Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.5 – Happy Birthdaze

This time out, preparations for Big Daddy’s birthday party are happening at the same time as the local sheriff’s. Blurp and Slurp abduct Sigmund to clean, and the boys go get him back. There’s nothing in Warren Murray’s story here that’s all that new. It feels like a repeat of everything that’s worked so far.

But repetition is the key to a young viewer’s heart. Our son was in heaven, hopping up and down with excitement. He didn’t appreciate Blurp and Slurp’s bullying, and the sight of a big sea monster appearing at the window caused a fun yelp, but he took it in good spirits and had an absolute ball after the few seconds of surprise.

Freewheelers 6.9 – Cypher

I don’t have too much to say about this episode, other than to note the absolutely terrible pun my son improvised. It’s all built around an incredibly complex cypher that Nero had used to hide that £6,000,000 he sent to France. It has three layers, and Commander Caine can break one of them with a key that’s on a ceramic plate. So Steve, held prisoner by the villains, kicks the plate out of Caine’s hand, where it shatters on the floor.

“He cracked the code,” our son cheered. His pun-loving mother was so proud.

Freewheelers 6.8 – Black Box

With Nero defeated, killed in the huge explosion last time, a new villain enters the proceedings. Mike and Steve, escaping from Ryan and Burke, meet him, but he seems to be a perfectly amiable retired naval commander. He even gives the boys a lift to the bus stop. It’s only after Ryan and Burke show up on the boys’ trail that we learn Commander Caine has plans to pick up where Nero left off, and jobs for them. Fortunately for our heroes, Caine never learned that they had the black box that he needed all along.

Commander Caine is played by Kevin Stoney, and I was pleased that our son remembered him as Tobias Vaughn from the Doctor Who story “The Invasion” a couple of months ago. He may have a little trouble remembering that his name is Caine, though. He noticed that Nero was introduced in an episode called “Nero,” and so he concluded that the new villain would be named Black Box. I’m pleased that he’s thinking about these things, even with such a funny flaw in the logic!

The Six Million Dollar Man 1.4 – Day of the Robot

“Mom! Instead of a face, it was just wires and metal stuff!”

The Six Million Dollar Man‘s first recurring villain is introduced in this episode. Steve and Oscar don’t meet him yet, but he’s a guy called Dr. Chester Dolenz, played by Henry Jones, and he makes robots. Dolenz appears three times in the first two seasons. This time out, he builds a robot duplicate of Steve’s pal Major Fred Sloan in order to steal an anti-missile guidance system. Our son was very worried when the villains abducted Sloan, and a strange and unlikely little coda that reveals the villains later dumped Sloan in a Washington park with some of his memories erased, rather than killing him outright, went some way toward reassuring him. I thought it would have been a better and more bleak end had Sloan never been found, but this is a kids’ show.

John Saxon plays Sloan and the robot, and it’s interesting how he plays him, with stiff body language and cheerful line delivery. Structurally, it’s pretty unsophisticated from a contemporary perspective. Del Reisman’s script shows us the robot in the pre-credit scene and then leaves Steve wondering for half the episode what’s going wrong with his buddy.

This leads to a very, very long fight scene that ends with the robot being unmasked, naturally, and then impaled by Steve. For its time, though, this was pretty entertaining. John Saxon and Lee Majors have good chemistry together, and the fight does have an interesting angle. This is the first time that Steve fights a superpowered opponent. He can’t use his left arm against the robot, and he can slug the villain in the head all he wants and just hope for the best. But if the robot catches Steve in the head or chest, he’ll be in serious trouble. Eventually he does take a blow on his left arm and can’t use it again after that.

The robot would be the inspiration for a doll in the Six Million Dollar Man toy line called Maskatron. It wasn’t a very extensive line. These were twelve-inch tall action/fashion dolls with different outfits, and I think there were only six dolls in the line: Steve, Oscar, Jaime, Maskatron, Bigfoot, and a Fembot. I had Steve – all children did – and I wanted a Maskatron very badly because several friends had one. I didn’t start watching this show or The Bionic Woman until I was around five years old, after season four had started. I’ll probably come back to this when we get to “Kill Oscar” in the fall, but I thought that Fembots were related to Maskatron, and waited patiently through the end of both series hoping for Maskatron to appear, not knowing that the robot that inspired the doll had already come and gone.

Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.4 – Is There a Doctor in the House?

It’s kind of rare to see direct continuity between episodes like we see in this Si Rose script. It takes place soon after the previous episode, in which Johnny dressed up as Frankenstein’s monster. This time, Johnny gets captured and the wolfman shows up to use the Oozes’ shellephone. Naturally, the sea monsters assume, incorrectly, that this is Scott in disguise and attack him, leading to a slapstick chase that had our son howling, because, of course, it’s a real wolfman.

Before he started giggling over that lunacy, our son was in absolute heaven over the prescribed diet for a sick sea monster: mashed eels, melted jellyfish, and warm squid milk. He repeated this over and over with a chuckle. This show’s even more perfect for kindergartners than I imagined.

Freewheelers 6.7 – Doomsday

Our son has turned around a lot on this show. He was really excited tonight and thought this was completely thrilling. It included a helicopter chase and ended with a huge explosion as Nero’s plans are foiled.

I must say, however, that Col. Buchan is not entirely in the same league as John Steed or John Drake when it comes to saving the UK from evil threats. He does have the sense to send “the kids” out of the way when he goes to stop Nero, but his plan wouldn’t work at all if the villains all hadn’t started double-crossing each other. He’s even completely in the dark about Nero’s big change of plans. He’s not going to blackmail the world at all, just kill everyone with Medusa while he and his hand-picked survivors wait out things underground for two years. Lucky for us everybody started stabbing each other in the back, then.

I kid, it’s all in good fun, but there is a real disappointment this week, and that’s Jerome Willis going completely loopy. My wife and I recently finished watching the excellent spy series The Sandbaggers (1978-80), in which Willis appeared as an office-bound twit, albeit who should never be underestimated, and I was so used to his controlled and measured performance there that seeing him chew the scenery talking about destroying the world caused me to wince. We’ll see him again in Doctor Who a few months from now as a somewhat more successful villain.

Freewheelers 6.6 – The Threat

It’s fair to say that our son is not completely entranced by this show, but he is concerned for our heroes. This time out, Mike and Steve rescue Sue from the anchor that she was tied to in part five and he was visibly relieved. The characters are not shown to be indestructible; Mike took a nasty blow to the head in part five and Colin got shot, so there’s room for concern.

We learn Nero’s plan at last, and it seems that the scientists are not quite as kidnapped as Colonel Buchan and the kids believe. Professor Nero, cutting a dangerous profile in his dashing seventies comfy sweater vest, plans to blackmail the world’s governments to destroy all weapons of war, or he’ll unleash his oxygen-eating Medusa plankton into the ocean, killing all life in a matter of months. Buchan, cutting an equally dangerous profile in whatever the heck you call that shirt he’s wearing, is moving in to attack the lighthouse at dawn. I can’t swear that this is television’s most exciting cliffhanger, but I am curious what will happen next.

Freewheelers 6.5 – Pirates

As we watched the black and white Doctor Who serials, I concluded that four nights in a row was about the limit for our son’s pleasure, so I chose to break these thirteen episodes into four chunks. This proved to be a very good idea. Three mornings ago, he awoke to let us know that he had a bad dream about the two villains in Freewheelers, who put a bomb in his room which he had to “throw into another country.” If that’s not a sign that a kid needs a little break, I don’t know what is.

So rested and recharged with some sea monsters, yellow brick roads, and bionic action, we resumed this story in time for more action built around whatever in the Cornwall area they could find to film. Nero’s men take over a sailing ship and bring it to his new lighthouse base, where he’s got sixty kidnapped scientists working for him in the tin mines below. Sue, who’s been scouting around the region with one of Buchan’s other young agents, gets captured and tied to an anchor on the beach before the tide comes in. Our son was a little unclear about this part; he didn’t understand it was an anchor and Sue couldn’t just walk away.

The level of location filming is really impressive, and while the scenes of the other agent running from Nero’s armed guards isn’t the most dynamic scene ever shot, it’s a great location and it’s staged well. The program is undeniably a low-budget one, but the designer created a great hidden entrance to the lighthouse’s secret elevator, and it is much more impressive than what you often get in these videotape dramas.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

I had planned for us to watch The Wizard of Oz sometime next month, but I got a craving to see it again so we moved it forward. I’ll have less to say here than in other chapters about movies; you know this story already and it’s one of the most written-about films in Hollywood’s history. I have nothing to add beyond our own experience.

