Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Gargoyles”
Okay, we’re doing something a little different with this week’s installment. First off, we’re two days late. (Sorry about that! Change in work schedule = bad thing. Will prepare better in the future.) Second off, because I want to make sure that this gets done, this time I’ll attempt something entirely new.
Using the best application ever, I’m going to attempt writing the bulk of this week’s installment in a half hour, without Wikipedia, without video, without references of any type — just me, my time-damaged memory, and 30 minutes to write 1000 words. This will probably go badly.
So let’s talk about Gargoyles!
The 1994-1995 series Gargoyles, Frank, was the show that taught me how rewarding being a fan could be, as well as how much can be done with half an hour animated installments — provided that Disney isn’t paying too much attention to the fact that you’re packing a children’s weekday afternoon show with Shakespeare references. Gargoyles, to be clear, was the most awesome TV series I watched before I started watching The X-Files. And looking back, I think Gargoyles holds up better.
Here’s the basic deal: A thousand years ago, during the Dark Ages, there was this poky little castle in England with a bitchy Princess, an evil magician, a slightly less evil apprentice magician, and a bunch of magical creatures called gargoyles who, while stone during the day, spent their nights guarding the castle from outside foes. The leader (and hottest) of the gargoyles is Goliath, who had a mentor gargoyle, and a bunch of teen tagalong gargoyles along with a bunch of other clan members, and a dog.
One big happy clan of warriors by day, statues by night — until, whooops, the evil magician tipped off a bunch of Vikings or something, who attacked during the day so that they could destroy the gargoyles. (This seems like a strategy that should have come up before, but whatevs, I guess this is what happens when you don’t have smartphones).
Goliath, his mentor, and the teenagers escaped this fate, but the slightly less evil apprentice magician, who for some reason blamed the gargoyles for the castle being attacked (I don’t remember exactly why, except that he had a crush on the princess and thought she had died in the attack and was thus in a really bitchy mood), cast a spell on them turning them into stone permanently — a condition which would only lift when “the castle was raised above the clouds.”
Why such a strange and specific loophole? I guess the magician guy knew that in a thousand years, a bad-ass billionaire named Xanatos would hear about the spell, go to England and airlift the castle to the top of his Manhattan skyscraper. This isn’t just a bold architecture statement — by doing so, Xanatos brings the gargoyles back to life. And then they have adventures!
This was all summed up nicely by the bad-ass opening narration, which I have embedded below because LISTENING TO KEITH DAVID TALK = HAPPINESS.
The voice cast, overall, was bonkers — Keith David is a voice acting legend with countless credits, and he’s backed up by an incredible array of performers, including Ed Asner, Salli Richardson, and at least eleven former Star Trek cast members, including Jonathan Frakes as Xanatos.
Just a note, Frank: I know that you have a lovely girlfriend right now, but if you ever find yourself again on a third date, and the urge to recite the eleven Star Trek cast members who did guest voice appearances on Gargoyles strikes you, avoid it. Not that I’ve ever done that.
But what was I saying? Oh, right, so they’re in Manhattan, which is confusing enough if you’re from this century, but while Xanatos is pretty shifty from the get-go, they do make a special human friend to help them figure out basic 20th century stuff, Det. Elisa Maza. Elisa was kind of their April O’Neil, except even more awesome, because she carried a gun, solved crimes, had a mixed-race heritage and a cool red jacket and only occasionally fell off buildings so that Goliath could catch her.
Goliath and Elisa, in a bold statement for monster-human relations, were the show’s primary will-they-or-won’t-they relationship, one to rival Sam and Diane. (Except with magic and lasers and guns and Shakespeare because did I mention Gargoyles WAS AWESOME?) But things were complicated, though, because while initially Goliath thought his entire clan, save their poky little group of survivors, was dead, turns out that wasn’t the case for his gargoyle girlfriend Demona.
Demona and Goliath didn’t just hop back into the sack together, though, because of how Demona spent the thousand years between Goliath’s freezing and unfreezing struggling to survive the prejudice and hatred of humanity, which preeeeeeeeeetty much turned her full-on evil. (Demona was a nickname she got from those humans — textbook self-fulfilling prophecy, right there.)
Oh, god, I’m at over 800 words and I’ve barely explained the premise. Okay let’s see how fast we can do this: Over the course of the first season, Goliath and his fellow gargoyles got to know Elisa and New York, developed quasi-dimensional personalities (Broadway likes to eat! Lexington likes technology! Brooklyn’s kind of an asshole like Raphael! Bronx is a dog!), figured out Xanatos was pretty evil and had a big air battle with Xanatos’s army of robot gargoyles that lead to them moving out of the castle.
