PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

The RFC Flashback: MINI SHOW number 43

This week we zip back to December, 2014 for an RFC MINI SHOW featuring the acoustic Blues mastery of Raymond Wallace, presented in glorious black-and-white. Raymond has been a fixture on Charleston’s music scene for decades and is a longtime friend of Radio Free Charleston’s host and producer, and your PopCulteer, Rudy Panucci.

Wallace first appeared on the fourth episode of Radio Free Charleston back in 2006, and it’s always a treat to hear this man perform. This week we present three songs by Raymond, recorded at The Third Eye Cabaret at Fireside Bar and Grille, located above Little India Restaurant in Charleston. Big thanks to Eric Meadows for the audio mix.

New Local Music and Book News

The PopCulteer
January 22, 2021

We have two great local projects to tell you about today, and the first is the eponymous debut album from Unmanned, an all-female trio of Charleston music veterans who describe themslves as “3 gals from Charleston, WV jamming some rockabilly surf punk.”

All three members, Pepper, Katie Ann and Misty, have appeared on the Radio Free Charleston video show before, but not together, and it’s really cool to have a new album to play on RFC’s radio program next week.

Friday night at 9:30 PM, Unmanned will go live on Facebook with Maiden Voyage, a free streaming album-release concert, with plenty of extras and surprises planned.

I have been a huge fan of all three of these talented musicians, and it’s going to be a joy to hear them making music together.

Visit their Facebook page and the event page for more details, and head to their Bandcamp page (and some other streaming services) to download the full album.

Probing Alienation

Next up with turn to the literary world with the debut novel from an acclaimed West Virginia filmmaker.

Inalienable: An Alien Abduction in Pre-Civil Rights Appalachia
written by Lisa Tignor
ISBN: 9798594035676
Retail Price: $12.99

This is not a review, since I haven’t got my hands on a copy of this book yet, but consider this a heads up that a friend of PopCult has a new project out (and please excuse the joke headline).

Longtime PopCult readers may remember Lisa from her film, Finding Big Pink, which I wrote about back in 2018. Her debut novel is the result of having newfound down time due to the COVID pandemic shutting down production of her next movie.

Allow me to borrow copiously from the press release…

Inalienable: An Alien Abduction in Pre-Civil Rights Appalachia is a book ostensibly about alien abduction, which, when you dig deeper, is also about racism and social change.

The story takes place in 1961 in very rural Appalachia. A mixed-race couple moves to the area so Calvin can work as an educator and social activist. They experience an abduction, which he wants to put behind them, but his wife, Rose, wants to do more research and get to the bottom of it. After four years of research and therapy, they finally come to terms with what happened to them.

Lisa Tignor is an award-winning filmmaker, writer, and tv host who has toured with a British rock band, been jumped on by secret service, visited 30 states, been banned from Israel (according to a letter from the Embassy after writing a letter on behalf of a political prisoner.) and made a disciple of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi lose his cool. Also, in the early 90s she tried to convince Bob Woodward to tell her who “DeepThroat” was. She fears leaving behind a boring obituary.

I don’t think Lisa has anything to worry about on that front.

You can order Inalienable: An Alien Abduction in Pre-Civil Rights Appalachia from Amazon now, or contact Lisa directly at writerlatignor@gmail.com to purchase it directly from the author.

Radio Notes

You may have noticed that your PopCulteer did not deliver a promised episode of Radio Free Charleston Thursday.

The truth is, while I am still slightly under the weather and my voice is a bit shot, I also was distracted Wednesday by one of the most wonderful things thatI have ever witnessed in my lifetime: The end of a corrupt, inept and downright evil regime that nearly destroyed our country…and that was not for lack of trying.

So while I was honestly raspy and unpleasant to listen to, I was also too damned happy to do anything resembling work.

So next week I’ll deliver all-new episodes of my programs on The AIR, and I’ll try to get my fellow hosts to crank out new material too, to make up for this week of repeats.

Meanwhile, keep checking back with PopCult as we bring you all of our regular feature and ramp up the book, comics, music and toy reviews.

