Monthly Archives: June 2016

Shazam! 1.8 – The Boy Who Said “No”

I always say that you have to grade Shazam! on a curve, because the reason this show is so timid is the same reason that the very first season of Super Friends – the one with Wendy, Marvin, and Wonderdog – is so much worse than all the rest of that show. And true, Super Friends was a pretty lousy show, ripe for all the decades of mocking that it’s received, but by 1978, you at least had the Legion of Doom actually killing all the heroes and requiring some celestial intervention to bring everybody back to life. The original Super Friends hour didn’t have any villains at all, just “misguided scientists.” Hamstrung by the likes of Peggy Charren and the Action for Children’s Television advocacy group, the Saturday morning superheroes of 1973-75, whether animated or live action, didn’t have anybody to fight.

So you get completely antiseptic situations like the one in this episode, where the criminal succeeds in pushing his way around and even forces a hostage to fly him off in a helicopter without a weapon, without even making a fist. And at the end, he apologizes for all the trouble he caused; he just needed some money and made a bad decision. It’s pretty awful.

And yet… the things that Hollingsworth Morse and Filmation got away with making their star do are just eye-popping from a modern perspective. Following up some of the surprising crane stunts in the last few stories, Jackson Bostwick genuinely hangs from a helicopter several feet off the ground in this one. A Captain Marvel program made today would probably have the Sivanas and King Kull in it, but the producers would be a little less likely to dangle their star fifteen feet in the air without some safety equipment.

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The Secret Service 1.1 – A Case for the Bishop

Off to 1969 and one of the shows that Gerry Anderson made that people just don’t know all that well, The Secret Service is a very cute and very, very odd little spy series for kids. It doesn’t have any of the wild mayhem and crazy technology of the earlier Supermarionation shows. In fact it has a single fantastic element: a shrink ray.

By ’69, the spy craze kickstarted by the James Bond films was mostly calmed down, so this was a weird time to be making a spy adventure, but there you go. It’s set in what appears to be the present day and concerns an agency called B.I.S.H.O.P. which employs Father Stanley Unwin. The priest is played by the real Stanley Unwin, a popular comedian of the day whose shtick was talking in a nonsensical gobbledygook. Father Unwin uses a shrink ray to miniaturize his fellow agent Matthew and carry him into action, while he distracts authorities or guards by appearing as a harmless priest who babbles a lot.

The pilot, unsurprisingly, isn’t too complicated. It’s a basic little adventure about retrieving a stolen computer that takes time setting up the premise. But what no amount of backstory will prepare you for is how downright weird this show looks. See, every Gerry Anderson show has some of what Marie calls “cheat shots,” where they do closeups of human hands instead of trying to get the puppets to do intricate tasks. This takes things in the other direction entirely. It’s a live action show that just happens to have puppets in for the dialogue. All the exteriors and establishing shots and car chases are filmed by a crew with human actors, with the real Stanley Unwin driving his character’s terrific car, a 1917 Ford Model T called Gabriel. Then when anybody needs to talk, the puppets are used. So the team didn’t have to build as many puppet-scale exteriors, and they shot far less material on the small stages, and everybody at Century 21 got the practice making shows with real actors that would serve them well when they started making UFO and The Protectors.

Incidentally, both The Secret Service and its immediate predecessor, Joe 90, used several props and puppet bodies that were built for Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons two years previously – you can spot Captain Ochre in a small role here – and also many of the same voice actors. One of these is David Healy, who was often used for American generals or, here, Iron Curtain-nation diplomats. We’ll have a little bit more to say about David Healy in these pages shortly.

Daniel was honestly not completely taken by this, but he said it was pretty good and seems interested in seeing more. The car chase and gunfight certainly had his attention though, and we’ll see what happens in episode two very soon.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 2 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

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Land of the Lost 3.6 – Cornered

FIRE-BREATHING DIMETRODON!!!

So, what I was saying back with episode four… the cold light of adulthood showed the third season of Land of the Lost to be many leagues poorer than the previous two, but for kids, the excitement level went through the roof. And indeed Daniel could barely contain himself tonight, completely wild with the thrill of seeing this bad boy in action.

This episode is by some measure better than the previous few, even with Enik being downright hostile, the strange logic of a carnivorous animal wanting to chow down on coal, and the horrible coda – not the only one – of Wesley Eure picking up a homemade guitar and lip-synching to a pre-recorded teen dream “junior dance”-style song. It’s just wildly fun and exciting, and this fire-breathing beast makes all the difference.