In Season 2, things got more complicated, mostly through the addition of a bunch of characters directly drawn from Shakespeare. I mean stuff like MacBeth, the former king of Scotland, coming after Demona with a laser pistol and a hover-scooter because the three witches from MacBeth had cursed the two of them to live forever and experience each other’s pain until they might die at each other’s hands. Normal weekday afternoon Disney animation stuff.
Oh, and then there was the episode where Demona stole a mirror from a museum containing the fairy Puck (voiced by Lt. Data, of course), who gave her three wishes — of course, when Demona tried to get rid of all the humans with her first wish, Puck just made all the humans into gargoyles, which meant that Elisa got turned into a TOTALLY HOT LADY GARGOYLE, and then the spell got reversed, which turned Goliath into a TOTALLY HOT DUDE MAN, and god, that episode was just the freaking best.
Okay, I’m well over half an hour and 1000 words now, but the more I think back over the show, the more crazy shit I remember. Like this team of TV actors/professional wrestlers called The Pack who turned out to be kind of evil and eventually became cyborgs, except for this chick Fox, who instead married Xanatos and had his baby.
Or, man, the three-parter where Elisa and Goliath end up on the mystical island of Avalon, where they meet Titania and Oberon (don’t remember who voiced Oberon, but Titania was played by Capt. Kathryn Janeway! Who was also Fox’s mom! For fuck’s sake, show!).
That part was especially insane, because it turns out the kinda bitchy Princess, who felt bad about the shit that went down with the Vikings and the freezing-into-stone-for-a-thousand-years thing, had decided to do the gargoyles a solid and take their surviving eggs to Avalon, where she and the apprentice magician raised them. And because time passes differently on Avalon, only about thirty years have passed for them, which means that when Goliath arrives he’s like holy shit, I have a daughter with Demona! Whoops!
Angela, the daughter (SUBTLE, SHOW), decides she wants to see if the pizza in New York is as good as everyone says, so she decides to leave Avalon with her dad and Elisa. But as they’re rowing away in a boat (it’s a magical island?), the magician guy’s like oh, you’re not going home, Avalon’s probably gonna send you on a magical quest of some sort. Like magical islands do.
And thus commences their WORLD TOUR, in which the Star Trek guest stars really start popping up: Capt. Sisko as an alien stationed on Easter Island, Lt. LaForge as the trickster Anazai (fucking giant spiders, ugh), Chief O’Brien as some guy in Ireland (where there was a banshee voiced by Sheena Easton), Lt. Uhura as Elisa’s mom. The Avalon episodes are occasionally awesome and occasionally annoying, but they have one universal quality: BATSHIT INSANITY.
I really miss this show.
Eventually, they get back to New York, there’s a lot of reunion drama as they’ve been gone for months, and also all of the teenage gargoyles want to bang Angela because she’s the first non-evil lady gargoyle they’ve literally seen in a thousand years. Goliath still doesn’t trust Xanatos, but Xanatos, now a new father, wants to make amends and let the gargoyles move back into the castle. This decision becomes easier for the gargoyles when their previous home, in a clock tower above the police station where Elisa works, gets blown up by a bunch of guys on a blood vengeance quest against all gargoyles.
That’s all part of this three-parter where Elisa went out on a date with one of those hunter guys, not knowing that he was on a blood vengeance quest against her buddies and secret love interest. She makes out with him a little, which Goliath sees through her window and gets all jealous about, and then later Elisa falls off a dam during a confrontation with the blood vengeance quest guys and Goliath isn’t able to catch her, which makes him think she’s dead, which sends him on his OWN blood vengeance quest, and it’s all very poignant when he discovers she’s still alive.
The second season ends with Goliath and Elisa kissing on the roof of Xanatos’s castle, and the sun rising, and me giggling hysterically because I was JUST SO HAPPY FOR THEM. (I was fourteen, for the record.)
And then there’s a third season that Disney kicked creator Greg Weisman off, and it sucks, and we don’t talk about it. THE END.
I met Weisman a few years ago at Comic-Con, and took the opportunity to tell him how much I loved the show. He took the compliment kindly, but in a kind of bitter and resigned way, a way that speaks to what happens when you think outside of the box in an genre unused to this sort of innovation. Gargoyles is barely a cult favorite now, but it and Weisman deserve so much more credit.
This was all written from memory, remember. Some details, I may be off on, some details, I may have forgotten entirely (oh, god, I think there was stuff with clones and a magical time travel device and the Illuminati?). But, oh, this show. I remember this show well.