“Jonathan Chase, master of the secrets that divide man from animal, animal from man … Manimal.” Thus begins the 1983 NBC series Manimal, starring Simon MacCorkindale as a rich playboy who shapeshifts into various animals to help the police solve crimes. Manimal was canceled after only eight episodes, but gained a cult following thanks to its bonkers premise. Earlier this week, news broke that Will Ferrell and company are set on creating a “live-action/animation hybrid” feature film version of Manimal. The whole crime-fighting man-panther thing is pretty weird, but Manimal has a lot of company when it comes to television shows boasting absurd storylines. We uncovered some of the strangest, including a few classics and several you might have missed.
My Mother the Car
A precursor of Knight Rider (also worthy of inclusion on this list), 1965’s My Mother the Car is the stuff of Freudian nightmares. The show only lasted one season and starred the voice of Ann Sothern as an overbearing mother who is reincarnated as a 1928 Porter touring car. She keeps watch over her goofy son David (Jerry Van Dyke).
“Gee dad, a grown man playing with a doll at work?” Jerry Supiran’s Jamie Lawson tells his robotics engineer father, Ted (Dick Christie), in the first episode of Small Wonder. And that about sums up the creep factor of the 1985 series. Ted states he created V.I.C.I. (Voice Input Child Identicant, pronounced “Vicki”) with the hopes of exploring the potential for robot-assisted aids for humans. But we can see why his invention, an android resembling a 10-year-old girl dressed in Lolita-esque fashion, would raise a few eyebrows.
Homeboys in Outer Space
Poking fun at geek and African-American culture, the NAACP didn’t take kindly to Homeboys in Outer Space. Yes, this was a real television show — at least until it was canceled after one season. Starring Flex (Juice) and Darryl Bell (School Daze) as two explorers in a “space hooptie,” guided by their talking computer named Loquatia, Homeboys in Outer Space was the ’90s version of The Jeffersons — with the same uncomfortable and offensive humor.
The Flying Nun
After playing surf bunny Gidget on ABC, Sally Field ditched her bikini to become a problem-solving sister of the cloth in San Juan, Puerto Rico on the network’s The Flying Nun. Field played the airborne Sister Bertrille (aka Elsie Ethrington) who is able to take flight since she only weighs 90 pounds (what a cross to bear). Her massive cornette acted as her “wings.” Even though Field won audiences over in her sisterly get-up, the actress is embarrassed by the role and almost didn’t take the part: “I didn’t want to be a nun. I was a burgeoning young woman. It was the ’60s. Everyone was running around naked! I didn’t want to do that, but I didn’t want to be a nun at all! I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to be this silly thing.”
Heil Honey I’m Home!
Oh those wacky Brits, green-lighting a sitcom starring a fictional Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun living a cozy, domestic life next door to a Jewish Couple. Presented as a “lost” sitcom from the ’50s, the show parodied the saccharine antics of family comedies like I Love Lucy and Leave It to Beaver, except, you know, starring one of the most despicable human beings that ever walked the earth. The controversial series didn’t make it past the first episode. The show’s tastelessness was certainly intentional, but this was one instance of sarcasm run amok.
Garbage Pail Kids
Sure, an animated TV series for children starring a gang of pint-sized mutants that hang out in garbage cans and the city dump (based on the popular trading cards from the ‘80s) sounds like a great idea. Not nearly as terrifying as the 1987 live-action film, but weird and offensive enough that various groups protested its existence, the Garbage Pail Kids television series never actually aired in the States, but made appearances in other countries.
Take the clichés of a police procedural, add musical theater, blend with a courtroom drama. This was the utterly strange formula for ABC’s Cop Rock. As with all things involving Randy Newman — the singer wrote and performed the series’ theme “Under the Gun” — audiences seemed to love it or hate it (Newman even took home an Emmy in 1991), but the numbers talked. Cop Rock was an overwhelming critical and commercial failure — and it’s easy to see why. During this gospel-inspired courtroom scene, featuring a glowing piano, the defendant sings his of his innocence. “I was abused as a child!” he belts out as the choir of dancing, singing jurors chants back, “He’s guilty! He did the crime, and now he’s got to pay!”
Harry and the Hendersons
Never forget that America embraced its cryptozoological history and created a television series about a family who adopts a Sasquatch named Harry. Adapted from the 1987 film of the same name, starring John Lithgow and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, the Harry and the Hendersons sitcom premise didn’t stray far from the film. It involved the Hendersons hiding the Bigfoot from their neighbors and the government — but the TV cast was no match for the comedic stylings of Lithgow. Watching a grown man in a yeti costume grunt and emote the shruggie wasn’t very exciting, either.
An alien nicknamed ALF who talks like a wise guy, has eight stomachs, and dines on cats crash lands his spaceship into a suburban family’s garage. The ALF era was an absurd chapter in television history that spawned an animated series and merchandising bonanza, but the show had a few things going for it. The Tanner clan was a believable group of middle-class Americans (mostly), and ALF’s pop culture references and humor won audiences over.
In an era of mutant superheroes and science fiction blockbusters, 1983’s Automan doesn’t seem terribly bizarre. The Tron-inspired sci-fi series starred Desi Arnaz, Jr. as a police officer and computer programmer named Walter. He creates an artificially intelligent crime-fighting program called Automan. The Automan generated a neon (living) hologram who merged with Walter’s body and consciousness (played by Chuck Wagner), creating one super-duper police team. Automan’s sidekick was a floating, shapeshifting polyhedron that created and manipulated objects (cars, airplanes, etc.). However, the execution of Automan was a disaster — seen in this clip where Automan performs the “dual” role using two voices. The whole thing reads as though the character is a paranoid schizophrenic in a glowing bodysuit.
Boy can’t advance at his job, because he’s a smug bachelor and not a family man. Boy meets hatcheck girl Greta, moves her into his apartment building, and asks her to
be his human accessory pose as his wife at company functions. Girl uses the fire escape to pop in and out of boy’s life whenever his boss is around. NBC’s Occasional Wife is pretty much the worst.
The Second Hundred Years
In 1900, Luke Carpenter headed to Alaska during the gold rush and was buried in a glacial avalanche — or so everyone thought. It turns out that Luke survived in a state of suspended animation for 67 years. Soon, he’s thawed out and returned to his now elderly son, Edwin. ABC’s The Second Hundred Years gets kookier, though. Although Luke is 101 years old, physically he still looks 33 and is a dead ringer for his grandson. One of the storylines even involves Luke posing as grandson Ken during a date. What?