It’s kind of easy from the safety of forty years’ distance to mock Filmation’s superhero shows for being slow and earnest, and being more concerned about good moral behavior than telling an exciting story. I’m writing this a few days before the release of Warner Brothers’ latest superhero movie, Suicide Squad, a film I have zero interest in watching, and if the early reviews are any indication, it, like its misbegotten DC stablemates of the last few years, is so concerned about being exciting that it hasn’t left room for any brain or heart at all.
So it was a pleasant and eyebrow-raising surprise to see this episode, which is about understanding death, and nothing more. The kid you see above is played by Johnny Doran, who had starred in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler a couple of years earlier, and he is terrific. I kind of got a sinking feeling when I realized that the kid’s beloved golden retriever was not going to run away as I predicted, but was going to die. The kid is just excellent; he really sells the despair of grief, absent-mindedly gets into trouble, and, after Isis saves him, he challenges her on why she could not save his dog’s life earlier.
Isis’s explanation is, as you might expect from a program made in 1975, steeped in Ecclesiastes by way of the Byrds, telling the kid about cycles and seasons. Doran is given a weight that most kid actors simply could not have carried off at all, and he did a simply amazing job. I also enjoyed the decision to let Joanna Cameron just be the superhero for several minutes, rather than showing up, doing something with special effects and running off. On this instance, Isis was needed for more than the usual rescue and pep talk.
Daniel handled it with concern and seriousness, and of course we talked afterward a little bit and made sure he knows to ask me or Mommy if he has any other questions. My hat’s off to director Hollingworth Morse and everyone who put this episode together. It may not have entered the popular culture’s long memory like that Sesame Street where they talked about Mr. Hooper, but for treating grief seriously and explaining death with adult honesty, this is a memorable and important episode. It certainly isn’t one I would enjoy watching again, but I’m impressed that they made it and did it so well.
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