Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Pie Man to the rescue: 13-plus one-off TV superheroes

1. Mister Terrific, The Golden Girls

Superheroes have become such a hot commodity, it can be hard to remember a time when they didn’t have such a high percentage of success—especially on TV. In fact, many original TV superheroes have been the butt of parodies and punchlines—some loving, others not so much—that last only one episode, which is even more striking on shows that don’t normally feature superheroes at all. Such is the case of Mister Terrific. Played by Bob Dishy on The Golden Girls episode of the same name (not to be confused with the short-lived ’60s superhero show), Mr. Terrific is a superhero that the ever-youthful, comic-book-loving Rose meets while he’s signing autographs in the mall; he’s the host of a kids’ show, not that it stops Rose from going on an ill-advised date with him. Or Sophia from snidely calling him Captain Marvelous. [JH]

2. Lone Vengeance, Castle

Castle revels in its geek-centric theme episodes, and there’s none more geeky than “Heroes And Villains.” In it, Castle and Beckett investigate a murder whose clues wind up pointing toward  Lone Vengeance—a real-life, masked vigilante with an online comic series and an identity that can’t be fathomed. The man who writes that comic, naturally, becomes the prime suspect, but when Castle and Beckett run into Lone Vengeance in the costumed flesh, things turn out to be a little more complicated. Lone Vengeance appears in only one episode of Castle, but it’s a character that could make an entire show. [JH]

3. The Society Of Superheroes, Glee

Maintaining consistent, plausible storylines is not a high priority for Glee, and that’s never been more apparent than in “Dynamic Duets.” From out of nowhere, it appears that the singing, dancing members of The New Directions are also in a team of superheroes—named The Society Of Superheroes, just in case things are starting to seem too imaginative. Blaine is Nightbird. Sam is Blond Chameleon. Sugar is Sweet ’N’ Spicy. It gets even more on-the-nose from there: Tina, it turns out, is known as Asian Persuasion, and Artie, being in a wheelchair, is typecast as a Professor X counterfeit, Dr. Y. Luckily for all—except those who wish Glee knew what continuity meant—The Society Of Superheroes is never seen again. [JH]


4. Moleculo: The Molecular Man, Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live has committed its share of superhero parodies over the decades—including Dan Aykroyd’s classic Superman sendup, Überman—but the show’s most memorable, and relatively original, one-off hero is Moleculo: The Molecular Man. Played with square-jawed aplomb by host Conan O’Brien in the 14th episode of SNL’s 26th season, Moleculo draws from the Superman archetype too, curly forelock and all. But in the lone skit that comprises the sum total of the Moleculo mythos, the caped crusader draws his power from basically one gag: the ability to strike a dashing pose and bellow, “Moleculo… The Molecular Man!” Of course, this winds up having an adverse effect on his secret identity as Brett Barker, reporter for The Daily Newspaper, who always seems to be on the scene of the thwarted crime to snag the latest Moleculo scoop. [JH]


5. The New Justice Team, Futurama

In Futurama, the sci-fi bounty of 30th-century New York is awash in whimsically powerful gadgets and doodads. So in the episode “Less Than Hero,” when Fry and Leela rub on some of Zoidberg’s “Dr. Flimflam’s Miracle Cream,” it only makes sense that they gain superpowers such as super-strength, invulnerability (to punches and lasers), and the impeccably named “lickety speed.” They become the superheroes Captain Yesterday and Cloberella, respectively (even with identical powers, you’ve got to listen to your inner alter ego). Bender (christening himself Super King) tags along with his Bender powers of being Bender, and they, as the New Justice Team, battle the campily villainous Zookeeper. Things go great until they run out of the magic goop (or as Fry exclaims in classic Fry-ism, “Oh, no! Our superpower cream is out of itself!”) and return to their humdrum lives of interstellar travel. Bender still has his Bender powers, but, eh, screw it. [DP]


6. Bicycle Repairman, Monty Python’s Flying Circus

In a society composed entirely of Supermen—played by the members of Monty Python in enough costume padding for a dozen George Reeves—someone must champion the mundane. Enter Mr. F.G. Superman, the caped alter ego of Bicycle Repairman, a working-class hero saving those who can’t save themselves from flat tires and loose nuts. Played in faux-melodramatic fashion by the Pythons, the sketch spoofs superhero convention (a high-stakes rescue, splashy sound-effect inserts) by treating an everyday inconvenience with the gravity of an interstellar threat. In his coveralls and flat cap, Palin makes a crime-fighting costume out of an workday uniform—though the kicker of the sketch suggests his Bicycle Repairman has larger concerns beyond the job description in his name.  [EA]


7. The Mega Diaper Babies, Rugrats

The best Rugrats episodes thrive on the babies’ warped understanding of their surroundings and the vivid imagination propelling the story. “The Mega Diaper Babies” offers just this, opening with the tots watching a Saturday morning cartoon (unsupervised, naturally) which mashes Fantastic Four superheroes with Captain Planet And The Planeteers’ cheesy voice-overs and moralizing. (Easily the best spoof here is Flame-o, who can ignite only himself.) The babies put their teething rings together to transform into their own versions of superheroes. Tommy can turn into animals; Phil is Spitball Boy, who can only shoot as long as he has spit; Lil is Dotted Line Girl, and nowhere close to invisible; and perennial killjoy Chuckie resentfully becomes Stinky, who smells as strong as two babies. The episode goes into full-on imagination mode, treating the child play with the seriousness of a life-or-death battle. Chuckie, who spends the episode dragging his feet, unexpectedly defeats the evil Angelitron with his powerful stench waves, demonstrating that even the most lackluster superhero can save the day. [CPM]


