Grab your acid wash jeans and inline skates because it’s time to venture back to 1990. The NES was in its heyday and network executives were cashing in by proxy. The Super Mario Brother Super Show premiered in September of 1989 and was comprised of a cartoon series of the main characters bookended with live action segments (Friday episodes would feature the Legend of Zelda cartoon). Turning a game with such a simple concept as Super Mario Brothers into an extensive series meant weird themed-episodes such as Zorro or Star Wars rip offs, with characters swapped out with Mario ones. Add in some shoddy writing, endless pasta-related puns, and hastily done animation and it made for a hokey yet entertaining show for the time and far more watchable than some other adaptations…
Better tagline: “This Ain’t No Good”
So, what do you think of when you hear “Do the Mario!” – is the song stuck in your head now? Well, for countless American children, we had the pleasure of watching the late, great, former-wrestler Lou Albano and late, great, Canadian actor Danny Wells play Mario and Luigi, respectively. Their live action scenes were loosely scripted but mostly Albano and Wells would improv and play off one another. As veteran performers, they made it work and added quite a bit overall to the Mario canon through their interpretations of the characters, which they also voiced in the cartoon. Their segments would generally be campy and fun as they would often interact with celebrity guest stars (or B/C-list ones) and experience various unusual misadventures, all in their Brooklyn-based business (presumably pre-Mushroom Kingdom exposure). Other times, they’d simply deal with everyday scenarios…
Such as rapping or covering Nicole Eggert in cake …. everyday normal plumber stuff
Oddly enough, after just the first year, Dic Entertainment decided to go a different route, jump the shark, and axe the Mario Brothers from the Mario Brothers Show. You can probably tell where all this will go from here. To say they strayed from the formula would be an understatement. All live action segments were replaced with new ones to create a format called Club Mario. And it had all the subtlety of Poochie the Rapping Dog.
“Hey kids, always recycle – TO THE EXTREME!!!” – Poochie
Gone was the Saturday morning cartoon charm and guest stars, all replaced one day with big, loud, caffeinated, “in-yo-face” format. It began with a new intro that was spliced with scenes from the Super Mario cartoon, footage of the new hosts, and random clips of stock footage that had nothing to do with really anything. This was all edited into a two minute epileptic seizure and set to a blatant rip off of Janet Jackson’s Black Cat (seriously, play them back to back). Hosts Tommy Treehugger (Chris Coombs) and Co MC (Michael Anthony Rawlins) were set up on their roof with a giant satellite dish they’d surf from time to time or just do wacky stuff. They even had an in-house “band” (James Abbott – yes, one guy). It was unscripted and chaotic and the only thing louder than the actors was their wardrobe. For those who don’t remember, the early 90’s was a time to revamp aspects of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Tie-dyed shirts and hacky sacks had made a comeback and eventually even a new Woodstock Festival took place by 1994. This show is basically a concentrated dose of all that, mixed with the intro to Saved By The Bell, and about six or seven Red Bulls.
The gnarly, bodacious cast: Coombs, Rawlins, Khan, and a recent photo of Rawlins, who is still acting
One weird little tidbit of the Club Mario format was the addition of a two-minute short that the hosts would watch on the Friday shows. Presented by Princess Centauri (Shanti Khan) as Space Scout Theater, this odd little serial, as it turns out, is a show called Photon. Photon was based off of a lasertag home game, which was in turn, based off of a chain of laser tag arenas. This short-lived fever dream was a US/Japanese produced, low-budget, mid-80’s series that was inspired by Star Wars and loosely followed the plot of the film The Last Starfighter (in which a game is subterfuge as a recruitment tool used by aliens to find the best potential warriors from earth.) There were books and toys based off its one-season run, and it was a campy, fun little gem. The show was also property of DiC Entertainment (hence its use in Club Mario). Like much of everything else involved, Photon really didn’t have much to do with the Mario or video games at all, yet it remains probably the best bit in my opinion (albeit a guilty pleasure) and I’ve happily joined the Photon cult following.
In their defense, the Club Mario segments are watchable in that fun, kitschy way as they are a time capsule of early 90’s, pre-grunge pop culture. Also, there are occasional skits, jokes, and gags that are fun and mildly humorous, and their catchphrase, “Where the airwaves are our waves!” was pretty clever. Ultimately though, even nostalgia goggles can’t hide the fact that this is pretty much the definition of a studio selling out. The loud, manic attitude of the show just tends to come across as condescending and Mario is, at best, an afterthought. Also, the half-ass environmental kick can get heavy-handed as well. The Albano/Wells segments just seem to hold a certain deeper charm, if only for the heart and sincerity that the two put into their performances.
If you do choose to watch Club Mario, Youtube will be your best bet as DiC Entertainment actually scrapped all the original Club Mario master tapes. … (kinda tells you something).
RIP and Thank you.
Michael A. Jones firstname.lastname@example.org www.nerdsintheburbs.com
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