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G.I. Joe
Season 1.1

Aside from buying a Snake Eyes figure because I thought it looked cool, I left the 3 ¾" G.I. Joe phenomenon to younger generations. Hence until this summer, I'd never seen an episode of the cartoon. However, since the movie comes out this week, I thought that I had to know. And knowing is half the battle. Or so I'm told.

Thanks to Shout! Factory, which somehow manages to specialize in memorializing geek childhoods, the animated series finally gets some decent home video treatment. Four discs make up what they're calling Season 1.1 - the initial set of mini-series, and the first few episodes of the regular series - and it's one of the best transfers of '80s kids shows I've seen.

The only drop in visual quality is on the extras. Obviously, nobody thought to preserve commercials, and the original film introducing G.I. Joe to the early 60's toy buyers is in pretty rough shape. But it's the piece of history that caught my attention the most, seeing how groundbreaking the original fighting man figure really was.

Later commercials have one very odd feature - the faces of the kids playing with the figures have been blurred. Maybe someone can explain the contractual problem there; it just looks weird. And unlike the animated episodes, the PSAs ("knowing is half the battle") have deteriorated a bit, just a little washed out and scratchy.

Since those, too, are new to me, is it me or is the Joe team just a little creepy? It seems like half these "teachable moments" are setups on their part. Why else would Deep Six just be lurking at the bottom of a country pond? Did Barbeque SET that house fire that the kids narrowly escape from?

As for the series itself, it definitely hearkens from another time. Even from the first mini-series, the show assumes that everybody knows the situation. And why not? We heard the theme song, in which the team fights Cobra and Destro (later "…and others").

So without any need for exposition, the action can ratchet up in the first minute and never let go. This might not bode well for the live-action movie, but it's easy to see why it worked back in 1983. Characterizations are consistent, many of the lesser Joes balance competence with accidental buffoonery, and even Cobra Commander can't seem to decide if he's an evil genius or petulant child.

The humor doesn't exactly stand up against the test of maturity, but if I were 8, I'd have eaten this up. Original writer Ron Friedman reveals just how calculated his approach was - bearing in mind that G.I. Joe was accused of just being a toy commercial. Okay, so it may not be a huge belated confession here; we knew.

After watching a few episodes and making desperate phone calls to Lon asking who is Flint, I am ready to face the film, and ready to pass the love of Joe on to the next generation. Plus you get temporary tattoos.

Derek McCaw

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