BEASTS, ALIENS, MECHS!

The PopCult Toybox

It’s rare these days that a major toy company releases an action figure line that is “original equity.” That means that it’s a toy that is not based on an existing entertainment property from a movie, TV show, videogame or comic book.

It used to be the industry norm, back in the days when we got such imaginative toys as the original GI Joe, Major Matt Mason, Johnny West and other original, non-licensed creations. Toy companies would use entire concepts developed by their in-house designers, or snap up something from a freelance firm like Marvin Glass Associates, and releae them without a media tie-in.

That practice fell by the wayside in the 1970s, when Kenner’s Six Million Dollar Man and Star Wars toys dominated alongside MEGO’s World’s Greatest Superheroes action figure lines. Since then the vast majority of toys have to have some kind of media tie-in in order for a major toy company to invest in bringing it to retail shelves.

That’s why it was a shock for me to find a new toy line from Jakks Pacific last fall that had no media link at all. BAM! (which stands for Beasts, Aliens, Mechs) turned up at Big Lots and Walgreens, and was soon available online from retailers like Amazon and Big Bad Toy Store. I’m sure this line will turn up in other stores soon, but if you want them now, Amazon has them all in stock. I think it was in November that I first saw them.

I was neck-deep in compiling The 2020 PopCult Gift Guide at the time, and just recently got my hands on a couple of  the figures to review.

Thus,  that’s where this post came from.

It’s a simple line with only three figures. Saber-Jaws, a werewolf type guy, JX-101, a robot (or “Mech”) and Kronax, an alien.

The figures stand a bit over 11″ tall, and cost about ten bucks each. What I love about these is the description on the back of the box…

Beasts, Aliens and Mechs, the most powerful warriors in the universe! Their epic battles will shape Earth’s future. Are they heroes or villains?

YOU DECIDE!

This is an action figure line that actually encourages kids to use their imaginations and play with them however they see fit! This is so refreshing!

When I was a kid, I was a stickler for scale, but not for continuity. My GI Joe went on adventures with Johnny West and Captain Action, but my Major Matt Mason hung out with my Zeroid, Gumby and Pokey and the weird bendy Batman and Robin I had that smelled really funny.

These toys are clearly aimed at the kids who are playing with the Marvel Titan Heroes 12″ figures, as well as the new Spin Master 12″ DC figures and similar-sized figures for HALO and Power Rangers. They can be good guys or bad guys.

As for the figures themselves, I have to admit to giving a pass to Saber Jaws. He was the first one I saw in person and I was not terribly impressed. I may warm up to him at some point, but a humanoid animal is just not going to punch my buttons the way an alien or robot will.

The design on all three figures is a bit angular, but that’s really only a negative with Saber-Jaws, who with the addition of bat-wings could pass for a Man-Bat figure from the 12″ Justice League Action line that Mattel released a few years ago.

The figures all seem to offer eleven points of articulation, at the knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, wrists and neck. Some of the range of motion is limited by the sculpts, but they’re very playable toys. Each figure has a weird bend in their lower legs, but they still balance fairly well when posed.

There are no accessries included, and their hands are rigid plastic and are not designed for gripping.

Paint ops are scant, but very well-executed. The figures have four-to-six painted details each.

With Kronax and JX-101 in hand, I took some photos and offer a more-detailed review…

Kronax is “King of the Bounty Hunters…chosen to hunt and defeat the deadliest legends in the universe or risk losing his crown!”

Kronax in the package
Kronax has decent balance and a fair amount of posability. He may be doing a comedy routine in this shot.
Close up you can see the detailed sculpt, and notice that he looks like a Predator with an Alien head.
Here is Kronax unboxed, in all his glory.

Kronax is basically like a Predator, only with a head more like H.R. Giger’s Alien.  It’s a very cool figure with a detailed sculpt. His body sports a fabric-like texture, with armor plates over it. His exposed hands and feet have claws and talons.

The photo of the prototype on the back of the box shows Kronax molded in bright green, with vac-metalized purple armor. The actual toy sees the body molded in more of a dull gray-green, with non-metallic purple used on the armor. The more subdued color scheme actually looks a bit cooler.

