Even though I and many who read this site collect, love and adore toys, there still lies a defined line we rarely cross: dolls. Sure, there might be a plush video game character or the rare Santa-capped mogwai to catch our eye every once and again, but generally speaking, even the most devoted toy-enthusiasts-with-a-dick gloss over dolls like normal people gloss over Walgreens circulars. As Chief Dances With Woodstuck always said, CUT IT OUT. Dolls ain't all Barbies and Wetty Betties, and this article proves it. Presenting the cleverly identified "four cool dolls." Mmm...
You read right: four cool dolls. One's cool because it's cool, one's cool because it sucks, one's cool because it comes with a burlap sack, and one's cool because it's Archie Bunker's god damned grandson. Current collector's value on these dolls ranges from "affordable" to "fuck that shit," but none are so rare that you'll give up the search after six months of sleepless nights and fruitless online auction hunts. If you want, you can have. Just not mine.
V: The Enemy Visitor Doll (LJN, 1984)
There's no way to explain the pitiful lack of merchandise to spring up from the awesome seeds V: The Original Mini-Series planted. Nearly as chic as Star Wars in its heyday, you'd think there would've been more room for toys considering the sci-fi epic's gamut of lizard-faced aliens, spaceships and outfits made out of shiny materials. Alas, aside from the usual run of puffy stickers and trading cards, there was almost nothing. Fortunately, the good folks at LJN saw fit to make a V toy so amazing that it compensates for the million others that should've been made. I'm firmly certain that dolls were conceptualized millions of years ago only to ensure the creation of the Enemy Visitor. This was God's work. God loved V.
Dolls of this scale and type were rarely a hit with boys. Much slimmer than the twelve-inch warriors of '60s-era G.I. Joe, dolls like this seemed to be sold more on the merits of their outfits -- a distinctly female point of interest. This explains why KB Toys had to devote entire warehouses to housing the leftover stock of 12" Quark dolls from the early '90s. Even with his twirly-eared Ferengi features, boys quickly realized that the thing would easily become Siegfried but with the switch of a head. This phenomenon might've hurt sales for the poor Enemy Visitor, but don't blame him -- he deserved better.
Ah, let us collectively yearn for the days when no eyes were on packaging copy editors. "Unmask the Visitor to reveal his lizard face?" That'd be fine if you or me said it, but LJN probably could've packed in some more panache. I dunno, maybe something like "Removable Mask Reveals Visitor's True Identity?" What I'm saying is...don't call the aliens "lizards." Maybe they were, but figuratively, not really. In fact, the box makes no mention of the bad guys even being aliens. To the untaught, they probably came off as a group of subterranean reptiles blessed by an evolutionary hiccup, hell-bent on revenge. Which isn't necessarily a bad idea for a science fiction opus, but that's not V. On the other hand, I have no qualms with the "extendable tongue" bullet point. Concision is our friend. I'd like to meet him one day.
The feature works marvelously. The hollow, rubber human head looks perfectly natural when on, but slips off without a hassle to reveal the Visitor's inner green devil. Though out of scale (without the mask, it looks like one of the live action Koopas on his day off), the lizard head adequately fills my head with memories of Donovan's hand-to-hand scuffle with one of the V-dudes, culminating in said V-dude's skin peeling off while crazy soundtrack sirens blared to heighten the tension and give you ear trouble.
The Visitor's outfit is great, genuine right down to the dashy-dotty insignia on the tit and belt buckle. In mask mode, you've got a nice pair of removable sunglasses to contend with, which could've easily been farmed out to other twelve-inchers that needed to boost their cool factor. Maybe he could trade it for a second gun, so the one that isn't occupied with the included blaster would look a little less needing of something to do. It's rare to find this much V-driven glory piled into one doll, but don't cash out yet -- there's one last action feature waiting for anyone with a wandering index finger.
By unfastening the back of the creature's shirt, you're privy to a secret joystick that'll make the alien's tongue flip in and out. I was hoping more for a flip-jaw feature and a few tiny plastic rats, but this is serviceable too.
OVERALL: A+. This artifact is the reason I decided to plow through an all-doll article. The detail on the figure is phenomenal, right down to the painted red-and-orange eyes. A blaster and flicking tongue help solidly differentiate this from the many girl dolls of the same scale, while the creepy packaging was sure to be a hit with any kid who liked being creeped out by their toys. And you know you were one of them. There should've been more V toys, but if there's only going to be one, this is pretty much the best we could hope for.
Couch Potato (Coleco, 1986)
I wouldn't be surprised if a bunch of you had this thing, but you probably haven't actually thought about it in over fifteen years. The "Couch Potato" wasn't so much of an actual doll than a "gag gift," akin to the singing wall-plaque fish and those fuzzy Laugh-A-Lot dolls. You know, all that crap that weasels its way into a family's house come holiday time.
I don't know how or when the phrase "couch potato" was coined, but for whatever reason, there was a short period during the '80s that merchandising pioneers wouldn't stop trying to make us buy junk that played into the term. This doll was the direct result of that temporary lapse of sacrediditty, coming at you in the form of a giant stuffed potato doll in a "real" burlap sac, "real" being in quotations for emphasis because Coleco was very proud of it, so much so that they didn't bother fielding the issue of what material could possibly be cheaper than burlap.