We stopped it and restarted it after about five minutes. Our son wasn’t paying a lick of attention. But we forced the issue and he loved it. Our son was happy and laughing aloud through much of the movie, making occasional exclamations of delight over the proceedings. “Those munchkins hatch from an egg?!” “A lion afraid of imaginary sheep!” he called out with glee. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Wizard of Oz is flawless.

My only quibble is that I can’t stand the high-pitched voices of the Munchkins, but whoever designed their costumes deserved all the awards in the industry. Ray Bolger and Bert Lahr are hilarious and perfect in their roles, and I always spare a thought for poor Jack Haley, lumbered in one of the the era’s most uncomfortable costumes and makeup jobs. The Tin Man was our son’s favorite character, so we appreciate Mr. Haley suffering for his art.

At any rate, glee turned to anxiety when our heroes went off to obtain the witch’s broomstick. That amazing scene between Judy Garland and Margaret Hamilton had him wide-eyed and desperately hugging Mom, and the whole rescue sequence had him kicking and jumping and dashing to the staircase behind our sofa in anxiety and excitement.

I was concerned, of course, about whether the Wicked Witch would terrify our son. As somebody who wishes to be a better wordsmith than I am, I have always been pleased by Joseph Berger’s 1985 obituary of Hamilton in The New York Times, which describes her as “the actress whose role as the cackling Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz unnerved generations of children.” That’s so perfect.

This blog is nearly two years old. We began it with H.R. Pufnstuf, creating a worry of witches that has lasted to this day. Margaret Hamilton’s performance, I am pleased to say, retains its power to unnerve after nearly eight decades.

I have not watched The Wizard of Oz in quite a long time. See, about eleven years ago, I was dating this beautiful Little Green Girl, as she liked to be known, who absolutely loved Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked – the musical less so – and who insisted that I read the book, over my objections and suspicions. She didn’t even allow me to buy the edition with the cover that tied in with beautifully-designed artwork of the musical, forcing a book with a far less interesting cover on me.

So I read the novel over the course of a week, and finished up with a public display of whimpering, crying and downright bawling when the Wicked Witch meets her unfortunate end. I was on my lunch break in a Jason’s Deli in Alpharetta and made such a Mary-at-Chuckles’-funeral spectacle of myself I never darkened that restaurant’s door ever again. The relationship didn’t last, but it cemented my love for the witch to the point that I just haven’t wanted to see that awful child from Kansas kill her again.

Naturally, of course, that was our son’s favorite scene. Kids!

The Six Million Dollar Man 1.2 – Survival of the Fittest

I don’t want to watch all of the Bionic shows – we’d be here for years! – but I wanted to show my son some of the classic episodes, and that meant picking up some low-priced sets of the series, and so we might as well look at a few other installments, principally the ones with interesting casts. So about eighteen months ago, I had a careful look over an episode guide – yes, eighteen months ago, I enjoy planning ahead – and picked five of the first thirteen episodes.

But as it was so long ago, I didn’t remember who was in these episodes that made me want to pick them! So in this story, written by Mann Rubin, in which our heroes and some other survivors of a plane crash are being stalked on a Pacific island by villains who want to kill Oscar Goldman, we got to see Laurette Spang, who we’ve seen in a later episode of Isis, along with Christine Belford, who would play Baroness Von Gunther in the first episode of Wonder Woman, as a nurse.

Our son didn’t remember either of them, but what he did recall pleasantly surprised us. Among the cosmetic changes that the show’s new executive producer, Harve Bennett, initiated when he took the show from movie-of-the-month to a weekly series, there’s the iconic “running in slow motion” to indicate super speed. Steve shows off this power when one of the villains coshes Oscar and leaves him unconscious with a huge snake bearing down on him. Steve slow-motion-rushes to save the day, and our son said “Hey! He runs slow like they did in that Bigfoot show!” I’m glad that he remembered that. It bodes well.

The other cast reasons I probably picked this episode out for a watch: James McEachin, whose Universal series Tenafly had just been axed by NBC, plays one of the villains, and Jo Anne Worley, who was spending her post-Laugh-In days appearing as a guest star on everything, is the comic relief character. It’s not a bad story. Our son enjoyed it and was able to follow along, and it has a few pretty good action scenes.