JX-101, “Created by the Military to protect and serve until it became self-aware and escaped. Now it seeks to create an Army of Machine Warriors in its image!”

JX-101 fresh out of the box, still attached to the backing card.
He can turn his head and pose pretty well.
Not at all bad for ten bucks. You could put him with 1/18 scale figures and use him as a Kaiju-fighter.

The description makes him sound like a bad guy, but JX-101’s color scheme is straight out of the hero design book. He is predominantly blue, with silver/gray, red and yellow highlights. The colors match the prototype on the back of the box.

This figure looks pretty cool and balances well. One hand is formed into a fist, while the other is open.

These are pretty cool toys. Unless a kid is hung-up on keeping their toys brand-exclusive, I can see these being a big hit. They can be the nemesis or a sidekick to their other toys.

Customizers and kitbashers looking for fodder for projects should consider these guys, who could work as-is, or they could be customized into something more specific. The plus is that these are not instantly recognizable since they aren’t licensed properties. They’re also cheap enough to buy in bulk without breaking the bank.

As I mentioned earlier, the articulation is better than average for cheap large-scale figures, and the figures balance pretty well. The figures are compatible, size-wise, with 1/6 scale figures, but do not tower over them.

Kronax and JX-101 posed with a 12″ GI Joe, so you can compare the height.

Pros: Price (ten bucks a pop); size (1/6 scale); articulation; and a coolness factor that transcends their generic and derivitive qualities. Lots of potential for customization.

Cons: Limitations to their range of movement; angular design which may put off some folks; very small heads in relation to their bodies; lack of gripping hands; no accessories.

Overall, BAM! looks like a cool, fun experiment from a toy company that is struggling to find a new hit. Oddly enough, these do not appear on the Jakks Pacific website, which may indicate a lack of faith in the concept.

It’s a shame, because somebody could come along and decide to develop a comic book or web-series based on BAM!, and then Jakks would control the licensing. I hope I’m wrong and Jakks decides to expand the line, or at least market it more aggressively.

BAM! is a pretty cool toy line. If you’re interested, you might want to move fast. Although it has plenty of potential, this line may not be long for this world.

He’s Fired!

Our national experiment of turning over the reigns of our government to a toxic narcissist who was actually never a sucessful businessman, but only played one on TV, is over.

The man who went bankrupt owning a casino is finally out of power after spending four years dividing our country and driving down our standing in the world. No single human has done more harm to the people and institutions of the United States of American than this abject failure of a president.

His effect on pop culture was, like his leadership, toxic and negative, but we should try to learn from this debacle so that we don’t make this mistake again.

The last four years have taught us that about a fourth of this country is gleefully and willingly misinformed. They choose to believe poorly-crafted, anti-democracy propaganda rather than the truth. Instead of seeking escapism in books, movies or music, they choose to live in an alternate reality where they’re always right, and the real world is evil and bad.

This is the result of two intertwined crisises facing the United States: Education and Mental Health.

We need to reform our educational system so that kids graduate high school with basic comprehension skills that will allow them to see past the BS and distractions that slick con men will throw their way. Kids need to be taught science, civics and ethics and analytical thought so that we never find ourselves in a mess like this again.

We also need to create some kind of Marshall Plan type program to destigmatize and treat mental illness. Clearly, a significant chunk of this country has a serious cognitive disorder and can’t properly discern reality. We need to make resources available so that these folks can be helped to deal with their mental issues.

The former president’s followers, in large part, don’t yet realize that they were tricked into hating American ideals and Democracy. Those armed lemmings who stormed the Capitol two weeks ago were brainwashed into thinking that what they were doing was justified.

For over thirty years people have had poison pumped into their brains by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and their ilk. Those ministers of disinformation have done far more damage to society than any rap or heavy metal album, or any slasher movie ever have. They have radicalized a couple of generations of white supremecists.

It’s going to be a huge challenge to reach these people and snap them back to reality.

Mark Twain said, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled.”

