Having done Worst Episode Ever for the better part of a decade, I have come to realise one unassailable truth: If a cartoon has an episode about a circus, it sucks on toast.
We’ve seen (well, I’ve seen, hopefully none of you have ever watched this garbage) the circus roll into GoBots and Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors and take these already terrible animated series to unimaginable lows, and I’m sure there’ll be more examples as time goes by. For now, though, let’s talk about He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’s reprehensible “The Greatest Show on Eternia.”
I’ve been on the record as being a huge He-Man fan on several occasions, because of the wide assortment of characters and action figures. But watching “The Greatest Show on Eternia” is so bad, so offensive to me as a pitiful 40-something He-Man fan, it makes me wonder why I never threw my toys away in disgust and moved onto something better and more nuanced, like Yogi Bear’s Treasure Hunt.
You see, the plot of this episode of He-Man is purely about Skeletor trying to see the circus.
There’s a terrible subplot about the good-hearted, mercilessly incompetent wizard Orko, which we don’t need to get into because it’s all about him wanting to be a circus performer but not wanting to put any work into it. Instead, we need to dial in on Skeletor first, because his “story arc” begins when his right-hand sorceress Evil-Lyn informs him the circus has declined Skeletor’s invitation to perform at Snake Mountain. Yes, Skeletor — a dark wizard/half-demon being who has all the flesh and organic matter forcibly removed from his skull, a villain who literally sits on a throne main of bones — has tried to legitimately book a circus.
The circus, knowing they’d only be playing to an audience of about eight of the planet’s biggest villains, decided to pass. Therefore, Skeletor’s evil plan for the episode is to send his henchmen to sabotage the circus, and when He-Man invariably shuts that down, wrest control of the circus and force its stars to perform solely for him. As a bad guy who normally spends his time trying to take over the planet Eternia or seize control of the immense, mystical power lying inside the ancient Castle Grayskull, this is shockingly pathetic, especially because he has no tricks or schemes here — he just really wants to see the circus. Although god knows why, because the circus is made up entirely of a couple of trapeze artists, a three-trunked elephant, and this guy…
Crackers the Clown.
Crackers owns the circus. Another interesting thing about him is that he’s an abomination — a man(?) whose face and neck are like a Clive Barker body-horror entity gone too far. Given that Masters of the Universe is home to not one but two heroes who can unnaturally extend their necks, the fact that Crackers still manages to look so monstrous is actually impressive. His voice, which is a direct imitation of Mickey Mouse’s high-pitched cheerfulness, completes the abomination. The fact that a mechanical bird seems to spring out of his crotch is the horrific cherry on top.
When his henchmen invariably fail, Skeletor’s new plan is as follows: He creates a small tent. Crackers, curious about said tent even though it has a giant skull on top, is intrigued enough to enter. Skeletor magically hurls the Crackers-stuffed tent a few dozen miles away and announces he’s taken control of the circus. It’s a nonsense plan that manages to work for two reasons: 1) He-Man has to go away to rescue Crackers, and 2) none of the other heroes at the circus try to stop Skeletor in any way. No one protests his usurpation of the show. No one attempts to wrest back control. When peasants arrive hoping to see the circus, the heroes basically shrug. Eventually He-Man and Crackers return, and here’s where things get stupid.
For no reason whatsoever, He-Man and Skeletor silently, inexplicably agree to climb up to the trapezes to have their battle. This is especially strange for Skeletor who immediately reveals that he has no acrobatic ability whatsoever and falls almost instantly. There’s really no way mere words can convey how pathetic and humiliating what comes next is, but I think you’ll get the gist with the following images:
Yep. Oh, and the reason Skeletor runs from the main circus tent into a room filled with fireworks is because he sees disgruntled peasants at the main entrance and starts looking for a safer way out. “Better not go that way. That crowd will be pretty angry with me!” says Skeletor, the most powerful and evil wizard on the planet. “Ahh, that must be a secret exit!” says Eternia’s most tremendous and cunning villain, apparently believing circuses have secret exits. “I’ll go out that way!” he exclaims before walking into a darkened room filled with fireworks.
Look. I grew up with the Masters of the Universe cartoon and loved it unequivocally, but even when I was an eight-year-old I knew it was kind of ridiculous. When I was older, I realised that at no point did any of the muscle-bound, heavily armed, action heroes ever physically punch, kick, or harm any other living being in the entirety of the series. Still, I had my nostalgia for the cartoon and love of the toys to buoy my fandom through the decades.
But holy shit was this bad. It’s so bad I don’t know if I can look my Skeletor figure in the eyeholes anymore. It’s so bad I finally feel ashamed to be a Masters of the Universe fan, something I arguably should have felt since this episode aired more than 35 years ago. This is the first time a Worst Episode Ever has left me genuinely sad. But that’s what happens when the circus rolls into your favourite cartoon, I guess.
- The full episode is above if you want to watch it, which I highly do not recommend. But if you’d like to have just a taste of its crappiness, just listen to the first 15 seconds of music after the intro. It pretty much sums the episode up.
- When He-Man shows up to stop Skeletor’s henchmen’s scheme, Evil-Lyn magically creates a cage around the hero. He-Man breaks this in maybe less than a second. Given that immense strength is basically He-Man’s whole thing, she might as well have made the cage out of crepe paper. It’s really dumb.
- When Orko declared he wanted to join the circus, I wanted to scream, “PLEASE, GOD, YES.” I imagine I screamed the same thing in 1985.
- The moral of the episode is, unsurprisingly, that if you want to get good at something you have to work at it. You know, instead of instantly receiving fabulous secret powers when you lift a sword above your head. It’s kind of a mixed message.