In 1976, as Shazam! and Isis began their third and second seasons, CBS bought another half-hour drama from Filmation to air alongside them. Like its companion programs, Ark II was awfully earnest and mostly a humor-free zone, but its first episode surprised me by being rather more intelligent than most Saturday morning programming.
The show starred Terry Lester, who died in 2003, as Jonah, with Jean Marie Hon and Jose Flores as his companion scientists. It’s set in the 25th Century, as the Earth recovers from an ecological disaster that has left only pockets of tribes arguing with each other. There was a tendency in ’70s science fiction to depict the remnants of civilization as clinical and run by scientists, and everybody on the outside as nomadic savages. See also Logan’s Run or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century for some other examples.
I don’t believe that we ever see Jonah, Ruth, and Samuel – oh, and their talking chimpanzee, called Adam – reporting back to their scientific bosses. They ride around the southern California wasteland in the Ark II, a mammoth mobile laboratory, a six-wheeled RV thing. It looks similar enough for some people to confuse it with the Landmaster in Damnation Alley, but that was made a year later by another company. The Ark II was broken down after this show ended and its parts used in other Filmation productions.
In the first episode, the Ark II team get involved in a land squabble between a gang of kids (“the flies”) led by Jonathan Harris as a flim-flam man named Fagin, and a tribe of warlords led by Malachi Throne. Things get worse when Jonah lets Fagin know that among the trash he’s collected are some canisters of poison gas.
It’s not thrilling, seat-of-your-pants entertainment by any means, but it’s a very well-made show with two excellent guest stars and a likable lead cast. Daniel really enjoyed it, although he confessed at the end that I managed to confuse him by saying “it’s a show set in the future.” That’s all that I told him, and he filled in the blanks to conclude that it would be about two kids who use a time machine to go to the future! I’m looking forward to seeing what will come next. I saw some of this show as a kid, when it was repeated by CBS on Sunday mornings in 1978 or so, and didn’t see any of it again until I bought this DVD in 2007 and watched the first four episodes. There’s a lot for me to rediscover and my son’s intrigued as well.