Obviously, this wasn't the kind of doll kids played with, but rather one that sat on a couch and had dreamy fantasies about being a conversational piece, even though nobody really cared. Adults passed this thing around like a potato of a different kind, with all buyers absolutely convinced that the kickass chair-shaped package it came in looked just like their chair at home, even if their chairs were yellow, orange or really sofas.
Because it was more for show and less for anything else, Couch Potato dolls had the habit of surviving in households far longer than any other dolls or playthings. By the time people got around to chucking the things, the real burlap sacks were a distant memory, as was the identify of the odd brown doll who remained. What is it? Is it a bean? A rock? Why is it stored away with all of these old blankets, wrapped in the tiger-print throw the old dog peed on? Who does it belong to? Is it mine? Why do I have it? What idiot thought I'd want a big brown bean doll?
OVERALL: B. I have a soft spot for the Couch Potato. It meant no harm. And it spiced up my family's old living room.
Archie Bunker's Grandson (Ideal, 1976)
For reasons revealed if you look closely at the box, the Joey Stivic doll followed suit with its big daddy sitcom by becoming one of the most controversial toys of all time. Prominently marketed as a "anatomically correct male," red flags flew up faster than an Archie racial slur when this one hit store shelves in 1976. It was the very first doll with manhood parts ever distributed in the United States -- or at least, the first doll-with-a-dick ever marketed towards children in the United States. All In The Family was constantly making news for all of its controversial topics, so when the press caught wind of the one toy based on that very same show just happening to be the only toy in America with a baby dick, the coverage was insane. I don't know for sure if this translated to big sales, chain-wide bans or anything else of minor interest, but for what amounted to a pretty forgettable toy, Archie Bunker's Grandson has a great back story.
I can't really understand the doll. I can't tell if Ideal was playing it straight or if they were fully planning on creating a stir with it. The package proclaims it as a wonderful toy for little girls -- girls who were formerly stuck with same-sexed dolls and only same-sexed dolls. What if they wanted to play "Mommy" to a baby boy? Thank God Archie Bunker -- obvious hero to young girls of the world -- was there to spray his venom in the general direction of a doll-making factory's naughty-lever. Come on...All In The Family toys? There had to be more sinister business strategies in place. Surely nobody at Ideal thought kids were gonna go for this. No, this was really for older folks who wanted something interesting to show their guests. You know, like Couch Potato, only actually interesting. It's sort of like how comic book stores experienced a temporary shift to a more mature clientele when they started hocking Amy Fisher comics in the early '90s.
On the flip, anything that can get Archie Bunker's face on the shelves of Toys 'R' Us is worth double whatever they charged for Joey Stivic.
The Joey Stivic doll arrived immediately after the famous episode where Gloria dropped a child of the same name, and at first, everything seemed innocent. Fresh faced, rosy cheeked, blue eyed and hairy. Dressed in baby clothes and snuggled into a soft blue blanket, there's even an included bottle with a nipple just small enough to fit inside the questionable drill hole in the doll's mouth. It's important to have some way of feeding him, or else there's no way to explain why the doll pisses. Yes, it does. Out of a you-know-what.
Okay, screw this. They sooo didn't need to recreate the testicles. It's all about boundaries and compromises. And don't say it's a teaching tool. By the time girls saw real ones, they didn't look anything like that. Anything.
OVERALL: The doll comes with instructions detailing how you're supposed to squeeze the thing like a toothpaste tube to get it to piss. There's illustrations to support this, too. So, duh, A+.
Talking Steve Urkel (Hasbro, 1991)
It seems like only the most annoying characters in pop cult history get the chance to become talking dolls, even if we happen to love those annoying characters. You've got Pee-wee Herman, Ed Grimley -- heck, I had a talking Flabber doll, and only three of you have ever even heard of him. With that train of thought, Steve Urkel of Family Matters fame clearly deserved to join the pack. Arguably the biggest star of the T.G.I.F. lineup outside of the Olsen twins, Jaleel White's formerly here-and-there role progressed into what might as well have been top billing. With several hundred dumb catch-phrases and a laugh track so confident in itself that viewers at home actually believed the crap onscreen was funny, Steve Urkel become immortalized in everything from a brand of cereal to this, the talking doll from Hell.
It's true -- pull Urkel's string, and he'll belt out one of a number of stupid phrases. "No sweat, my pet!" "Got any cheese?" I clocked thirteen tries to get a "did I do that," probably meaning that there's at least thirteen phrases. Maybe hundreds more. Of course, the doll being as old as it is, it doesn't work quite as well as it used to. "Do the Urkel" sounds more like "Don't hurl kill," a phrase that's just one grammatical touch away from being a challenge for kids to murder. "Oh. You got me...Urkel." That's not one of the things the doll says -- it's what a whole lotta kids said on Christmas morning in 1991.
The doll is hideous, but surprisingly able to hold a pose, and even more surprisingly able to stand under the power of Urkel's ridiculous sneakers. You can't remove his glasses, but you don't need to, in part because they don't have lenses, but mostly because they were only crafted to fit the head of Steve Urkel, who among other things is noted for having the most uniquely shaped head in the history of heads.
OVERALL: B-. Should've came with an accessory or two, and I hate the fact that the doll parades around in decidedly unUrkely stonewashed jeans. Other than that, yeah, it's a talking Steve Urkel doll. Actually, I'm changing that to a
OVERALL: B+, because I just noticed that they have a silhouette of Urkel in the place of the "K" of his name on the box. See? Not all dolls are bad or otherwise ignorable.