:
Synonymous parallelism, Woody? Really? Listen, I’ve read the Psalms, and you, sir, are no King David.
Ancient poetic style aside, Woody soon finds himself standing in front of an optometrist’s shop. Given what’s about to happen, I have no flippin’ idea how he managed to even find the shop, but whatever. Sad music plays while he contemplates the storefront. Dude! You don’t have cancer, okay? You have mild myopia! Get a grip!
He’s scared (and worried) about going in, so he goes around the corner and pops into a motorcycle rental shop instead. How old is Woody supposed to be, anyway? Does he have a credit card and an operator’s license? Clearly, the answers are yes, because he manages to successfully rent a motorcycle. He rides out of town, presumably to go see Prof. Andrews.
Woody arrives at the Andrews farm, but finds that the professor is not at home. When he goes to check the barn, he finds it littered with ominous-looking inventions, a burnt patch on the floor, and a big circular hole in the roof where the I.F.O. crashed through.
Doesn’t this sort of make Prof. Andrews a really poor planner? How did he think he’d get the I.F.O. out of the barn? It’s not like when I put my kid’s baby crib together in the living room, only to find that it wouldn’t fit through the nursery door. Presumably, the I.F.O. took a lot longer to put together, so at some time during the process, shouldn’t Andrews have thought about how he would get it out of the barn? Must be that absent-minded professor syndrome.
Puzzled by the professor’s absence and the hole in the roof, and perhaps skeeved out by the bizarre implements in the barn, Woody decides to head back to Rapid City to find the rest of the team.
On the road back to town, Woody comes to an enormously well-labeled fork in the road. To the right, Rapid City, and to the left, certain encounter with the I.F.O. Oops, that’s a spoiler, huh?
Naturally, Woody’s myopia once again comes into play. He squints, and we see from his viewpoint that the road sign and the whole freaking city are just slightly blurry. Unable to cope with the slight lack of visual acuity, Woody makes the wrong turn. He goes left instead of right. Oh, no!
Myopia must also make you stupid, because Woody rides his motorbike until darkness falls, and only then does he finally stop and figure out that he must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. He sees some indistinct blinking lights up ahead, and decides that the lights might be able to guide him.
The I.F.O. pops up over a crest and flies right over Woody. Meanwhile, Woody waves politely to the I.F.O. Only after it’s flown past him does he start to think, “Golly, that’s weird! That looked like a (slightly blurry) flying saucer!” And what’s really weird is that Woody keeps looking at the sky where the I.F.O. was, instead of turning around to follow it as it flies out of sight.
Woody turns around a makes a break for it. And even though the I.F.O. clearly flew right over him, it’s now behind him for some reason. It shines a bright yellow light on him as he flees on the motorcycle. Woody tears down the rural roads, and manages to jump his cycle over an enormous fallen tree in the road. Seriously, the tree trunk is taller than Woody is.
But trick riding aside, he’s unable to get away, because his on-again, off-again near-sightedness comes back. He sees the sort-of-blurry outline of a cliff (right at the end of a road?) and he drives right off it.
Woody only realizes his peril just as he reaches the edge. But by then, it’s… too late! Over he goes! Luckily, there’s a tree branch growing sideways out of the cliff, right where he happens to be falling. His rented bike and helmet (how did that come off?) fall into the water, but Woody is snagged by the tree. Sarge is strangely absent. The I.F.O. pauses for a moment to admire its handiwork, and then flies off.