Dic Geeks: The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! (1989)

Good fucking lord. Fuck this show. That’s all you need to know.

DiC Geeks is our fortnightly(?) podcast in which we journey through the many realms of DiC Entertainment, a company that (for most of the 80s and 90s) was synonymous with both early morning cartoon blocks and generally mediocre animated tripe. This week we venture back to the 80s, when it was perfectly acceptable to place a professional wrestler onto a poorly designed set and call it entertainment.

DiC Geeks – The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! (1989)

The Super Mario Bros. Super Show was a staple of many American childhoods from the late 80s. It was a pile of trash, but we get into that more in the podcast. Regardless, it was a cultural icon that, for many years defined how the American public saw the character of Mario, establishing him as a Brooklyn Plumber and giving him a gruff, archetypal New York Italian American attitude.

But what was Super Mario? An obscure arcade game known as ‘Donkey Kong’ introduced the character of Mario back in 1981. This was followed by the little known ‘Mario Bros’, and then eventually the NES launch game ‘Super Mario Bros’, which nobody has never heard of any more and which I most definitely won’t be paying £280 for the hardware to play a new one of in a few months time. I don’t need to explain Mario to you; you already know. I mean, I could go into the fact that he was originally a Carpenter called Jumpman, and was only nicknamed Mario after Shigeru Miyamoto’s moustachioed landlord, but you likely know that as well.

What I should explain though is how DiC managed to get hold of the Super Mario Bros. licence. Andy Heyward was quite desperate to make a Super Mario Bros. TV show, and he approached Nintendo himself with the idea. Back in the 80s, when cartoons were basically just glorified toy adverts it was normal for the toy companies to pay the studios to produce Saturday morning cartoons. Nintendo, however, did not play ball. Super Mario Bros. and the Nintendo Entertainment System were both selling gangbusters and so it would make no sense for them to spend their budget on further advertising. Heyward was relentless, and eventually he put together a pitch and team that impressed Nintendo enough that they were willing to lend their licence for the show. With one caveat. One massive caveat. DiC productions would be paying Nintendo for use of the Super Mario Bros. licence.

In the role of Mario, Dic cast the former professional wrestler turned manager turned Cyndi Lauper’s fake dad, Captain Lou Albano. Captain Lou had been a staple of professional wrestling for decades, but had recently found himself in the public conciousness after appearing in music videos for pop starlet Cyndi Lauper. Despite the fact that Mario at that time was merely 16 pixels tall, it was somehow decided that this ageing, chunky, scruffy haired man with a facial scar that had made him a cartoon villain for most of his adult life was a dead ringer for the dynamic video game character. In the role of Luigi they cast Canadian character actor Danny Wells, who was similarly far too old for the part but at the very least knew how to act.

The show consisted partially of animation, and partially of live action sequences in which the Duo hung around their Brooklyn plumbing business and were visited by a series of celebrities and/or cheap facsimiles of celebrities. With its 5-day a week broadcast schedule, filming was hectic, with the cast spending six days a week filming the live-action segments, after which they would be taken to another studio to record the voice work for the animations. Guest stars basically included anyone famous who wanted to be on the show and had the means to contact the production team, and as such the duo were joined by such illustriously 80s alumni as Sgt. Slaughter, Elvira, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Andy freaking Heyward (really, Andy?) and Inspector Gadget (REALLY, ANDY?) as played by his second voice actor Maurice LaMarche.

The show was wildly successful, becoming an immediate hit despite little promotion. And then it got cancelled after Nintendo pulled the plug. Lou Albano retired from acting and dedicated his time to charity work. Danny Wells continued his career as an actor and voice actor. Dic would go on to produce two more Mario cartoons, as well as re-skinning the super show with the replacement of the live action segments with something called ‘Club Mario’. Do not look this up; it is the death of entertainment itself (Emma’s note: look this up, it’s the most 90s thing ever made and it’s incredible).

The canon of Mario and Luigi being plumbers from Brooklyn survived long enough to feature in the disastrous 1993 Super Mario Bros. Movie before being totally erased from the canon in 1995. The release of Yoshi’s Island changed Mario’s origin story entirely within the games, whilst the casting of Charles Martinet, Mario’s current voice actor, turned the character from a gruff Italian American to a Mickey Mouse-esque Italian nice guy, a move that has mostly served to make the character far more palatable in the age of voice acting.

The Super Mario Bros Super Show! is available on DVD and online streaming services. Because of course this is the one that you can actually still get.