In the world of long gone, Saturday morning cartoons, the sidekick reigned supreme. Off the top of my head, I can think of 20 to 30 that served alternately as comic relief, and as their show's conscious. They could quickly become the heart and soul of show, and at times, they overshadowed the main characters. Some of them have gone on to be remembered with fondness, and other with derision, if they are even remembered at all. Then there are the ones who have become cultural icons, instantly recognized by the masses. They can be found merchandised to the hilt, in other works of fiction, and as a stand in for some sort of cultural ideal. In the world of the cartoon sidekick, one of my favorites of all time comes from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, a cartoon that existed to solely sell toys. Oddly, Orko, the hero of this post, was the only character who started off on the show, before ending up as a toy.
Orko is one of those characters that has continuously bridged the line between annoying and heroic. On one hand, the writers, when they couldn't think of any other way to get the action started, would have Orko screw something up, and the rest of the show would be him, and others trying to fix the problem. The rest of the time, he was the one would somehow save the day, rescuing He-Man and the other Masters out of some predicament they found themselves in. It was as if they could never really get a real handle on who Orko was, or at the least, couldn't figure out the way to use him.
It's that bizarre dichotomy of character, that has endeared him to millions of us that grew up with him on our TV screens. He's so earnest, so eager to do the right thing, you can't help but find his bumbling charming, and forgivable. He ended up on Eternia by accident, with no way of getting home. Where many of us would have hunkered down, and wallowed in self pity for a while, he decided to make the best of the situation, even though he found himself at a disadvantage in his new home. On his home planet, he was a powerful wizard, on Eternia, who has different natural rules, that magic doesn't work as well as it should. But he never gives up, he never feels sorry for himself, at least not for too long, and he's always willing to give all of himself when it's asked of him. If you think about it, he is the whole reason He-Man even exists. If he hadn't saved a young Adam in the swamp, Skeletor would have conquered Eternia long ago. And if you take that logic to it's next level, that means Orko is in fact the hero of the show, not He-Man.
They tried to reboot the show, and the characters in the early 2000s, but it never recaptured the heart of the original. Part of that was due to the changes they made in the characters personalities, including in Orko's, and part of it was simply bad writing and even worse animation. Orko, at least for me is a cultural icon that can not be reproduced. While I wish they would have done a better job of defining who he was as a whole character, not just good for a laugh or two, Orko is the one who has stuck with me all these years later. Now I just need to see if I can find his action figure one of these days. Besides, how can you not love a guy who is responsible for bringing Christmas to Eternia.