I thought that the previous season of the DiC G.I. Joe series would prepare me for what was to come in the second and last one, now available on a 3-disc set from Shout! Factory and Hasbro. However, it turns out that even my lowest expectations weren’t sufficiently low, because G.I. Joe Series 2 Season 2 is one of the most painfully inept TV cartoons ever made. It’s the last gasp from the bottom of the barrel before cartoons started getting better budgets and higher standards in the 1990s. We’re approaching Ratatoing-levels of awfulness, a point where the badness makes 20 minutes feel like an hour, and it’s not even fun to laugh at what a horrible show you’re watching. At its very best, the original show was an exceptionally smart kind of stupid, but even the really bad episodes weren’t as blatantly incompetent as the best episodes here.
The first DiC series took America’s premiere animated counter-terrorist team and dumped most of their most popular and recognizable characters in favor of a number of generic, gimmicky, interchangeable cutouts. They were victorious only because the forces of Cobra they were arrayed against were even dumber and less competent than they were. With the show’s second season, DiC brings back some old favorites, though this doesn’t do the old guard any favors. Duke is barely recognizable as the steely team sergeant he was in the original series, losing Michael Bell’s distinctive assertiveness for a bland and generic vocalization. As the leader of the Joes’ “Eco-Warriors,” Flint has lost Bill Ratner’s memorable voice acting and traded away his trademark beret for a chemical warfare suit. A lobotomized Scarlett appears, since the independent, capable heroine from the original show is a major shop-a-holic in the second episode “Chunnel,” and a dense damsel in distress to be rescued by Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes in the next episode, “The Sword.” Yuck. As for the Cobras, their only saving grace is that the late Chris Latta is still Cobra Commander. If the show was able to wring an occasional laugh from me, it was almost always because of an offbeat inflection that he’d give a line. It seems that even Morgan Lofting didn’t come back as the Baroness this season (not that she got anything worthwhile to do in the first one). The utterly moronic Metal Head has become the only major Cobra henchman this season, and he’s even more insufferably stupid.
There are a number of plots this season that the original show would made at least watchable. I have to admit that “Messenger From the Deep” might even have worked as written if they had the better animation and acting from the original series. Others like “Long Live Rock N’ Roll” or “Infested Island” have pitches that could have come from the original show (a Cobra sonic weapon powered by a dim rock star for the former; giant bugs created from toxic sludge in the latter), and are undone only by DiC’s abysmally poor animation and sub-literate plotting. The incompetence is almost thorough enough to become funny in “Kindergarten Commandos,” as Cobra’s plot to replace textbooks across America with Cobra-ized versions turns into a pitched battle with the Joes in a kindergarten playground. Again, this is something the original show might have been able to pull off (and did, more or less, with the “Once Upon a Cobra” episode), but here it’s just embarrassing as everyone concerned gets upstaged by a batch of six-year olds.
The (in)famous “Knowing is Half the Battle” PSAs were removed for this show, replaced by entire episodes (some two-parts long) that try for some kind of social relevance. These include “The Greatest Evil” (which turns out to be illegal drugs), which teams the Joes and the Cobras to fight an exceptionally well-armed drug dealer; “A is for Android,” which bolts a “stay in school” subplot onto a rickety “robot double” story; and any episodes centering on the Eco-Warriors and their ongoing battle against the former-executive-turned-supervillain Cesspool. No matter what the topic, these episodes are dull, obvious, and blatantly on-the-nose, and their lessons are completely lost because they have the same non-existent emotional resonance as the normal episodes. I could go on and on about the show’s boring action scenes, or the numerous episodes that require at least one person to be a complete idiot or ignore the blatantly obvious, but it doesn’t seem worth it because cataloging the show’s many failings would take much more effort than was put into it in the first place. This series is awful enough that it’s hard to sit through the bonus feature on this DVD set, as G.I. Joe toy designers from then and now try to say nice things about this series and what they thought was good about it.
I’m not even sure why Hasbro would want to let this material out into the wild; the only thing the DiC series does is seriously tarnish the G.I. Joe brand name. However, this is the same company that let the live-action movie get released, nearly pushed out a sequel that looked even worse, and didn’t realize that Rachel Nichols and Sienna Miller in skintight leather outfits was one of the very few things that movie did right. I’m almost wondering if the G.I. Joe brand managers ought to be sacked and replaced with people who actually understand the appeal of the property. The DiC G.I. Joe series is exactly the kind of show that will not hold up to any kind of childhood nostalgia, especially since a lot of modern adults would say they recognized how bad the show was when they were kids. Hasbro does itself no favors releasing this material now, since the only people who will be satisfied by it are only the most rabid completists. If you were thinking of getting this DVD set, save yourself the hassle and spend the money on something else instead.