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

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