“The Gary Coleman Show” (1982)

Picture this: you’re the parent of one of the biggest child stars in the world, a kid with crack comic timing, and who, due to a medical condition, has been able to stay little and cute well into puberty. Nevertheless, time begins its inexorable march, and your kid, while still younger looking than other kids his age, suddenly starts looking a little less cute. His cuddly wiseass shtick is getting a little forced and stale, and ratings on his TV show begin to sag. How do you prepare him for the harsh reality of life in show business? Oh, and just to complicate matters, he’s the sole breadwinner in the family.

Well, if you’re Gary Coleman’s parents, you keep that gravy train a-rollin’ by pushing your kid into voiceover work, along with TV movies and the grind of carrying a sitcom entirely on his young shoulders. For one short, unremarkable season, Coleman voiced the lead character in The Gary Coleman Show, a cartoon about a dead child who must do penance on Earth before he can receive his full reward in Heaven. You know, for kids.

Based on a live action TV movie Coleman also starred in called The Kid With the Broken Halo, here he plays Andy LeBeau, a good-hearted troublemaker in some sort of guardian angel training program, constantly bitched at and criticized by his nasal-voiced supervisor, Angelica. I don’t recall ever watching The Kid With the Broken Halo, though it seems to be required viewing, as the first episode of The Gary Coleman Show offers approximately none expository dialogue or action establishing the plot. Who is Andy? What happened to him? Where are his parents? Why don’t his friends seem to realize that he’s dead? Did he die somewhere else and then just show up in town one day? What kind of cruel God would make a child do hard labor just to earn eternal peace in the afterlife?

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Not surprisingly, the show didn’t dig all that deep into its more tragic, existential aspects. According to The Gary Coleman Show, being an angel doesn’t get you out of doing homework, or having a big sister/mother figure riding your ass about everything. On top of that, you have to rescue your idiot friends when the brakes fail on their bicycle, or when they almost fall off a ladder, all while not being able to tell them about your otherworldly powers (for some reason). Really, being an angel sucks, and not knowing if this poor kid is stuck doing this for ten years or 1,000 years makes it worse.

On top of that, he has a nemesis named Hornswoggle, who might be the Devil, but I’m not too sure. On the one hand, he has a pointy little goatee, which is usually a sign of His Infernal Majesty, but on the other, you’d think The Lord of the Flies would have something better to do with his time than fuck around with a bunch of kids holding an auction to raise funds for the local playground. The show never makes it too clear, because a holy war between angels and demons might have been a little too heavy for Saturday morning television.

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1982-83 marked some lean years in cartoon entertainment, as classics like The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show co-existed with middling dreck like The Richie Rich Show, Gilligan’s Planet, and The Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Puppy Hour. The Gary Coleman Show, with its uninspired animation and bare bones plot, made for a perfect fit. To his credit, Gary Coleman himself puts in a workmanlike effort into his voiceover, and you can almost believe he wasn’t forced into doing it by greedy adults. Unfortunately, it did little to revitalize his career. Diff’rent Strokes dragged along for a couple more seasons before cancellation, and Gary Coleman, already ripped off of most of his hard-earned money by his own parents, became, at alternating times, both a willing and unwilling punchline to many a joke, before his untimely death in 2010. One hopes he finally caught a break, and made it into Heaven a lot faster than Andy did.

Original airdate: September 18, 1982

Episode not currently available online 😦 (there are others, though!)

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