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One Saturday Morning Retrospective Month: Lloyd in Space and The Legend of Tarzan

Lloyd in Space
          This was created by the same team who made Recess, and admittedly it does show. This series also takes everyday menial kid problems and heightens them through presentation. But where Recess did that using an in-universe world order and social commentary, as well as a distinct tone, Lloyd in Space just does that through “future stuff”. It relies a lot on the gimmick that it’s set on a space station in the distant future but focuses on the everyday life of an alien kid. And that’s pretty much exactly the show’s problem. Given such a universe, this mundane direction isn’t exciting. Though there are minor twists, most of the lessons and shenanigans are just the same as you could get from any other average kid-based show, only this time they’re in space. With Lloyd’s mother as commander of the station too, this show is very much Deep Space Nine if it was told from the perspective of a whinier Jake Sisko.
          Lloyd is a really dull thirteen year old in a Where’s Waldo t-shirt, who’s just kind of awkward. He’s voiced by Courtland Mead, who could be okay in smaller non-regular doses as Gus, but gets a little grating to listen to when he’s the main character. Once again, it’s April Winchell as his mother -and another single mother at that, which seems to be a theme on One Saturday Morning. She’s a no-nonsense figurehead who’s most interesting when on the bridge of the station. Lloyd has a stereotypical annoying little sister (voiced by a Pepper Ann reference called Nicolette Little) who has psychic powers that essentially make her the kid from the “It’s a Good Life” episode of The Twilight Zone. Lloyd’s friends are a token geek called Douglas voiced by Pamela Hayden (a literal walking brain), a token simpleton called Kurt voiced by Bill Fagerbakke (a giant purple blob), and a token human called Eddie voiced by Justin Shenkarow. Unlike Recess, where there was an effort to expand the characters beyond their stereotypes, these characters are all one-note, with the possible exception of Eddie. I do kind of like how little humans factor into the show. Outside of Eddie’s family I don’t think another human ever showed up and it’s a good illustration of how vast and varied the universe is -or just that humanity is endangered. There’s also a stoner mechanic voiced by Diedrich Bader, a cranky robot teacher voiced by Tress Macneille, the sentient station computer voiced by Brian George, and Lloyd’s grandfather voiced by the terrific Brian Doyle Murray. The station itself looks very haphazard, as does the school, as though they’re built out of ordinary sheet metal and cardboard. 
          The lack of imagination is on full display from the first episode which opens with a bland Star Wars parody. And frequently the show has imaginative ideas, but ones that don’t work out in execution. For example, in one episode, Lloyd going through puberty, experiences projections of his daydreams out his antenna, and has to learn to work through it. But not only are the fantasies only manifested as bland alter egos, but it has little to say about actually experiencing puberty beyond the simple “changes to your body will happen” because the allegory is too unrelatable to the audience. There’s a school dance episode, a bully episode, and even a Freaky Friday episode, that’s how uninspired the show is. Every so often they would go beyond the regular confines to something more extravagant, like when the kids steal a starship, go to the future, or one character turns out to be prince of his homeworld. But even these excursions aren’t very impressive.
          Buzz Lightyear of Star Command already gave One Saturday Morning a sci-fi adventure series, so Lloyd in Space clearly couldn’t be the same thing. But it’s disappointing that Paul and Joe followed up Recess with something so unsatisfying. Being set in the far future and about aliens, there’s no reason Lloyd in Space should have been the less original of the two shows.

The Legend of Tarzan

          Not to be confused with the 2016 movie that nobody saw, The Legend of Tarzan was really just another attempt to cash in on a popular Disney movie. But the great thing is Tarzan has had decades worth of material written around him, both by original author Edgar Rice Burroughs, and various other writers of sensational pulp fiction. I’m not familiar enough with the Tarzan stories to know exactly where this series is taking from the sources, but I can certainly spot where they aren’t. The series follows on the adventures of Tarzan, Jane and their friends after the Porters decided to stay in the jungle at the end of the movie.
          I actually really like Disney’s Tarzan, which might be a reason why this show is extra frustrating. It suffers from the typical movie to show adaptation problems Disney’s done, including under-developed characters and a severe downgrade in animation (even for One Saturday Morning, it’s pretty poor). But this show creates even more continuity errors than Hercules. There’s a society of native humans nearby called the Waziri, begging the question why the gorillas didn’t just leave Tarzan with them as a child, and there’s also the fact that though Tarzan became leader of the apes at the end of the movie, he’s not often depicted in that role. These I can abide, because clearly they’re issues of Burroughs’ stories as well. But unlike a lot of Disney movies, Tarzan actually dedicated time to the language barrier; it was the primary means of developing Tarzan and Jane’s relationship. Tarzan learned English in the movie, but none of the other animals did, and the Porters certainly didn’t learn Ape. But with no explanation in the series, everyone can understand one another perfectly. Also Tarzan and Jane are married, I guess …it’s really lazy writing.
          Unlike Hercules, none of the films’ cast returned for this show, rather wisely. Each of the characters feels like a shadow of their film originals. Tarzan goes from a great, conflicted protagonist to mostly just a brooding action hero. Terk and Tantor are basic comic relief best friends, but never very interesting. And Jane is particularly hard done by. She had so much personality in the film and was such a likeable character, but here she has so little agency she’s barely relevant to most plots. It also doesn’t help that they switched out the wonderful Minnie Driver for Olivia d’Abo. And where the hell is Kala? She was only the emotional heart of the movie, and she barely appears in the series. The closest to an okay character is probably the Professor, in that he usually spearheads the adventures, but even he’s prone to being just the stock eccentric.  
          While this show certainly didn’t suffer from run-of-the-mill plots regularly (I mean there were some), it doesn’t make for a fun adventure show. Over the course of the series, they come across cult magic, ancient civilizations, and even a lost world, and I will give props that some of these elements recur. But they’re just handled sloppily. I know the Porters were hardly stranded, but the jungle still feels as ridiculously busy as Gilligan’s Island. Old friends, colleagues, and enemies show up. A film crew come in at one point and Tarzan stars in a movie; there’s even an episode where Tarzan teams up with Teddy fucking Roosevelt! Oh and he meets Edgar Rice Burroughs -it’s that cheesy! And none of these visitors are ever surprised by Tarzan or their sudden ability to understand apes and elephants.
          The Legend of Tarzan is just awkward. I admire some of what it’s trying to do, but it didn’t care enough. This is clear in the opening theme being “Two Worlds” from the movie, which really doesn’t suit a sensational adventure series. Even given a really promising format, it refused to do anything substantially new with it. If you like Tarzan, you might just be better off watching the 70’s animated series over this one.

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