Quick: what’s the saddest cereal you can think of? Is it All Bran? Maybe it’s Misery Pebbles? Or how about Newly Divorced Dad Crispex? All are viable contenders but simply cannot compete in the same league as the most tragic cereal to ever fill a bowl. Ladies and gentlemen, I can announce with confidence that Urkel-Os is the undisputed king of the sad cereals.
Urkel-Os existed thanks to the big Urkel economic boom of the early 1990s. The United States of America was dazed by the economic recession that plagued the George Bush administration and needed a suspendered nerd to lift the nation’s spirits. Steve Urkel was that nerd saviour. With his love of cheese, infectious snort and obvious neglect from his parents, Steve Urkel was embraced into America’s loving bosom. Statues were erected, schools were opened in his honour, basketball superstars dressed up like grandmothers just to hang out with him. It was a wonderful period of time to be in the Urkel business.
The immense popularity of Urkel led to the Family Matters character getting his own cereal called Urkel-Os. Urkel-Os were sugary loops of grain that didn’t really have anything to do with the character aside from their name and the socially troubled child on the box. This is the beauty of the “Os” cereal model. If you just changed the person on the box, the product could just as easily be “Debbie Gibson Os” or “General Schwarzkopf Os”. It’s the sort of naked cashgrab that I miss from the cereal industry. Why can’t they wrestle Snooki away from promoting a sex ladder (or whatever it is she lends her name to) and plunk her on a cereal box? The world would be a much richer place for it.
Churning out a low-quality TV spinoff based cereal is a-okay by me. I’m not some sort of cereal elitist or anything. The thing I find deeply upsetting about Urkel-Os is the cereal’s bizarre origin story. Not the actual “let’s sell a Steve Urkel based cereal and swim in the profits” origin story, but the mythology presented to customers as to how Urkel-Os came to be. The explanation for Urkel-Os was presented in the form of a profoundly disturbing commercial.
Steven Q Urkel is in love with Laura Winslow. She’s spurned his many attempts at courting (which included changing his DNA and inventing an immensely popular dance), but Urkel isn’t going to throw in the towel yet. No sir, he’s invented a cereal to get Laura to fall in love with him. This is history’s first instance of someone creating a “wooing cereal”. No one has creating a “wooing cereal” before because 1) it’s ineffective 2) making a cereal with romantic intentions is something that even stalkers would find “unsettling”.
Other cereals have commercials where the delicious breakfast product is kept out of the hands of undesirables or the unworthy. Trix, Lucky Charms and Sugar Crisp have ads focusing on who is allowed to have the cereal and who is restricted from partaking in this milk-soaked joy. They operate using a weird sort of cereal apartheid. Urkel-Os is different in that it is a designer cereal tailored to meet the needs of one specific Chicago teen.
It’s intensely depressing to think of a man being so desperate for his crush’s embrace that he’d invent a cereal to win her heart. (Were there other ideas that Urkel had that were ultimately left on the drawing board? Maybe some sort of “why won’t you love me” themed waffles?) It’s a wild gambit with a high risk/reward quotient. You can’t really come back with a new approach if your cereal plan bursts into flames, can you? After all, if this plan were to fail, you might as well be eating a bowl filled with a lonely man’s broken dreams.
The commercial for Urkel-Os does a poor job of explaining why Steve Urkel would create/mass-produce/advertise a cereal that caters to only one customer. Would Laura be additionally flattered by Urkel’s entrepreneurial flair? Is the marketing campaign an elaborate ruse to trick Laura into thinking there’s nothing weird about eating a cereal made for the sole purpose of courting? Does the cereal still work if it isn’t part of a balanced breakfast? There should be a pamphlet answering these questions in every box.
On top of that, the ad fails to address what happens when the non Laura Winslows of the world (people like you, me and Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Kissinger) eat this cereal. Do they (we?) also fall in love with Steve Urkel and wish to feed him processed cheese slices in his boudoir? There’s nothing written on the box as a legal disclaimer warning you that you may fall in love in Urkel, but that might just be an elaborate ruse to keep Laura from figuring out that she is eating a cereal with romantic intentions. It’s profoundly troubling stuff.
The invention of Urkel-Os was never brought up on Family Matters. The cereal (whose production likely cost Urkel hundreds of thousands of dollars) was likely never eaten by Laura and tossed promptly in the garbage. The big cereal experiment was ultimately a failure. A dream was crushed, a spinoff cereal died and Myra Monkhouse became the ultimate rebound girl. In short, life marched on.
Wait a second, though. If I know my Family Matters chronology, than I also know that Urkel and Laura eventually got married in the final season of the show. Maybe Laura didn’t get around to eating the cereal until she was in college (the FDA is a bit slow when it comes to approving new cereals) and that’s when she was smitten by Urkel. If that’s the case, Urkel-Os isn’t a cereal of profound sadness but instead something else. Urkel-Os may very well be a cereal of joy. A cereal of achieved goals. A cereal that was undeniably creepy but managed to be a success anyway.
Maybe I was wrong about Urkel-Os all along. It very well could be the cereal example of dreams of coming true. God bless you, Urkel-Os.