Monthly Archives: April 2016

Thunderbirds are Go 1.6 – Runaway

“Say, I remember that name,” I said. Stan Berkowitz wrote this. He was one of the main writers of the ’90s Batman / Superman / Justice League cycle of cartoons, the shows referred to as “the DC Animated Universe.” Cheating and looking ahead, it looks like this is the only installment of Thunderbirds are Go that he has written so far, but it’s great to see a good talent getting work.

And it’s splendid work. This one involves a runaway maglev train in Japan, and something very unexpected from John’s past showing up to haunt him. Since John was used so little in the original, this was a very pleasant surprise. Daniel thought this was really thrilling and exciting and had to hide his eyes a couple of times. The previous episode had very little mayhem and tension about mechanical chaos about to erupt, so this was a really good change of pace.

I also enjoyed getting to know this show’s version of Brains a little better. He’s been deep in the background previously, but this time Scott presses him into action and it turns out this Brains would really, really prefer to stay at home. For starters, he gets airsick!

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Batman 3.22 – The Great Train Robbery

Daniel pretended to sour on this episode despite hooting and laughing all the way through the two fight scenes, both of which are pretty awesome. Interestingly, the second one, deliberately echoing such one-on-one showdowns as High Noon, is just a two-hander, with Adam West and Cliff Robertson, and their stuntmen, going at each other in a deserted street. But the earlier one is the usual big mob of people, and it includes a great big urn that Barry Dennen gets dunked in, which was probably the funniest thing my son’s seen in days.

Shame’s egomania and rank stupidity make him one of the show’s most entertaining villains, but you can see why they never used him, or anybody like him, in the comics, despite the rights issues. The comic book Batman is far too competent and intelligent to face any kind of challenge from this guy, which makes all the build-up about what an unbelievably dangerous arch-foe he is even more hilarious. And Robertson is so incredibly funny, with his double-takes, slow burns, and body language. I don’t think that he had very many comedic roles in his long career, but he certainly should have.

That said, Adam West gets the brilliant payoff line with one gag. Shame’s gang is waiting to open fire on Batman when they get within twenty feet of each other, but Batgirl and Robin spoil that plan behind Shame’s back. When Shame realizes they’ve crossed that twenty feet frontier, he starts twitching and looking over his shoulder, just brilliant physical comedy, because somebody needs to start shooting before Batman beats him senseless. He almost sheepishly asks Batman, “Say, uhhhh, about how far apart are we?”

“Eighteen feet and six inches,” Batman deadpans. Daniel didn’t quite get the joke, but his parents roared with laughter.

Also this week, Arnold Stang gets a small role. Hooray for Arnold Stang! He wasn’t actually in everything in the sixties, but he certainly should have been.

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Batman 3.21 – The Great Escape

I love the way Daniel reacts when Shame shows up. He’ll occasionally have his little growls or kid-melodramatic cries of “Oh, no! Catwoman!” or so, but he found this completely hilarious low grumble for this villain, and every time he or his henchmen do anything mean, he’ll go “Shaaaaaaaame!”

Speaking of henchmen, Cliff Robertson has a pair of hilarious ones in this story. Barry Dennen, who has had small roles in just about everything, plays Fred, an upper-class British man who wears a Mexican bandit disguise in order to fit into Shame’s gang, and Victor Lundin, who we saw back in season one as a scene-stealing member of one of Penguin’s gangs, is Chief Standing Pat, who communicates only with cigar smoke signals that only Shame’s girlfriend, Calamity Jan, can translate.

The quality certainly plunged in season three, but this story is just really funny. Robertson and his then-wife Dina Merrill, as Jan, are having so much fun and it really comes across well. Hermione Baddeley plays Jan’s mother, who doesn’t want any smooching until the wedding’s arranged, and Robertson has a blast with the underplayed mother-in-law jokes that Jan never notices.

Oh, I suppose there are superheroes in this one as well, but with baddies this entertaining, who noticed?

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Land of the Lost 2.5 – The Test

Big Alice always plays second fiddle to Grumpy when people remember Land of the Lost, but I always liked her best. I love how she always brings her head really low. The animation in the show is dated, but the crew put so much personality into those models. And make no mistake: she is absolutely convincing and utterly horrifying to kid viewers. Daniel was buried under a blanket for most of this installment, occasionally bellowing “I don’t want to watch this show of Land of the Lost!”

But he stuck with it, and was rewarded with the stop-motion team’s other great triumph. Tom Swale’s script – his first of three, all of which are very, very good – involves Cha-Ka being instructed to steal an allosaurus egg as part of the Pakuni rite of manhood, and if you don’t predict that the egg is going to hatch, you must be new to this kind of story. The baby allosaur, who is quickly named Junior, is the cutest thing in the entire universe, and communicates in an obnoxious but somehow charming squeak. Somewhere in TV Heaven, Junior is hanging out with the Clangers, squeaking and whistling at each other.

