Den of Geek will be screening the original RoboCop at Videology in Brooklyn on February 27th at 6:30 pm. We’ll also be presenting an assortment of some of RoboCop’s least heroic moments. With that in mind, enjoy this article dedicated to one of them.
The RoboCop reboot certainly didn’t have the same eye-crossingly strange aftermath that the 1987 film gave us. While RoboCop was a brilliant movie and the sequels were mediocre and terrible in that order, a lot came out of the franchise. He had comic book appearances that have spanned four different publishers with one story getting its own video game adaptation. He had a series of TV spinoffs that catered to a crowd too young to see the original movie. There was a brief appearance in Indian in the Cupboard, where RoboCop was in a gigantic battle royale that also featured Darth Vader and a tyrannosaurus. He once showed up at a WCW pay-per-view to save Sting from the clutches of the Four Horsemen.
That last one was really weird and it wouldn’t even be the last time RoboCop would team up with a pro wrestler. That would come in RoboCop: The Series, the live-action TV show from 1994. While the show lacked the violence of the movies, what with it being for a younger audience, it did at least hold on to the satirical ideals that made the first movie work. The central part of that aspect was Commander Cash, a cartoon superhero that OCP used to spin their terrible corporate acts against society and nature. Over the course of the show, they’d occasionally show an animated PSA explaining why it was okay that OCP was polluting and committing other atrocities.
For the most part, Commander Cash was just a fictional character and nothing more. That all changed with the 13th episode, “RoboCop vs. Commander Cash,” starring none other than “Rowdy” Roddy Piper! Oh snap! Wait, would the sleeper hold even work on RoboCop? Piper can’t thumb him in the eye either, can he? Reverse atomic drop seems counterproductive too. Hoo boy. Let’s see how this plays out.
It starts out in a limo driving around OCP marketing businessman Simon Atwater (Barry Flatman), his ditzy secretary Brittany (Lisa Howard), a couple of children and the OCP Chairman (David Gardner). See, due to some kind of weird rights issues, they had to change around the characters a little. Instead of the Old Man, we have the Chairman, who is a little more dopey than corrupt. Similarly, RoboCop’s movie partner Anne Lewis is replaced with Lisa Madigan (Yvette Nipar) and he has a few other supporting characters to play off of at headquarters.
The kids, who are actors set to play the Chairman’s grandchildren for a public appearance, watch a Commander Cash cartoon commercial, mesmerized in the way kids tend to be. They’re wearing special glasses as Commander Cash and his female sidekick Major Market shill Super Flakes, which the kids admit to be completely crazy for. Also, just to show that this series isn’t too kiddified, Commander Cash advertises “bag-o-guts,” a fake stomach filled with fake blood that the children can detonate and splatter all over the place, making them feel like they’re in the middle of a war movie.
Maybe this show isn’t as bad as people make it out to be.
Since we haven’t seen anything too criminal yet, we switch over to a car chase where RoboCop (Richard Eden) is driving after a speeding van. The chase brings them to a monster truck stadium with a bunch of dirt bikes riding around and, man, it is not NEARLY as exciting as that sounds. The chase comes to an end, RoboCop draws his gun and finds the van filled with children. No, not in the dark “Frank Castle would murder so many people for this” sense, but in that the children had hijacked the van because it was filled with Commander Cash merchandise. RoboCop’s so confused!
We get a brief news story about the theft and while the film’s news breaks were about underplaying the horrors of the world, the anchors here simply overplay the smiling fakeness while laughing at their own bad jokes. Eh, it’s different but it works.
As doofy OCP tech guy Charlie (Ed Sahaly) runs diagnostics on RoboCop in preparation for appearing at the same function as the Chairman and Atwater, Lisa busts in and rants about having to spend four hours with those crying kids and their bitchy parents, declaring that she’ll never have children. There’s a funny moment where she brings up how one parent had the gall to call her “barren” and asks if they can believe that. A wide-eyed Charlie and deadpan RoboCop briefly look to each other, look forward and say, “No.” As much as Lisa would love to go home after this, she’s tasked with bringing Gadget (Sarah Campbell) to the same public appearance that RoboCop is about to go to.
Oh, yeah. Gadget. I forgot to mention her. In order to make the show more kid-friendly, they decided to have a little girl hang around the police station at all times. You know how these things go.
Also, she happily splatters everyone with her Commander Cash bag-o-guts. That would never fly today.
The function in question is a big opening of the Omnimall, where Commander Cash will appear, so obviously children everywhere are excited. We see an actor set to play the part in his dressing room as a mysterious someone shows up to mug him and steal the costume.
