Western Animation / Underdog

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"There's no need to fear — Underdog is here!"

One of Total Television's most famous Animated Series, Underdog was a canine parody of Superman which debuted on NBC in 1964 and moved to CBS in 1966. Usually, each half-hour episode consisted of two chapters of a four-part Underdog story, separated by an unrelated TTV short.

Underdog's alter ego was "humble, lovable Shoeshine Boy". When summoned by TV reporter Sweet Polly Purebrednote , Shoeshine Boy dashed into the nearest phone booth and emerged in his heroic costume. For some unexplained reason, Underdog always spoke in rhyme. His foes included the mad scientist Dr. Simon Bar Sinister and his henchman, Cad Lackey (voice caricatures of Lionel Barrymore and Humphrey Bogart), and the lupine crime boss Riff Raff (based on George Raft).

Supporting segments included Tennessee Tuxedo And His Tales, Go Go Gophers and Klondike Kat. The series' voice talent included Wally Cox as Underdog/Shoeshine Boy and Norma McMillan as Sweet Polly Purebred.

A live-action film that just happened to be called Underdog was released by Walt Disney Pictures in 2007.

Underdog also inspired a well-remembered, well-loved Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloon, as evidenced by this commercial, made 35 years after the balloon's debut.

You might've heard the theme song thanks to being Sampled Up by Wu-Tang Clan on their "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta F' Wit". Parts of the Underdog theme song could also be heard in Wheels!, an Apple Macintosh game aimed at disabled children.

(For the Japanese manga of the same name, click here)

Underdog provides examples of:

  • AcCENT Upon the Wrong SylLABle: "Riff RAFF."
  • Absentee Actor: Sweet Polly Purebred doesn't appear in the series pilot "Safe Waif" (see Early Installment Weirdness below).
  • Advertising Campaigns: Underdog vs. Stewie Griffin
  • Amnesia Episode: "The Forget-Me-Net" story arc, where Simon Bar Sinister's latest invention causes amnesia on people.
  • And Then What?: In one Klondike Cat cartoon, Klondike actually succeeds in capturing Savoir Faire at the beginning of the episode rather than the end. However, Savoir points out that catching him is the only job Klondike's ever had, and if he's in jail then there's nothing for him to do. Klondike then spends the rest of the episode trying and failing to break his nemesis out of jail.
  • Animal Superheroes
  • Animated Series
  • Arranged Marriage: Underdog was forced into a marriage with an alien princess in "Zot." He doesn't follow through, though, and the princess marries someone else. And that's after Underdog defeats a Two-headed dragon that was menacing the aliens, also making it an inversion of Rescue Romance.
  • Badass Adorable
  • Badass Damsel: Polly doesn't always just wait to be rescued, even though it's usually necessary.
  • Beach Episode: Never in the series, but a comic by Underdog's creator Joe Harris (never intended for release to the public, until he released it himself) had Underdog and Polly going to the beach and playing super-volleyball with a horde of robotic aliens in a story called "The Nug of Nog." See it here.
  • Becoming Part of the Image: This happened several times.
  • Big Bad: Dr. Simon Bar Sinister
  • Bragging Theme Tune
  • Bruce Wayne Held Hostage: In one episode, Shoeshine Boy is part of a group taken prisoner by aliens and forced to lead a coup in his civilian identity until sufficient chaos arises to allow him to transform without being noticed.
  • Captain Crash: Underdog. One episode where he has to drive an armored car shows he drives about as well as he flies.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Riff Raff loves being Public Enemy Number One, and once devoted an entire plan simply to recover that title.
  • Cartoonish Supervillainy: Simon Bar Sinister
  • Cats Are Mean: Evil Overlord Overcat was not just mean he could match Underdog as far as personal might was concerned.
  • Catch Phrase: Underdog is full of them:
    • "It's hip, hip, hip, and away I go!"
    • "There's no need to fear./ Underdog is here!"
    • "The secret compartment of my ring I fill/ with an Underdog super energy pill."
    • Simon Bar Sinister would frequently preface an imperative with "Simon says..."
    • Go Go Gophers' Running Board (to Ruffled Feathers): "Ho-ho! You-um genius!"
    • Klondike Kat had two: "Klondike Kat always gets his mouse," and "OH, I'LL MAKE MINCEMEAT OUTTA THAT MOUSE!"
      • Not to mention said mouse constantly reminding us that "Savoir Faire is everywhere!"
  • Chaste Hero: He seems to be rather eager to escape Polly's advances.
  • Cliffhanger: Most episodes were structured as four-part serials, with cliffhangers at the end of the first three.
  • Combat Tentacles: The Guard from "The Bubbleheads."
  • Cool Gate: Simon Bar Sinister has one bearing his surname.
  • Counterfeit Cash: The opening of every episode shows a customer tossing a nickel to Shoeshine Boy, and Shoeshine Boy biting the nickel. This was an old trick dating back to The Great Depression, to tell if a nickel was real or just a wooden disc painted to look vaguely nickel-like. (He was adhering to the old adage "Don't take any wooden nickels!" and proving that Good Is Not Dumb.)
  • Criminal Doppelgänger: One of Underdog's enemies was his exact double, Tap-Tap the Chiseler, who didn't have any of Underdog's powers. It didn't stop Tap-Tap from using Underdog's image to get stuff like bombs without anyone batting an eye.
  • Damsel in Distress: Sweet Polly Purebred, in practically every episode. Subverted, however, in "The Phony Booths", where Polly takes it upon herself to stop the Phony Booths. By that time, Simon Bar Sinister has gotten Underdog under his control, so he sends Underdog to stop Polly. However, Love Redeems, and because of this, Polly saves Underdog for a change.
  • Dastardly Whiplash: Simon Bar-Sinister, minus the typical evil mustache.
  • Depraved Dwarf: Simon
  • Disney Death: Underdog himself several times, e.g., in "A New Villain" and "The Silver Thieves".
  • Does Not Know His Own Strength: Would get him into some serious trouble if it weren't for his Hero Insurance.
  • The Don: Riff Raff is a parody of the trope.
  • Dumb Muscle / Evil Minion: Cad to Simon, as well as Mooch to Riff Raff. Then again, they're not much dumber than the average citizen on this show.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • The first cartoon has little in common with the others. There's no Sweet Polly (it remains the only cartoon she's not in), no villain, no Cliffhanger, and Underdog is a completely moronic, bumbling idiot Jerkass who demolishes two banks to rescue a boy trapped in a bank vault (at first, Underdog goes to the wrong bank by mistake). The rest of the series portrays Underdog as much more competent.