Deprogramming is a controversial topic, but we need to find some ethical and effective way to convince the cult-like followers of the former president to give up their deranged worldviews and rejoin mainstream society. We need some kind of national intervention. At the very least this country needs a strong lesson in accountability and consequences.

But today is all about looking forward to a brighter new future. We will be able to wake up, log into Twitter, and not see that all the trending topics are about the outrageous actions or words of one demented lunatic.

News programming will no longer dominate the television ratings. We’ll never have to hear about Scott Baio or Jon Voight again. Villifying education and scientists and doctors will be seen as destructive behavior, not “telling it like it is.”

It is my fervant hope that, with sane, intelligent and honest leadership in place, our country can get this pandemic under control, and we can look forward to a new normal that doesn’t resemble the last four years of chaos and incompetence that the curse of the last president visited upon this country.

Our incoming president will put this country back on the right track. His job won’t be easy. No president, with the possible exception of FDR, has ever inherited a bigger mess. But I believe that President Biden is up for the job. At the very least, he won’t be a daily embarrassment, like his predecessor. For the first time in my lifetime, the presidential agenda is going to be damage control.

I’m tried of living in interesting times. I crave boredom now. I’ll still find cool stuff to tell you about. I always do. Today is a day that all intelligent, sane Americans can finally exhale and breathe a sigh of relief that most of us survived the last four years of celebrated idiocy.

SMASH! Is An Absolute Treat!

The PopCult Comix Bookshelf

SMASH!
written and drawn by various creators
Rebellion/Treasury of British Comics
$6.99

SMASH! is a one-shot anthology comic featuring a mixture of new and veteran talents reviving eight long-dormant British comic book concepts in seven short stories.

This book is right in my wheelhouse as an anglophile who loves short-form stories and revivals of obscure characters.

The stories range from six to ten pages, and there’s not a bad one in the batch.

I was not familiar with any of these characters, but each story is preceded by a page with a quick history of the character to bring you up to speed. The concepts are straight out of the same mid-1960s primoridal ooze that gave us The Prisoner, Captain Scarlett, Thunderbirds and the original Doctor Who. With a mix of science fiction, the occult, anti-heroes, super-evolved cavemen and a giant robot gorilla, this cmic book is sequential art heaven for me.

More than anything else, SMASH! reminded me of the pure Brit-feuled comics-loving joy that I first experience nearly forty years ago when I found the first issue of Warrior Magazine at Comic World (then in Nitro).

This is all-new stuff to me, but each concept has a rich backstory, and makes me very likely to seek out the reprints of the original stories of these characters that Rebellion/Treasury of British Comics has been publishing of late.

SMASH! was originally solicited early last year and was to have been published in May, but the pandemic, combined with crossing the Atlantic meant that I didn’t get my copy (ordered from Westfield Comics as a gamble) until December. I didn’t have time to read it until a week ago.

Sometimes with a gamble, you hit the jackpot.

This book is packed with greatness.

The Spider written by Rob Williams and John McCrea revives “The World’s Greatest Super-Villain,” The Spider, who is so super-intelligent and smart, but also so vain, that he has been known to turn on his criminal allies and actually help put them away. This story explains where he’s been for the last few decades, and leaves everything wide open for a full-blown revival.

Thunderbolt the Avenger by Helen O’Hara and Valentina Pinti serves as an origin story for the new person who has taken on the mantle of the original Thunderbolt, who gains superpowers for two hours at a time thanks to a special wristwatch. This is a straight-up superhero adventure.

Johnny Future by  Anita Break and Tom Raney continues the adventures of a “missing link” who was discovered, on an expedition, then brought back to the UK where an accident caused him to super-evolve into a man from the future with all sorts of super-abilities. This story finds him in suspended animation to prevent him from evolving to the point where he accidentally destroys the Earth.

The Steel Claw by Charlie Higson and Charlie Adlard (Adlard being the artist most associated with The Walking Dead), is set on December, 31st, 1999, and tells a lost adventure of The Steel Claw, a British super-spy who, due to an electrical accident, has gained the ability to turn invisible, with only his prosthetic hand remaining visible.

