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Inspector Gadget Details That Only Adults Notice

Getting old sucks the fun out of everything. Return to just about any beloved TV show from your childhood and you're sure to be met with a series of perplexing questions that stem from all the anxieties, doubts, and existential quibbles that come with being an adult. The I-Don't-Remember-The-Show-Being-Like-This factor of nostalgic binge-watching is a grim part of the growing up process and one that can definitely get in the way of all the fun of classic '80s cartoons. As a result, there are a lot of things that only adults notice in Inspector Gadget which can ultimately tarnish (though also occasionally heighten) your enjoyment of the show. 

And sure, just about everything your grown-up brain chooses to overanalyze about Inspector Gadget can be shooed away with the logical explanation that it's just a cartoon. But try and see how much that matters when you're watching an episode where it looks as though Gadget is staring up the skirt of a flirtatious movie star. Yeah. Exactly.

So switch your brain to "cynic" and prepare to have the show's iconic theme tune permanently stuck in your head for the next week (and to never be able to think about Gadget or Penny the same way again), because here's a bunch of things only adults notice in Inspector Gadget.

Inspector Gadget = RoboCop?

As a kid, it was easy to take a cybernetic police officer like Inspector Gadget for granted. After all, thanks to movies like The Terminator and Blade Runner, the '80s and early '90s were stacked with depictions of robot humanoid heroes and villains. However, it's only as an adult that you can truly appreciate that this cartoon treads a more familiar arc than we may have realized: Inspector Gadget is kind of RoboCop, for kids. 

Though the show premiered four years before Paul Verhoven's violent satirical masterpiece, the two mechanoid heroes share a similar origin story. Gadget's background is never outright stated in the cartoon, but an official 1991 trading card revealed that the "ordinary police inspector" fell down a set of stairs after slipping on a banana peel — an accident so bad that he required an operation. When he awoke, Gadget had "more than 13,000 crime-fighting gadgets" installed in his body.

Granted, Gadget is spared any of the horrific brutality that Officer Alex Murphy experienced during his transformation to bionic cop, and his war on crime is infinitely harder-hitting than anything attempted by the cartoon klutz. But still, at their heart, both stories revolve around the same basic concept: An ordinary cop transformed by cybernetics after a body-shattering event. Here's hoping Gadget took revenge on that banana peel, too. 

Inspector Gadget is basically Maxwell Smart from Get Smart

Another thing that likely went over the heads of just about every kid who was ever obsessed over Inspector Gadget is just how much Gadget looks, acts, and sounds like Get Smart's bungling spy Maxwell Smart. That's not much of a surprise when you consider that the live-action sitcom originally aired in the late '60s, so unless these kids were lucky enough to catch the show on reruns, they likely had no idea it even existed.

To the people who chased down and enjoyed this cult classic as adults, the comparisons between the two characters are strikingly obvious — and for good reason. Gadget and Smart were both depicted by the same actor, Don Adams, and the second season of the show also featured the talents of Get Smart writer Jack Hanrahan. 

In addition to both shows featuring a comically inept crimefighter for a lead character, Smart and Gadget also receive orders from their superiors in a similar manner. They're both contacted on a special telephone to arrange a secret meeting with their superior before receiving self-destructing intelligence. And while Gadget was fighting the evil MAD organization, Smart was up against the similarly named KAOS.

Inspector Gadget's technology was ahead of its time

Who amongst us didn't covet just about every gadget that Penny and Brian use in Inspector Gadget? To '80s and '90s kids these appliances seemed impossibly futuristic — which is crazy, considering these same items likely look incredibly dated to any modern kids watching the show on their iPads. But at the time of its original run, Inspector Gadget was kind of cutting edge. 

There is, of course, Penny's highly coveted "computer book," an item situated somewhere between a laptop and an iPad. But the show also featured a primitive version of wireless connections, which Penny used to effectively hack into Dr. Claw's computer systems, and a digital map system which Penny could access in her computer book to help navigate new locations. 

On top of that, the show also mysteriously featured primitive depictions of things like smartwatches, Bluetooth headsets (which Brain uses to stay in touch with Penny, hands-free), and video chat applications. None of which felt even remotely close to happening to the average kid during the show's original heyday, even though the majority of us likely dreamt they would come to fruition, and fast. Now look at us: All this technology at our fingertips, and we're all mostly using it for memes. 

