In 1997, the blockbuster film Men in Black hit screens and suddenly became the â€œGhostbusters of the 90â€™sâ€ (just ignore that whole Extreme Ghostbusters thing). Being the huge Ghostbusters fan that I am, I was immediately drawn to Men in Black. Though it carried a similar concept in passing, Men in Black was quite different from my childhood obsession. While the Ghostbusters were a small, four-man operation that was more like a pest control service, the Men in Black were a huge, interplanetary organization with countless members and an extensive history.
That year, Sony debuted Men in Black: the Series (letâ€™s start using â€œMIBâ€ for short). The Series picked up pretty much where the first movie left off (save for omitting the part where Kay retires) and reintroduces us to several members of the filmâ€™s cast, as well as a plethora of new faces. Much like the Real Ghostbusters, the tone of MIB: the Series was borderline bi-polar. One day the episode would be deadly serious, with the MIB battling a monster thatâ€™s mutilating other aliens and stealing their organs, and the next day the episode would be goofy and out there, with the MIB rescuing Santa Claus from an alien kidnapper. Some thought this was inconsistent, and I suppose thatâ€™s a fair term for it. However, I thought it was rather refreshing. Too many serious episodes and you get burned out, too many funny episodes and you just get sick of the wackiness. MIB: the Series managed to balance out their serious arcs with comedy relief episodes rather smoothly. They also managed to get away with some heavy duty violence. They were constantly dismembering and exploding aliens left and right, but never came under any scrutiny, because the blood was colored blue, green or whateverâ€¦just not red.
MIB: the Series followed the story premise of the film quite admirably. Aliens have been immigrating to Earth for decades, using various technological means to blend in unnoticed. The Men in Black are a top secret organization, not affiliated with any government, who police these aliens and make sure the general public never finds out about them. When an alien does reveal itself to a person or persons, the MIB use a device called a neurolizer to wipe the witnessâ€™ memory clean of the incident. Members of the MIB must sacrifice their civilian lives and even names (all agents are designated by letter) upon joining. When things get out of hand, from small skirmishes between conflicting races to world-conquering overlords invading the planet, the MIB use high-tech off-world weaponry to quell the situation.
Agents Kay (Ed Oâ€™Ross in season one, then Greg Berger for season 2-4) and Jay (Keith Diamond) return as the stars of the series. Jay, though more knowledgeable of his new occupation, is still looked at as the organizationâ€™s rookie and continues to have a tough time adapting to all the craziness of trafficking alien species. Kay is more stoic than ever, and as the seasoned veteran compliments Jayâ€™s inexperience quite nicely. Their commander, Zed (Charle Napier), also makes a come back, barking all the orders. Zed was one of the more mysterious members of the organization, considering that all we knew about him was that heâ€™d been with the MIB since the beginning and little more. Agent Elle (Jennifer Lien season 1-3 and Jennifer Martin in season 4) also returned as a star of the series. You might remember she was the coroner Dr. Laurel Weaving in the film who can be seen briefly as a new agent at the end. Although she was even greener than Jay, she seemed more knowledgeable and further up the organizationâ€™s food chain than he was.
Most of the bit players from the film also returned as supporting cast members or comedy relief sidekicks. Frank the Pug was in a numbr of episodes as the MIBâ€™s â€œword on the streetâ€ guy. The Worm Guys also appeared quite frequently, though they were rather annoying. They developed a Ninja Turtle-style obsession, but with coffee instead of pizza. Jack Jeebs was another regular who informed the MIB on any goings-on within the black market of alien goods. They recycled the whole â€œthat stings!â€ gag with him a little too much, honestly. Mikey, the alien Kay blew up at the beginning of the first film also appears in the pilotâ€¦somehow. Though itâ€™s perfectly possible that was just another alien of the same race. The two MIB technicians, â€œunpronounceableâ€ and Bob, also appear regularly running the MIBâ€™s computer network.
