I'm too old to be able to look back fondly on "The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!," but I am old enough to remember cartoons based on earlier video games. I dutifully watched shows featuring Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, despite the horribleness of both. "Mario Bros." came at me during my teenage years, and my general reaction to it at the time was a "what the" followed by a random sampling of expletives. I was, by that time, old enough to realize that the idea of dressing up Captain Lou Albano in red overalls and having him engage in wacky comic banter with C-level guest stars like Gary Owens, Gene Rayburn, Roddie Piper, and Vanna White was dodgy television at best.
I mention all this up front because there is a large number of you reading this that were at the right age when "Mario Bros." first aired to have actually enjoyed it, and who may be thinking about revisiting the show with gleeful nostalgia. You need to know up front that I do not share this nostalgia. Indeed, I asked to review the show not based on any love for the series, but because my daughter, age six, is a huge fan of all things Mario, and I thought she'd get a kick out of the cartoon. (She did, by the way.) And hey, with any luck, maybe the cartoon segments, about which I did not remember much at all, would turn out to be better than the live action bits.
And so my daughter, my wife, and I settled down to watch the first in a long collection of vintage "Super Mario Bros. Super Show" episodes. The first thing we encountered: the single worst rap song ever performed, set to the visuals of plumbers Mario (Albano) and Luigi (Danny Wells) shimmying about in what I can only assume was intended to be an attempt at dance. The kid-friendly rap (set to the tune of the "Mario Bros." video game theme song) can best be described as what would have happened had you asked my mother to write and perform a rap song:
We're the Mario Brothers, and plumbing's our game,
We're not like the others who get all the fame.
If your sink is in trouble, you can call us on the double,
We're faster then the others, you'll be hooked on the Brothers!
Uh! H-h-hooked on the Brothers!
Oh, dear. This is what happens when network executives demand a show try to be hip and with-it.
Here's how the rest of each episode would go down: Following the theme song, we'd get part one of a skit featuring the live-action Mario Brothers, who live and work in some abysmal sub-basement room; for some reason, these skits were set to an overwhelming amount of canned laughter. Then we'd get a second rap tune, this one being the theme song for the cartoon proper, in which an animated Mario and Luigi would find themselves in some bizarre other world, fighting against King Koopa. Koopa would escape, the cartoon would wrap up, and then back to the live action host sketch, where we'd pick up with whatever zany predicament we had forgotten about when the cartoon started. Drop in a preview for "The Legend of Zelda" (a cartoon series that ran on Fridays instead of "Mario Bros.," although the live action Mario/Luigi skits remained the same), a conclusion to the skit, and then an invitation from Mario, Luigi, and their guest star to "Do the Mario."
"Do the Mario" is the closing theme song, and it is the only thing worse than the opening theme song. In it, Albano himself almost-sings vague instructions ("Swing your hips from side to side") before shouting "Do the Mario!!" This is set to images of Albano apparently "Doing the Mario," which is little more than standing in place and wiggling a little bit while Captain Lou Albano shouts at you. The whole thing is set to the same video game theme that the opening theme features, thus ensuring that by the end of any given episode, you will thoroughly loathe every single note of such a tune.
Throughout both the live action skits and the cartoon segments, all of the Mario Brothers' moves are accented by sound effects from the video game. Which would make sense if they were, say, jumping or grabbing a gold coin. But here, it's just random sounds plopped in for no explicable reason.
As for the cartoon segments, they're standard late-1980s generic silliness. Mario and friends (side note: who decided that Toad the Mushroom Boy should sound like a bitter, greasy New Yawker?) do what they can to help locals overthrow the rule of King Koopa. Action is minor, jokes are cornball, and clumsy attempts are made to work in elements of the video game (for example, Mario finds a "fire flower," thus transforming him into "Super Mario"). The animation is sub-par, an obvious rush-job.
Worse, the whole thing's overflowing with uncomfortable racial stereotypes. No, not just the Italian ones - although the notion of pasta-craving slobs is only one step above the video game's "mamma mia!" voice work. In one-shot appearances, we get characters such as the Asian karate master who seems to have gotten his accent from Mickey Rooney in "Breakfast At Tiffany's" and a leprechaun who makes the Lucky Charms guy sound like a spokesman for the Ireland Chamber of Commerce. Ouch.
