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Saturday, January 28, 2012

How Juniorization Made The Archies 'New'

Saturday mornings just aren't the same as they used to be.

When I was a child, it wasn't uncommon to see cartoons airing from seven in the morning to six o'clock in the evening. Then again, I grew up in Canada where Global Television would air cartoon shows all day long until the six o'clock news.

That's why I find it a bit sad to see that Saturday mornings are only but a glimmer of what they used to be.

If you have cable channels like Teletoon Retro or Boomerang, you can find a way to relive the Saturday mornings of yore. But network television, which used to host the cream of the Saturday morning crop, is a television wasteland on Saturday mornings. I honestly don't know if any of them even air cartoons anymore. Our ABC affiliate, at least, airs educational programming with Jack Hanna and other animal experts. CBS has news, and cartoons from ten years ago. I couldn't tell you what NBC offers, because I very rarely watch that network as it is.

So, what happened to Saturday morning television? Were there any warning signs?

One possible theory that I've heard is the lack of originality and creativity in creating new cartoons. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, many cartoons were based on popular toys, games, and comic strips. Care Bears, Jem and the Holograms, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Charlie Brown and Snoopy, Garfield. All of these shows were very well-received, and all of them developed a following. And, if you look through this blog, you'll see that I've done blog entries on all the shows that I have listed.

The thing is that those cartoons were based on original ideas, and even two or three decades since they originally aired, are still widely popular and are regarded as Saturday morning classics by the people of my generation.

Then the late eighties came along, and with them came the first stages of unoriginal programming.

One of the trends that really used to bother me that cartoons did was the so-called 'juniorization' of Saturday morning favourites. In case you're wondering what I'm talking about, take classic television shows like The Flintstones or Scooby-Doo, and picture what they might be like as children.

That's how we ended up with such shows as Tiny Toon Adventures, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, The Flintstones Kids, and Yo, Yogi.

And, sorry to say that a lot of these shows failed miserably.

I'll be the first to admit that Tiny Toon Adventures was a cartoon that I watched religiously, and I can't find too much at fault with it. And, yeah, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo was really annoying, but the plus side of it being that Scrappy-Doo wasn't in it (I'm guessing he wasn't born then), so it was tolerable. But The Flintstones Kids were terrible...absolutely terrible. And, don't even get me started on Yo, Yogi, which was a cartoon that should have never been made. Jellystone Park turning into a shopping mall? Yikes.

Whether or not that was the beginning of the end for Saturday mornings as we knew's hard to say. Some might suggest the death of Saturday mornings stemmed from cable and satellite television offering thousands of choices. Some might blame the mid-90s preference towards live-action shows such as 'Saved By The Bell' as a factor.

It's hard to say what the deathblow was to Saturday mornings. It could be one of these possibilities, it could be all of these possibilities.

So, I pose this question to all of you reading this entry before we go on. What do you think killed Saturday morning programming? It'd be interesting to read some of your replies, if any are given.

Today's topic is about a cartoon that could fit into the 'juniorization' of Saturday morning programming that seemed to be in vogue during the late 1980s. It's a cartoon that was based from a comic book serial that I grew up reading (and STILL read, by the way), and although it only lasted one season, that same season was rebroadcast two years later.

The television show also launched two comic book titles, both lasting between three to five years. Beginning in late 2011, the stories from these comic book titles have been reprinted in current titles, and the show itself has aired sporadically on various cable channels over the years.

This show was The New Archies.

Debuting on NBC on September 12, 1987, The New Archies was the latest in a long line of cartoon shows starring Archie and the gang and detailing the many adventures that they have in Riverdale, U.S.A.

The catch? This edition of the cartoon showed Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, and their friends as twelve year old kids attending Riverdale Junior High. Weirdly enough, Mr. Weatherbee, Miss Grundy, and Ms. Beazly are teachers there, despite the fact that they also appear at Riverdale High as educators.

Now, the idea of portraying Archie and the gang as anything other than seventeen year old high school students is nothing new for the company. If you go back to the 1950s, you'll see that was when the first issue of Little Archie was released. Little Archie was a comic title that showed Archie and the gang as a group of six and seven year old children attending school at Riverdale Elementary. Surprisingly enough, both Mr. Weatherbee and Miss Grundy taught at that school too!

(Apparently Weatherbee and Grundy are gluttons for punishment.)

There's a lot of people out there who have said that they hate the Little Archie title. Looking at it, I can see that there are some oddities in regards to the title. At least depending on the artist who does the stories. If Bob Bolling wrote and illustrated the stories, I find those to be true to form for what Little Archie was supposed to be about. The exploration of the world through the eyes of a seven year old was captured brilliantly by him. I found Dexter Taylor's work to be fantastic, but his stories were so unbelievable. I mean, in Dexter's stories, Little Archie was just as much of a player as his 17-year-old counterpart. Some of the stories probably would have worked better in the regular comics. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the teenage Archie stories rewritten for the Little Archie audience.

That said, I have a soft spot for the Little Archie title. My first Archie comic ever was a Little Archie Digest. There's no way I can bash a classic that I grew up with.

