December 29, 2012

Pole Position, episode 2 "The Canine Vanishes"

At the stunt track, Tess, Daisy, and Kuma are getting tired of waiting for Dan to join them for breakfast, because he's been busy practicing a new routine all morning and wants to run it one more time. He almost splats into a brick wall, but opens his break chutes in time. Dr. Zachary calls, with a mission to protect Dr. Michael Hastings in his lab in the everglades. When they arrive, they find the lab ablaze with Dr. Hastings inside. They crash through the wall in Wheels, saving the professor and his beloved dog, Pandora.

Hastings thanks them, then is berated by Stu Collins, head of the facility, who doesn't believe any sabotage nonsense and tells the janitor to help a crew clean up the rubble. Hastings heads off to file a report with the police, leaving Pandora in the care of Dan. Who shoves the dog off on Daisy and Kuma so he can go practice his stunt some more. Daisy plays a game of hide-and-go-seek with the two pets, cheating with the use of Wheels' tracking chip. Pandora disappears just as Tess arrives, and Wheels reveals the dog - who has the chip on its collar - is suddenly travelling away at 60 miles an hour.

Dan refuses to abandon his stunt to help, so Tess and Daisy set out in Wheels to find the dog. They track the signal to a semi truck, with another semi truck quickly boxing them in from behind on the single lane road. They're forced into and sealed in the back of the first truck, where they find Pandora.

With his sister out of contact, Dan - joined by a berating Kuma - finally decides to get off his ass and investigate. He starts at the research facility, where he finds Hastings' room completely cleared out and Collins dismissing it as none of his business. The janitor approaches Dan, saying Hastings would never abandon Pandora like that, and wishes the boy luck in tracking down his sisters.

The girls and Pandora are tied up in a cabin with a pair of goons who say they're waiting for Hastings, which Tess takes as a revelation that the professor is behind it all. One goon gets a call from "The Boss", while the other discovers the tracking chip on Pandora's collar. Dan arrives at the cabin and enters, but there's nobody there, the tracking chip is sitting on a table, and he hits a trip wire that sends a massive boulder crashing into the cabin. Roadie and Kuma gasp, but Dan just pulls himself out of the wreckage, unharmed.

Kuma sniffs out a trail that leads them to a hidden airfield in the everglades. When he spots his sisters, Dan and Roadie race in, smashing through structures and startling Hastings and the goons. The girls and Pandora leap into Wheels and our heroes are off, the goons giving chase, first over roads in their semi, then through the everglades themselves (the cars in hydrofoil mode) with swamp boats the goons just happen to have. The goons are dispatch in comical fashion.

Our heroes return to the airfield and drive (!?) on board the plane just as it takes off. They find Hastings, but instead of being the evil mastermind, he's all tied up. The big boss is instead... wait for it... THE JANITOR, who's actually a foreign general. Our heroes gain the controls, but neither of them know how to fly a plane, which becomes moot when the controls themselves are quickly broken in fail horn fashion. Dan has an idea, though, and piles everyone into Roadie. As the plane goes down, he drives out into midair. Everyone is screaming as they banks towards the everglades, Dan deploying the break chutes just in time to keep everyone alive.

The janitor and his goons are turned over to the authorities, and we learn the motive behind all of this was a vaccine Hastings developed, of which Pandora is the carrier.


This week’s episode is titled “The Canine Vanishes”. After double-checking to see if Noel and I had moved on from Pole Position to review a new Pearl Jam album or the 70s Scooby Doo knock-off Goober and the Ghost Chasers, I dialed my dwindling expectations back another notch and settled in.

I wish I could title this review “What’s in a name?”, but I instead feel compelled to call it “New week, same old problems (and a few new ones, too)”. In the first episode, Dan is merely a bit of a lunk head. Here, he’s graduated to full asshole with Honors. Tess, who seemed to be the brains of the operation, must’ve left them behind in the pilot as she stumbles into a trap Stevie Wonder could’ve seen coming. Lacking even the slick and exciting visual grammar of the pilot, and suddenly filled with silly “Doink! Biff! Bop!” sound effects, this episode veers dangerously close to Hanna-Barbara territory. All that's missing is a moment where the kids unmask the villain and exclaim in unison “The janitor!”, and he replies, shaking his fist and snarling, “And I would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for you kids and that... what is that thing? It looks like a mongoose and a raccoon double-teamed a squirrel.”

