"Mr. T's Be Somebody... or Be Somebody's Fool!" (1984)

Now everybody knows Mr. T don't lie
And it ain't no fun just scrapin' by
So if you want to be cool, just like me
You better try real hard to be somebody!
Return with us now to the dark days of the 1980s, where Reagan was king, communists were scum, and day-glo and leg warmers were acceptable fashion items to be seen in public wearing.

It was also the dawn of the VHS era, where people would insert small black boxes with reels of tape inside them into the slots of special projection machines with buttons on the front and wires on the back connected to the rear of huge window boxes with tubes inside of them and watch movies and family films and all sorts of things. Sometimes recorded on top of other movies without other people's knowing.

With this new invention, schoolteachers across the country finally had a way to keep their students quiet for thirty minutes to an hour at a time while taking a nap or catching up on a trashy romance novel.

Sometimes they had puppets. Sometimes they had kids singing. Sometimes they get uploaded raw on YouTube or re-edited for Everything is Terrible.

The one we're going to do today doesn't have puppets, but it DOES have kids singing. It also has 1980's movie and television icon Mr. T.

No, not THAT Mr. T. Although he was no stranger to classroom videotapes himself.

I mean the OTHER guy. Laurence Tureaud. B.A. Baracus from The A-Team. Clubber Lang from Rocky III. Drinker of milk, wearer of gold chains, pitier of fools. Hero to millions of 1980s children all over the country.

Yeah, him.

And if that isn't enough star power, let's get some up-and-coming young talent like Ice-T, Martika "Toy Soldiers" No-last-name-given from Kids Incorporated and Bumper Townsend from A Different World involved, as well as Topper Carew, who co-wrote the 1983 Mr. T movie D.C. Cab.

And if you don't know who or what any of those are, then screw you for making me feel old.

Our first segment is on the set of a commercial for people who are shy (which doesn't really sell anything). The girl is so shy that she can barely speak her lines, and the director's nagging isn't helping matters. Finally she tells him to shut up, encourages kids to speak up for themselves before angrily storming off the set.

Yeah, yell at the introvert. That'll boost her confidence.

Be honest, she's quite brave to stand in front of a camera. I'd have frozen in my shoes.

Then T starts off the "roots" segment by speaking the kids around a tall tree, and saying that like the tree has roots to grow from, so do you and me and everyone else, even giving details on his background--born in Chicago and descendant of a tribe in Africa. This is followed by all the kids holding hands, swaying back and forth, and singing some corny song about remembering where you came from. Some of them sing with their faces so close to the camera I can smell their breath.

In the "anger" segment, Mr. T tries to teach the kids how to deal with anger while angrily trying to swat a fly buzzing around him, tossing a bag of paper cups everywhere and getting some potato salad on his face. .

Next we come to the "styling" portion of the special ("Everybody got to wear clothes! If you don't, you get arrested!" Ummm.....) where...

Okay, I think we need to go to a photo montage for this. OH GOOD LORD HOW EIGHTIES CAN SOMETHING BE.

Left to right, top to bottom:
Twin sisters Zena and Xena have taken inspiration from Vietnamese prostitute streetware.
Marta, meanwhile, couldn't decide which of her scarves to wear to the shoot.
Jeff here is trying to pass off his grandfather's suspenders as fashionable, and failing miserably.
Athena looks like a cross between a Madonna backup dancer and a chessboard.
Kelly looks like she got shot during her early morning jog.
I would advise Manny to strip a layer or two off before his nethers start to sweat.
And as for Janine, well, let's just say there should be laws against something that pink.

What's that? You want a segment on peer pressure? We've got that too!

Some of the kids from the styling segment are walking along the pier when one of them finds a can of beer and some cigarettes in the garbage and invites his friends to drink and light up (Who would want to smoke a cigarette someone found in a garbage can? And why did someone just throw away an unopened can of beer?) while one of them looks shocked and horrified. One of the kids is spritzed with beer foam, while another burns her finger on the cigarette lighter. Michael Jackson-esque 80's singers New Edition (with a young Bobby Brown) appear out of nowhere to sing the background song and drive the point home, and T suddenly shows up to motivate the unwilling lad into not joining in his friends' illicit activities as they literally shove the beer and ciggies in his face until he finally walks away.

He's already well known for his zero-tolerance policy on "jibba jabba."

The "recouping" segment has a fat guy in suspenders snicker at a kid who trips and falls on the sidewalk. This is followed by a similar scene where the same kid trips and goes into an impromptu break dance in front of the same fat guy, who applauds him before tripping himself. Mr. T uses the word "abso-ludicrous" as if it were an actual word, and then reveals he isn't wearing any pants.

