Sometimes TV shows drag their unfunny, uninteresting, yet highly rated feet across our living rooms for years. “Who let this happen?” we ponder, as our foreheads turn red from frequent smacks. Other times, the powers that be get things right. That’s where “Brilliantly Canceled” comes in, looking at the shows that didn’t make it past their first season and saved us all a ton of grief.
The 20th Century is filled with conversations worthy of a commemorative dinner plate or two. In the world of entertainment alone, people telling each other something sucks can have a massive effect on our culture at large. For instance, Bob Dylan openly criticizing John Lennon for writing "fluffy” Beatles’ songs in the mid-60s or Woody Allen's editor Ralph Rosenblum pushing to axe the murder mystery subplot of Annie Hall. The finished product gains something from this other perspective, pushing the artist to try a little harder or trim a bit of the fat. These decisions invariably made the work and, by proxy, all of our lives much, much better.
Yet, in 1989, a decision was made by the American Broadcasting Company to forgo such a conversation, allowing a largely forgotten cultural mistake to slip into prime time. At some point in 1990, hot on the heels of the massive success of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, ABC ordered a pilot about an amateur detective and three magical, clay figurines that help her solve crimes. The show, which only saw the airing of that pilot before being whisked into obscurity, was The Danger Team, and despite the animators’ attempts to raise the show above the level of creativity of that title, it mostly finds itself sitting far below the expectations of what any self-respecting TV-watcher can tolerate, if such an expectation or self-respecting TV-watcher exists.
After pitching the “detective with claymation partners” thing to ABC, the network should’ve informed writer Tom Greene, a seasoned producer with such credits as Knight Rider and Magnum P.I., that the connection between detecting and the actual Danger Team was far too slight and to make a decent show out of this, the two worlds would need to coalesce. Either he didn’t listen or the note was never given.
The Danger Team opens, like so many shows about an aspiring detective, with our protagonist, Sheryl, stuck in the exciting world of bookkeeping. Her boss (played by classic “what's that dude from” Steven Gilborn) won’t give her the time of day, let alone promote her. Instead, she gets menial tasks, like spending the night in the office to retrieve an incriminating floppy disk from a client. Frustrated, Sheryl heads off to boyfriend Chris’ animation studio, which is in the same high-rise office building as the detective agency (I’ll spare you the spatial and logistical problems of the setting, but suffice to say that the layout of this building makes no sense). Meanwhile, Chris, who’s hard at work on a safety video about looking out your rear-window when backing a car out of the driveway, has just put the finishing touches on his latest creation, three anthropomorphic pieces of clay he calls "The Danger Team." Sheryl shows up to complain about her go-nowhere career, when, suddenly, in the midst of Chris’ cheering up, a meteor crashes through the window of the studio and brings the clay figures to life. Don’t worry, I’m embellishing with detail. In the pilot, all this happens in the blink of an eye.
The episode moves forward with a ridiculous case of mistaken identity. Sheryl falls asleep when Chris goes out to pick up burritos. Sporting a fedora and trench coat, three gangsters kidnap Chris, thinking he is the owner of the floppy. Luckily for Chris, the Danger Team sees the whole thing, and they go to work on proving their existence to Sheryl and saving their creator. It’s all in service of getting to the team to morph into different objects, such as a water bottle or a pretzel — they’re partial to morphing into snacks.
At its core, Danger Team is nothing but a grab at some of that sweet, sweet Roger Rabbit money. We’ve got a down-on-their-luck detective, an animated partner, and, pulling from another late-80s animated touchstone, a PSA that looks curiously like a Penny cartoon. To appease TV audiences, the show doesn’t marry this concept to anything in particular. This hodgepodge of things done much better everywhere else makes The Danger Team look underdeveloped and weak by comparison.
It’s amazing to think that something so half-baked actually made it to air. Even the title The Danger Team evokes the boredom of a working title. The show’s creatively devoid plot and characters denied the show’s animators, who appear genuinely talented, their due. Had a second draft The Danger Team been attempted or even recommended, the show could’ve been a smash, but instead of offering a world where the impossible is possible, we're sent to a world where the impossible is limited to a parade of elements that test well in focus groups but make no sense together.
The Danger Team as whole is pretty disappointing. Stop-motion animation, which as this holiday season has probably already reminded you, is awesome, as is the show’s use of it. However, the paint-by-numbers approach leaves so much to be desired — number one being a reason for any of this to happen. The meteor, the detective, the PSAs, none of it adds up to anything other than a waste of potential.
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Matt Schimkowitz is a writer, TV-watcher, and Lee Carvello’s Putting Challenge champion. Like you, he enjoys the finer things in life: drinking from coconuts, the latest Italian vogue, and complaining about movies, music, and TV on the Internet. Find more writing about canceled TV shows on the Twittersphere @borntoslug.