Two episodes in and we’re still no closer to knowing what Pole Position exactly is. Do they operate outside of the law or are they a government agency? If they’re private, who started it and why, and who funds them? Perhaps most important of all, what kind of organization puts three un-armed kids and a... whatever Kuma is... in harm’s way with no oversight beyond the occasional Skype session with their Uncle? When the theme song answers its own question of “What’s behind their stunt show?” with “Only their Uncle knows,” it wasn’t lying.

I will give kudos - not full kudos, mind, but mini kudos - for the “plot twist”. Sure, the set up is clumsier than Jar Jar Binks on a pair of stilts, but most cartoons of the era never even bothered with such sleight of hand. The staging was so obvious that I knew there was more to that friendly and somewhat socially awkward custodian than the scent of Pine-Sol, but when the reveal came and he was at the controls of that plane, I gave the screen a rhetorical tip of my cap and a much deserved “Well played, sir.” That’s about the only compliment I’ll give this episode, however. Everything else is bad 80s cartoonery at its worst - a clinic in the art of how not to entertain. The plot is lame, the rotating Villain(s) of the week are the worst kind of stock, and the voice acting is downright dreadful. Choose your racing metaphor: the pistons aren’t firing, the tires are flat, the tank is out of gas. They all apply.

It’s still early in the race, Showcasers, but I’m afraid that after two laps, I’m dropping the yellow flag on this one.


Tony, I'm in total agreement with you at just how clumsy and lacking this show is. It has the "stiff white guys in suits" cardboard plots of our previous Showcases Automan and Street Hawk, but while those were still fun because of their awesome vehicles and the catchy chemistry of their leads, we get no such savior here as the Darrett siblings are infuriating in the moments their non-existent presence keeps us from realizing they're there. And I guess it's three siblings now, because Daisy is called Dan's sister despite directly referring to him as "Cousin Dan" in the last episode. Granted, she might be both his sister and his cousin, but then I'd expect the souped up cars to be hauling some moonshine.

The central plot of the episode lost me just a few minutes in when Dr. Zachary showed the kids a picture of Dr. Hastings... WHO LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE DR. ZACHARY. And I don't mean a vague resemblance, I mean he has the same modestly coiffed grey hair, the same pencil moustache, and a pallet swap of the same three-piece suit. Was their character designer off for the week with a broken pencil or something, because there's no excuse to just reuse the design of one of the main recurring castmembers for the lead guest star, especially when you have one holding up a picture of the other. I'd be okay if it actually played into the plot in some fashion, but nope, it's never even acknowledged, which left me in such a baffled stupor that I couldn't keep up with everything else. It has something to do with Russians who want to kidnap the dog because of a virus. I don't know. There's lots of twists and turns involving a tracking chip and blandly designed thugs whose potential at charisma is completely overshadowed by the one dude's comb-over. I agree with Tony that the janitor reveal is a momentarily pleasant surprise, but it's still a cherry on the shit icing of the shit cake. Maybe it'll make more sense when I give it a second watch for the writing of the synopsis (which I typically don't do until after the review is writ), but I felt lost half the time, and even when I wasn't, my interest level was so low as to not give a damn. And are we sure the dog, Pandora, isn't yet another Kuma-style hybrid creature? Because it looks just as much like a panther as it does a dog. And speaking of Kuma, we still don't know what the hell he is, but he apparently has the intelligence and dexterity to casually operate a yo-yo. Good to know someone on this show has a few smarts.

Dan is a complete asshole throughout things, Daisy and the cars seem to get more done than Tess, the plot is hard to follow because of how uncaptivating the personalities involved are, the dialogue is awful, the animation clumsy, and, yeah, what the hell was with the cartoony sound effects as the two goon are felled? Even potentially exciting action setups like the boulder rolling towards Dan or them having to drive their car off a crashing airplane (which is crashing due to the pure, concentrated, head-slapping stupidity of everyone on board) fail to ignite any interest due to the lackluster execution. And is it just me, or did Roadie have a completely different voice than in the last episode?

This is the second bad episode in what already has the potential to be the worst series we've covered on the site, and I hope it manages to pick itself up, if only to spare Tony and myself from 11 more weeks of feeling our brain cells dribble from our nostrils.

And why are all the episode titles references to Hitchcock films! What in the jack all does this show have to do with Hitchcock!

Tune in this Saturday as we race towards the next Pole Position with "The Chicken Who Knew Too Much".

If you'd like to watch along with us, the complete series of Pole Position is available on DVD through Amazon or other online retailers.

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