Inspector Gadget needs to find a new job

Imagine being tooled up with thousands of devices intended to make your job easier and still being completely incompetent. That's basically Inspector Gadget's reality. And while it likely makes total logical sense in the mind of a child who's never had to work a day in their life, to an adult, Gadget's continued employment as an officer of the law is completely baffling. Yes, it's a cartoon, but regardless, he's wasting a fat chunk of Metro City's taxpayers' dollars. 

It isn't even just that Gadget is terrible at his job — it's also that his attempts to save the day usually make whatever situation he's been tasked to fix even worse. If it wasn't for his 11-year-old niece and her hyper-intelligent pet dog stepping in, Gadget would likely have been forced into early retirement, and the world would have slipped into the clutches of Dr. Claw and MAD in no time. 

Which also brings up the next and final question concerning Inspector Gadget's bizarrely crucial role in saving the world: Is there seriously no other cop — cybernetic or otherwise — who can do this job other than this buffoon? 

Penny needs intervention from child welfare services

Which brings us to the next and perhaps most troubling aspect of Inspector Gadget: Why is an 11-year-old girl risking her life on a regular basis, and just where exactly are her parents during all this? Penny is, of course, Gadget's resourceful, intelligent young niece. And she's also, apparently, the only thing that stands between the world being ruled by Dr. Claw's iron fist. 

Smart though she may be, the kid definitely isn't spending much time in school. And there's not a single instance when anyone brings up the whereabouts of her parents or the suggestion that hey, maybe Penny should be spending more time at home and less time chasing after international criminals. Especially when a few of these madcap agents literally try to kill her, either by tying her to a conveyer belt hooked up to a deadly laser ("A Clear Case"), throwing her off a cliff ("All That Glitters"), or crushing her underneath a rigged-to-be-lethal mannequin ("Coo-Coo Clock Caper"). In the words of Helen Lovejoy, Won't somebody please think of the children?

Penny is suspiciously amazing at everything

The character's unbridled genius and knack for technology are easy enough to accept. But in rewatching Inspector Gadget as an adult, it's clear that there's something seriously odd about Penny's impossible capacity for greatness, including the kind of physical prowess that no normal child could possibly possess. 

The child spy can seemingly hold her breath underwater for ludicrously long distances, has absolutely no trouble climbing any structure she sets her hands on, and can shoot a variety of weapons with near-perfect accuracy. All of which are the kind of skills the average person would require some serious special training to acquire. We're talking Hit Girl and Big Daddy levels of lifelong special training here. 

Unlike her uncle, Penny also doesn't have any cybernetic superpowers to help explain why or how she just seems to know how to do any of this, and can do so with relatively minimal effort. Maybe this is just the cynicism of adulthood talking, but the fact remains: There's something not quite right about Penny. 

There's more to Dr. Claw

Most kids were obsessed with the enigma of Inspector Gadget's cat-loving, faceless arch-enemy, Dr. Claw — a character comically reminiscent of James Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The true identity of Gadget's nemesis remained a mystery throughout the show, with no hint as to who he really was and what he really looked like. 

However, there's a great fan theory that Dr. Claw is the real Inspector Gadget — and it's one that makes perfect sense when you rewatch the show as an adult. The theory goes that the show's hero is actually a cybernetic duplicate of the man Claw used to be. The villain he's become has been driven insane by an accident (probably something to do with that lethal banana peel) and wants to destroy the robot who has replaced him. 

It explains why we never see Claw's face, and also why Claw never appears to put Penny in harm's way, despite numerous opportunities to do so. But it also makes sense in explaining why two of the show's most prominent characters just so happen to have some form of robotic appendage (Claw's arm and hand and Gadget's entire madcap mess of a body). There's a strong likelihood that Claw is an experiment gone wrong following the original Gadget's accident, and Gadget 2.0 is a second attempt to get such technology right.

Go Go Gadget is a preposterously long activation phrase

Inspector Gadget is literally built for investigating, and stopping, bad guys and their dirty deeds with thousands of in-built tools at his disposal that he can activate with one simple phrase: "Go Go Gadget." To a kid, the phrase is completely legit: It's catchy, endlessly quotable, and it's got that cutesy alliteration that's apparently irresistible to anyone below the age of 12. But it's also stupendously impractical. 