RoboCop surveys the mall, constantly having children ask him if he knows Commander Cash. He meets with Atwater, who talks up how dedicated RoboCop is and, trying to compliment him, says that it’s what separates him from, “all the other OCP products.” RoboCop stares daggers into him and silently walks off as Atwater doesn’t have the slightest clue what he said wrong.
There’s a photo-op with Commander Cash, who says it’s great to meet with another superhero. RoboCop argues that he’s just a police officer, making Cash beam at the humility, as it makes a good example for the kids. Then he drops a term that’ll get used a lot in this episode, “cartoon law.”
RoboCop searches his databanks for what that means, but has no definition. It’s supposed to show the by-the-book nature of his programming, but at the same time, “cartoon law” is a term the show made up so it’s completely acceptable that he has no idea what the hell is going on.
Commander Cash takes the stage and plays to the kids. He asks if they’ve all eaten their Super Flakes, which they most definitely have, and then tells them all that everything in the mall is free! He says to take what they like…and do they ever! Atwater is flabbergasted and horrified while even Brittany sneaks off to get in on this.
RoboCop, meanwhile, doesn’t know what to do. The children are acting like criminals, but he also needs to protect the innocent. As he ponders whether or not it would be right to open fire on a group of youngsters (including Gadget, who is also on a stealing spree), Commander Cash gets in Atwater’s face. He throws the guy at RoboCop and tells the cyborg to arrest him. Atwater turns it around and yells at RoboCop to arrest Commander Cash. RoboCop advances on the spandex-wearing nutjob.
“Hahahaha! You can’t arrest me! I’m Commander Cash! I’m a superhero! And superheroes don’t commit crimes!”
RoboCop is once again befuddled because of the ravings of a madman who believes himself to be in the right. In the midst of his own confusion, RoboCop allows Commander Cash to escape into the sky via jetpack. He shatters the glass above in a terrible CGI effect and nobody seems to note that broken glass is probably going to be raining down on a bunch of children.
When RoboCop returns to base, he sits around and looks over all the laws in the database, trying to find anything about cartoon law. In an attempt to explain it, Charlie asks if he’s ever seen a children’s cartoon. RoboCop has a flashback to his days as Alex Murphy, watching a superhero cartoon with his son. Then it strikes him: the superhero always wins. He never lies or breaks the law or anything. “Justice in its purest form.”
As this is going on, Lisa notices how zombie-like Gadget is when it comes to watching Commander Cash, even when being yelled at for her thievery. Not to mention Gadget is usually above such things. That’s when Lisa discovers that when you wear the special glasses that come in boxes of Super Flakes, you see hidden messages on both the cereal box and the Commander Cash cartoons on TV.
I’d just like to point out that this is a story about ominous glasses that show you subliminal messages and it stars Roddy Piper. It took me way too long to realize that this was a gigantic They Live homage. I must be slipping.
Lisa visits Atwater, who just had extra security stuff added into his office to protect him from the insane Commander Cash impersonator. When asked about the subliminal messages, Atwater defends himself by saying that it helps the economy. Kids will want whatever Commander Cash tells them to get. If their parents can afford it, great! If not, then the kids will know to exceed in school and grow up successful so that they don’t disappoint their own children in the same way. By this point, Atwater’s upped the over-the-top sleaze to the point that we know he’s probably not on the up-and-up.
Lisa decides to get answers by getting some hotdogs with Brittany, and by hotdogs I mean hotdog buns. I understand that they wouldn’t want to be wolfing these things down take after take, but the fact that they’re empty kept me distracted throughout the scene. I bet that bearded guy from the Happening would be ashamed of this.
Anyway, Brittany is clueless enough to spell out a bunch of the plot, which is much needed considering the episode is already halfway over. She confides in Lisa because Atwater won’t let her socialize with the coworkers due to her having a big mouth. And so, with her big mouth she notes how Atwater was originally a chemist who left that division of OCP because his colleagues kept accusing him of stealing their ideas and he wanted to find himself in an area that would reward him with big offices and nice cars. His specialty was mind-control drugs and he actually created Super Flakes. Brittany’s a huge fan of the cereal and regularly eats a huge bowl for lunch.
As an aside, Brittany cheerfully mentions that at another press junket the next day, she is going to get to play the part of Major Market. “It’s the first time I get to wear the costume outside of Simon’s apartment,” she says with enthusiasm. I thought it was funny.
Commander Cash returns to the mall and pulls the same stunt as before. He greets the children, asks if they’ve eaten their Super Flakes, then tells them that everything is free. When the clerk gets in his face about it, Commander Cash reveals his own modified version of the toy gun, the Eliminator 3000. He uses it to blow a burning hole through a Commander Cash cartoon cardboard cutout… and promptly gives it to a child to play with.
