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Reviews Comments: A strange mixture of two opposing genres Inspector Gadget whole series review by Bonsai Forest

Inspector Gadget is a truly strange show if you really think about it. On the face of it, it's about a man who has all these built-in gadgets in his body, allowing him to do things like summon binoculars over his eyes, stretch his arms and legs, use a built-in helicopter propeller and handles to fly, and a whole bunch of other things. A lot of potential there, so what does Gadget do with these abilities? Almost nothing! The man instead stumbles around, mistaking his enemies for friends, and causing a big mess wherever he goes. He usually doesn't even advance the plot.

In a way, the show is really about Penny, his niece, along with her pet dog, Brain. Brain basically watches after Gadget and keeps him alive, and sometimes saves Penny's life as well. Penny, on the other hand, is the true main hero, at least speaking plot-wise.

Penny snoops around and explores the enemy's hideouts, tries to figure out what's going on, and tries to stop it with the help of her own gadgets: a watch that doubles as a communicator, a map, and has a built-in laser, and a "computer book", which tells her any information she needs to know, with a built-in map of its own, recording device, the ability to hack into almost any system or even vehicle in existence, and even more features.

The show follows Penny as she sneaks about, tries to make sure her uncle Gadget doesn't notice her doing her own investigations, sometimes makes friends that help her solve the crimes, gets into and out of danger, and basically has her own little Hardy Boys-esque adventure. Well, that, and the remaining 60-70% of the screentime was devoted to Gadget's "mistake bad guys for good, and accidentally cause disasters" antics.

And that's what makes the show so strange. Gadget himself was a "sideshow clown", so to speak, yet he gets the title. Even so, my third grade self was watching the cartoon to see Penny's adventures, which were the minority of the screentime, but that I felt were far more interesting and compelling.

That's the problem with creating a show that tries to be two totally unrelated - even possibly opposing - things at once: you split the fanbase. Do you like Gadget's comedic stumbling? Or Penny's adventurous sleuthing? Chances are, you're not a huge fan of both. It's like they're totally opposed to each other.


  • wellinever
  • 27th Sep 09
Never thought about it thtis way. Really interesting review. You can tell it was the eighties can't you with Penny's marvelous "computer book" which in essence has most of the same features that I have on this very laptop. Do you think it splits the fanbase or do you think that it allows more people it enjoy the show by coupling these two elements together? Surely just because you prefer one element over the other doesn't mean that you can't enjoy both.
  • Bonsai Forest
  • 28th Sep 09
I imagine it's possible to enjoy both, and I did like Gadget's comic antics to a degree, I just felt they were drawn out too much. I preferred Penny's adventures by far, and would gladly have seen the show swap the percentage of screentime the two received.

However, when you blend two disparate elements together, you could potentially grow the audience, but in such a way that you basically create different audiences - one who likes the show for one reason, one who likes it for another, and yet another who likes it for both reasons. A perfect example would be Kingdom Hearts, which has people who love it, yet hate Disney and try to ignore the Disney characters in it, often getting excited instead about the backstories of the guys in black cloaks.

The funny thing about Inspector Gadget is, if you look at the "Inspector Gadget Minus Gadget" videos on You Tube, it really makes Gadget himself look truly irrelevant to the plot, simply by removing him altogether, or only keeping him in a tiny number of scenes (mostly just the scene where Chief Quimby gives him credit for Penny's hard work). In many cases, the plot flows just fine without Gadget. He pretty much appears only in either comic scenes or expositional scenes.
  • Camacan
  • 26th Jan 10
You are quite right — from an adult perspective Gadget himself is extraordinarily frustrating, brimming with wasted possibilities.

But I remember myself at the age I watched it: I laughed like a drain! It was the high point of my day for quite a while. Because I was little and thought Gadget's woes were hilarious: every bizarre disaster delighted me, infused as I was with childish schadenfreude.

I don't remember Penny nearly as well: I agree she was aimed at a different (older, smarter) audience. In retrospect she seems rather bland — but I guess it is better with a straight character to ground the show a little.