(We won't discuss the horrific 1991 Little Archie revamp.)

On the flipside, we're seeing Archie as an adult in current magazine serial 'Life With Archie: The Married Life', which debuted in the summer of 2010. In the serial, we see Archie as he deals with married life with Betty, as well as married life with Veronica. And, in the upcoming Archie #632, we're going to see Archie tackle married life with Valerie, from Josie and the Pussycats.

Don't believe me? Take a look at the planned cover, to be released in April 2012.

It kind of makes me wonder who he's going to marry next. Katy Keene? Cheryl Blossom? Lil Jinx?

Believe it or not, there's even an Archie Babies title floating around the Archie world. I've never seen the title, as right now it's only available as a digital download title...but I wonder how successful of a title it is.

Oh, least with Archie comics celebrating their 70th anniversary last month, they're not at a shortage of new ideas, and I respect the fact that they take chances.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's go back to 'The New Archies'.

As far as I know, there were thirteen half-hour episodes made of the series, with each episode having two stories. Some sources that I've looked at state that there were fourteen episodes made, but for some reason, I cannot recall seeing the fourteenth episode that supposedly aired. At any rate, if you click HERE and HERE, you can watch a couple of episodes of the show, just to get a feel of what the show was like.

(A couple of notes about the episodes. the heck did Miss Grundy end up driving Ol' Betsy? And secondly, how klutzy can one teenage boy actually be?)

Now, if you've watched the episodes, you'll probably have noticed that at the very least, the 12-year-old Archie characters are a lot like the characters in the comic books. Their personalities fit exactly to the counterparts they play in the original comic books, so that is one plus for the show.

Archie is still the girl-crazy, sports obsessed boy who happens to also be one of the klutziest (as evidenced by one of the episodes that I showed you). Jughead is still the gluttonous stringbean with a taste for hamburgers and a dislike for girls. Betty's still the kind-hearted, generous soul who never has a bad thing to say about anyone. Veronica's still the rich girl who has everything handed to her...yet surprisingly she has a valley girl accent and wears clothes that don't look like they go together at all. How eighties. Oh, yes, there's Reggie too, who proved that he was just as much of a jerk as a pre-teen as he is shown in the comic books. In fact, Reggie appears to be even more one-dimensional in The New Archies than in any other adaptation.

There's other secondary characters that appear in the series. Big Ethel makes an appearance in this series, and she's just as gawky and awkward in this cartoon as she is in the comics. Moose is also in the series, and while his slowness in class was linked to him having dyslexia in the teenage Archie, on “The New Archies”, he's just portrayed as being as dumb as a box of rocks.

There's also some minor appearances in the series by Archie's dad, Veronica's dad, Pop Tate, Coach Kleats, and Ms. Beazly, the lunch lady.

And then there's Eugene and Amani, which are two characters that only appear in 'The New Archies'. They're not seen in Little Archie, and they don't even seem to make an appearance in the regular Archie series at all. So, why were they in the series?

One could argue that they were added to add a bit of multiculturalism to Riverdale, as both Amani and Eugene are African-American. But then if they wanted to do that, why not just add Chuck Clayton and Nancy Woods in the series? Neither one were shown in the cartoon at all.

Here's my theory. I think that Eugene and Amani are actually hybrids of characters who did not make it into 'The New Archies' from the original comic book series. The question of why Chuck, Nancy, Dilton Doiley, or Midge Klump weren't featured in 'The New Archies' has never been answered, but my best guess is that 'The New Archies' was a show that was only meant to have just a few characters on screen at once. It was produced by DIC Entertainment, and going back to any DIC shows that I watched, it was very rare to have more than say, ten different animated characters onscreen at the same time. It would be way too much hard work to animate so much, at least it would have been back in 1987. I'm guessing that the characters of Chuck and Dilton were combined to make Eugene, and that the characters of Midge and Nancy were combined to make Amani. This effectively took four characters and condensed them into two, making fewer characters to animate.

Of course, that's just my theory.

So, what's the final verdict on 'The New Archies'? Well, as far as I'm concerned, while it doesn't quite hold a candle to the original series, I do respect the fact that the creators tried to keep the Archies in character, and I will say that some of the episodes were enjoyable to watch. Granted, the episodes in which an alien comes to visit them, and when Archie and Jughead accidentally shrink themselves making a birthday present for Veronica, and when Archie becomes a werewolf were farfetched, but it was a cartoon. Cartoons could be unbelievable.

The cons? The show has NOT aged well at all. The clothing and references made are incredibly dated now. The background music may have been cutting edge in 1987, but is tragically laughable now. And, Eugene and Amani as stand alone characters fell flat. I would have rather had Dilton and Chuck, to be honest.

But 'The New Archies' celebrates its 25th birthday this year, so I figured that I would dedicate a blog entry to the show so that people can see what it was like.

And besides, the show taught a bunch of life lessons to kids. That you shouldn't change who you are to get people to like you. That everyone is capable of a good deed, regardless of how clumsy you are. That cheating is not okay. That makes it okay in my book.

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