The Craziest TV Show Ever Greenlit by a Television Network
The human brain -- or at least my own stupid brain -- is simply not evolutionarily equipped to deal with the Internet's intellectual riches.
Despite the fact that the Web encompasses endless resources delineating the sum of our species' knowledge, there's this vestigial, reptilian signal in my skull always screaming, "Fuck all that, you're going to listen to a Dutch child rap about homework for seven hours in a row instead."
Seriously, it's like there's this ghost Dimetrodon in my head, and he curses me with procrastination. If I'm reading something even negligibly highbrow, he'll begin barking, "Just who the hell do you think you are, Mister Marilyn vos Savant? Well, nix that book learning, Boo Radley, because you're Googling 'MARILYN VOS SAVANT' plus 'TASTEFUL NUDES' and seeing where those search-engine-optimized chips fall."
"Also, I'm not even your direct evolutionary ancestor! Eat a dick, shitty!"
But ever so rarely, that stentorian ghost Dimetrodon does me a solid. For every 432 times he commands, "I NEED YOU TO LOOK UP CONCEPT ART OF JABBA THE HUTT FOR THE NEXT 40 MINUTES FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER" ...
"YOU COULD'VE SPENT THAT TIME WISHING YOUR 90-YEAR-OLD GRANDFATHER A HAPPY BIRTHDAY. DON'T WORRY, HE'S BEEN IMMORTAL SO FAR."
... he'll uncover a single gem that makes all the procrastination worthwhile. And one of those gems, the failed 1992 TV pilot Steel Justice, was hidden in plain sight.
You see, a few days ago, that ghost Dimetrodon was using my superego as a litter box. He was demanding that I "read about Robosaurus on Wikipedia instead of paying the heating bill."
For those of you who have no idea who Robosaurus is, he's a gigantic, mechanical, fire-breathing dinosaur who hangs out at casinos and demolition derbies. Here's a photo of him at an air show, but it's more fun to imagine that he's giving the valedictory address at his own high school graduation.
"I'd like to thank my girlfriend, the football field."
Since the 1980s, Robosaurus has defended your constitutional right to watch robot facsimiles of extinct animals eat sedans. He's the 21st century lovechild of Earl Warren and Babe the Blue Ox. Watch him destroy a car and then try to not choose him as your write-in candidate for your local school board. You can't! It's impossible.
Now, tucked away in Robosaurus' Wikipedia biography was knowledge that shook me to the core. It rattled me for two reasons: A) because I've spent a goodly part of my employed existence trawling the Internet daily for arcane crap and B) well, just read this.
Yes, at some point in our reality, someone strolled up to NBC with a suitcase full of hypnosis and finagled their way into one of those fake TV shows Tina Fey is always bedeviled by on 30 Rock. We are now faced with another question: Why didn't Steel Justice run longer than Cheers?
Look, I'm not going to sugarcoat things. A television show about a dinosaur robot animated by the love of a dead child just might have some narrative problems. As with many shows lost to history, you can watch all 90-odd minutes of Steel Justice on YouTube, but here's a three-minute crash course (via Everything Is Terrible):
In a nutshell, cop-on-the-edge David Nash lives in a dystopian future, years after the "Central Asian Wars of the late 1990s." After gangsters blow up his son with a rocket launcher, Nash is haunted by a genial, undying time traveler and his deceased son's Robosaurus toy, which begins scooting of its own volition.
To help Nash clean up the streets, black Doctor Who teaches him "the Blossoming." This is a florid nickname for "Robosaurus summoning." As you can see below, a proper blow-job face is an essential component of the summoning ritual.
Emboldened by his new ability to mystically commune with a state fair attraction, Nash vows to stop being a bummer. Honestly, this amazing plot alone doesn't even get to the pith of Steel Justice's amazingness. Here are four big reasons why it's possibly the most bizarre show ever broadcast.
Steel Justice Did an Awful Job Pimping Robosaurus
For years, networks eager to capitalize on fads have jury-rigged entire television programs out of plotless pop culture ephemera (see: shows based on those Geico cavemen commercials, FreeInternet.com ads, and Rubik's Cube). None of these shows were great, but they also didn't rain turds all over their source materials.
For example, the viewer is promised "110 minutes of fun," not "110 minutes of Rubik's Cube-themed vasectomy bloopers."