8. Greenzo, 30 Rock

Tasked with turning the hot trend of environmentalism into some cold cash, Jack Donaghy hits upon the synergistic idea of a tree-hugger superhero called “Greenzo.” But in creating Greenzo—actually an actor named Jared (played by David Schwimmer)—Jack unwittingly creates a monster, as Greenzo soon goes mad with conserved power. Hanging around the TGS offices to lecture the staff on their wastefulness, laying guilt trips on Liz for leaving her computer on all night to avoid slow reboots (“You know what else takes a long time? Building a new Earth!”), and most egregiously, railing on TV against the very corporate “fat cats” who made him, Greenzo becomes convinced that he really is Earth’s chosen protector. By the end he’s so crazed with environmental self-righteousness, he even makes Al Gore look like a crowd-pleasing alternative. [SO]


9. The Salamander, L.A. Law

Actor Julius Goldfarb (played by Jurassic Park’s Martin Ferrero) spent a single, failed season playing TV’s The Salamander, a crime-fighting lizard whose powers include a whiplash tongue and a complete lack of shame. But when a remake is readied, the show’s production team sues Goldfarb to stop him from making any more appearances in character, and it’s up to the lawyers of L.A. Law to defend him. As the trial progresses, it becomes clear that Goldfarb’s connection to The Salamander goes deeper than any actor playing a role—until at last Goldfarb strips away his suit to reveal his costume underneath, then scales “the walls of justice” to declare that he is The Salamander. Goldfarb winds up in a mental hospital, but as Ann explains to a distraught Benny at episode’s end, The Salamander lives on. [SO]


10. Fantastica and The Justice League, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Many Law & Order: SVU cases have taken some strange turns, but few as strange as the episode “Sweet Revenge.” The detectives spend the first half of the episode on the trail of a serial rapist, but their investigation goes off the rails when their prime suspect is attacked by a group of five vigilantes dressed as superheroes, calling themselves the “Justice League.” One of the vigilantes, calling herself Fantastica, is attacked by the rapist. Her colleague (with the decidedly un-heroic name Stuart) is stabbed fighting him off, and suspicion turns toward a third member of the League. In the end, it turns out Stuart himself was the rapist—he perpetrated his crimes so Fantastica would stay scared and want his protection. Stuart goes to jail, and the rest of the Justice League are presumably sued for copyright infringement. [MV]


11. Turkey Volume Guessing Man, Mystery Science Theater 3000 

Some heroes are born from tragedy, some are born from freak accidents, and some are born from watching a phenomenally stupid movie. In season eight of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the liberal use of “turkey” (twice) as an insult in the film Riding With Death led Crow T. Robot to realize his true potential as “Turkey Volume Guessing Man.” His power is the ability to take any given space and translate it to a poultry-based measurement system, guessing how many turkeys it would take to fill the room. It’s an ability he readily admits is completely useless in real life and that isolates him from the world at large, “although women are drawn to me, for my powers are fascinating.” In typical Crow fashion, his new identity cracks the minute it’s challenged, as Mike is able to guess how many turkeys would fill the Satellite Of Love and Crow throws a hissy fit in response. He eventually learns a valuable lesson about not taking turkey volume guessing too seriously—a lesson so well learned, in fact, that he never dons the costume again. [LC]


12. Pie Man, The Simpsons

When Lisa is bullied in The Simpsons episode “Simple Simpson,” Homer gets revenge via a well-timed pie to the face. So satisfying is his simple act of vigilante justice that he creates his most successful alter ego since Mr. Plow: Pie Man. Unlike most vigilantes, Pie Man is motivated less by murdered parents and more by the impish joy of shoving warm, fresh-baked justice into the face of a well-deserving target. Eventually lessons are learned, Homer hangs up his pie tin, and Springfield residents hoping for a costumed hero to save the day have to settle for refreshment at the hands of Duffman. [MV]


13. Captain Impressive, Dinosaurs

Paleontologists have yet to discover remnants of dinosaur superheroes, but if the Dinosaurs episode “Earl, Don’t Be a Hero” can be believed, there’s been at least one. After being exposed to toxic waste, Earl develops a variety of fantastic abilities, including flight, heat vision, and—per Roy—being able to guess the weight of anything within a single pound. Adopting the name Captain Impressive, Earl puts on a costume and mask and begins fighting crime, finally becoming a hero to Baby. But when Earl’s boss learns his identity, he informs him that his contract clearly states that he can only use his powers at the discretion of his company, the WESAYSO Corporation. After being turned into more of a marketing tool for the firm than an actual superhero, Earl reveals his identity to the world and then takes a long shower which washes away the toxic residue that gave him the powers, effectively ending the career of Captain Impressive. [WH]


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