In this story he has to deal with a Millenium plot to assassinate the Queen. Mick Hucknall is involved. Elton John also shows up, but not really.

Mytek the Mighty by Suyi Davies Okungbowa and Anand Radhakrishman bring us up to date on Mytek, a giant Robot Gorilla created to bring peace to a region of Africa. Mytek was stolen by a dwarf named Gogra, but was later recovered, and did battle with a series of other giant robots under the control of Gogra. In this story, the long-missing Mytek is discovered, and appropriated by a billionaire with unknown intentions.

Cursitor Doom/Jason Hyde by Maura McHugh and Andreas Butzbach unites two classic paranormal investigators in one cute and amusing story.

House of Dolman by Simon Furman (Transformers) and Chris Weston (Judge Dredd, Enemy Ace, The Twelve) is the shortest story in the book, but also my favorite.  Dolman is a wheelchair-bound eccentric inventor/ventriloquist who has created a team of animatronic puppets, each of whom he provides with a unique personality and voice.

Naturally, they fight crime while he controls them remotely. My description does not do justice to how much fun this story is.

Every story in this book left me wanting more. I would love to see this anthology continue, with the same creative teams. After decades of decompressed storytelling afflicting the comics industry, it’s an absolute treat to read top-quality comics that give you a fully-realized plot in six to ten pages. This is what good comics should do.

SMASH! might still be available from hipper comic book shops, or online dealers, or you can order it directly from the publisher.

Tuesday Radio Notes

The AIR is going to be in rerun mode Tuesday.  Your PopCulteer has been a little under the weather (It’s not the ‘rona, don’t worry) and didn’t feel like finishing this week’s Radio Free Charleston, or recording a new episode of The Swing Shift.

You can listen at The AIR website, or on this embedded radio player…

So we’ll be bringing you high-quality encores all day Tuesday. However, I do have an RFC in progress, and I plan to finish it up and debut it Thursday at 3 PM. The Swing Shift will return with a new episode next Tuesday.

Luckily, our repeats are better than everybody else’s new shows, so tune in at The AIR website, or on the embedded player  to hear our high-quality independent internet radio all the damned day long!

To make up a little for the reruns, check PopCult later Tuesday afternoon for a review of a really cool comic book, plus a surprise or two.

Special note: PopCult may disapper from this location at The Charleston Gazette-Mail soon. Don’t miss out on our new posts at our NEW HOME. Bookmark the new site, and subscribe to our RSS feed. You can also follow PopCult and Rudy Panucci on social media at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Monday Morning Art: Lana Clarkson

This week’s art is a quick mixed media piece I did Sunday afternoon/evening. It’s a portrait of Lana Clarkson (based on photos from the internet), an actress who starred in a few genre movies in the 1980s, and had a loyal cadre of fans. She was a fixture on the convention circuit, and by all accounts was a friendly, outgoing and upbeat person. Sadly, she is most famous for being murdered by a former record producer, who was sentenced to life in prison for shooting her in the head. That happened back in 2003.

The news broke Sunday morning that her murderer had died in a hospital a month after contracting COVID in prison. Rather than mention him here by name, I chose to celebrate the life of his victim.

This is mixed media on watercolor paper, about six inches high.

If you want to see it bigger, just click on the image.

Meanwhile, Monday at 9 AM on The AIR, we bring you six episodes of Nigel Pye’s Psychedelic Shack. Nigel alternates weeks with NOISE BRIGADE, our Ska/Punk showcase.  Then you can tune into an encore of a recent episode of  Prognosis at 3 PM. This week Herman Linte brings us a salute t Robert Fripp.

You can listen to The AIR at the website, or on the embedded radio player at the top of the right-hand column of this blog.

Above you see the first installment of Spider-man’s adventures on the 1970s children’s educational show from PBS, The Electric Company.  Three years before his first live-action, primetime series, Spider-man appeared as a regular character on The Electric Company, starting with the show’s fourth season.

