The Bugaloos 1.3 – Our Home is Our Hassle

Until some kind soul reissues The Bugaloos, or an eBay seller goes off the algorithm grid and sells a copy of the DVD set for a reasonable price, we’re stepping away from Tranquility Forest after this, our third little bootleg outing. But I had to leave on the remarkable high note – if that’s the right phrase at all – of Martha Raye bellowing a song – if indeed “song” is the right word – called “Nature Girl.”

The great comedy of Benita Bizarre is that the character is almost entirely unaware that she’s a talentless loudmouth, and yet she’s played by somebody like Martha Raye, who was phenomenally talented. All of Benita’s songs are horrible, but “Nature Girl” sounds like a foghorn and she pulls the most amazing faces as she sings it. All those Jim Nabors records from the time all almost subtle in comparison. You can almost hear the director egging her on. “Go bad, Martha baby. No, go real bad.”

The Bugaloos’ own song of the episode, “Sparky,” is completely forgettable in the ear-popping wake of “Nature Girl,” but Daniel enjoyed the heck out of it at the time, and drummed on his legs to the beat. He really loved the episode, and howled with laughter all through the climax. It’s a slight take on the same premise used for the end of the Pufnstuf movie. There, the good guys convinced the bad guys that the castle is infested with angels, while here, the Bugaloos drive Benita and her gang from their own home, which Benita’s forced herself into, by disguising themselves as ghosts. Our son loved it and laughed and yelled at the villains.

And speaking of villains, I’ll have quite a lot to say about the next entry in the Krofft Khronology… and not much of it very loving. But next time, more Batman.

Thunderbirds 2.5 – Ricochet

This one has a really funny premise. In the sixties, there were lots of pirate radio stations broadcasting from platforms all around the British Isles. This takes that to the next level, and suggests that, in the far-flung future of 2066, there will be pirate television stations broadcasting from satellites. Manned satellites – like, you launch a DJ and an engineer into space, and they transmit the top 40 countdown back to earth.

Admittedly, it seems like every agency larger than a pest control company has rockets in this series, but that still seems like a heck of an undertaking to tell the world the top 40. Again, I love how, halfway into the future that Thunderbirds envisioned, we can get a million times better results with a millionth of the risk, sitting on our couch.

There is a really good moment in this episode. The satellite’s going to crash into an oil refinery, and, thinking that Alan and Scott have rescued the pirate broadcasters, Brains is about to shoot it down from Thunderbird 2’s missile launcher. Then they hear the DJ’s transmission. He’s still on board! I really like the quick discussion that Virgil and Brains have. They agree that one life would have to be sacrificed against those of all the people in the refinery should it crash, but Brains can’t do it. He can’t kill a man in cold blood, even with the clock racing. I like that they took a moment to define that. They have to find another way.

What I genuinely don’t like about this episode is that it’s incredibly slow. The director, Brian Burgess, was new to the series with this second batch of six episodes, and perhaps he didn’t have quite the eye for pacing that the others on the team had. All the puppet work seems to be done through molasses, like the puppeteers can barely be bothered moving the characters around. When you factor in the normal deficiencies of one of these scripts, like the helpless characters trying their own rescue, which isn’t going to work, and International Rescue will have to be called in, it doesn’t really add up to a zippy episode, despite a fun script.

Batman 2.4 – The Cat and the Fiddle

You know, I’d really sold Marie on part one of this being completely wonderful. I don’t appreciate part two being so downright ordinary.

I should probably leave it there, but it really does have some great visuals, including Batman using little “jet” rockets to lift a stalled elevator 102 stories, and Jack Kelly’s gossip columnist suddenly turning into a partner in crime so he can join in with the batfight. It would totally not surprise me to learn that, eight or nine years previously, Adam West and Kelly traded punches in an episode of Maverick. (Or 77 Sunset Strip or The Alaskans or whatever late 1950s Warners Brothers adventure show needed them that week.)

