One of my personal obsessions is short, cancelled TV series. It's a fascination I've had for years, shows that were on TV for one or two seasons before getting pulled off the air, never to be seen again. I'd therefore like to welcome you all to the first installment of "Gone Too Soon", where I am going to talk about cancelled TV series that were cancelled after one or two seasons. I will be exploring what worked, what didn't work and why it might have failed to get an audience. But before we start, THEME MUSIC!
Toxic Crusaders: What Was It?
Toxic Crusaders is a 1991 animated TV series based on the 1984 cult movie The Toxic Avenger. It follows the adventures of a boy named Melvin, an awkward janitor who gets picked on all the time by a bunch of bullies who one day knock him into a container of toxic waste. Instead of killing him, the toxic waste transforms Melvin, who emerges as the big green freak himself, The Toxic Avenger. The original movie is a cult classic that ran as a midnight movie for a while, has several sequels and even a stage musical adaptation (Yes, seriously). It also happens to be R rated, gory as hell and has Toxie going about murdering every bad person he meets in various gruesome ways. Naturally, this is perfect children's cartoon material.
The show aired around the time of what I'm going to refer to as "The Environmental Cartoon Boom" that happened in the early 90's, with shows like Captain Planet and the Planeteers and Widget explicitly made to be about the environment. Shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and New Kids On The Block (Yes, they had a cartoon) would just slam in a big environmental message somewhere within one of their episodes. Toxic Crusaders was both a sincere addition to that genre and a satire of it by pointing out the cliches that were growing already. So basically, Toxic Crusaders was the Scream of the environmental cartoon boom. The entire series only got 13 episodes made and only five of those made it to air before the series was pulled.
What Worked In Toxie's Favor?
When I tell you that this series is incredibly self-aware, I'm not kidding even a little bit. There is a character in this show that goes by the name of Psycho and he is the greatest thing. Every episode, without exception, one of his first bits of dialogue is to just tell everyone exactly what was going to happen later on in the episode. He's always right, it's always hilarious when he's told to shut up by Dr. Killemoff (Yes, that's a real villain name. It's amazing!) and whenever his predictions come true he is so gloriously snarky about it. They also repeatedly point out that they're in a show, that they're doing something just for an episode, fun little references like that litter throughout the show and it works. It's a similar kind of joke to one that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would pull once in a while, but Toxic Crusaders is more consistent about it by just doing it every episode like clockwork and still making it damn funny.
This show has, easily, one of the greatest voice casts in a series. Rodger Bumpass plays both Toxie and Dr. Killemoff. The reason that name rings a bell to you? That's Squidward from SpongeBob SquarePants. Chuck McCann plays the voice of the Mayor. You know that name because he was Duckworth in Ducktales. Kath Soucie plays the voice of Yvonne and the reason you know her is because SHE PLAYED LITERALLY EVERYONE IN YOUR GODDAMN CHILDHOOD! So yeah, it's a pretty impressive voice cast who handles this work and they have hilarious chemistry. It's also kinda awesome imagining Rodger Bumpass going between Toxie and Dr. Killemoff in several scenes, he's so good that I wouldn't be shocked if he just did the back and forth in one take.
Can we also give major props to them for taking this hard R-rated material and turning it into a great children's show? Because they have some insane stuff to work with. The extreme violence is replaced with an environmental message, all references to the white slave trade are removed (Yes, that's an actual thing in the original movie), there's no massive mafia don and Toxie's girlfriend is no longer a blind woman named Sarah, who is almost raped and has her guide dog killed (Yes, that's an actual thing that happens in the original movie). Instead, in Toxic Crusaders she is Yvonne, who can see and also plays the accordion.
What Didn't Work For Toxie?
The only real negative is that almost every episode introduces a new hero. Yeah, they're great heroes but after about a half dozen of them or so, you tend to lose focus and it means it takes a solid half of the season for them to get to the full roster of the Toxic Crusaders. It is not even that big a negative, but it does mean that sometimes it can drag a bit.
What Happened After It Was Cancelled?
Looking for a reason why the show was cancelled is pretty hard. It could just be that they were part of an over-saturated market at the time. Environmental cartoons were everywhere, as were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ripoff shows, so Toxic Crusaders just got lost in the mix. It also undoubtedly didn't help that Troma had one hell of a reputation at this point. Sure, their movies were cult classics and loved by adult audiences because of how balls to the wall they were, but who is going to see the Troma logo and think "Oh, let me get the kids". It's not an easy sell.
But there was still a fan following and, according to Lloyd Kaufman's book "All I Need to Know about Filmmaking I Learned from The Toxic Avenger", there were plans for a big budget live action movie to be made based on the Toxic Crusaders series. New Line Cinema even bought the rights and, again according to Lloyd, they didn't hold up their end of the bargain. Apparently they used the Toxic Crusaders property as a part of their negotiations to make the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, basically saying "We'll make this movie if you don't let us make your ones" and New Line would eventually get those rights, leaving Toxic Crusaders without a live action movie. Lloyd did end up suing New Line and got an undisclosed sum out of it, but he never got the live action feature film that he wanted.
Should It Have Been Renewed?
Oh hell yes. Hell yes. This show is absolutely brilliant, a great commentary on a genre that is so often mocked in hindsight. Admit it, we all made jokes about Captain Planet because it was the cheesiest thing on TV. Well now here's an entire series making the same jokes, only better. Absolutely fantastic characters, some of the best writing Troma's ever been a part of, it's a masterclass in how to do a satire of a genre in television and it is required viewing. Plus, for those of you who want to introduce your kids to the glory that is Troma, this is a way to do it that won't raise any eyebrows. I mean, you could show the kids A Nymphoid Barbarian In Dinosaur Hell but something tells me they might not appreciate that one as much.
So How Can I Watch It?
Glad you asked. In case my repeated glowing praise of the company hasn't made it clear, Troma is awesome and love their viewers, which is why it probably won't shock you when I tell you that every single episode is available on Youtube. Uploaded by the studio itself, every episode, plus the animated movie (Which is just four episodes sewn together), are in a playlist that you can watch any time you like. You can also find it on DVD, just be warned that the "Toxic Crusaders Vol 1" DVD is just the first four episodes, you'll have to look around to get a box set with the full 13 because those are hard to find.
Of all Troma's works, this one is easily the most mainstream and I can't recommend it higher. This is family viewing how it should be, amusing for kids with a few jokes hidden in there for adults. Go watch and when you do, come back and answer this little question.
What's Your Favorite Episode Of Toxic Crusaders?
New York Times: Cartoons for a Small Planet
TV.Com: Toxic Crusaders
IMDB: Kath Soucie