Mister T “The Crossword Mystery” (part 1 of 3)
I’ll just say right up front that this is my first experience actually watching the Mr. T cartoon. I was two years old when it ended, and it was only when Albert started posting recaps of it that I even knew it existed. The main consequence of this is that I have no memory of the names of any members of the gymnastics team. They’re all such interchangeable voids of personality that no matter how many times I hear their names, my brain refuses to register them. As a result, there will be little, if any name referencing for any of them, for which I hope you’ll excuse me.
Despite my unfamiliarity, when Albert suggested to everyone who had contributed to the site make their own recaps of the show, I immediately jumped on board. For one thing, since starting graduate school my time suddenly became very limited, so that besides my Agonizer article on In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, I really haven’t contributed anything for a while, and was starting to feel like I wasn’t pulling my own weight anymore. Also, the show is so clearly completely insane that it sounded like a really fun article to write, unlike some others I could mention.
The episode I picked is titled “The Crossword Mystery”. The appeal lay in the strangeness of that subject matter; how could a hobby mostly practiced by pretentious yuppies and people in nursing homes fit into any kids’ cartoon, let alone a batshit crazy one like this? Well, the crossword itself actually ends up as pretty much a footnote to the plot, but there’s still plenty of fun stuff for me to dig into, especially as the episode actually goes against the show’s usual MO of shoving a moral down the audience’s throat at every opportunity.
Instead, it does something that, to me, is even worse: it presents us with a moral (in this case, that you should take the time to get to know people before writing them off as uninteresting), then tells a story that is only tangentially connected to this moral at best, and mostly just does its own thing with no thought about the lesson it’s supposed to convey. If you’re going to tell a story to teach a lesson, you should stick to the lesson, dammit!
So the usual credits, gymnastics, alligator tossing, blah blah blah. Then comes Live-Action Mr. T, apparently coming off of tricep exercises. At least, he does some kind of weird arm movement as the shot fades in, but maybe it just makes sense in his head.
He starts right in about how something started with just one word, then talks about how the team was relaxing after a meet, when “the next thing we knew, one of our team members was gone. Packed up. Split.” Yes, I think I’m getting the concept. “And in big trouble.” Well, maybe if you cut down your exposition a little, you’d have more time to help.
He promises that this mystery will be “different” because “it was right inside our own team.” You mean one of the heroes is going to steal something, or try to kill somebody? This thing’s getting more interesting already! T suddenly repeats that business about “one word” but still doesn’t elaborate. Sure, coming up with three terms for someone leaving is important, but you can’t throw out something like that and just leave it up in the air.
The opening shot starts on the Washington Monument, and pans to the Capitol Building. Just in case one famous landmark wasn’t enough to figure out where this episode will be set, I guess. In a hotel, we find our heroes White Guy, Asian Girl, White Girl, and Black Guy. They’re all just lounging around, while Miss Bisby is doing a crossword puzzle (ah, it’s all coming together!) and asks Black Guy for a 13-letter word for “a system of law.” Damn, that’s one vague clue.
Black Guy’s on the phone with his mother and completely ignores her, even doing the classic “brush off” gesture now known to asshole cell phone users everywhere. She moves on to White Guy and Asian Girl, who don’t help either. In fact, when she asks, “What do you think?” White Guy responds with “I think I’m a winner,” referring to the card game he’s playing with Asian Girl. So, he’s quite deliberately telling Miss Bisby that he heard her, but is refusing to help. I’m really not liking these people so far, guys.
Asian Girl calls his bluff using her photographic memory, which White Guy points out is cheating. He’s technically right, but he was such a jerk a few seconds ago that I don’t feel bad for telling him to suck it.
The kid whose whole character is imitating Mr. T, who I’ll just call T Kid, comes in and suggests “Mr. T’s Rules of the Road” to Miss Bisby. Um, might want to check him for a head injury there. He even asks afterwards, “Is that 13 letters?” like it’s too hard for him to work it out himself.
Mr. T steps in behind him, and I briefly hope he’s going to remark on the kid’s idiocy. However, he just drags in Dozer chewing on a towel and says, “Mr. T’s Rules of the Road #7: Don’t let the dog chew on the towel!” Uh, yeah, I’m starting to think T Kid was just emulating his role model as best he could. You really have to wonder how many rules there are, and what made him put that in the number seven spot.
Black Guy gets off the phone and continues the parade of dickish behavior toward Miss Bisby by saying, “Was somebody talking to me?” Keep in mind he directed that gesture right at her, so it’s clear he’s just saying this to be a jerk. Is no one on this show actually likable?
But then Miss Bisby asks him again about the crossword clue, and he immediately comes up with “jurisprudence”. Keep in mind that “system of law” is all the kid had to go on, since he clearly didn’t even count the letters, unless he just likes to memorize the letter count of random words. Here’s another word for you: contrived.
Upon hearing this, Miss Bisby stands up, throws the puzzle on the floor, and walks out of the room. Black Guy calls after her, “Doesn’t it fit?” like he wasn’t just joining in on the Dump on Miss Bisby Party the group had going on. Miss Bisby enters another room, and not a second later walks back out wearing a hat and holding a suitcase. What the hell’s she doing with these kids when she’s that much of a quick-change artist?