And it does have the great surprise of James Brolin, of all people, playing an armored truck driver named Ralph Staphylococcus. I didn’t recognize him. imdb.com surprised me with the revelation that he plays small roles in two other Batman episodes. Later, among sixty gajillion other roles, he’d play the father in The Amityville Horror and star for years in the 1980s nighttime soap Hotel.

And we probably should mention that Catwoman gets all sweet on Batman this week. After he saves her life, she gets a last scene in the epilogue after her trial, before she heads off to prison for ten to twenty years (or weeks). She gets to cuddle up to Batman and rub cheeks and give a deeply inappropriate but hilarious ecstatic growl. Neil Hamilton got a lot of great, great lines in this show, and delivered them all perfectly, but “Why, Batman, are you blushing?” might be the very best of them.

But overall, it just doesn’t have that weird, funny, zippy, sexy, and very sixties vibe that part one had. Kind of a letdown.

Batman 2.3 – Hot Off the Griddle

WOW! This episode is completely terrific. Man alive, is it ever entertaining. I mean, you know it must be a winner if I’m passing up a perfectly reasonable opportunity to post a sexy photo of Julie Newmar in favor of something from this amazing scene in which our heroes visit the new, happening nightclub, where the latest crazy dance, the catusi, had been popularized on record by Benedict Arnold and the Traitors. So let’s hear it for Aunt Harriet, supporting local music. You just know she’s a sponsor of the local university’s college radio station. (Save WRAS.)

The specials at this club, our hostess tells us, include catburgers and chicken cacciatore. I just love this scene. It’s got totally with-it and hip kids from 1966 dancing to this twangy guitar songs, and it looks exactly like a scene from 1970’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. I said that to myself and totally did not recognize Batman and Robin’s hostess. It’s Edy Williams! Sheer perfection.

Anyway, so I had this little hypothesis that since the Batman movie was originally planned to precede the series, even though circumstances required it to be filmed and released after season one, the narrative still takes place before episode one. That seems to be borne out here. There was the odd continuity error of Batman not recognizing Miss Kitka as Catwoman, but it makes sense if the movie is actually the first time he saw her without a mask. That’s borne out here, as Gordon refers to her as coming back from the dead, as we saw in her previous television appearance.

Daniel really started wondering about the books on the shelf that slides back to reveal the batpoles. He wondered what would happen if you had your hand there and the shelf slid back. He was still asking about that during the “what can all these clues mean” scene in the commissioner’s office.

But I said that this was entertaining, and that’s got to be for more than one mod scene, a continuity fill, and Daniel’s curiosity. Okay, for starters, Jack Kelly – Brother Bart Maverick himself!! – appears in a small role as an oddball gossip columnist whose office is a phone booth in a drug store, and he’s hilarious. Batman doesn’t want to have lunch with such a disreputable character, and even after the reporter betrays Batman to the villainess, she shoots him down too. “Nobody wants to eat with me,” he grumbles. I died. It’s an example of the absurdly witty dialogue by Stanley Ralph Ross, which probably reaches its apex when Robin, roasting on a butter-smeared griddle in the baking Gotham sun, whimpers “Holy oleo,” and Catwoman replies “I didn’t know you could yodel.”

But to be clear, this really appears to be a case where Newmar watched Lee Meriwether in the movie and said to herself that the gauntlet had been thrown. Catwoman is now in full dominatrix mode, and purring how sad it is that she and Batman are on opposite sides of the law. It’s a particular shame, since Batman’s such a he-man, and she’s had to turn down offers from the Joker (“green hair”) and the Penguin (“too short”). It’s also the first time that she finds a way to dismiss Robin as just being a teenager. Forty million people watched this episode in 1966 and lit a cigarette when it finished.

Daniel, of course, sees none of this. He’s four. Catwoman’s just mean.