Gadget's goofy four-syllable catchphrase isn't exactly engineered for stealth, which you'd imagine is pretty high up on the list of needs when trying to take down an international crime organization like MAD. In the time it takes to spout the phrase along with the name of whatever gadgetry he needs to use at that exact moment, Gadget's enemies could have easily escaped the vicinity or taken a shot at him. 

Worse still, the phrase means that Gadget is forced to give away his location by having to enthusiastically yell it whenever he needs it as well as his identity, thanks to unnecessarily throwing his own name into the phrase like some hysterical robotic egotist. It's cute but deeply unnecessary.

Is Inspector Gadget even a kids' cartoon?

Frankly one would be too many. But there are actually a couple of plots in Inspector Gadget (particularly early on) when MAD's female agents attempt to seduce Gadget as part of their ploy — and the inspector finds it impossible to resist their charms. 

While these storylines are clearly intended to be fun references to a classic spy trope, they nonetheless sit uncomfortably within a kid's cartoon. Especially one in which an older audience can't help but wonder what possible gadgetry Gadget has had installed to help him perform the art of spy seduction.

During the episode "Movie Set," for example, Inspector Gadget is tasked with investigating a "mad actress" named Lana Lamour. As soon as Gadget sees a picture of her, a red flashing light pops up on his head, and for whatever reason a set of cones pop open around his ears — both of which happen involuntarily and without Gadget having to use his signature activation phrase. Let your imagination run wild. 

Inspector Gadget is a patronizing jerk to Penny

As well as being in the running for the worst uncle of the year award thanks to his repeated endangerment of his niece, Gadget also treats Penny like absolute garbage in the process. It's something made all the more irksome thanks to just how often Gadget's 11-year-old niece is basically forced to do his job for him, saving the day time and again — and usually without a single crumb of appreciation from a grown man with cybernetic enhancements. 

An upsetting majority of Inspector Gadget's episodes stick to pretty much the same formula: Gadget picks up an assignment he's barely qualified for, Penny and Brain turn up and do all the hard work, Gadget scoffs at their plan to save the day, Gadget steals their plan to save the day. Penny and Brain wind up saving the day... and Gadget takes all the credit for it. 

It's bad enough that Gadget is stealing the thunder of a child, but many episodes also descend into him explaining Penny's own ingenious ideas back to her. Watching those scenes as a kid feels like the status quo: A condescending adult, up to their usual tricks! But watching them as an adult is completely infuriating. It's enough to make you wish that Penny would leave Go-Go-Gadget-Mansplainer on his own to self-destruct in whatever mess he can't get himself out of.

Inspector Gadget's insides must be a cluttered, ungodly mess

As anyone over the age of 30 can attest, the human body can be an unforgiving chamber of horrors to be trapped within for a lifetime. So just imagine how it would feel to be a grown man with around 13,000 heavy, pointy tools permanently rammed inside of him — the logistics of which are something that would likely only ever occur to an adult used to existential panic over every ache, creak, or lump their body throws at them. 

Though the cartoon thankfully spares us the abomination of Gadget's true anatomy (just what ratio of human-to-robot is he?), suffice it to say that his body must be a clunking, clattering mess. At this point in his life he's little more than a walking Swiss Army knife with about 13,000 more utensils than any man — crimefighter or otherwise — could possibly need. 

This is especially upsetting when you realize that most of Gadget's so-called enhancements barely even work correctly. The poor guy is jammed up with junk and facing a lifetime of faulty utilities from within his own body. 

Chief Quimby has some serious 'going undercover' issues

It's completely rational that the police chief would want the most secrecy when serving (the less than discreet) Inspector Gadget his top-secret assignments. What doesn't check out, though, is Chief Quimby's questionable approach to stealth operations in order to do so. 

For starters, Quimby has a disturbing sense of commitment to costumes and role play when going deep undercover, the likes of which have included Quimby dressing up and full-on acting like a dog in a kennel, hiding in a boiling cauldron, and pretending to be an entire plate of salad. 

Secondly, you'd hope a man of Chief Quimby's stature could also find something other than exploding paper to use when handing over assignments to Gadget. Not only is it completely redundant (Gadget almost always reads it out loud anyway), but it also almost always blows up in the Chief's face and nearly kills him every time. 

Self-destructing paper can't be cheap, and it's hard to imagine Chief Quimby sat at home sewing these elaborate disguises for himself, which makes it seem like the tax dollars of Metro City's fine citizens may once again be getting used in negligent ways. Tsk tsk.