That's not the case here. Steel Justice was a star vehicle for Robosaurus. Save a throwaway ecological message about the 21st century being a hellhole because of fluorocarbons, the underlying message of Steel Justice is "Buy a thrillion tickets to Monster Jam Nineteen-Ninety-Skidoo."
And how does Steel Justice preach the gospel of Robosaurus? By constantly mentioning him in the same breath AS A DEAD KID.
SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY!
Seriously, Nash's son has all of two character traits: he's dead and he freaking loves Robosaurus. There's even unapologetic product placement for Robosaurus seconds before the poor tyke explodes. It's not unlike if every Golden Crisp ad opened with Sugar Bear losing a leg to diabetes -- that's not a commercial, that's a whisper campaign by Big Muesli.
It's baffling, this impulse to market all-ages motorsport shows using soul-crushing tragedy. Normally they just hire Sergeant Slaughter and a bunch of pit babes who got goofy on Armor All fumes.
The Show Immediately Wrote Itself into a Corner
To make matters worse, it's unclear how Steel Justice was supposed to succeed as Robosaurus propaganda in the long haul. In theory, the showrunners should've been trying to cram as much Robosaurus as possible into every frame to remind viewers, "Yo, this is a show about a paleontologically unsound beast that eats Saabs, not Andy Rooney complaining about the nitrogen cycle on 60 Minutes."
But in practice, that's kind of impossible. Assuming NBC turned Steel Justice into an hour-long drama, Robosaurus could only feasibly show up no more than twice an episode before the thrill wore off.
Now, I love Robosaurus more than my second cousins -- no offense, guys! -- but let's be honest. His dramatic range is limited. There wouldn't have been an episode in which Robosaurus does not eat a car. It's his shtick. He wouldn't suddenly stop chewing a Plymouth Reliant to, like, have a rap session with Generation X about safe sex.
"And next up, I'll demonstrate the application of a dental dam -- hey, where y'all going?"
The Network Fucking Gave Up on Steel Justice
Perhaps the best part of Steel Justice is that -- between the filming and airing of the pilot -- some bigwigs at NBC realized that the entire damn show had already careened into a tarantula-filled oubliette.
In what can only be interpreted as NBC's attempt to dissuade everybody from watching it, the network's ads for Steel Justice completely hid the fact that the show is about Robosaurus. Just watch below.
Yup, in the Steel Justice TV spot, the five-minute subplot about David Nash's lonely neighbor somehow becomes the centerpiece of the entire show. No Robosaurus, no homeless Highlander -- just your standard sci-fi thriller about a depressed cop who harbors halfhearted aspirations to bang the lady across the hall.
So yeah, this teaser was generic to the point of incomprehensibility. Was NBC hoping that viewers would mistake Steel Justice for the 1987 Rambo ripoff Steele Justice? It's a plausible theory, given that the plot of the Robosaurus-less ad amounted to "people conversing in low light conditions."
"Is this a show about a rust belt law firm or cyborg public defenders? We won't tell you unless you watch it."
Nobody's Talking About Steel Justice
Maybe the most surprising aspect of Steel Justice is that it's been consigned to the dustbin of history for 20 years. There's scant evidence on the Internet that the show even existed. This is surprising, as it could be the most aggressively inept television show ever to grace a Big Three network.
And this is saying a lot, as there's always Cracked hall-of-famer Cop Rock, ABC's 1990 musical police series in which a young Sheryl Crow sang brassy arena rock anthems about arresting sex offenders.
Was Steel Justice commissioned by insane people? Was the pitch to the network a sandwich board that read "MY MOTHER THE CAR + BLADE RUNNER?" Did NBC greenlight Steel Justice the day they transformed their conference room into a birthday bouncy castle and all the execs suffered life-threatening concussions from smashing their skulls on an airborne mahogany table?
"Norbody fall ashleep, we gorta approof shum shurrrs."
Rather than guess why NBC aired a drama about a 40-foot-tall prehistoric reptile robot possessed by the ghost of a child executed in a gangland slaying, drop us a line. If you were in any way responsible for the creation (or scuttling) of Steel Justice, we want to know. It's 21 years later, and the world deserves the truth. If your story is good enough, there might just be an unofficial oral history of Steel Justice to vindicate your unfathomable decisions.
By all means, take your time. Ghost Dimetrodon just informed me that there's a baby bunny in a slipper on YouTube. This shit's going to require weeks of exegesis!
You can find Cyriaque Lamar on Twitter.