The Bugaloos 1.2 – The Great Voice Robbery

We’re in a similar routine to the early episodes of Pufnstuf, where we assure Daniel that the villain won’t get away with her rotten scheme, but he still finds her unnerving and hides his eyes. Then the rescue starts him giggling and laughing. This time out, they ensnare Funky Rat with a whacking great mousetrap that snaps on his snout. He loved that.

I love how the show makes Martha Raye into such an object of mockery. Unlike Witchiepoo, who didn’t like anybody and vice versa, Benita Bizarre is convinced that she’s wonderful and amazing and the only thing wrong with her latest record, “Snowflakes Keep Falling on My Skull,” is Funky Rat’s poor engineering skills. But when she gets the idea to swipe Joy’s voice with some techno-gadget, she’s only self-aware enough to think that DJ Peter Platter will perhaps like her music just a little more now.

Everybody had a crush on Caroline Ellis, who played Joy. She has kind of a thankless job this episode, silently lip-syncing to Martha Raye’s lines while letting body language, and the other Bugaloos’ overreactions to her banshee voice, convey the awfulness of the situation for a couple of scenes. It is kind of odd that they ran an episode like this so early in the series, instead of developing the Bugaloos’ characters a little more first, but we immediately know that she’s the most sensible and sweet-natured of the group. After all, those boys just want to get out of chores and housework to go surfing.

photo credit: Voices of East Anglia

Thunderbirds 2.4 – Lord Parker’s ‘oliday

Daniel shouted “I don’t want to watch this!” We agreed!

The situation for him was this: it looked for all the world that Brains had plunged to his death, with an avalanche of rocks and a 400-ton solar reflector dish coming down on top of him. The reality was that Brains, having been seen complaining already about how hot it was working in this suit, had discarded it, and the empty suit slipped down the mountain just as everything collapsed. Most viewers over the age of about seven probably figured that out before Brains radioed in that he was safe, but Gerry Anderson’s team was in the business of alarming kids smaller than that. He was squirmy and restless during this story, but boy, that really got his attention.

The situation for the grown-ups was this: look, we accept that science, logic, and physics are all really silly in Thunderbirds, but this time… Okay, when a series of lightning strikes has caused a solar reflector halfway down a mountain, pointing directly at the holiday town beneath it, International Rescue is called to move the thing before the sun rises, and it burns the city down.

So far, so good. However, Lady Penelope has the slightly insane idea that the locals and tourists should be kept in the town to assist with any possible firefighting needs instead of evacuating. So she gives Parker the task of keeping everybody both entertained and oblivious to the danger, so that just in case the roof of the hotel catches fire, they can all help put it out.

Never mind the stupid, this is a show that has never once cared about trillions of dollars in property damage. The Tracys risk everything in every mission for even one life. What the deuce do they mean putting all those people at risk for the sake of a hotel roof? Bah, enough of this one!

(A note on the episodes skipped: I don’t own A&E’s set five, which has episodes 25-29 on it, and, having spent a good piece on the sets that I do have, I didn’t feel like reinvesting $40 on the complete set to get the remaining episodes. Maybe if I see it down the line, I’ll pick it up.)

Batman 2.2 – Walk the Straight and Narrow

Over the last few years, there’s been a bad math meme that keeps going around, exposing the poor arithmetic of the gullible. It goes something like how if the government is going to spend $2 billion on Project X, they could just give all 240 million of us citizens a million dollars instead. The meme is made further heartbreaking because it’s inevitably shared on Facebook by somebody that you sat with in Ms. Montfort’s algebra class in the eleventh grade.

The Archer has some inside help in part two of this story. Surprising absolutely nobody over the age of six, the Wayne Foundation’s treasurer Alan A. Dale is a traitor. If the character’s name wasn’t a giveaway to people unfamiliar with Robin Hood, the actor, Robert Cornthwaite, is playing him so snootily and fussily that he just can’t be a good guy. He’s meant to be overseeing the Wayne Foundation’s charity giveaway of $10 million to 100,000 of its poorest citizens.

