Nerding Day: C.O.P.S. 🌭

2020 was a strange and difficult year for everybody. Who today can forget the battles that raged throughout Empire City between the forces of law and powerful criminal gangs which saw robotic dogs and laser-wielding cowboys take on brain-damaged strongmen and cyborg weasels? Or so it would have been in a different world, a world in which the story of C.O.P.S. was real.

No, not that COPS. I’m talking about the Central Organization of Police Specialists. You know, C.O.P.S., the clunkiest backronym since the PATRIOT Act! They’re fighting crime in a future time! You know the deal at this point, right? If I’m writing about it, then it’s almost certainly a late ’80s cartoon series cranked out to capitalize on a toy line, unless it’s one of the jankiest RPGs ever written or whatever Balloonatiks was.

C.O.P.S. actually predates the other show with the same name by a year and the pitch for it was basically cops and robbers-flavored G.I. Joe in the future. It’s one of those cartoons that I’ve never heard anyone discuss in my adult life. I mean, garbage like Rubik the Amazing Cube and Dinosaucers were at least memorable for various reasons — the absolute gall of toy executives and instilling in its viewers a psychosexual obsession with anthropomorphic dinosaurs, respectively — but I’ve never heard anybody talk about C.O.P.S. ever, maybe because the premise is so thin. Literally the only thing I remembered about it myself was how wide the main character was.

That’s Baldwin P. “Bulletproof” Vess, by the way. He’s the leader of the C.O.P.S. and has a bitchin’ cyborg body, because he got into a car crash and RoboCop had just come out the year before, so why not make him a cyber guy? It’s the future times! Bulletproof is joined by a variety of law enforcement specialists from around the country with various one-note gimmicks. They include “LongArm,” who has a long arm/grappling hook, “Taser” (well before “don’t tase me bro” had tarnished the reputation of his weapon of choice), and the extremely unfortunately named cowboy “Sundown,” who, I guess, enforces racial segregation? “Sundance” was right there, guys! I bet Sundown secretly bristles at having a black guy for a boss.

Opposing the C.O.P.S. are the C.R.O.O.K.S, which weirdly doesn’t seem to stand for anything. Maybe that’s appropriate, though, since they’re criminals. Get it? Because they don’t stand for anything but their own selfish enrichment? Or maybe the writers just got lazy. They’re led by “Big Boss” (no, not that one) who is, in the grand tradition of cartoon criminals, a fat corrupt businessman who looks like Kingpin from Spider-Man and Limburger from Biker Mice From Mars got merged together in a telepod accident. Bullying is bad, kids, but the only fat people you’re ever going to see on TV are villains! Figure that one out.

Big Boss is joined by weirdos like “Berserko,” “Ms. Demeanor” (that’s her Christian name, Stephanie Demeanor), and “Doctor Badvibes.” I guess maybe he’s supposed to be the opposite of Doctor Feelgood? He had an exposed brain and made a skintight catsuit out of a lab coat.

There’s also a guy named “Buttons McBoomBoom.” What would you guess his gimmick was? If you guessed “a hollowed out torso with two mounted tommy guns he reveals by unbuttoning his shirt,” you’re right and also should probably be checked by a doctor for acute brain damage. Not Doctor Badvibes, though.

So anyway, the C.O.P.S. fight the C.R.O.O.K.S. in Empire City, foiling schemes like “inventing a special suit that lets you go really fast,” “opening a new spa to drug the mayor and force the C.O.P.S. to become garbage collectors,” “robbing a charity dinner on a blimp,” “holding an iceberg for ransom,” and “getting a little person to pose as a baby to infiltrate an orphanage for unclear reasons.”

God, how fucking easy would it have been to be a kids’ TV writer in the ’80s? Uh, yeah so this is a show about dog people who fight cat people in space… the dog people are called D.O.G.S. (Deputies Opposing Grim Schemes) and the cat people, they’re called C.A.T.S. (Criminally Aggressive Terrorist Scum). Boom, done. Three seasons ordered.

Well, at least C.O.P.S. had a black team leader AND an in-universe black woman president, which is more than you can say for G.I. Joe.

Speaking of, by now, everyone is probably familiar with the public service announcements that followed each episode of the original G.I. Joe series. As a sort of penance for the act of permanently warping children’s brains with 23-minute toy commercials and turning them into the kind of adults who would earnestly argue that an all-female Ghostbusters movie was “raping their childhood,” the show’s producers bolted on PSAs about issues like fire safety, talking to strangers, and, of course, the simple delights of porkchop sandwiches. But G.I. Joe wasn’t the only cartoon to run PSAs. He-Man did them, Captain Planet did them, and you know who else did them? C.O.P.S..

