If you’re like me, your interest in TF/TG media probably took root early on. Kids shows from my youth were constantly pushing the “brain swapping” button, and since there was usually a token female castmember, the how would oblige by giving their characters the gender-bender treatment. It was probably here that a lot of kids’ idle curiosity about what it might be like to spend time, briefly, as a member of the opposite sex was fanned into a lifelong interest.
I don’t really know where it began, but I was probably already on the lookout for stuff like this when, for instance, the “Who’s Who” episode of the syndicated animated series Mummies Alive! aired. The plot could not be more basic. The heroes – superhero mummies living in San Francisco – come up against trickster luck god Bes, who messes with them by switching their bodies around. Thus, intellectual Rath switches places with brutish big-eater Armon, normal kid Pressley (the reincarnation of the Egyptian Prince the mummies are to protect) is swapped into the pet cat, and straight-laced leader guy Ja-Kal swaps with the team’s female member, Nefer-Tina.
The whole thing plays out about as you would imagine – every member has trouble adjusting to their new body, although Ja-Kal and Nefer-Tina manage to find some upsides, remarking on his strength and her agility. Eventually they get through having unfamiliarity with each others’ special abilities and destroy the magic coin that causes the swaps, immediately putting everything right.
Since a kids cartoon doesn’t spend much time ruminating on the genders and bodies of its characters, it wasn’t going to go very deep, but it’s cute, and shows the strength of having such broad archetypal characters. Being that this is Saturday morning material, there’s nothing overtly provocative about it, but the material is there beneath the surface: seeing Ja-Kal spending about five seconds reveling in his new body’s lightness – while Nefer-Tina is drawn as a total knockout – was enough to fire my imagination.
It’s simplistic, but they do manage to fill the episode’s running time. A reference is included to the sexism of the (version of) Egyptian society they came from, where Ja-Kal could not be a leader if he were a woman (“looked in the mirror lately?”) and the lone potty joke in Pressley asking for advice on how to use a litter box to take us into commercial.
Another one that always stuck with me was from one of my favourite kids shows, and one that actually mostly holds up – the Eerie, Indiana episode “No Brain, No Pain.” Although the gender-bending is a lot more fleeting, this show is a lot more clever and willing to sneak in some adult humour. The plot centers on a brilliant scientist whose device switched his brain into an 8-track of The Knack’s “My Sharona” (which is amazing) and culminates in four characters doing a big switcheroo. Lead character Marshall winds up in the body of the cleavagey femme fatale. There’s a great take where Marshall looks down and sees his new pair before moving on with the plot, which was just about all you could hope for, and more than you’d expect, from a family show. (The ep used to be uploaded to YouTube for free but was removed and the series is now viewable there for $1.99 per episode – a steal!)
Of course this barely scratches the surface. Eerie only lasted 19 episodes and Mummies was on for one season of 40 episodes – it’s pretty telling that both series made sure to hit this plot while they had time. A reliable way to fill a half hour (with toy commercials) while you’re eating your Trix.
Even though there was plenty of material around, I’m not saying that’s where the interest comes from. I think if you’re already predisposed, it really pings when you stumble across it. If I didn’t notice it when I was a kid, I would have seen it plenty later. And if I was a normal kid, it probably would have just washed right off my brain like everyone else, instead of still thinking about it twenty-odd years later.
What are your fondest memories of a Saturday Morning? Comment, like, and don’t forget to subscribe to get updates on new posts!