An astonishing true fact: for several weeks in 1976-77 when Monster Squad was on the air, it was my favorite TV show. To say that it has aged badly isn’t really accurate. It was honestly not good in the first place, but wow, they got some fun guest stars.
So, William P. D’Angelo, who was briefly the head of NBC’s children’s programming, had created the hit Run, Joe, Run in 1974. In ’76, he formed a production company with Harvey Bullock and Ray Allen, and they produced a film (The Nativity), a couple of TV specials, and a handful of series. These included the first season of Alice and a whole mess of live-action Saturday morning shows, like The Red Hand Gang, McDuff the Talking Dog, Big John Little John and this adorably dopey show. With a lot of help from Stanley Ralph Ross, with whom D’Angelo worked on Batman, they stole the hearts of all hundred and two people who actually watched this series.
I adored it. I had the coloring book, the magic slate, and the Milton-Bradley board game, which immortalized a couple of the Monster Squad’s baddies long after this show was canceled and forgotten. If it was ever repeated anywhere, it’s news to me. When a company called Fabulous put it out on DVD a few years ago, I thought it was an April Fool’s prank. They pressed enough copies to sell to all hundred and two people who knew what it was, and it’s been out of print ever since.
So it’s a superhero show, starring famous monsters. A young criminology student played by Fred Grandy, later to serve the good people of Iowa in Congress, builds a supercomputer in the basement of a wax museum where he works. The computer’s “oscillations” bring statues of Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein’s Monster to life, and, feeling guilty about all the naughty things their real incarnations did, they vow to fight crime.
Okay, so that origin is actually a lot sillier than Captain Scarlet’s.
The show was made for no money at all. I’ve said that about shows we’ve watched here before, but I mean it this time. They didn’t even have enough green makeup for Michael Lane’s eyelids. Lane plays Frank N. Stein, and Buck Kartalian – occasionally a gorilla in the Apes movies – is Bruce W. Wolf, and Henry Polic II, best known as the sheriff in When Things Were Rotten, is Count Dracula. A typical Monster Squad installment has two sets: the goodies’ base, and the baddies’ base. Using the budgetary know-how that D’Angelo and Ross got from season three of Batman, the baddies’ base is inevitably a black “limbo” set, with props and dressing in front of black curtains.
So all the money went to the guest stars, and there are some very, very surprising faces turning up here for, what, maybe two days work for a couple hundred bucks? The Monster Squad’s first arch-villain is the Queen Bee, played by the amazing Alice Ghostley, who was in darn near everything back then, from Bewitched to Grease. One of her “henchbees” is Hamilton Camp, who would later play one of the versions of HG Wells in the timey-wimey episodes of Lois & Clark.
The budget is totally ignored by the writing, which assumes the show will be able to pull off anything. Actually, as scripts, they’re not bad. I like how the writers throw out some gags just in case anybody’s paying attention and the actors underplay them. This time, there are acronyms for agencies that spell out the US TV networks. A later episode has a parody of the just-launched Famous Amos cookie brand, which nobody outside Los Angeles had heard of at the time.
From adult eyes, it’s cringe-inducing and dopey, but it’s perfect for children. Ours watched with curiosity and interest until the fight scene at the end – about which, more in a later installment – and then he started hopping up and down and punching the air. He absolutely loved it. I don’t imagine anybody over the age of about nine could embrace this very much, but this seems like one of the neatest things he’s ever seen.