And yet… Well, no, I can't like the show. It's a pretty terrible show. But I will admit to admiring what it was trying to do. At least in the live action bits. It's nice to see a show attempt to be more than just another tie-in cartoon, and the idea of kooky skits with dopey jokes and bizarre guest stars has a certain kick to it, a throwback to the days when children's TV was populated by local hosts who would clown around in front of the camera before cutting away to a cartoon short. Albano and Wells look like they're having a blast yukking it up for the kiddies, and while their punchlines earn nothing but groans, their enthusiasm is infectious.
So it's easy to see why those of a certain age would have affection for this crappy cartoon show. Hey, my daughter loved it so much she's been asking to watch it again and again every day since. As for me, please: enough with the rapping.
Earlier this year, Shout! Factory collected the first half of the series onto a four-disc set. (You can read Randy Miller III's review of that box set here; he has fonder memories of the show than I do and thus gives a kinder write-up. He also gives a detailed look at the history of the show and the games, for those wanting more information.) Shout! now finishes the collection with "The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! Volume 2," which gathers up the remaining 24 episodes.
Each episode is completely uncut, going so far as to include commercial bumpers and the in-show previews for "Zelda." Considering Shout! released the complete "Zelda" collection in a separate set, this essentially constitutes 24 extra promos for that other box set. Granted, it makes more sense to separate the "Zelda" shows from the rest, thus appealing to fans of that cartoon, yet it's bound to put off parents like myself who now have to deal with kids who really, really want to watch "Zelda" and won't shut up about it. (Equally annoying: it's four promos for every one "Zelda" show, and every promo begins with the exact same clip, which means lots of mind-numbing repetition if you're watching this set in a marathon sitting.)
The episodes included in this box set are:
Disc One: "The Pied Koopa," "Bad Rap," "Mario & The Red Baron Koopa," "Mighty McMario & The Pot Of Gold," "Do You Princess Toadstool Take This Koopa…?," and "The Mark of Zero." (Note: Yes, "Bad Rap" is one long rap. Oh, my head.)
Disc Two: "20,000 Koopas Under The Sea," "The Koopas Are Coming! The Koopas Are Coming!," "Quest For Pizza," "Karate Koopa," "Elvin Lives," and "Koopa Klaus."
Disc Three: "The Ten Koopmandments," "The Provolone Ranger," "The Great Gold Coin Rush," "Mario Of The Apes," "Crocodile Mario," and "Plumbers Academy."
Disc Four: "Princess, I Shrunk The Mario Bros.," "Flatbush Koopa," "Raiders Of The Lost Mushroom," "Star Koopa," "Escape From Koopatraz," and "Little Red Riding Princess."
The four discs come in slimline cases which are then housed in a cardboard slipcover.
Presented in their original 1.33:1 broadcast format, the shows here are pretty iffy, although I doubt they ever looked that great in the first place. The animation is a bit grainy and muted, and the host segments reveal their shot-on-video cheapness. It's not enough to distract from the proceedings, however.
The stereo mix sounds about as good as the video looks, which is to say, just enough to get by. No subtitles are included.
The most notable bonus features are four extra cartoon episodes - "On Her Majesty's Sewer Service," "Koopenstein," "The Unzappables," and "The Trojan Koopa" - which are presented here without their live action counterparts. While I can't find any exact information on this, it seems that the stand-alone nature of these shorts suggests they were "leftover" shows that became part of the "Captain N" series that followed.
Each disc also features a concept art gallery, running a couple minutes apiece. Not having seen the first box set, I do not know if these are the same slideshow features that appeared on that volume. I can say that the background sketches seen here are much more colorful and imaginative than anything that actually made it onto the show.
Disc One also features an interactive "tour" of sketch art of live action set. Disc Three offers a fan costume gallery, and Disc Four presents a two-minute featurette on one fan's meeting with Albano and an autograph signing; this seems to exist only to tell us that Albano is a really nice guy.
Disc One kicks off by automatically playing previews for "The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! Volume 1," "The Legend of Zelda," "COPS," and "Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?" You can skip past them, and you can also access them from the main menu.
Rent It. The show's just not worth owning, despite Shout!'s fine efforts in putting this set together. Those looking for a quick nostalgia trip or those looking for dopey entertainment for the kids will find a one-time look is enough.