    • Simon Bar Sinister's first appearance, like the first episode, is also a one-off with no cliffhanger. Simon notably does not have Cad with him, making it the only time Simon causes trouble without his henchman.
  • Election Day Episode: Simon Bar Sinister disperses treated feathers across the entire United States, keeping every American rolling on the ground laughing on Election Day. Only Simon and his henchman, Cad Lackey, are coherent enough to cast votes, electing Simon as United States Dictator by a total of two votes (the issue of the Electoral College isn't raised).
  • Every Episode Ending:
    Man 1: Look, up in the sky! It's a bird!
    Man 2: It's a plane!
    Woman: It's a frog!
    Man 1: A frog?
    Underdog: Not bird, nor plane, nor even frog,/ It's just little old me— (crash) Underdog.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": In his civilian disguise, Underdog is called Shoeshine Boy because he, er, shines shoes.
  • Everything's Better with Spinning: When characters overcame their Easy Amnesia from the Forget-Me-Net, they would spin in the air.
  • Evil Counterpart: With a hero called Underdog, it was practically inevitable that there would be a villain named Overcat. He's unlike Underdog in every way: whereas Underdog is a small, good-natured dog who uses his powers to help others, Overcat is a hulking, loudmouthed Jerkass cat who uses his own powers to bully his entire planet into submission.
  • Evil Twin: Tap-Tap the Chisler, a criminal who looks exactly like Underdog. Upon discovering the similarity, Riff Raff dresses him up like Underdog and has him go on a crime spree to frame the real Underdog, who is currently incapacitated under some rubble. When the real Underdog breaks out, he's now hated by everyone thanks to Riff Raff and Tap-Tap's plan. Underdog eventually proves his innocence, but Tap-Tap eventually breaks out of prison in a later episode and attempts to blow both himself and Sweet Polly up in revenge against Underdog.
  • Flying Brick: Although Underdog is occasionally described as having a "computer-like brain" and sometimes devises clever solutions to problems, he's mostly a straightforward fighter type.
  • Furry Confusion: Humans and talking animals living together? Say what you want about The Movie but at least it makes a point of averting this.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • The "barre sinistre" (or in English, the "baton sinister") was a heraldic mark of cadency indicating that the bearer was a bastard.
    • Underdog often pops pills to boost his powers, especially after having been beaten in a fight. (Nowadays, most reruns have the pills cut out, except when they're needed for the plot.)
      • At one point, all dialog references to Underdog's Super Energy Pill were re-recorded, calling it an Underdog Energy Vitamin Pill instead.
  • Going for the Big Scoop: Polly. Lois Lane would be proud.
  • Grand Finale: "The Vacuum Gun". Simon brings several old villains, including Riff Raff, Electric Eel and Batty Man, Back for the Finale. The end of the episode apparently has all the villains Killed Off for Real when, after Simon tries to use the Vacuum Gun for the last time on Underdog, Underdog uses his "Atomic Breath" and sucks all the villains and the Vacuum Gun towards him, uses the Vacuum Gun on the villains, then exhales into the Vacuum Gun, causing it to explode.
  • Gratuitous Iambic Pentameter: Underdog speaks entirely in rhymed couplets, albeit not always with much concern for meter.
  • Haunted House: In "The Gold Bricks." The ghosts were really all just special effects set up by Riff Raff.
  • Heroic Dog: Super heroic dog.
  • Hero Insurance: Few superheroes cause more collateral damage than Underdog. He'll even do things like break off the top of a skyscraper to use as a weapon against some giant monster Underdog frequently lampshades this destructiveness, especially in early episodes.
    Underdog: I am a hero who never fails;/ I can't be concerned with such details.
  • The Hero's Birthday: Sweet Polly repeatedly mentions this in "Pain Strikes Underdog".
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Often Simon will end up on the receiving end of his own inventions, including in "The Big Shrink," "The Forget-Me-Net," "The Tickle Feather Machine," and "Simon Says Be My Valentine."
  • Human Popsicle: Underdog (and several other town citizens) get this treatment in "Go Snow."
  • Instrument of Murder: Simon Bar Sinister built a weather machine modeled closely after a pipe organ. Each key on its keyboard could loose some kind of weather phenomenon, including typhoons and earthquakes. However, early tests of the device tended to wreck Simon's laboratory first, so he and Cad Lackey hijacked a moon rocket to install the device on Earth's airless satellite.
  • Killed Off for Real: The Witch of Pickyoon evaporates when Underdog destroys her magic broom. She is the only villain to actually die in the entire series.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Underdog is capable of moving so fast that he becomes invisible, and has used this trick to defeat opponents more powerful than himself.
    Underdog: He's too big to be as fast as me/ And he can't fight what he can't see!"
  • Lions and Tigers and Humans... Oh, My!