By a bizarre coincidence, just three days ago, Daniel and I spent a few hours at Tellus Science Museum, just north of Cartersville GA, which is money incredibly well spent if your kid’s at the dinosaur age. And wouldn’t you know it, look what they have on display:

Now, to be fair, at no point in “Cornered” do they actually identify Torchy as a dimetrodon, but kids in the seventies knew exactly what that animal was, because every “Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals” coloring book or bag of plastic creatures had a dimetrodon in it. (Some of those bags also had rust monsters and owlbears, but that’s another story.) The actual dimetrodon, a creature that lived before the dinosaurs, in the Permian period, was a very big animal, but nowhere near the size of the gargantuan thing that’s onscreen in this episode.

And it doesn’t matter, because this thing is just crazy fun cool. About twelve years ago, I was watching some antiseptic children’s program with Daniel’s two older siblings and grumbled that what that show needed was a fire-breathing dimetrodon. I dug my old VHS copy of this out to show them what I was talking about, and it blew their minds, too. We thought about all the kid shows on Nick Jr. that would be improved by the inclusion of a fire-breathing dimetrodon (“Hola, I’m Dora…” ROAR!) and the evening concluded with what is still one of the funniest things I can remember my older son doing around that age (maybe seven) as he said “I’m Franklin, and I’m LOST!” in a truly perfect impression of that dopey turtle before bellowing “FIRE-BREATHING DIMETRODON! ROARRRRR!”

I did a quick check, however, and the stars of Sprout are safe and free to grow, as Daniel would rather not have the Doozers and the Berenstain Bears attacked by a fire-breathing dimetrodon. Shame.

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Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.1 (2016 pilot)

Wa-hey! Of course Daniel and I sat down to watch this pilot this afternoon. It went up at Amazon Prime this morning (clicking the images should link you to Amazon so you can watch it yourself) and we just had a hoot enjoying it.

Considering that the Kroffts don’t have the greatest of track records in relaunching old properties (although, as I said the other day, I haven’t seen the new Electra Woman yet), there is every reason to be a little leery, but this worked completely beautifully. It’s silly and ridiculous and incredibly fun. It’s grounded in the real world, with some lovely location filming and an eyebrow-raisingly large clubhouse, and the new monsters look superb, retaining much of the original design with a lot more detail and different things that the operators and puppeteers can accomplish.

It’s also packed full of injokes for anyone who remembers the original well. Sid and Marty popped in, and so did Johnny Whitaker, “1973,” and the guitar part that opened the first theme tune, and it even credits Si Rose despite not really having a lot to do with the nuts and bolts of that original teleplay. The director is Jonathan Judge, teleplay by Garrett Frawley & Brian Turner.

The really big difference from the original series is that the principal adversary is a human played by David Arquette. He plays a salvage pilot called Captain Barnabas who insists that a sea monster ate one of his toes years ago. Instead of a busybody housekeeper from whom Johnny and Scott keep Sigmund, it’s their aunt, who dotes on the captain. And happily, there’s something for a girl to do in this one; Rebecca Bloom plays the boys’ cousin Robyn, who’s in on the secret.

Solomon Stewart’s Johnny is the pratfall-prone ringleader, and Kyle Harrison Breitkopf gets all the best lines as Scott. He had me laughing aloud a couple of times. (“What’s a net?” is a work of genius.) They kind of struggled to fit Bloom’s Robyn into things and give her a chance to shine, but she gets a great little scene, and Eileen O’Connell plays the clueless Aunt Maxine. There’s just a tiny, tiny bit of that Nick/Disney school in the kids’ performances – my daughter watched most of those programs from about 2002-2011, so I’ve seen a lot of that – but since this isn’t done before a studio audience, nobody’s playing to the rafters or being aggressively stupid as the boys in those shows are. This is a more grounded and believable environment, despite the supernatural premise, and the kids feel more like real people and not stage school talent.

Back in September, I explained that I didn’t plan to watch the original Sigmund with Daniel (here’s the story), so I’m glad he’s getting the chance here. Briefly, my issue is this: I’ve got no objection to the original series at all – unlike some of the ’70s Krofft shows, it definitely improved with age and time – but the downright delicious nastiness of the bullying Ooze family would really, really bother the heck out of my son. In this version, Blurp and Slurp are present, and stupid, and a little bit mean, but they don’t have that delightful, cruel spirit of the original, and they certainly never threw Sigmund out.

The danger in this pilot episode is being found by Captain Barnabas, and he does indeed trap Sigmund, to which my son immediately shouted “I don’t want to watch this,” followed immediately by a howl of laughter from a very well-timed gag. The slapstick throughout is perfectly kid-friendly, and Sigmund himself is of course instantly charming. He also loved Blurp and Slurp, who, thanks to modern special effects, can do things the original monsters could never do, and he was laughing at them, especially when they completely misunderstand the difference between trash and treasure.