I thought it would be easy to discuss the C.O.P.S. PSAs, strangely titled “C.O.P.S. For Kids,” (implying that the show itself isn’t?) but it turned out to be a grim odyssey that left me feeling like I’d just battled Buttons McBoomBoom. I’ll be honest, I just wanted to get “Buttons McBoomBoom” in there again. Buttons McBoomBoom.

So while the C.O.P.S. PSAs are mentioned on the show’s Wikipedia page, they’re not in any of the episodes available on Amazon Prime, or even in any of the ones people have uploaded to YouTube.

Seriously, even the newer releases of the DVD don’t have them — I had to buy a used copy of the 2006 version on eBay to get access to them. And then I realized, wait, I don’t actually have a DVD player except on my old PS4, because it’s 2023. So I hooked that up to my capture card, then realized that they won’t let you play DVDs on the PS4 without copy protection mode on, which prevents you from using a capture card.

I say all this merely so that you know how much I had to suffer to bring these relics to you, and also to explain why all of the images from here on are so terrible. I took them with my phone, because there’s no easy way to grab stills from a DVD you bought with your hard-earned 80s cartoon riffing money. That’s the world we’ve built for ourselves. That’s the world we wake up everyday and choose to live in.

So why is it so hard to watch the C.O.P.S. PSAs? Have they simply not aged well? Or is there, perhaps, some more nefarious reason for their removal? Well, let’s find out.

“I tell my son Brian to stay out of dark alleys,” the first PSA begins. Fair enough, I guess. In the world of C.O.P.S., any number of gigantic men might be lying in wait to harm your freakishly buff kid.

But the lesson does not end there. The voiceover also informs kids they shouldn’t take “deserted shortcuts,” which can be dangerous. Again, if you’re living in a world of superpowered meat mutants who walk around in open daylight in their old-timey striped prison digs swinging around a ball and chain, then that’s probably good advice.

Next, we’re told about the dangers of playing near cars. Here, the robot character Waldo stands in for a small child, nearly getting run over twice. Possibly this is because they didn’t want to show a kid getting run off the road, but I choose to believe the writers just fucking hated that robot. The second time doesn’t look like an accidental near miss to me, it looks like that driver was gunning for that little shit.

In an unusual twist, some of the C.O.P.S. PSAs are narrated by the villains. Rock Krusher, the big goon haunting the abandoned shortcut from the first one, here tells us a harrowing tale of how as a child, he joined a gang. What does being in a gang entail? Mostly wearing matching headbands and walking down the street snapping like you’re in the world’s worst community theater production of West Side Story. Rock Krusher was lucky, he says — he only went to jail instead of getting killed.

Which ok, sure, you want to tell kids not to join gangs. But this is a cartoon show where there are no permanent consequences for the villains, otherwise they couldn’t come back every week. So there’s a bit of mixed messaging going on here. Rock Krusher is in jail now, but he’s going to be out robbing a Thanksgiving Day parade with a giant magnet or something soon. Joining a gang is a land of contrasts.

Big Boss himself gets to narrate one of the PSAs. In a segment titled “Don’t Flash Your Cash,” he and his goon Squeeky Kleen are hanging out at a mall when the latter decides to whip out his wad in plain sight of some ’80s punks and promptly gets a nunchaku lashing for his hubris.

Again, I guess this is pretty good advice, but shouldn’t we be suspicious of anything a villain tells us? Are we meant to believe that on this particular issue, Big Boss is trustworthy due to his vast business holdings? Or is this merely one of his twisted schemes to get kids to keep their cash in their pockets, where his trained bands of money-grubbing weevils can purloin it? That was a real thing the bad guys did on C.O.P.S., by the way. One of the weevils was named Gaylord.

The fact that all of these PSAs are so abrupt makes some of them feel extra horrific. Like, in a few of them a kid gets the warning against smoking meth or juggling chainsaws before anyone can lose a limb or overdose, but in others someone else pays the price as a sort of martyr — a death on the PSA cross to redeem all children from their sins. There’s one with the character Longarm — whose thing, again, is that he has a long arm — about the danger of drunk driving. Two people pull up in a car next to a kid, clearly drunk out of their minds, and ask if he wants to get in.

Here, Longarm doesn’t even swoop in from just out of frame to prevent this from occurring. Instead, the kid remembers a previous speech Longarm gave him about the risks of riding with someone who’s been hitting the sauce.