The Electric Company was a production of The Children’s Television Workshop, who introduced the show after the success of their first project, Sesame Street. The Electric Company was a half-hour show targeted at older kids, and focused on English and Grammer, without covering Math and other subjects like its predecessor.  It also featured a cast of notable perfomers who would go on to greater fame, like Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno and Irene Cara.  Animated segments featured mostly uncredited voice work by Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Joan Rivers and many others, and before they brought in Spider-man, the show worked out a deal to include new animated segments of The Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, directed by Chuck Jones.

As with Sesame Street before it, The Electric Company attracted a large adult viewership, and when they signed a deal with Marvel Comics to include Spider-man, it was proof that Marvel had fully crossed over into the mainstream.  The first season of Sesame Street included animated segments starring Superman and Batman, but five years later, Spider-man was big enough to be considered a hipper, newer superhero to help trick kids into learning.

Spider-man appeared in 29 full-blown segments (plus a few cameo appearances) over the course of three seasons of The Electric Company, and Marvel published a kid-friendly companion comic until 1982.  It took many years before Spider-man finally made it to the Big Screen, but prior to his primetime TV show, he had already worked his way into the hearts and mnds of America’s kids.

Because of rights issues, only handful of these have been officially released commercially, but some of them do turn up on the the Shout Factory releases of The Electric Company. You can probably find all of them tucked away in various corners of YouTube.

Here are a couple of other installments. They have a certain charm, with Spider-man speaking only in word balloons, to encourage reading, and short, simple stories.

The RFC Flashback: Episode 204

This week we go back to November, 2014, for a loaded full-length episode of Radio Free Charleson.

This week Radio Free Charleston presented music from Anthony HoeyDiablo Blues Band and The Company Stores, plus Third MInd Incarnation and Frank Panucci animation from the RFC vault and more.

This show was called  “Hellblinki Doll Head Shirt.” and you can read the full production notes HERE.

Imitation Potatoes

Cheesy Toy Knockoffs

Way back in the 1990s, your PopCulteer wrote a monthly action figure column for Toy Trader Magazine. In Facts on Figures, I covered the action figure world, and as an adjunct, I would do a sidebar each month called Cheesy Knockoff of the Month, where I would find a cheesy knockoff and sarcastically rip it to shreds.

I have occasionally revisted the idea here in PopCult, even though there are more than a dozen websites that do the same thing on a daily basis now. It’s fun to get out the hatchet and have at some poor unsuspecting delightfully awful imitation toy.

Today we’re going to look at Best Food Friends, a product, which I believe no longer being produced, by PlayMind Ltd, a Chinese company who’s range of toys is sold at TJ Maxx and several online catalog. My favorite toy that they make is “Licensed Car Collection,” which is, of course, not licensed.

But today we are going to look at their product line that bears more than a passing resemblence to Hasbro’s classic, Mr. Potato Head.

A quick bit of history may be in order. Originally released in 1952, the first version of Mr. Potato Head was just a collection of facial and body parts that kids would attach to a real potato. The first toy advertised on TV, Mr. Potato Head was an instant hit.

In 1964, spurred by the pointy pieces not being safe and parents complaining of their kids playing with rotting food, Hasbro rounded the edges of pieces, and supplied a plastic tuber for Potato-eaded hijinks.

This was the Mr. Potato Head that I grew up with, and his universe expanded to include Mrs. Potato Head, plus assorted plastic veggie and fruit friend like Oranges, Peppers, Cucumbers, Carrots and more. The cool thng was that you could interchange all the eyes, mouths and other features, and if you wanted to, you could create a Picasso-esque portait with unconventional eye alignments and such.

However, the parts of Mr. Potato Head were still too small for the tightening toy safety regulations, so in 1975 Mr. Potato Head was redesigned once again, and took the form that most folks know today, where you can store the pieces inside his potato body, and most folks just try to make him look like he does in the Toy Story movies.

When Hasbro redesigned Mr. Potato Head in 1975, all of his non-potato buddies disappeared.

Mr. Potato Head was no longer hanging out with his old gang.

Mr. Potato Head is, to this day, a top-selling toy icon, and it’s been decades since Hasbro has made any non-spudly friends for him, so PlayMind decided to fill the gap.