The clerk blasts him with a shotgun to the chest, sending Cash out of the store right as RoboCop arrives. Cash appears okay, thanks to wearing lots of chest armor, but sees that RoboCop is once again out to arrest him. He commands the children to stop him. RoboCop can’t bring himself to trample the surrounding brats, but they’re only so tall. His arms are free to pull out his gun and bust a cap in Commander Cash’s ass.
No, really. He literally shoots him in the ass.
This part is wonderful because throughout the entire episode, Cash has been portrayed as insane, but reined in. He’s far too into his character as a Christopher Reeve Superman clone, but when he runs away, he does it like a complete lunatic with arms and legs flailing all over the place. He’s like Kermit the Frog being attacked by bees and it comes out of nowhere.
The bullet turns out to be a tracking device, meaning RoboCop’s able to find Cash’s hideout. It’s an abandoned warehouse with a big sign on it saying, “SUPERHEROES WELCOME!” By the time he gets there, Cash has changed clothes I guess, since the hole in his chest is gone. Commander Cash gives RoboCop the Home Alone treatment, which is a lot easier than you’d think when you remember that RoboCop has near-zero mobility. Next thing you know, RoboCop is buried under a mountain of dry cement bags.
But not so fast! Once Commander Cash gets close enough with a device that looks very much like a bomb, RoboCop is able to pull his gun out. Cash solemnly swears that he would never hurt a fellow superhero and asks for his trust. RoboCop considers it and lowers the gun because, you know, cartoon law and all that. Commander Cash places his bomb-looking device onto RoboCop’s wrist spike, insisting that it can explain everything better than he can.
What we get is a really cool comic book origin sequence. The whole thing is shown with nothing but cartoon stills, narration and voice acting. There was once an OCP scientist and part-time cartoonist named Tex Jones (damn, this episode has some wonderful references) who had created some subliminal messaging technology to help American spies in the field. At the same time, he’s invented a cartoon character named Commander Cash, who he hopes can win over the imagination of children around the world and inspire them.
Cartoon Simon Atwater walks in to ask for a partnership. It’s very much the same actor’s voice, meaning it was rather nice of Atwater to take time out of his busy schedule of being a corporate villain to do a voice acting session for Tex’s cartoon backstory project. He talks about how he has created a chemical that when mixed with calcium is a perfect mind-control agent. Along with Tex’s hidden message technology, they can force the public to buy whatever they want them to buy, no matter how tight their budget is. Tex refuses because he’s a decent man. Atwater shrugs it off and leaves, but not without leaving a bomb behind.
Tex survives the blast, only to find that Atwater has stolen his ideas, including even Commander Cash. Tex then dedicates himself to honing his body and becoming the very dream that Atwater stole and corrupted. He would become Commander Cash!
The footage ends with live-action Commander Cash in front of a camera, removing his mask while saying, in a tragic tone, “Because when evil takes everything away from you… what choice do you have… but to become a superhero?”
When I saw this as a kid, I missed the opening credits, so I didn’t see who was playing Cash. All I knew was that there was something strikingly familiar about the masked man that I couldn’t pin down. I knew that charisma from somewhere. Then in this scene, I saw that he was Roddy Piper with burn scars. Awesome payoff right there.
Though now that I think about it, that may have just been his normal face. Have you ever taken a good look at a 1980’s wrestler’s forehead? It’s scar tissue city up there from years of blading.
The video over, RoboCop awakens to see that Cash is gone. He goes to OCP headquarters, where Lisa has been trying to get Charlie to find some kind of hypnotic whammy in the Super Flakes cereal. Charlie’s found nothing of the sort and they’ve even checked the box, the coupons inside and everything else. That’s when RoboCop storms in to explain that it needs to be mixed with, “a calcium phosphorus base.” Lisa doesn’t get what that means.
“Just. Add. Milk.”
I love this shot because I can only imagine there being a bunch of blood-loving fans of the first two movies who are SO MAD that they’re ruining the character with this gesture.
The stage is set for the finale. There’s another big press thing to promote Commander Cash, this time at the OCP offices. You have Brittany dressed as Major Market, constantly feeding her face with the Super Flakes. You have a girl tap-dancing while dressed as a giant box of cereal. You also have a guy dressed as a cow, just kind of hanging out. Already, it’s a good time.
Atwater goes to his office for something and finds Commander Cash waiting for him. It’s a hilarious shot because Atwater’s walking forward, Cash walks forward until standing inches away, and Atwater doesn’t react until Cash is in the shot. For some reason he didn’t notice that he was walking directly towards him in his direct line of sight. Not only is Cash mad about Atwater nearly killing him, but he’s rather hurt that he had to use hypnotic suggestion to make children buy the Commander Cash toys when the property was righteous enough on its own to do it.