So either this is constantly happening to this kid or Longarm just wanders around telling random children not to accept rides from their soused friends. Bad risks, Longarm muses, are for people who like to lose. Stick with good risks, he says, like trying out for a team you’re not sure you’re good enough for, or eating an expired can of mushroom stems you found rattling around in a dumpster in one of Empire City’s many dark alleyways. Anyway, the kid turns the ride down and the driver speeds off, immediately crashing into a wall off-screen and presumably killing both himself and his passenger. Life is cheap in C.O.P.S. PSAs.

There are a bunch more of these covering bike safety, saying no to drinking and smoking, and not playing in the road, but who cares. I bet you degenerates are reading this while weaving in and out of traffic on your bikes, guzzling malt liquor and spray painting walls as you pass them. Did you know that’s wrong, by the way? Mace told you so in his PSA on vandalism, where he explained that graffiti is bad because it’s against the law.

But then, if things are only wrong because they’re illegal, does that mean the law is the only arbiter of morality? Does that mean that slavery only became immoral when it became outlawed? Are we to believe that the police are the ultimate guardians of right and wrong rather than simply the protectors of property rights?

[merritt was pepper sprayed by Mace for these questions]

This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: James B.O.Y.D., which stands for Boys on Yard Duty, sworn protectors of R.E.C.E.S.S.

8 replies on “Nerding Day: C.O.P.S. 🌭”

C.O.P.S. was also where the dude who created Æon Flux got his start, which is probably why everyone looks like a creepy mutant.

“Cowboy only penis studs!”

I love how a comma can change the meaning of that phrase. “Cowboy only, penis studs!” “Cowboy, only penis studs!” “Cowboy only penis, studs!” Either way, it’s a decent Grindr profile.

The barely repressed sexual tension in that screenshot of Sundown and Bulletproof is insane. Sundown wants to fuck Bulletproof so bad that it’s making him crosseyed. I’d watch an Ang Lee directed reboot of those two. Will the racist cowboy find love with a bulletproof half-machine black man? Or will his prejudice keep him from the love of his life and that Village People cover band?

“they don’t stand for anything but their own selfish enrichment”

Those are the villains in the cartoon? But those are the kind of people cops are meant to protect in the real world!

“Big Boss is joined by weirdos like “Berserko,” “Ms. Demeanor” (that’s her Christian name, Stephanie Demeanor), and “Doctor Badvibes.” I guess maybe he’s supposed to be the opposite of Doctor Feelgood? He had an exposed brain and made a skintight catsuit out of a lab coat.”

Wait, was the exposed brain guy in The Ambiguously Gay Duo cartoon a parody of Doctor Badvibes? Well, it could be worse. At least he didn’t name himself Doctor Badtouch. And Berseko is lame, but Ms. Demeanor is a cool drag queen name. Buttons McBoomBoom would’ve been a better character if the guns were actually on his nipples.

“opening a new spa to drug the mayor and force the C.O.P.S. to become garbage collectors”

Well, garbage collector is a much better profession than cop on many different levels, so maybe the C.R.O.O.K.S were doing them a favor.

“C.O.P.S. had a black team leader AND an in-universe black woman president”

Can you imagine if this cartoon came out today? The Youtube videos it would inspire would turn me into a terrorist.

Also, Squeeky Klean looks like a human C3PO.

“I bet you degenerates are reading this while weaving in and out of traffic on your bikes, guzzling malt liquor and spray painting walls as you pass them.”

god i wish that were me

I had forgotten this cartoon existed until running across this article. I seem to remember an episode featuring a drug called “crystal twist”, and the good guys and bad guys teamed up because Big Boss’s nephew died of an accidental OD? Also, maybe an episode where two of them wreck an expensive piece of equipment and someone keeps telling g them how many years it will take to pay it off out of their paychecks? Feels like a fever dream now…

The beautiful tragedy, each time a new Merritt article comes out, is that while I’m laughing I’m also realizing that nature did in fact have the perfect niche in the ecosystem carved out for me, only I never realized it was there until it was already occupied by an apex predator.

Bless this cartoon archeology.

If I’m not mistaken, GI Joe, Transformers, COPS, and Jem all take place in a shared universe.

The IDW comics had a lot of fun with that (also Action Man, Micronauts, and some other even more obscure things I’m not sure ever even got released) but even back in the OG Transformers, there were occasional hints it shared a setting with the GI Joe cartoon. And then later on they had a human villain ‘Old Snake’ who was very obviously a washed-up Cobra Commander, complete with the same voice actor. (Who also voiced Starscream, conveniently)

I worked in a game and toy store in the early 90s and we still sold some C.O.P.S. action figures.

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