In the 1980s, Saturday mornings were synonymous with cartoons. Almost everyone who grew up in the 80s can, if asked, rattle off a list of his or her favorite Saturday morning cartoons. In those days, I set my alarm religiously every Saturday morning so I wouldn’t miss episodes of The Smurfs, Dungeons and Dragons, Superfriends, Garfield and Friends, the Muppet Babies, and several other cartoons, even when I felt like I was getting too old to enjoy them.
For those of us with nostalgic hearts, it is not always easy to admit that not every Saturday morning cartoon was awesome. Truth be told, some of them weren’t very good at all. Some were boring, some were awful, and some were just plain weird. Because of this, many cartoon series only ran for a very short period of time.
One of those shows was Laverne & Shirley in the Army.
Laverne & Shirley in the Army was a Hanna-Barnera cartoon that ran for thirteen episodes beginning in 1981. The show was (barely) based on a single episode of the television show Laverne & Shirley (“We’re in the Army, Now”) in which the ladies, having been denied promotions, quit their jobs and temporarily joined the Army. There, they found themselves under the thumb of one gruff drill sergeant, Sgt. Alvinia T. Plout (memorably played by Vicki Lawrence).
The set up for the animated series is slightly different. In the show’s opening credits, Laverne and Shirley decide to join the army on a whim after seeing an attractive recruiter in uniform. Moments later, the two find themselves reporting to Sgt. Squealy, a talking pig (unmistakably voiced by Ron “Horshack” Palillo) who, in turn, reports to Sgt. Turnbuckle (played by character and voice actor Ken Mars). In each of the show’s thirteen episodes, Laverne, Shirley, and Sgt. Squealy go on a single adventure while Sgt. Turnbuckle mostly yells at everybody from off screen.
Surprisingly, two former beer bottle-cappers from Milwaukee reporting to a talking pig in the army is one of the least weird things about the show. In the first episode while complaining about digging foxholes, Laverne and Shirley stumble across a rocket ship which takes them to outer space, where they board a flying saucer and meet a race of aliens planning to destroy the earth. This is literally their first experience in the army, and things just get weirder from there.
The second episode is wackier than the first. When Laverne and Shirley are selected for skydiving practice, both Laverne and Sgt. Squealy leap from the plane without their chutes (which I guess explains why they needed practice). Our three heroes land on a mysterious, uncharted island, where they encounter a tribe of cannibals known as the Zambula. The girls are rescued by a vine-swinging man dubbed “Jungle Man” before they, along with Squealy, are eventually kidnapped by a giant King Kong-esque gorilla named Chongo. All of this takes place in approximately 20 minutes.
Like many Saturday morning cartoons, the show’s characters are mostly one-dimensional. Laverne dishes out the sarcasm while Shirley constantly tries to ease the tension between Laverne and their commanding pig. Sgt. Squealy, loyal to the army, threatens to tell Sgt. Turnbuckle about the girls’ behavior at least ten times per episode. And, without fail, Laverne and Shirley will compete for the attention of an attractive man (many of whom turn out to be the episode’s villain).
“Bigfoot,” the seventh episode, marks the halfway point in the show’s run. In this episode, Laverne and Shirley are out on a hike when Squealy accidentally falls into a giant footprint. Moments later, Bigfoot arrives and chases the three into an abandoned mine where they meet two miners, Slade and The Dude. Soon, Laverne and Shirley discover a giant map revealing that the mine connects to the U.S. Gold Depository. Eventually “Bigfoot” is revealed to be a man in a costume, but hilarity ensues when the real Bigfoot arrives to save our soldiers and cause even more confusion.
The rest of the season is a steady descent into madness. In “Two Mini Cooks,” our friends encounter an evil cook armed with a shrink ray. In “Meanie Genie,” the girls purchase a magic lamp and unleash a magic genie who promises to grant their wishes — that is, until the crew are forced to join the harem of the evil Sheik Yerbouti. In “Tokyo – Ho, Ho!,” Laverne, Shirley, and Squealy are tasked with guarding the SeismoVax, a device capable of starting catastrophic earthquakes. Within minutes, the device is stolen by evil Professor Mastermind who has built an army of lookalike robots to assist him. In “The Dark Knight,” the trio are transported through time to the middle ages, where they catapult, joust, and ultimately escape from a tower Rapunzel-style to defeat the Dark Knight.
It should go without saying that Laverne, Shirley, and Sgt. Squealy are perhaps the most incompetent people to ever serve in the armed forces. Despite that, neither their rank nor their incompetence seem to prevent the trio from regularly being assigned to highly sensitive tasks. Then again, this could be attributed to the fact that other than Laverne, Shirley, Sgt. Squealy and the mostly absent Sgt. Turnbuckle, every other member of the army appears to have disappeared. Whether they’re in their barracks, guarding top secret equipment, or driving a jeep around Camp Fillmore, no other soldiers are ever seen. Maybe I’m looking at this all wrong. Maybe Laverne and Shirley aren’t the worst soldiers in the army. Maybe, for some unknown reason, they’re the only ones left.
While all thirteen episodes are pretty “out there,” one of goofiest is “When the Moon Comes Over the Werewolf,” in which Laverne, Shirley, and Sgt. Squealy end up in a spooky castle located on a deserted island while searching for a missing military rocket. In the castle, the trio encounter Professor Luther Yarkoff and his assistant, Talbot, who have developed a spray to turn human beings into werewolves. By the end of the episode, Talbot, the Professor, Sgt. Squealy, and even Laverne have been sprayed and turned into werewolves. During the madness, Shirley discovers a can of De-Werewolf Spray and uses it to save Laverne from eternal moon howling.
(It should be noted that at the end of the episode, the Professor and his assistant are launched into space along with all of the De-Werewolf Spray before Sgt. Squealy is “cured.” In the closing shot we see Squealy howling underneath a full moon, and we have to assume that for the rest of the series, he is still a werewolf.)
In a spin-off of a spin-off, a shorter second season was created. This time, Laverne, Shirley, and Sgt. Squealy team up with auto mechanics the Fonz and his assistant, a talking dog named Mr. Cool. While Ron Palillo returned to provide the voice of Sgt. Squealy, both Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams had left the show, leaving their characters to be voiced by not-very-convincing sound-alikes. Joining the crew were Henry Winkler and famous voice actor Frank Welker (which explains why Mr. Cool sounds suspiciously like a cross between Uni from Dungeons and Dragons and Punky Brewster’s magical sidekick, Glomer). The animation on the second season is somehow even worse than the first, with no doubt every cost-cutting measure being taken. The unimaginative plots and low-quality animation surely explain why the series has never seen an official home video release, although many of the episodes have been uploaded to YouTube.
Both seasons of the show are full of crazy adventures, and not once do the girls stop and say, “huh, that was weird.” Whether it’s battling swamp monsters, dinosaurs, or evil robots, Laverne and Shirley take their misadventures (and orders from Sgt. Squealy) in stride. My overall review?
Sgt. Turnbuckle will certainly hear about this!