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Featured TV on DVD Review: M.A.S.K.: The Complete Series

August 18th, 2011

M.A.S.K.: The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon

There was a time when it was against the FCC rules to make a kids show that was designed to sell toys. That changed in the 1980s and the result of that was some of the most iconic cartoons of my generation. Two of the most popular were G.I. Joe and Transformers, which continue to be popular to this day. M.A.S.K. could be described as a cross between those two shows, but while it was popular in its day, it hasn't exactly spawned a $100 million movie like the other two franchises have. Clearly it had the right ingredients for success at the time, but does it have what it takes to still entertain 25 years later?

The Show

The show focuses on the rivalry between two militaristic organizations (that's the G.I.Joe part) that have access to advance hardware that includes transforming vehicles (that's the Transformers part). The good guys were part of Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, a.k.a., M.A.S.K., led by Matt Trakker. The bad guys were part of an organization called Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem, a.k.a., V.E.N.O.M., led by Miles Mayhem. Both organizations have enough members to field a football team, each with a special transforming vehicle or two, as well as special masks that give them unique powers.

I was going to name all of the characters and their vehicles, but there are just too many. The most common characters seen in the show are, for the good guys, Matt Trakker and his Thunderhawk Camaro, which transforms into a plane. His son is Scott Trakker, who almost always finds his way into the middle of the adventure, along with T-Bob, his reluctant robot sidekick. (T-Bob can transform into a unicycle.) Bruce Sato and Alex Sector drive Rhino, a semi that doesn't transform as much as it has hidden weapons. (This is actually very common with a lot of vehicles.) Bruce is Asian and tends to speak only in what I would call bad fortune cookie philosophy, something Alex never seems to understand. (Fortunately, Matt is there to translate for him.) Dusty Hayes is a pizza chef at his day job, but for M.A.S.K. he drives Gator, a jeep with a small boat that is launched from the front. Brad Turner drives Condor, a motorcycle / helicopter. Gloria Baker is the only woman for the good guys and drives / pilots Shark, and Porsche 928 / submarine. Finally, Hondo and Clutch drive Firecracker, a pick-up truck with lots of weapons.

As well as leading V.E.N.O.M., Miles Mayhem pilots Switchblade, which can switch from jet to helicopter and back. His core team consists of three people, a motorcyclist named Sly Rax (who sounds a lot like George Hanson from Easy Rider). Cliff Dagger is the strongman of the group, and drives a Ford Bronco, which again just has a lot of hidden weapons. V.E.N.O.M. also has a female member, Vanessa Warfield, who drives / pilots the Manta, a sports car that can turn into a plane.

(As the show continues, both teams add a lot of new members and vehicles, but that's the core team for the early going.)

In the typical episode, Miles Mayhem is after an artifact of power or some source of wealth and the members of M.A.S.K. learn about it and try to stop him. (On the rare occasion, the plan is a little more sophisticated than that, but for the most part, it's a race for a single object.) Sometimes people go to them for help, other times they just stumble across it through sheer dumb luck. After Matt Trakker gets involved, he assembles the team after consulting the computer over which members would be of the most use. Almost inevitably, Scott and T-Bob will find themselves in the middle of the adventure and will need rescuing. M.A.S.K. would save the day, but V.E.N.O.M. would get away. And in the end, there's a PSA about not sticking your hand in a garbage disposal or hiding in a fridge.

I'm of two minds on this show. On the one hand, it aims rather low and for the most part only promises entertainment, and for the most part it delivers. There's always a lot of action, a lot of explosions, and as Tory Mell explains in one of the featurettes, you get cool vehicles transforming into cooler vehicles. What's not to love? On the other hand, there's a reason I could describe the typical episode, as the show has a set, almost strict formula. Some of these elements allowed for some creativity. (When Matt Tracker calls in his team members, they drop whatever they were doing and run. This happens all the time, but what they are doing and the result of them bolting for action allows for a lot of variation.) The general plots are too similar and watching them in a marathon session really highlights that. Finally, Scott and T-Bob are unnecessary. I just finished reviewing Reboot and one of the things they mention on the extras is how difficult it was to make Enzo, their child character, work and make him an important part of the show. They said if he were just there as someone the kids watching could relate to, then he would not be worth having as a character. The writers for Reboot made Enzo something more. The writers here never succeeded in that task. It would have been better to not include the character.

On a side note, while the DVD is called The Complete Series, it is actually only the first series. There was a ten-episode arc where the show's format was changed to a racing competition. It wasn't as good, as least as far as I remember, but I would have liked to have those episodes as well, even if it were for completeness sake.

The Extras

There are two featurettes found on this 12-disc set. The first is Unmasking M.A.S.K., which features interviews with two of the writers who discuss how they got the job, how writing for M.A.S.K. was different than most shows, some of the troubles they encountered, difficulties with doing the PSAs at the end, etc. They also talk about updating the show for today's audiences. I like how they are not too complimentary of the show and admit there are problems. (Scott not quite fitting and the forced but unrealistic diversity were definitely issues.) The second featurette is called Saturday Morning Krusaders: The Fans of M.A.S.K., which features several fans talking about the show. These fans include comedians, filmmakers, writers, etc. and they balance the praise with well deserved jabs at some of the problems. Some of them hate Scott as much as I do, while the forced diversity is brought up again. I do agree that the theme song is one of the best for an 1980s cartoon.

The Verdict

Overall, M.A.S.K. doesn't quite live up to my memory of the show and I don't think it is in the Top Ten cartoons of the 1980s. (Off the top of my head and in no particular order: Transformers, Macross, Dangermouse, Count Duckula, Dungeon & Dragons, Inspector Gadget, Real Ghostbusters, Voltron, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Thundercats, G.I.Joe, and maybe Battle of the Planets but that's more 1970s. It's also the twelfth cartoon on the list, so I'm already over ten.) That said, M.A.S.K. is Top 20 material. The Complete Series doesn't have the final ten episodes where they revamped the format, and there's not a lot of extras, but for most fans the 12-disc box set is worth picking up. Both of the extras have good replay value, while you can pop in a disc at random and watch a couple episodes for fun at any time.

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