So in reviewing Gadget, perhaps we need to hold the target audience in mind. My feeling is the primary audience is quite young, hence the share of screentime between Gadget and Penny.
  • KlarkKentThe3rd
  • 14th Feb 11
I liek'd it :'(
  • BonsaiForest
  • 15th Feb 11
What's wrong with liking Inspector Gadget? I liked it too. I didn't find Gadget himself actually funny, but I still liked the overall package, bizarre as it is in hindsight.
  • Psi001
  • 5th Feb 12
I have to agree to some degree, I think the show would have had more lasting appeal if they made Gadget more competant and relevant to the plot. It kinda feels like after making the main mythos for the series, Di C wanted to make a show using a super sleuthing kid that the younger audience would relate to and cheer for being competant for once. Rather than make a new show however, they just placed into Gadget to save budget costs and made the original main protagonist minor comic relief.

It's an okay setup and Gadget is still pretty funny at least, but as said by those before, it gets repetitive after a while and you can feel the lost potential brimming through. Penny is admitedly the blandest character in the show and feels more an attempt at making an audience surrogate that does something than being an anymore interesting hero than Gadget (even her design is more down to earth and generic compared to the rest of the wacky ensemble, though at least some spin offs tried to fix that one issue).

The earliest batch of episodes handled things a bit better, as every three or four episodes Gadget would do something genuinely competant to balance it out. Not to mention there were a fair few episodes where Gadget's bumbling actually assists with the plot rather than dragging it on, making him at least vaguely relevant. As things progressed however the chosen plotline was held firmly in place and things started to get old.
  • BonsaiForest
  • 5th Feb 12
If they did make a cartoon about a super sleuthing kid, I'd gladly watch that. That was more the appeal of Inspector Gadget anyway for me. And you're right, in hindsight, Penny really is very bland.
  • Psi001
  • 6th Feb 12
I think one of the best pieces of development in the show was the genuine bonding between the three heroes. The And Knowing Is Half The Battle segments, as corny as they were, shown Gadget's love for Penny and redeeming factor in taking care of her (not to mention his few competant moments were rescuing her). This at the very least made Penny and Gadget somewhat endearing and have some amount of depth rather than just a one note competant vs incompetant foilage. I did think Gadget's bumbling was funny however, as much as I would have liked him to do something effective a lot of the time.
  • BonsaiForest
  • 6th Feb 12
I never thought about that. The show was very shallow, as cartoons tended to be in general anyway (particularly then), but those "educational" moments at the end of each episode, showing family life, added a bit more depth to the characters and make them a bit more human, though not that much more.
  • qtjinla15
  • 7th Feb 12
Problem is either protagnists are bumbling or they go to the extreme and make them angtsy. I don't see what's so difficult (aside from laziness or following the leader) about making the characters competent with a few quirks and maybe a bit goofiness?
  • Psi001
  • 7th Feb 12
Alternatively the protagonists are neither, being just bland or losing focus to a Deuteragonist or Villain Protagonist, I could argue Penny was this, only being overshadowed by who was supposed to be the main character ironically enough, which furthers my belief that she was placed in at the last minute of development. A few of the earlier episodes do follow this balance a little better and make Gadget more competant a hero with Penny's "secret helper" role prominant but not overplayed (eg. "Gadget In Winterland", "Haunted Castle"), it's a shame they didn't keep this up in more episodes (though the live action films, like them or not, did upkeep it).
  • Motenai
  • 28th Jul 12
There were those segments of Gadget touring historical and cultural landmarks that developed my adult fascination with travel and the world at large. So I would give Gadget credit for where he fails at being a detective, he's incredibly charming and charismatic a a tour guide.
  • ading
  • 28th Jul 13

  • chownbiblio
  • 13th Oct 15
Really, the contrast between Gadget on the one hand and Brain/Penny on the other is there to make a satirical point—

1) Even the fanciest tools are only as good as whoever is wielding them.

2) Many people (and powerful people in particular) seem utterly incapable of grasping 1).

It's a valuable lesson, at any age.

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