Guilty Pleasure: He-Man & the Masters of the Universe

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

Yes, I’m In My 30s. And Watch Cartoons.

Here’s something I take plenty of crap for. On a regular basis. And yet it’s not my fault that Netflix makes it so damn easy to rewatch some of my favorite childhood cartoons and TV shows. And – honestly – the ’80s rocked in that regard. Anybody in my situation would do the same. Right? (In case my girlfriend reads this, yes, I know it’s all just good-natured teasing.) But whenever the mood strikes me, I pay homage to some classics, and I’ve recently been able to get my son interested in catching up on them with me! Inevitably, this all lead to me checking out He-Man & the Masters of the Universe – both the original and the 2002 remake.

Here, I’ve decided to recount the pros and cons (and any other random things I want) of the reboot, having watched the first two seasons and currently being in the middle of the third, and final, season. So, without further ado and in no particular order, here goes.

Character designs very faithful to the original

I was wondering how much of this show would be a reboot and how much a full reimagining, complete with all-new characters and/or character designs. Happily, I found that, in almost all cases, the designs are extremely faithful to their classic counterparts. Each one is instantly recognizable to fans of the original series or action figures. Some, like Man-At-Arms and Orko, look virtually identical to the way they always have. Alterations for characters like Teela or the Sorceress look great, though, of the latter, I have to wonder at the overemphasis on Egyptian symbology.

But there were a (very) small number of character designs I didn’t care for, and when the designers decided to take a piss on them they didn’t stop at a job half-finished. Highest up on this list is what used to be my absolute favorite character in the entire franchise: Buzz-Off. He’s been reinterpreted as some type of insectoid, which I realize is what he is supposed to be, but he now looks devoid of all traces of his humanity and purely like an overgrown (and quite angry) wasp.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

Though the design does look good, it’s too Egyptian for my tastes.

Voice acting is hit or miss

This is a bit of a mixed bag for me. There are many good voice talents to choose from. Though I usually enjoy Cam Clarke, I don’t find him a standout as He-Man in this (though still good). Other characters like Skeletor, Orko, Man-At-Arms, and Teela are more noteworthy, in particular the master of the Evil Warriors – he sounds just like he always has, exactly how Skeletor is supposed to sound!

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

Brian Dobson’s Skeletor is, to me, the standout voice in this series.

But when the voice direction fails, it goes spectacularly bad. I would have expected it in the ’80s version, but I’m flabbergasted that it’s twenty years later, and someone still thought it was a great idea to have several villains (and heroes!) speak like stereotypical meathead numbskulls. I get that Beast Man is a bit of a dumb ape and might sound like it, but why do Clawful and Whiplash – and Ram-Man! – sound like “Nnndah, what’s dat you got dere?” It is a show meant for kids, sure, but I don’t think these weak characterizations are in any way necessary for a young crowd to get who’s bad or inept. And while we’re at it: who gave Scott McNeil permission to impose his awful Sean Connery impression onto Stratos?!?

Those damn PSAs!

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

“Remember kids: blah blah blah. Until next time!”

Having your entire episode encapsulated in some sort of end-of-show moral pill that was supposed to teach youngsters a valuable life lesson wasn’t an uncommon practice in my formative years. I don’t think it ever worked to teach me anything (I certainly never found myself wondering “What would Papa Smurf do?” when faced with some moral dilemma), but it just developed with the times and we tolerated it. But why on Earth was this outdated practice brought back for the revival of this franchise? If I had to point to one thing that marks He-Man as a bit of a fossil of a bygone era, it’s these little snippets that fail to either elicit a chuckle or steer me toward a more virtuous path in life. Or perhaps it’s just too late for me to be saved.

B-Listers get some love, too

Season 1 kicks off with a handful of heroes and villains already firmly in place on each side; no surprise there. The initial line-up includes Ram-Man, Mekaneck, Man-E-Faces, Teela, and Stratos on the Masters’ side, while Beast Man, Trap-Jaw, Tri-Klops, Clawful, Mer-Man, and Whiplash make up the Evil Warriors. But what I find refreshing is that it doesn’t take long for other characters to get introduced. After the first few core episodes, more familiar heroes and villains pop up quite regularly, and seemingly faster and faster as the seasons go on. This is in contrast to the way I always perceived the previous series, which featured the same characters on a regular basis, with occasional cameos here and there.

I’m not only pleased that fresh faces join the main cast quite regularly, but that some decidedly less popular B-Listers are getting equal treatment here! Take, for example, Stinkor, who was purposely kept out of the ’80s cartoon as a “walking fart joke”. Not only does he become a main cast member here, but the writers tackle the issue of his odorous gift head-on, tongue planted firmly in cheek, with an actual farting noise in his first episode. Two-Bad, Webstor, Sy-Klone, Roboto, Moss Man, and Zodak all join up, to name a few. Season 3 sees the Snake Men become a big plot point, and the writers incorporated all of them, including the late-in-the-game additions of Sssqueeze and Snake Face, along with King Hiss, Kobra Khan, Tung Lashor, and Rattlor.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for him, so I’m glad Stinkor got a prominent place in this show!