This means that all 100,000 of them get called in reverse alphabetical order to receive a brand new $100 bill, meaning everybody’s going to be there all darn day. And the first to take the podium is the legendary actor Sam Jaffe, in an uncredited role as Zoltan Zorba. Jaffe was very well known to viewers at the time for his role as Dr. Zorba in Ben Casey, and he spots the bill as a phony, in part because he brought a magnifying glass onto the stage, and in part because the Archer did not merely go to the trouble of obtaining $10 million in counterfeit money, he printed money with his own face in place of Ben Franklin’s. We’ve already established that the character is a raging egotist, but that must have taken a little time!

Anyway, other name parts in the cast are Barbara Nichols, whom imdb describes with some accuracy as “an archetypal brassy, bosomy, Brooklynesque bimbo,” and Vinton Hayworth, later to co-star in I Dream of Jeannie, as yet another Gotham civic official, this one both an old fraternity brother of Commissioner Gordon’s and a former governor(!), whose principal job description seems to be “overact, as much as possible.”

Batman 2.1 – Shoot a Crooked Arrow

Conventional wisdom has it that season two of Batman is one long slide into mediocrity and repetition, but at least since Stanley Ralph Ross, the program’s best writer, got to pen the season opener, it starts with a good script. It’s not directed well, and the performances are all pretty lousy, and having a Robin Hood-themed villain steal from Bruce Wayne is a bit obvious, but it’s still just a little odd, and that’s a good thing.

The quirk this time out is that the Archer is embraced by Gotham’s poor and downtrodden, who spend all their days on a studio backlot street huddled around a hot dog cart and dressed like Daisy Mae from Li’l Abner – I’m pretty sure that one of the extras is wearing the same dress that Sherry Jackson wore in episode 31 – and after Batman and Robin capture him, the people of Gotham City cobble together $50,000 for his bail. Have I mentioned how downright dumb the people of Gotham are?

Daniel was not really interested in this episode, but that’s in part our fault because we overlooked that he doesn’t know who Robin Hood is. The Archer’s played by Art Carney, deliberately reading the goofball, cod-Shakespeare dialogue in a broad New Yawk accent. Also hanging out in this episode to get his face in front of all the millions of hip viewers is American Bandstand‘s host, Dick Clark. He’s the second of the window interruption cameos, following Jerry Lewis in season one. They somehow shoehorned him in while forgetting that Batman and Robin were climbing down from Commissioner Gordon’s office. We can only conclude from this that the police department rents out rooms on the second floor of their building to TV hosts.

So no, it’s not very good, but the concept of a villain who’s more popular than Batman is a great idea and deserved a little better than this. I wish Art Carney was acting as though he cared even a little about this job. In 1977, he was in an amazingly good film called The Late Show. I would much, much, much rather watch that than part two of this.

The Bugaloos 1.1 – Firefly, Light My Fire

I do have a few regrets in life. One of them is that I didn’t buy the complete Bugaloos DVD when it was released eleven years ago. We sort of figured they’d be around forever, and not commanding $120 on Amazon. Somebody’s pricing these sets a little high, I think.

So we’re gathering around the laptop instead of kicking back on the couch, and watching the first three episodes of this adorable and silly series from somebody’s bootleg copies online. Daniel said that he liked it, and also even said that he wanted to watch the next episode tomorrow, but he also didn’t like the bad guys at all. Again. It was amusingly appropriate that some of the plot involved encouraging Sparky, a pitiful firefly who is afraid of the dark and cannot fly, to be brave. When Benita turned on our heroes, he slid right off of Marie’s lap and crouched down between our chairs, looking up at the laptop with a scowl.

If you’ve never seen The Bugaloos, it’s completely wonderful. Sid and Marty Krofft passed on making a new season of H.R. Pufnstuf, instead pitching NBC on this gentle-but-edgy and surreal series. They took what they learned from the production of Pufnstuf to make this for a good deal less money. They still went over their $1 million budget from NBC, but they didn’t spend twice as much this time.

