Earlier this week, we announced that there were plans to adapt the Hasbro properties Monopoly, Action Man and Hungry Hungry Hippos into features. This is further evidence that anything and everything could be targeted for a reboot some point in the future. Perhaps we’ll see Gargoyles, The Pirates of Dark Water, Jonny Quest or Centurions adapted before long. But today, we’re going to step away from vintage animated properties and look at a great live-action series from the early 90s. Hit the jump for awful waffles, “Ug” Lee and Camp Anawanna. Hollywood! Adapt this: Salute Your Shorts!
My fond memories of Salute Your Shorts tricked me into thinking the show was on the air a lot longer than it really was. Spanning only 26 episodes, the summer camp series ran for just about a year from June of 1991 to June of 1992 (though its reruns continued until early 1999). Also news to me was the fact that the series was was based off of a novel “Salute Your Shorts: Life at Summer Camp” by Steve Slavkin (who continued to write for the show and starred as the never-seen leader of the camp, Dr. Kahn). A short run, but what a show!
What It’s About:
For a city kid who never went to a summer camp, I had to live vicariously through my friends who disappeared each summer to return with bug bites, poison ivy scars and awesome stories about how they almost drowned. Salute Your Shorts allowed me to get a little closer to the summer camp experience by sharing the stories of seven kids and the counselors who were responsible for them. The characters were memorable, if initially one-dimensional: there was the new kid Michael (Erik MacArthur) in the first season and Pinsky (Blake Soper) in the second, resident hottie Dina (Heidi Lucas), camp hippie Z.Z. (Megan Berwick), token nerd Sponge (Tim Eyster), all-around best athlete Telly (Venus DeMilo), red-headed bully Budnick (Danny Cooksey) and his overweight sidekick Donkeylips (Michael Bower). Trying to rein all these kids in was the lead counselor Kevin “Ug” Lee (Kirk Bailey), who is the main antagonist and butt of all the kids’ jokes.
The show was filled with great tropes of summer camp: pranks between campers (including the one referenced in the title – stealing a camper’s boxer shorts and running them up the flagpole – and the “awful waffle” – pinning a camper to the table, lifting his shirt to whack him on the belly with a tennis racket, which leaves a waffle pattern, and then pouring syrup over him), boys trying to sneak into the girls’ cabins, burgeoning tween romances, a continuous cat-and-mouse game between campers and counselors and, of course, all the sports and physical activities that come with camp. Oh, and let’s not forget spooky campfire stories, like the then-terrifying “Zeke the Plumber.”
The plots were simple and straightforward, easily accessible for the tween to teen audience, but that’s what made them so great and memorable. Watching the new kid struggle to fit in was a familiar theme for any kid growing up. Witnessing the first attempts at young romances between campers were comforting scenes of awkwardness that was a sort of trial run for real life. Seeing how the kids defeated the bullies (that were often simply acting out due to their own insecurities), watching the nerdy kid stand up for himself and following the complicated making and breaking of alliances, friendships and romances: all of these things made for a great melting pot of coming-of-age struggles wrapped up in a silly, but memorable, package.
Though I’m a bit removed from being a tween these days, the closest thing on the market I can compare to Salute Your Shorts would be Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I think that’s great, but there’s certainly room for more tween-centered fare that serves to encourage kids to be themselves, not grow up too fast and show that it’s okay to be a little bit awkward. Though Budnick might have set red-heads back a few years, he eventually became one of the show’s most complex characters (as complex as you can get in 26 episodes); Sponge paved the way for nerdiness as the new sexy, way ahead of his time (and he taught me that giraffe’s had black tongues – though technically that was Ug’s shining moment); even Telly, Z.Z. and Dina broke out of the stereotypical girl molds to become more fully realized characters that didn’t rely solely on approval from boys (like many of today’s shows/films seem to focus on).
Should Salute Your Shorts be adapted into a feature film/franchise? Absolutely! I’d wager there are shows out there that propose empowerment and self-assuredness to kids, but a reboot of a summer camp dramedy with tweens is sure to find an audience. Update the clothing and the language, sure, but the characters can stay more or less the same. It sounds absurd, but make it a combination of Wet Hot American Summer for kids without the raunchy comedy and High Feather without getting too preachy (if any of you out there remember High Feather, you’re my new best friend).
Salute Your Shorts, when I think about you,
it makes me wanna fart (It’s “I hope we never part!” Now get it right or pay the price!). Check out the opening for the show below, along with the fantastic theme song (apologies for the crap quality):
Salute Your Shorts was just one of the live-action Nickelodeon shows in the 90s that deserve to have a second look. Series like Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Hey Dude, Legends of the Hidden Temple, The Adventures of Pete & Pete and Secret World of Alex Mack. We might get to all of those in time, but next week we’re going to head back to animation. Sorry, Visionaries fans; I know you’re anxious to revisit this property, but you’ll have to wait just a bit longer. Next week, we’ll escape Earth and head into space, following the exploits of a team of bounty hunters. Until then, keep leaving your feedback and suggestions in the comments below!