That’s where the Best Food Friends come into play. I found these in an online store, Lakeside, and it appears that they are no longer being made, but probably didn’t sell too well to begin with, so they have plenty left in stock.

The BFFs are sold in plain white boxes with only a barcode and manufacturer information.

I don’t know if these were ever sold in brick-and-mortar stores in regular retail packaging, but the white boxes add a cheesy charm to the concept.

The figures are stylistically similar to the post-1975 Mr. Potato Head.

There are three figures, with somewhat odd names. “Violetino” is an eggplant, with male attributes and his accessories are a tie and a tablet. “Beauty Belle” is a feminine red bell pepper, with blonde hair in pigtails, a giant lollipop, and she comes with a pepper stem that can take the place of her hair. Lastly we have a floret of broccoli with the confusing name, “Mrs. Afro.” Mrs. Afro seems to be an older character who comes with glasses, a butterfly for her hair and a shopping bag. She also has no nose, or even a place for one.

Right off the bat, all three figures are smaller than Mr. Potato Head by an inch or two. None of them have a place in their body to store extra pieces, and while the paper insert (printed in color on one side) says that they have compatible parts with each other, that is not entirely true.

In some cases, the parts don’t seem compatible with the figure that they accompany.

Ears don’t like to go in all the way, and on two of them, neither do the arms. The arms are not bendable, but they can hold their accessories.

Then there’s the mystery of the missing Best Food Friend. We’ll get to him in a moment, but let’s look at the figures themselves first…

Violetino, who should be called “Mr. Eggplant Head,” looks the most like his potato-y inspiration. He only comes with one of each of his facial features, so his play value is somewhat limited if you only get the single figure.

Violetino, mostly unassembled.
He looks a bit like Mormon Missionary version of Mr. Potato Head

His ears and arms don’t fit well, but at least he can stand on his own. He comes with a tablet, which raises a question we’ll look at later.

There are other weird quirks with Violetino (including that name) but the strangest is that his collar and necktie mount behind his mouth.

Next up we have Beauty Belle, who, in spite of her name, appears to be a little girl character. True to form for a cheesy knockoff, my Beauty Belle came with two right ears. Her giant removable hair piece is so heavy that she can’t stand up well on her own. Also, her parts just don’t fit well at all.

True Story: After the photo shoot, I was unable to get all the parts to fit back in the box.
I know, what’s the deal with the yellow lips? Note how poorly the parts fit, too.

She’s a bit of a cool throwback to Mr. Potato Head’s pal, Pete the Pepper, but again, if she’s the only figure you get, you’re stuck with her in one basic mode.

Then we have Mrs. Afro. I suppose she took her name from the fact that her broccoli floret hair does look a bit like an afro hairstyle, but I think it’s safe to assume that this character was named by somebody for whom English is not their native language.

You get the impression that more time was spent on concept than execution
I don’t know why they went with a butterfly instead of a nose, but it made for a cool lighting effect.

You can trade her parts out with the other figures in the line, but they just don’t look right. Peppers don’t have florets you know.

I did do a little mixing up of the parts. The Pepper works better as a dude. The Egglant looks wrong with blond pigtails.

Lastly, we have to address the missing fourth Best Food Friend. He’s not shown on the instruction sheet, but if you look at Violetino’s tablet, you will see a tiny drawing of Larry The Leek. He looks like the coolest of the bunch and has a ball cap and a basketball. And he’s winking! I mean, how cool is that?

Where the hell is Larry? Also, there is no such thing as 14:30 PM, dammit!

Though his name may sound like an incontinent character from “Guys and Dolls,” Larry The Leek is actually an interesting non-existent addition to the ranks. He would provide an additional set of male face pieces, and would allow for these toys to be used to reenact “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe.”

I mean, isn’t that what everybody does with Mr. Potato Head?

But he’s not here. Could it be that, on the slow boat from China, during that long and grueling trip, that the Best Food Friends had a Donner Party moment, and reduced their ranks by one friend?

The world may never know.