One of the showâ€™s stronger points was the rotating gallery of villains. There was the mute bounty hunter, Buzzard, who only appeared in about three episodes, regretfully. He had a great character design (especially once he tore off that trenchcoat â€œdisguiseâ€ and started going all bat-s*** crazy) and there was lots of potential for him as a returning bad guy. They never used him enough, I felt. The â€œBugsâ€ also appeared repeatedly, following up on the death of Edgar from the end of the film. Most notably: Edgarâ€™s twin brother Edwin (with Vincent Dâ€™Onofrio reprising the role!) and the Queen of the â€œBugâ€ race.
However, one canâ€™t mention the villains of the MIB without bringing up that unstoppable scourge, Alpha (David Warner in one of his best roles). Alpha was the villain that just wouldnâ€™t go away no matter what they did to him. His story was that he was a founding member of the MIB, but was eventually corrupted by the power of the organization and went rogue. He used a device called a â€œcosmic integratorâ€ on his own body, which gave him the ability to take organs and appendages from other aliens and fuse them to himself. He was a rather dark villain, as heâ€™d â€œharvestâ€ organs and what-not from aliens, sometimes killing them in the process. As the series progressed, Alpha would get badly injured and need to steal body parts to repair himself. The result was that he was very grotesque in appearance by the end of the series. He almost always got away, though. I remember the episode where they finally caught him; I practically cheered. He escaped, of course, and was a major player in the series finale, the two-part â€œEnd Game Syndromeâ€ arc.
One thing I liked about the series was that, while Kay and Jay were the stars, they were still just agents among a staff of hundreds. Perhaps the most high-profile, but still just agents. Zed berated them repeatedly, and in one instance, Jay was actually discharged and neurolized (of course, they ended up taking him back). One episode I really liked, one of the sadder episodes, had Jay accidentally neurolizing Kay. He didnâ€™t set the device properly and Kay reverted back to thinking he was a teenager. Kay eventually gets away from the MIB and returns to his family. You see him talking with his elderly father who is overcome with joy to see his son again after decades. However, following strict MIB procedure, Kayâ€™s father is neurolized so he wouldnâ€™t remember the event, Kay is returned to normal and both he and Jay are neurolized so they donâ€™t remember any of what happened, either. Very sad, but proof that just because theyâ€™re high-ranking or high-profile members of the organization, they get no special treatment in matters of protocol.
Another episode mimicked a plot device used in the Real Ghostbusters I was rather fond of. It was revealed in MIB: the Series that, while the events happened almost exactly as presented, MIB the movie was just thatâ€¦a movie. At least in their reality. The Worm Guys write a script based on Jayâ€™s initiation and the battle with Edgar and sell it to a Hollywood producer. Over the phone, the producer reads off the cast and mentions Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith and Rip Torn by name. They did something very similar in the Real Ghostbusters, as well, even doing an almost identical â€œcast listâ€ gag.
And speaking of movies, we probably never would have gotten the mediocre Men in Black II if it hadnâ€™t been for the popularity of MIB: the Series. If you watch MIB II youâ€™ll probably notice nods to the cartoon thrown in, such as Frank and the Worm Guys (popular characters from the cartoon) getting much larger roles. A shame the movie sucked, though.
The fourth season of MIB: the Series signified something of a downfall, unfortunately. New characters were added, which is always a sign that the end times are near. You had Dr. Zeeltor (Steve Kehela) who replaced Agent Elle as the MIBâ€™s head lab technician. There wasnâ€™t much to speak of about him, he was just your standard eccentric scientist-guy. Since Elle got moved to field work, she was paired with Agent X (Adam Baldwin? For real?) who was actually an alien. The worst thing about season 4 was the big change in Elleâ€™s character. She went from being the stoic, hard as a rock character to a bumbling ditz, playing off of Agent Xâ€™s â€œcool factorâ€. It was a very poor choice, and when mixed with her suddenly having a new voice actress, didnâ€™t win anybody over.
Men in Black: the Series was one of the better shows on Saturday Mornings and proof that America can (or could) still make high-quality action cartoons. It had some very mature plots and themes, dark animation and several story arcs that reached over numerous seasons before being resolved. At four seasons and 53 episodes, this show deserves a DVD release. Do you hear me, Sony!?