So Miss Bisby walks right out of the room, and White Girl, the one person who hasn’t been either a jerk or insane so far, loses her own likability when she comments, “I guess she decided to go for a walk.” It falls to Mr. T to point out that she was holding a freaking suitcase. He tells T Kid to stay put and “everyone else, let’s move!” And then he and White Girl run out the door to big heroic music. Yes, epic, isn’t it?
T Kid turns to Dozer and says “Next time!” Tell that to Terrence Howard. Meanwhile, White Guy, Asian Girl and Black Guy are still just sitting there, and Asian Girl even has to tell the other two to get off their asses! Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen.
Miss Bisby takes the elevator ahead of everyone else, and once again Mr. T has to tell the gang to take the stairs. As if they didn’t look like big enough idiots already, there’s a random close-up of Asian Girl saying, “Something’s got to be wrong!” Yes, nice to see you’re keeping up, dear.
They get to the lobby ahead of the elevator, but it keeps going to the garage. Yet again, Mr. T has to tell everyone to head to the garage. Okay, now I feel kind of bad calling everyone assholes before. They clearly have special needs.
Everyone gets to the garage, and there’s a really cheap bit of animation where the team gets lit up by headlights, which is shown by drawing dark shadows on them without actually making anything brighter. The source of the lights is Miss Bisby, of course, in the team’s bus, forcing everyone to jump to the side as she barrels ahead. Okay, so if I have this right, this episode is about Miss Bisby snapping after months on end with these insane, idiotic jerks and going on a killing spree? Now I’m really happy that I picked this episode to recap.
White Girl gives a particularly blank and lifeless reading of “What’s wrong with her? What’s happened?” while Black Guy replies, “Evidence suggests that matters are getting out of hand.” Yeah, just keep trying to make yourself sound smart. We all know full well this if your fault, Mr. Jurisprudence. But the line exists just to set up Mr. T’s next line: “I suggest we get them in hand, fast!” Yeah, and cover up a stumble by doing a breakdancing move, I got it.
Everyone piles into a cab, and upon being told to follow the bus, the driver says in an inexplicable New York accent, “What is dis, a movie?” Mr. T replies, “Yeah, and the star’s one sorry cabbie, unless you get moving!” Damn, Mr. T, you want to ease up on threatening innocent people a little? We even see the driver agreeing to follow the bus, completely terrified of Mr. T. Again, ladies and gentlemen: our heroes!
Upon coming to a red light, Miss Bisby actually stops in the middle of the intersection. Oh boy, is this the part where she gets out the sniper rifle? This causes a traffic jam, and Mr. T hands the cab driver some cash, and says, “I can take over from here. I’m in a hurry!” He then… gets out of the cab and runs toward the bus. So what was all that “taking over” talk?
There’s a brief “comical” interlude where a couple of oddly middle-aged bikers take offense to Mr. T telling them to get out of the way, then they back down just at the sight of him. That added a lot. Upon getting to the bus, it turns out Miss Bisby is gone, and suddenly the rest of the kids are there to say that she can’t have gotten far. They decide they should start looking for her at the Washington Monument. Why? Because they already had the cel prepared for the opening shot, I guess.
Once everyone’s gathered at the country’s wang, Mr. T first sends White Guy and Asian Girl back to the hotel to check on T Kid and Dozer. You couldn’t have done this back at the intersection, and saved them some walking?
Cut to them arriving back at the room, with White Guy whining that they’re stuck with babysitting duty. Which has to be a deliberate insult to T Kid, since he waits until after they’re back inside the room before he says it. Asian Girl suddenly gets stilted as hell, declaring that Miss Bisby “has never done anything like this before” like she’s talking at a rally or something. White Guy keeps whining that he wants to help, so he can drive Miss Bisby into a murderous rage all over again, I guess.
Asian Girl says the crossword puzzle might contain a clue, but White Guy is determined to be as obnoxious as possible, so he expresses his doubts. Asian Girl persists, saying that Miss Bisby has never left a crossword puzzle unfinished in two years. And then we actually see the puzzle, and they really cheaped out on drawing the thing. It’s just a white grid with a few illegible words, and no black squares! The show has always been cheap, but this is a new low.
T Kid comes out of the bedroom and says Miss Bisby didn’t put anything in that suitcase. And he feels the need to carry a bunch of her clothes out to make his point. Nice to see someone actually making progress on this mystery, but couldn’t they have figured out the suitcase was empty with how fast she came out with it?
White Guy makes his own contribution by asking where the newspaper with the puzzle comes from, but he insists on calling it a “dopey” paper, because any time a pointless insult opportunity passes him by, part of his soul dies. Asian Girl knows it’s from Montclair College, where Miss Bisby used to teach. And you bring this up now? White Guy runs with it, and says they should find out who wrote the puzzle. Well, you should do that anyway, to remind them what a crossword puzzle is supposed to look like.
And since they’re supposed to be watching T Kid and Dozer, they get to come too. Potential danger for everyone!