The only group I haven’t seen much of, only briefly in one episode near the end of season 3, is Hordak’s Evil Horde. Looks like Modulok, Leech, and Grizzlor didn’t make it into the show proper. Though I have a feeling this would have been a subject for a future season that never happened. There are a few more Masters I can remember owning action figures of that apparently didn’t make the cut – Snout Spout, Extender, Jitsu, Spikor – but I guess it’d be folly to hope for all of them to be incorporated in the show.

Storylines have consequences that bleed over

Practically every sitcom and cartoon practically in existence is guilty of this in some form or another. Each and every episode is a story unto itself, and characters have learned nothing from (and have no recall of) things that happened in past episodes. And while there’s still some of that going on in He-Man (you don’t want to alienate your viewership for missing a week, after all), the show does a better job keeping multiple threads running than many others have.

As I’ve already mentioned, new characters will show up from time to time, but once they’re introduced, they become a part of the show’s universe from that point forward, and will generally be around in following episodes. Likewise, the alien civilizations of Eternia that are referenced here and there come back again later, and it really makes it feel more substantial and thought-out. When King Randor puts together the Eternian Council in season 3, all of the races are by then familiar to the viewer; the same is true for Skeletor’s Council of Evil, which includes various villains from throughout the series’ past. Also, events from one episode will get referenced again later on, like the mystic wall the Evil Warriors were trapped behind in the show’s pilot, or Man-E-Faces’ aversion to shifting into his monster form.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

The Snake Men’s coup is a big plot point spanning over a season.

Off the air just as it hit its stride

For the first two seasons, the Masters were busy constantly smashing Skeletor’s half-assed attempts at Eternian domination. Though you can’t fault him for lack of trying, it rarely seemed to be much of an effort for the defenders to send Skeletor’s minions packing time and time again. But season three changed all that with the arrival of the Snake Men on the scene. King Hiss’s troops may have been few, but they were cunning, strong, and menacing, and managed to give the Masters a run for their money for the duration of that last season. In other words, they finally proved to be an even match for He-Man that made him taste defeat for the first time, which in turn made the show that much more interesting to watch unfold. Alas, I can only hazard a guess what would have been in store had the show been allowed to continue. Perhaps Hordak would have made life a living hell for the Eternians for a bit? And it would have been incredibly riveting to see all three evil superpowers unite to plunge the planet into some much-needed darkness and despair for a bit.

Some minor plotlines were starting to get equally as promising, had they been left to continue on. I would have particularly liked to see where the whole Man-At-Arms/Sorceress/Fisto thing was going, for one.

Tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of terrible powers

If you stop to think about it, many of the Masters of the Universe aren’t really that powerful. Ram-Man runs into stuff, Buzz-Off and Stratos can fly, Stinkor is smelly (!), Trap-Jaw bites at stuff. Teela jumps around a lot, and I’m actually not entirely sure what Tri-Klops and Man-E-Faces really do. While there are a few good ones in the bunch, many of their bios read like the Who’s Who of worthless abilities. To the writers’ credit, however, they handle this very fact with episodes devoted to addressing the inconsistent powers. Case in point: Mekaneck eventually comes to realize his ability is “looking at stuff”, which isn’t a very cool ability at all. He then gets his own episode to try to make him feel better. And then there’s the afore-mentioned episode of Stinkor’s origin, who was actually refused admission into Skeletor’s gang because his power just…well, stinks.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

There really is no other way to polish this up: Your ability is to “look at stuff”.

I never realized how many of the good guys are actually dicks!

The Masters are the good guys. We know this because they’re the heroes of the show, and it tells us so. So why are they so hard to like, especially in the first season?? Seriously, I think Skeletor’s band sees eye-to-eye more than Eternia’s protectors seem to.

Buzz-Off spends the majority of his first few episodes mistrustful and combative toward the other Masters, being stand-offish and picking fights with them based on some real sketchy evidence. I think, were I in charge, it would’ve pushed me to the point to just say, “Screw him, let him deal with shit himself.”  Teela is probably the worst offender; I got heartily sick of her condescending attitude toward Prince Adam, accusing him of always running at the first sign of trouble, while clearly carrying some sort of flame for He-Man. Luckily, the show’s writers must’ve realized they were putting it on a bit thick with her, and it got better in the following seasons. Or maybe it’s just because she made Roboto the new recipient of her Holier Than Thou behavior. And Orko – well, everyone is a dick to him, as it’s clearly safer to not have him around, period.


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