Sometimes you run across a piece of art that’s a great reminder of how the quality of the work doesn’t matter. If it hits at the wrong time, or the wrong place, or if there’s a problem with the cast, like, maybe you shouldn’t have cast an orangutan as the main character, then even a masterpiece of a TV show like 1984’s Going Bananas isn’t going to thrive.
The show description for Going Bananas will render you completely unable to guess what the next sentence holds. It begins “Roxana Banana is an orangutan that escaped from the zoo and was adopted by the Cole family.” Ok, sounds like a pretty typical family sitcom, right? Then the second sentence is, “One night, a mysterious spaceship comes down from the sky and endows Roxanna with superpowers via a lightning bolt.” I was good with a show about a monkey being adopted into a human family, but the makers of Going Bananas went above and beyond to deliver a superior product.
I love how they don’t even cover why the aliens would give a monkey superpowers. There’s no motive explained because we already know why they did it. Because it’s hilarious. Aliens have a sense of humor too; that’s why they made Prince Charles look like that! Anyway, the description continues; “Roxanna is pursued by two crooks who want to use her superpowers for their own ill will, but Roxanna’s outdoing them by means of her powers, as well as the predicaments she created for the Coles, provide much of the comedy for the series.” The super powered monkey has a nemesis? This may be the perfect description of a show, and it definitely has a perfect origin story intro:
Yet with all of this surrounding perfection, Going Bananas only lasted for one season and twelve episodes, almost all of which are impossible to find. The two episodes uploaded to Youtube have only five thousand views between them. The show was apparently more popular in Mexico, where it was called Miss Banana. You can find a few bits and pieces of Miss Banana online with English subtitles, but I could only locate two complete episodes.
Now you might be asking yourself if this show faded from history because of bad acting, to which I will reply, I don’t know. Do you think Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is a bad actor? That’s right, this show stars Shredder himself, James Avery, as Hank, who along with his friend Hubert tries to kidnap the superpowered monkey on a weekly basis. It works because I believe James Avery is full of enough fury to go after a superpowered monkey.
In every scene he’s in, it kind of seems like he’s begging the other actors to attempt to act, and they are all refusing. Everyone else on this TV show has gotten their lines five seconds before the camera rolled, and they can’t read. James Avery has been preparing his craft with an intensive seven month character study at the Oxford school of sitcom villains.
I’ve been trying to figure out what could make a monkey with alien superpowers better, and so far, the only thing I’ve landed on is if the monkey rode a motorcycle and wore a little leather jacket, which of course, it does! The people who made this show understood good television. We don’t need this prestige TV bullshit. We don’t need to know who the best singer on The Sopranos was or if whatever they broke bad got fixed. We need more monkeys on motorcycles that shoot psychic lightning bolts out of their skulls!
Roxana Banana doesn’t always ride a motorcycle, but in the episode this still is from, she fights a biker gang that’s terrorizing the small town her family is passing through. The whole family wears matching leather jackets with a patch that says Roxanna’s Bananas on the back. They’re somehow mistaken for a biker gang instead of a regular family with a motorcycle driving pet monkey. After they realize the town is scared of the bikers, the family encourages everyone to fight back, which is easy to suggest when you’re being backed by a monkey with alien superpowers.
The biker gang is headed by James Avery, who is playing the cousin of his usual thief character. We know this because his sidekick says to him, “Big Daddy,” sorry, his character’s name is Big Daddy and everyone in the episode loves saying it, “ain’t that the dumb, ugly ape that cousin Hank and cousin Hubie wrote us about?” Which means their destitute cousins wrote to them and said, “we keep trying to kidnap a monkey with alien superpowers, but it’s not working out,” and they just accepted it.
When they run into a monkey in a completely different town, they immediately know that it’s the monkey, and they’re also not at all intimidated. Which is a mistake because Roxana Banana immediately starts using her mind ray to mess with the bikers.
The mind ray seems to be Roxana’s only prominent power in the episodes that have survived, but since the synopsis doesn’t mention a single specific power the aliens gave her, I imagine they had her do whatever cool thing the episode called for that week which was technically legal to depict a monkey doing. For instance, in this same episode, she seems to have super strength and arm wrestles five bikers into oblivion.
Also, during the biker episode, she fires two bananas at the bikers as if they are guns? Both the strength and the banana gun strike me as powers that could come from just being a monkey? Or maybe it was the aliens riffing on things that they knew about monkeys. Can Roxanna make anything into a gun or just bananas? God, what I wouldn’t give to see those other ten episodes.
Roxanna doesn’t only use her powers for good, though. There’s an episode where she uses her mind ray to frame a black man for stealing. James Avery just wants to adopt a lost dog, and Roxanna tries to send him to Rikers Island.
In that episode, the Coles find a lost dog, and Roxanna becomes jealous of it, so she allows Hank and Hubert to kidnap the dog and then later feels guilty about it when they force the dog to perform for an audience because Rozanna Banana is very familiar with how much animals hate being forced to wear silly costumes for humans.
Because Going Bananas seems to have based most of its plot around whatever monkey-sized hat they found that day, they could only fill up fifteen to twenty minutes of airtime with an actual show. So, the last five to ten minutes was filled with a segment called Jungle Broadcast System, where Roxanna Banana watched her favorite TV shows– animal parodies of other popular TV shows. Each skit was just an animal pun with a TV show name played over stock footage of animals quickly cut to almost, not quite, make it look like they’re talking. Some of the titles were respectable, like:
Some of them were downright amazing, like the parody of Little House On The Prairie starring ants that made the house even smaller:
And some of them were kind of a stretch. If you didn’t know that buffalo poop was called chips, this wouldn’t work at all, and also, that cow looks nothing like Erik Estrada. They could have at least put a police hat on it. I’ve become accustomed to a certain quality of silly animals at this point.
Apparently they also did Magnum P.U. with a skunk starring Tom Smelleck. So, it was a real mixed bag of puns but as you can see, fully worth remembering and archiving for future generations. This is what happens when we lose physical media: so many perfect shows are going to be lost to time. What will our generation’s Going Bananas be? Riverdale? The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina? Katy Keene? Only time will tell.
This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: Greg Cunningham, who vows not to rest until he catches the one-armed great ape that framed him for dognapping.