  • Loved I Not Honor More: In the episode "The Witch of Pickyune", Underdog meets a witch who will only wake his love interest from an eternal sleep if he helps her Take Over the World. Proving himself to be smarter than Anakin Skywalker, he flat out refuses (before accidentally saving the girl anyway with a True Love's Kiss).
  • Made of Explodium: The telephone booths that Shoeshine used to become Underdog.
  • Mad Scientist: Simon Bar Sinister, who would create a new machine to take over the world, but was always stopped by Underdog.
  • Monster of the Week: Underdog often fights one of these in episodes where the villain isn't Simon Bar Sinister or Riff Raff.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed
  • Now, Let Me Carry You: More often than not, circumstances would contrive to make a weakened Underdog lose access to his ring, requiring Polly to find it or otherwise protect him in the second act. The two make a great team!
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: If Underdog ever said something without rhyming, you know the business is very serious.
    Underdog: What?!
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Batty Man.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Aside from the various villains, Underdog himself. This is Lampshaded in the movie.
  • Psycho Electro: Electric Eel, who acquired his power from an electrified prison fence.
  • Race Face Turn: Both the Saucer Men and the Cloud Men end their conflict with Earth peacefully, both times due to clever thinking by Polly.
  • Radio Drama: Had a one-off one in 1999, produced for Boston-area radio stations by co-creator W. Watts Biggers, to help promote his Victory over Violence organization; Biggers himself played Underdog, while Boston newscaster Tom Ellis narrated. Here, Barsinister was using his new "Switchpitch" baseball, to turn positive people negative, and become king of Boston; his plans were foiled as usual by Underdog and Polly.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: This once became Underdog's Achilles' Heel, when Simon Barsinister undertook to commit crimes based upon the word "orange".
  • Rogues Gallery: For most of the show's run, Underdog had exactly two recurring enemies: Simon Bar Sinister and Riff Raff. For the Grand Finale, Simon recruits Raff along with 2 other villians introduced in the final season, Batty Man and Electric Eel.
  • Say My Name: The antidote to the Forget-Me-Net.
  • Sequel Episode: "Tricky Tap by Tap-Tap" serves as a sequel to "From Hopeless to Helpless." But since the former ended up airing first, it unintentionally inverted things and turned "From Hopeless to Helpless" into a Prequel Episode.
  • Shoe Shine, Mister?: Underdog's secret identity.
  • Silver Has Mystic Powers: At least, it does if you're an alien cloud, whose people are out to steal all the Earth's silver.
  • Super Breath
  • Super Serum: Underdog's "Super Energy Pill" or "Energy Vitamin Pill" — sometimes removed from syndicated broadcasts.
  • Take Over the World: Simon Bar Sinister's goal, most of the time.
  • Taken for Granite: Underdog/Shoeshine, Polly, and several others in "The Marbleheads."
  • Talking Animal
  • Thanksgiving Episode: Simon Bar Sinister tries to stop Thanksgiving from ever happening because the Thanksgiving Day Parade was preventing him from crossing the street, keeping him from reaching a device he had cached there. Given that he had a time machine, it probably would have been easier for him to either go back a few hours and cross the street then, go back a couple days and tell his subordinates that the scheme will be postponed until a day when a parade isn't blocking the street, or go back a couple weeks and move the device to the other side of the street, but these notions never occur to him.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Subverted. When Underdog is framed by Riff Raff and Tap-Tap and discovers the truth, he decides that he might as well join forces with Riff Raff for real since he's considered a criminal anyway. However, it turns out he was really faking teaming up with him to discover where Riff Raff hid the Hope Diamond.
  • Three Shorts
  • Through a Face Full of Fur: Underdog's face quickly turns bright red upon receiving praise.
  • Trap Door: Riff Raff uses one on henchmen who make stupid suggestions.
  • True Love's Kiss: Once done with Sweet Polly thanks to a Wicked Witch.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Underdog in "Forget-Me-Net." It's a long story...
  • Weather-Control Machine: Simon combined this with an Ominous Pipe Organ in "Weathering the Storm".
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: The cloud people of "The Silver Thieves" need silver but have nothing but a planet full of worthless gold! They apparently also assumed gold is just as worthless to humans, as Polly has to tell them how it could have been avoided if they had offered to trade gold for silver on Earth instead of stealing it.
  • X-Ray Vision: His can set things on fire, apparently, making them more like Heat Vision.
  • You Got Spunk: If Sweet Polly gets kidnapped Once per Episode, at least she always gives her kidnappers a good run for their money ("She's a regular wildcat!").

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