Next we have "Creating" which is...just a break-dancing segment. We'll leave it at that.

From there we cut to an...interesting little vignette where Mr. T interrupts a flame war right when someone's about to let loose a "yo momma" joke to launch into a song about treating your mother right. Complete with some maternal-looking backup singers, it's a number that plays off that "M is for the Many Things She Gave Me" song in that he spells out the word in the lyrics. Entirely in this new-fangled "talk singing" I've heard about.

Actually, it DID make me wish I had listened to my mother. I made so many faces during that bit I'm surprised it didn't freeze like that.

You know, most actors are usually "grounded" before making these sorts of videos.

"Workout" is exactly what is says on the label - Mr. T encouraging a group of kids munching on junk food to get up and get active. The new wave background music about "sweating" and "working your body" made me a little uneasy.

After that, Mr. T and some of the kids put together a rap number about peace, love and brotherhood and stuff like that as a demonstration of how to rap. He ends by encouraging the kids at home to make up a rap of their own, which maybe could have been covered in the "Creating" segment among all the break dancing. Since it's, you know, creating something and all.

"Let's green egg and ham it, sucka!"

Then we get to a classroom setting, where Mr. T is about to give a lecture on friendship, but is called out of the room by a raspy-voiced man who needs some snake poison sucked out of his toe. "A true friend is hard to find," says T and walks off stage.

Okay, ewww.

An 80's female love ballad-type singer takes over the lecture by singing an 80's female love ballad about friendship, I guess, I'm not really paying too much attention to the lyrics of the songs in this video, while we're flashed with pictures of friends and cheesy quips about friendship delivered with all the subtlety of a Hallmark greeting card.

Friendship also sold Care Bears and Teddy Ruxpin dolls back then.

It's also worth mentioning that throughout this video we get little minisodes on "frustration" where Mr. T tries to play a cello solo but gets interrupted in various ways...either he is out of tune, the neighbors upstairs complain, or he throws the bow out of shot to look like he accidentally shot it out of his hand like an arrow from a bow. By this time he finally manages to get through it without issue.

And now it's story-time, and most of the kids we've seen throughout this special have gathered round Mr. T, who tells a story about two teenagers named Ricky and Jackie who live on opposite sides of a town where two rival gangs are butting heads. One the night of a big dance, Ricky gets into a fight with one of the rival gangs, and...T forgets the rest of the story to the kids' dismay, but he admits that it was partially inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the tragic love story about a short romantic fling between an 18-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl where they both commit suicide at the end, and invites the children to read it for themselves.

So...what was THAT supposed to teach? Reading is fun? Don't join street gangs? Love conquers al--okay, maybe not that one.

Our last segment covers "daydreaming", or what I imagine many schoolchildren were doing while this video was on. Here we have a little league baseball game, and there's a girl at bat who dreams of breaking the MLB gender barrier and making the World Series. And since this is an American film, she hits the game-winning home run at the bottom of the ninth with her team down by three runs with bases loaded on a 3-2 count and then the credits roll and it's over whatever I'm done.

Daydreaming about playing sports is okay. Daydreaming WHILE playing sports is ill-advised.

As I mentioned in my Alien from L.A. review, a lot of things from the 80's has not aged well. And this is one of them.

I'll admit that the guy's heart is in the right place, and a lot of the messages are valid, but WOW is this painful to look at. I mean, the outfits from the fashion segment, the video effects, the outfits from the fashion segment, the cheesy songs, the outfits from the fashion segment, the dated R&B synthesizer music...I realize that this is no fault of the special itself and is mainly due to the passage of time, but that doesn't make it any less ugly. As for the kids, they aren't any different from the ones in other videos, just the usual batch of child actors who smile and sing (or maybe just lip sync in this case) even though many of them do go on to bright futures in acting and music.

Strangely enough, though, I could think of no one better back then than Mr. T who would set out to make a video like this. A bad boy with a sensitive side, a self-proclaimed mama's boy who drank his milk and was beloved by children everywhere, who also appeared on a TV show playing a mercenary who beat the crap out of morally-corrupt jerks for picking on the small and defenseless...considering that most actors only do this type of community service after they'd been arrested for drunk driving or drug possession or pleasuring themselves in a porno theater, it really says a lot about Mr. T's character to want to do this willingly.

Preferable to a soulless talking sponge or a guidance counselor any day.

George Peppard made one of these videos once. So much crying...

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