The story is about four humanoid “bugs” in Tranquility Forest, “the last of the British colonies,” who are happy to spend their days singing and helping anybody who needs them, and who are pestered by a remarkably weird and selfish woman who lives in a jukebox. Her name is Benita Bizarre, and she thinks that she’s a singer, and she knows that she needs a backing band.

It was a little mean of Martha Raye to steal the show from her co-stars every single week, but she really couldn’t help it. Cast as the Bugaloos were two young musicians who really could not act – John McIndoe and John Philpott – and two young actors who were fresh out of stage school – Wayne Laryea and Caroline Ellis – and, as attractive and engaging as they all are, they’re nevertheless pine straw in front of Martha Raye’s hurricane.

Each episode of the series featured at least one new song. Most of these were written by Hal Yoergler, although Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel did the theme tune, and Fox wrote at least one more tune for the show. This time out, the song was Yoergler’s absolutely charming “Senses of Our World.” Benita’s song, which recurs in multiple episodes because she refuses to admit that it is a turkey, is apparently called “Supersonic Sneakers.” I’m not sure who gets blamed for writing that thing. Every performance is hilarious: a fabulous actress deliberately making hash of an execrably stupid tune.

It’s interesting to compare how this program was made against Pufnstuf, which was a single-camera film production. This was videotaped, allowing the director, Tony Charmoli, to use chromakey for the first time on a Krofft show, filling the windows of Benita’s penthouse with a pulsating psychedelic pattern. They also shot an entire season’s worth of material on each set before moving on to the next one. This leads to oddball little continuity mistakes throughout the series, like in this episode IQ sneers at Benita’s singing before he has actually heard her sing. The result is something that was made for much less money than Pufntsuf was. It still cost more than NBC was paying the Kroffts, though!

photo credit: Voices of East Anglia

Thunderbirds 1.24 – Attack of the Alligators!

So this was Daniel’s first monster movie, and you could not ask for a better one. It’s fantastic fun and just a little bit scary. It dumps International Rescue into one of those 1950s creature features where some chemical turns ordinary beasts into gigantic ones. When one of the thirty-foot alligators – I won’t tell you how many there are, but I remind you of the rule of these films that says there’s always at least one more than the heroes think – makes itself known and attacks a boat, Daniel was behind the sofa like a shot.

He stayed in the room until Alan decided to draw an alligator away from the house. He watched nervously as they played a slow cat-and-mouse. Alan was on a hoverbike, looking over his shoulder, moving when the monster moved. They inched forward, and forward, and forward, and Daniel gripped the sofa for dear life, his face peaking over the top, eyes wide…

And then Alan, not looking, smacked into a rock and was pitched forward, over the handles and off the bike, smacking his head into a log and rolling over, bruised and eyes closed… and Daniel was out of the room like a rocket. We called him back once the danger was passed.

I’d love to have been a fly on the wall for this episode’s production meeting. Beautifully, it opens with what looks like a totally fake rear-screen projection shot, superimposing a live alligator over footage of the swamp set. Then the very next shot has two real alligators interacting with the puppets on a boat on the set. They really did dump real animals onto the set, and let them snap at each other, charge boats, and demolish the miniature house. An ordinary episode of Thunderbirds presented production challenges we can only guess at. This thing must have been a complete nightmare to make!

Although actually, as impressive as all the usual puppetry and animal wrangling are, I think the most impressive shot features a puppet flawlessly pouring liquid from a beaker into a test tube. Gerry Anderson’s programs always got some teasing for the marionettes bouncing around, but man alive, that was some precision work.

In fact, the only letdown in this great production was in the script. The sealed vial containing the last of the chemical gets dropped into the swamp river and Gordon, in Thunderbird 4, goes to find it. I’m more likely to believe in thirty-foot alligators than I am Gordon being able to see anything in that water!