At this stage, the show’s just a pilot, one of six kid shows under consideration. I really hope this goes to series. It’s got heart and brain and slimy defense mechanisms and I would love to see more. I’m not sure how long it’s available to stream, but definitely give it a play and, hopefully, a high rating!

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Shazam! 1.7 – The Treasure

The principal guest star in this episode of Shazam! was Ruben Moreno, who played native Americans in many westerns on TV or film in the 1960s and 1970s. The plot is a bit more interesting than some of the others. Adam and his grandson are frustrated by two punks who keep digging up native artifacts from the desert near their trailer and aren’t optimistic that the local police will do much about it. I appreciated the opportunity to pause at the commercial break and explain the situation a little more to my son. For all its dopey feel-goodness, this show’s brain was really in the right place sometimes.

What thrilled him the most was the climactic scene, in which Captain Marvel races after a small private airplane that the punks are attempting to use to get away. Adult eyes can certainly figure out how they accomplished the effect of Captain Marvel running with the speed of Mercury, but it really looks unusual and neat and sure wowed little kid eyes. Sometimes “practical” effects still work best.

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Electra Woman 1.15 and 16 – Return of the Pharaoh

The Pharaoh and Cleopatra returned for another go-round in the final installment of this series. It’s much better than the first one, since it’s just a little less like the usual formula. This one does have an exceptionally bugnuts premise, though. The villain, played by Peter Mark Richman, wishes that he could get to Egypt to search the pyramid of King Tut for a hypnotic ring called the Coptic Eye, but fortunately some eccentric billionaire has actually moved the entire thing to Los Angeles, brick by brick. Apparently he didn’t uncover the ring in all that moving, nor any of the secret and hidden traps. Almost the entire action is set inside the pyramid’s labyrinth, and the heroes and villains have to briefly work together to escape it.

This and the other Pharaoh episode were written by Judy Strangis’s nephew Greg Strangis, who also wrote that Land of the Lost we watched last night. Kind of weird how we watched all of his work for the Kroffts across about seven days. He later developed that War of the Worlds show in the late ’80s that was shown in first-run syndication.

Also, for those of you keeping track, this time we’ve got snakes in the narrative, and, just like the spiders in the last story, they don’t appear onscreen at the same time as the actors, either. Daniel really liked this one, and said it was “totally exciting.” He could barely keep still tonight.

This was it for Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. ABC did renew their host program, The Krofft Supershow, for a second season that began in the fall of 1977, but by then, Deidre Hall was starring in Days of Our Lives and may not have been available. The action component of the Supershow was taken in that season by Bigfoot and Wildboy, which sadly has never been officially released on home video outside of five episodes on those Embassy VHS tapes about thirty years ago.

The Kroffts attempted to revive Electra Woman and Dyna Girl as a comedy for the WB Network in 2001, starring Markie Post as a retired Electra Woman. The pilot didn’t sell. Earlier this month, after an eternity of advance hype, a direct-to-download film starring Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart was released. Haven’t quite got around to downloading it myself, though I’m assured that Helbig and Hart make very funny sketches on their YouTube channel. (Don’t they make DVDs anymore?)

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Land of the Lost 3.5 – Medusa

So, yes, this happened.

Medusa is played by an actress named Marion Thompson. She was unable to pronounce the word “mirror.” That is the most interesting thing about this episode.

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Shazam! 1.6 – The Athlete

Holy moley! That’s Butch Patrick as the villain in this episode! He plays a dumb jock who doesn’t want some icky girl to try out for the varsity track team. This was one of the last parts that he played before retiring from Hollywood for a few decades.

Two other notable things about this episode: there’s actually a really good stunt when Captain Marvel rescues the icky girl, played by Stephanie Steele, from the saddle of a runaway horse. Filmation didn’t cheat like some other production companies might have by dropping tarantulas on boots that are not in the same shot as the star’s face; that was definitely Jackson Bostwick in costume on a crane or something pulling the actress away from the horse, and it looked really impressive.

Also this week, I think one of my lingering questions got answered. Usually, Billy and Mentor are riding around when this big sphere on the RV’s dash starts lighting up, indicating that the Elders want to talk with Billy, and Mentor always pulls the RV over to the side of the road so they can have their astral plane discussion. I was wondering why Mentor needs to pull over, but in this episode, the sphere starts beeping and flashing while Billy and Mentor are outside the RV, and they’re alerted by the vehicle’s headlights flashing at them. So that’s why Mentor pulls over: Solomon hardwired the fool thing into the RV’s electrical system. Where’s the wisdom in that?

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