Atwater laughs it off. This isn’t just about money. In another generation, those kids with their Commander Cash toys will be running things and Atwater will be their master. Immediately, Cash screams, “WORLD DOMINATION?!” and bodyslams Atwater onto the desk. Luckily, Atwater is able to fight back. Not through fisticuffs, but through outright hamming it up.
Make no bones about it. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper knows a thing or two about overacting, but Barry Flatman here goes a full 11 on the ham scale as he becomes a full-fledged cackling villain. He pops up with a Commander Cash doll and throws it at Tex. It explodes, sending him into the wall. While laughing at Cash’s comic book morality, Atwater’s surprised when RoboCop busts through the door. Atwater presses a button that causes a gun to lower from the ceiling and fire two electrified plungers into RoboCop’s chest. Since RoboCop has shown absolutely no reflex-related qualities throughout this show, he just stands there and lets it hit him.
In review, despite being the main character, here are RoboCop’s accomplishments so far:
– Successfully chased down a van driven by 6-year-olds.- Shot Roddy Piper in the ass.- Poured milk into cereal.
A pretty eventful week (or your average Wednesday morning if you’re the Iron Sheik), but I’d expect more from the ultimate police officer.
Luckily, he has Commander Cash there to pull the plungers off. Doing so causes Cash tremendous pain, but being electrocuted isn’t enough to stop him from preventing RoboCop’s systems from being overloaded. As he collapses, Cash smiles when RoboCop tells him that he really is a hero.
The Chairman is in the lobby, wondering what’s taking Atwater so long. Here we get a moment that makes me laugh uncontrollably no matter how many times I watch it. Brittany says she’ll go find him and hands off her cereal to the Chairman. Right after she walks off, the man in the cow costume pops over and pours milk in the bowl while saying in an ill-fitting, gravelly voice, “Here, let me top that off for you, chief.”
I love that that was just written into the script, apropos of nothing. They had to spend money on a cow costume and everything, but it was so worth it.
Atwater is trying to sneak out, realizing that trying to murder RoboCop will probably get him in hot water whether he succeeded or not. Lisa is there to arrest him. Atwater grabs Brittany and holds a gun to her head. It takes Brittany a legit ten seconds before she even realizes what’s going on, but her double-take is perfect. Soon Atwater finds himself surrounded. Lisa is aiming her gun at him, the Chairman is wondering what his problem is, and RoboCop and Commander Cash have caught up to him.
Using Atwater’s mind-control gimmick against him, Commander Cash yells, “Major Market, Commander Cash says, ‘Stop that fiend!'” Without even thinking about it, Brittany takes him down with a series of elbows and knees, freeing herself. Then she backs off, shocked at her own skills.
Now Atwater’s ham level has gone completely critical. He screams that they haven’t seen the last of him and runs off towards the nearest exit. RoboCop throws a little disc in front of the exit, which explodes into an inflatable crash pad that knocks Atwater back. To heroic music, Commander Cash jumps over, picks him up, tells him, “In the name of justice and a strong economy, Commander Cash says, ‘YOU’RE FINISHED!'” and then sends him flying with a punch to the face.
The onlookers cheer him on, including Brittany and the Chairman. Lisa happily arrests Atwater and drags him off, leaving Commander Cash to stand side-by-side with RoboCop.
“Once again, good triumphs over evil.”
“Yes. Cartoon law.”
And because the scene isn’t rad enough, wind picks up and holds up Cash’s cape.
Was it over-the-top and corny? Most definitely, but you know what? I actually really liked it. I know RoboCop: The Series gets looked down upon for its cheese factor, but it still hit the right notes, outside of Barry Flatman’s portrayal of Simon Atwater going far beyond the call of duty. The writing is clever at times and has some great little gags tossed in there, such as RoboCop awkwardly and mechanically trying to pat a child on the head. Nobody died, but it still kept its cynical, corporate, dystopian roots.
Between watching this and the hype for the new movie, I admit that part of me wants to go watch the entire series, but then I remember that Roddy Piper’s only a guest star. He owned the hell out of his appearance, wearing the stupidest-looking mask with the phallic, plastic hair, but alas, he only owned a single episode.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d buy RoboCop: The Series for a dollar, but I’d buy the Adventures of Commander Cash for two.
Den of Geek is screening the original RoboCop on February 27th, 2015 at Videology in Brooklyn, NY. The fun starts at 6:30. Join us! RSVP on Facebook.
This article originally ran on February 13th, 2014.