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Classic Television Rundown: Salute Your Shorts (Ep. 1-1), "Michael Comes to Camp"

Going into this retro review, I was afraid. Afraid that I'd made a bad choice in what I was watching, that my nostalgia for classic Nickelodeon was a result of young me's critical immaturity instead of actual show quality. I was afraid I was going to taint a significant part of my suburban childhood and lose more of that innocence I'm so desperately going to need in court when questioned as to why I'm watching shows starring young teens.

In reality, however, contemporary clothing had already shown me the way – NO FEAR.

Salute Your Shorts was, and still is, an excellent program. I don't mean anything absurdly superlative by that. This is not Emmy material (then again, neither is any CBS comedy). Nor is this a program that's going to inspire any serious emotion beyond the one that time has already given it, but that emotion is all it needs to have. Nostalgia. Hey! Remember when I mentioned nostalgia way back in the first paragraph? Haha yeah... Good times... Seriously, though. It turns out nostalgia may be what the show succeeded in all along, even when it first aired. I can't speak for anyone other than myself (who was the target audience), but I imagine this light-hearted program about a co-ed summer camp is reflective enough of the actual experience to tweak the light heartstrings of kids beyond the '90s. Not that there's much targeted tweaking going on. That comfort you feel is just a byproduct of the show's existence.

The craftsmanship is obvious in the first 2 minutes of the premiere, with almost every major character receiving meaningful screen-time. Dina attains early status as the queen bee as she orders the raising of a welcome banner, which is immediately crashed through by the bus carrying first-time camper Michael. Counselor “Ug” Lee rushes by as the wormy Sponge optimistically greets our lens to this new world.

Sponge – You made a major mistake coming to Camp Anawanna. The food bites. Bugs bite. Activities bite. Everything bites!
Michael – It wasn't my choice.
Sponge – It never is.

The bus drives off to reveal lurking predator Bobby Budnick and his stooge Donkey Lips, who have come prepared with their own style of greeting. Instead of shaking Michael's hand, they knock him over, steal his bag, and head over to the flagpole for the eponymous prank. Our leading ladies (who, outside of Dina, are consigned to a post-introduction introduction) begin to giggle as they see the “new kid” signal rise to the sky.

Michael – What is my underwear doing up the flagpole?
Sponge – Looks like it's flapping in the breeze... I suggest you stand at attention, click your heels, and salute your shorts.

And so we move into what really is an iconic credits sequence. The theme itself is perfectly quaint, emitting the appropriate campfire aesthetic, but its greatest power lies in its incompleteness. We never know how exactly the song goes, because as we go through the second verse of the song in which each character individually recites a line, we are treated to a crash course on their personas (which may or may not include an enthusiasm for Anawanna). Yet as they come back together for the closing beat, we at least know they're having enough fun to give us a good show.

I won't go into detail, but the remainder of the episode plays out with antics on the sports field, in the cafeteria, and, most crucially, in the bunkhouses. The simple rundown is that Michael and Budnick get into a fight, are consequently tortured by Ug (literally tortured, I believe, according to the Geneva Conventions), yet end up coming to some sort of peace accord so long as Michael agrees to raid the girls' dorm. Drama ensues when Michael accidentally breaks tomboy Telly's glasses, a crime which the campers decide is punishable by a torture I don't believe the authorities in Switzerland have yet had the guts to touch:

Budnick first fingers a random dweeb for the crime, but Michael comes clean, and, in the end, we are treated to a sincere moment of burgeoning friendship between him and Telly. Sincere, that is, unless you consider their reconciliation a distraction tactic used by Telly to free up the boys' dorm for some serious toilet-papering. Summer camp, baby!

At this point I'd like to take a brief moment to comment on Salute Your Short's lack of a laugh track, something which I haven't seen on a live-action children's “sitcom” since Even Stevens. I know my condemnation of this tool is a byproduct of the post-Arrested Development era, but shows like iCarly (somewhat good) and Hannah Montana (not good) really do put a lot of stock into audience laughter. I know because I've watched, okay. Sheesh.

Oh wait! Jamie-Lynn Spears' Zoey 101 may have been the most recent one with no laughter, and I do consider that a well-produced show. None of the kids could act, but it almost felt like they could because the world we were seeing was filmed to be a legitimate world. For the same reason, my brain interprets Salute Your Shorts to exist in a more realistic universe than M*A*S*H*. Keeping the focus on today's tweens, though, it really is disheartening to see the kind of “acting” currently encouraged by Disney and our old friend Nickelodeon. Miley Cyrus literally yells at the screen, as do all of her co-stars and competitors. Yell something abrasive/funny. Pause for laughter. Yell again. It is a style of comedy birthed (in my mind) by All That, and it is a problem I'm considering for a future dissertation.

But enough tangential whining. We are gathered here to celebrate my renewal of vows to Salute Your Shorts. I may be blinded by nostalgia; however, it's through no fault of my own. In fact, it's probably the point.

Memorable Quotes

Michael – Is this where [the raccoon] died?
Sponge – No. That's just where it suffered.

Sponge – Trounce [Budnick] and he'll trounce you back. It's called the “Transitive Property of Pain.”

Dina (on Telly wearing glasses) – Seeing good instead of looking good? Priority check!

Budnick (to Zizi on the baseball field, as the ball zooms by her) – What are you doing?
Zizi – I was thinking of a poem.

Budnick – Stop dreaming and glue your macaroni onto something.
Donkey Lips – I can't. I ate it.

Zizi – Why do you have such a guilty look on your face?
Sponge – It's not guilty. I'm just trying to chew.

Ug – Bell peppers. People like bell peppers. Thin crust... Thin crust...
Salute Your Shorts
, Season 1, Episode 1
"Michael Comes to Camp"
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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