The story really shines from the direction. Like “Tag Team” in season one, this is a very simple story without a lot to it, and so Bob Lally has to build remarkable tension with the characters in mortal danger from the special effects, relying on music and pacing to make it all work. The first commercial break comes with Cha-Ka in the foreground struggling with the egg, unaware that Big Alice, on the other side of the Lost City’s plaza, has caught sight of him, has lowered her head, and, deep in the background of the shot, is slowly walking toward the camera. There’s no WOW! shot, no musical sting, and no need for pizzazz. It’s quiet and subtle and it worked astonishingly well; our son was scared out of his wits by it.

On the side of the plaza where Cha-Ka is fumbling with the egg, we get our first glimpse of a strange, ruined building that the Marshalls have not visited before. I can’t tell you how much I love the way the writers just planted all these seeds to revisit in later stories. Not even the prime-time dramas on American TV in the ’70s were so willing to develop long continuity like this. This was so ahead of its time.

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Thunderbirds are Go 1.5 – Unplugged

Remember back in 2005 when that alien ship crashed into Big Ben’s tower in an episode of Doctor Who and everybody cheered to see something that visually amazing happen in Who? I actually felt a little resentment about it tonight, because Thunderbird 2 gets hit with an electromagnetic frequency field that shuts down all the electrical power in London and in the skies above it. Thunderbird 2 crashing into Big Ben’s tower would have been the most beautiful juxtaposition of two British icons, ever, but they couldn’t follow in Who‘s footsteps like that, so they had to settle with taking the ship down across Trafalgar Square and knocking off Nelson’s hat.

The plot of this show is pure kidvid simplicity – Virgil, Grandma, Lady Penelope, and Parker track down the Hood and the gang of Luddites he has allied with for nefarious reasons – and we really had to turn our brains off and accept that when one of the biggest, busiest cities on the planet has a massive power outage, everybody stays indoors, keeping most of the streets cleared, and waits out of sight so the animators don’t have to bother depicting a city like London dealing with a blackout. Even Daniel wasn’t all that taken this week, but in fairness he did binge through eight episodes of the original yesterday and this episode, by comparison, is pretty light on mayhem.


This series will be available for streaming to Amazon Prime members from April 22.

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RIP Gareth Thomas, 1945-2016

The very entertaining Welsh actor Gareth Thomas passed away earlier this week at the age of 71. We have not yet watched any of the many shows in which Thomas appeared at this blog, but we will most likely watch Children of the Stones in a couple of years. Thomas has the possibly unique distinction of playing a feature part in four different SF / fantasy series: Stones, Star Maidens, Blake’s 7, and Knights of God.

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Batman 3.20 – Penguin’s Clean Sweep

This is a phenomenally dopey episode, but at least it’s a fun one. This time, the Penguin contaminates some of the newly-printed money at the Gotham Mint with a sleeping sickness. It’s immediately collected for distribution, and one bank circulates $13,000 in the space of a couple of hours. A panicked populace dumps all their currency in the streets for Penguin, his moll, and two goons to sweep up. But he can’t spend any of it because Bruce Wayne warns all the world’s financiers that Gotham’s money is no good. Somehow they don’t find time in 25 minutes to address the economic upheaval that this might cause and still have time for a fight scene.

Daniel enjoyed this episode, which was the final outing for Burgess Meredith and the Penguin, in part because the heroes are almost not put in any real danger. Batgirl is almost entirely superfluous to the plot this week, but she does get a face full of knockout gas to lead into the commercial break, and that caused him to growl a little. I thought it was all kinds of fun because unlike some of the recent villains – Rudy Vallée, Barbara Rush, and Milton Berle in particular – Meredith was always having a ball on this show, yelling and making threats and running rings around everybody. No, the plot’s just plain dumb, but anybody bored of watching Burgess Meredith as the Penguin is bored of life itself, I say.

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Land of the Lost 2.4 – One of Our Pylons is Missing

Here’s a great example of that wonderful phenomenon of “the memory cheats.” My recollection of this episode had been a completely amazing special effect sequence at the end, with the people and objects sucked down by the large red “power source” moving very believably, and much, much faster. Think of all the oddball objects spinning around at the end of the video for “And She Was” by Talking Heads. The reality is a little less impressive.

Bill Keenan’s script challenged the special effects team more than anything in the show before. We learn this time that in a clearing where there should be a pylon, there’s a “black hole” that occasionally opens and sucks things down below, where a glowing red ball of matter waits. It keeps everything it sucks in an orbit until it absorbs it, and then redistributes it into the Land as energy. The “floating in space while orbiting” effect is accomplished by having the actors sit awkwardly on a blue screen floor, the sort of oddball acting school exercise that was a long time in Spencer Milligan’s past.

Daniel was absolutely terrified by this episode, despite the absence of Grumpy, Spike, or Sleestak. “I just want to go wait in my room until this is over,” he whimpered, but he never did actually budge, just frozen in place waiting to see what would happen next.

Last time, we either had the Sleestak egg caves and nursery on Grumpy’s side of the chasm or the animators used the wrong dinosaur model. This time, they’re evidently exploring on Big Alice’s side, but they refer to the allosaurus model as “he” and the sound effects crew gives Alice the roar of Grumpy. Unless there is a male allosaurus on that side of the chasm as well…?

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