Smookie the Robotoid’s 21st Century Adventure
One of the original characters in the 1999 video pilot of “The Flashback” was not only created by Michael, but was actually voiced by him as well, and that character is set to return this autumn in an updated and very unusual appearance in the audio series.
Smookie the Robotoid didn’t have an easy life back then. In fact, when Michael wrote the first scripts for the proposed television series, he wasn’t even part of the concept. Poor Smookie was upstaged by another robot companion to the good Professor Swyft – that of his ever faithful robot dog, Pogostick. It wasn’t really until the shooting date for the promo pilot was almost on top of us that it was finally agreed that realising something as obviously complex as Pogostick needed to be, might be a bit of a problem. It was made worse by the fact that, not only was there no real budget left to make the prop, but there wasn’t even anything suitable around on which to base the prop. In fact, the only dachshund parts I could find belonged to a rubber chew toy for dogs that didn’t just look garish, it also squeaked whenever anyone touched it. So quite quickly old Pogostick was ditched and the new companion of Smookie took his place.
Smookie the Robotoid was meant to be everything that R2D2 was not. He wasn’t particularly helpful in finding the Princess, nor was he as mobile. His personality however was very specific in that it had one function – always be rude to Roy. In fact the only dialogue he really ever said was “Silentenna” (which was the name of one of the Professor’s inventions), and “Shut up, Roy”. I don’t think he had much more dialogue than that, which is probably a shame as I thought at the time, he had great potential to be a sort of “super computer with an attitude”.
One day Michael said to me, “Okay, we’re off this evening to visit the artist who is making Smookie a reality!” Yes, I thought, how amazing that finally we were seeing a part of “The Flashback” coming together in physical form! At this point, we had stretched an almost non-existent budget to its limit, and had given the seemingly eager artist in question a brief on the sort of robot companion we were looking for. Smookie had to be roughly anthropomorphic in shape, but he also had to be able to move around a bit in order to interact with the actors. In my mind I was envisioning a sort of walking Mr. Potatohead kind of thing – creepy and yet kid-friendly. While Michael, in his usual laissez-faire way, hadn’t a clue what to expect and was just pleased that an acquaintance of his was actually doing the work for next to nothing… well, for a credit in the video… well, yes… next to nothing, really.
So we hopped on a streetcar and traveled off into the dark Toronto night. We disembarked in a gloomy, industrial area that smelled of booze and pee and I nervously looked to Michael, wondering if Smookie was under the care of a local crack addict. He assured me that the artist in question had a studio in the area and that Smookie was indeed awaiting his grand unveiling.
Now the studio turned out to be a garage of a sort, dimly lit and for some reason, unbearably cold for a late summer evening. The artist in question was present and informed us that he hadn’t really had a lot of time to work on the prop, but what he had done was laid out for us to view over on the work table. What I saw lying in a heap of metal scraps, nearly tore my heart in two. There was Smookie, a bizarre collection of bits and bobs of welded parts with a plastic disc for a face. He didn’t even have any way of standing up. He had to in fact be C-Clamped to the work bench. Then the artist flicked a switch and Michael and I watched as the disc of Smookie’s head rotated in a flat plane about 45 degrees in one direction, then rotated back and 45 degrees in the other direction. It was a disconcerting sight to say the least. I don’t remember much else about the details of that night. I think I was in a form of shock.
The next day, Michael and I met for coffee at one of our local haunts and he was smiling and teasing me that Smookie was going to be the best thing about “The Flashback” and wasn’t the work just so damned great? I think I ordered several lattes. Really I wasn’t sure what to make of the prop. It just seemed ridiculous and in serious danger of upstaging any actor forced to work with it. And what was with the whole C-Clamp thing when we said it had to move around – at least very minimally? Michael, again in his typically pessimistic optimism, told me it would work just fine and I shouldn’t worry. The fact that it looked ridiculous would more than likely add to the absurdity of the script and of the friendship between the character and that of Tom Swyft. As usual I gave in to Michael’s whim and we said nothing more of it until it was installed on the work bench in the Lab Set.
When I finally witnessed Smookie’s head rotate after a particularly admonishing comment by Patrick Conner’s Professor, I couldn’t help but admit Michael was right. I just lost it and we had to stop taping as my laughter made everyone present break out in giggles. Smookie the weird little Robotoid was a hit with all of us in the studio, and despite his physical limitations, that head turn and the buggy little eyes were in fact so absurd that comedy was easy to create. To Patrick’s credit, he did surprise and bendy acting very well and made Smookie incredibly believable. Michael looked smug as well as pleased and we continued with the taping over the subsequent day and a half until the Lab Set was no longer needed.
Months after the shoot and probably even after our launch party / fundraiser, I was chatting to someone about Smookie and they were very keen to see him in the flesh, so to speak. We decided to drop in on Michael and have a visit, as well as meet up with Smookie in his new home but when we got there, there was no sign of the little prop. Curious, I asked Michael what had he done with Smookie and he shook his head in disbelief, saying, “The artist wanted him back… for the scrap metal.”
Yup… the artist in question obviously thought that a bunch of worthless parts amounted to something OTHER than our dear little robotoid and Smookie, (at least in the physical sense), was no more. My heart tore in two for a second time when I realised that we had lost one of our valued cast members. You should know that deep down I’m really quite a fickle person!
And so, eleven years later I sat down to write the scripts for the ten new episodes of the audio series and what happens? First of all I decided to write in Pogostick for much of the first half of the series. Why? Well, because to be fair… he didn’t have any sort of outing at all in the video so it only seemed right to grant Michael one brilliant concession. But I also wrote in a new part for Smookie and since it was audio, it really didn’t matter that we had lost the prop all those years ago. I could just build him anew in the virtual world so that he had a place on the cover of the CD box set and in publicity and so on and so on.
And that’s just what I did. I’ve modelled him in Photoshop and updated him for the 21st Century. Okay, he doesn’t move… but then again, neither did the actual physical prop… much!
Oh yeah, and I voiced him this time… and he says much more than just “Shut up Roy” and “Silentenna” but you’ll have to wait to find out what!