Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 2.6 – Pufnstuf Drops In

As we wrap up our “best of” batch of Sigmund, here’s a pretty obvious pick from the show’s second season. The show had some very weird production shenanigans. They decided to add a character: a sea genie called Sheldon played by the irrepressible and ridiculous Rip Taylor. Much confetti was thrown. Sheldon is, like Barbara Eden’s Jeannie, mostly competent, but prone to a comedic mistake or three before saving the day.

They were apparently in production of the first episode when there was a massive fire at the studio, destroying sets and costumes and throwing their calendar into disarray. I suspect that they had to build new suits for the monsters, and the delay meant that Mary Wickes was not available for the full run of twelve episodes. Zelda is in about half the episodes; in the seventh, Fran Ryan steps in as a temporary replacement housekeeper, Gertrude. Even stranger, that episode also introduces Sheldon’s nephew, Shelby. Shelby is played by Sparky Marcus, who was omnipresent in the mid-to-late seventies. He was the kid brother in Freaky Friday and was one of the Bad News Bears. I don’t know why they thought that after six episodes with a genie, they needed to add a cute Cousin Oliver, but they did it anyway.

Halfway through this run, Sheldon tries to conjure up a dragon to scare Blurp and Slurp away permanently and brings in H.R. Pufnstuf. Everything about this is bizarre. For starters, H.R. Pufnstuf is actually credited as an actor in the opening credits. Seriously, there’s the screen with Billy Barty and the four suit puppeteers, then a screen for Pufnstuf, then a screen for Special Guest Star: Rip Taylor.

Even weirder, Scott recognizes Puf, and Dr. Blinky, who arrives at the end. Now hang on a minute. If he knows them from watching a TV show, then did that program star Jack Wild? But the boys don’t say “We thought you were just a TV show,” which is what you, dear reader, would probably say if a fictional character showed up in your clubhouse. A couple of episodes previously, Sheldon accidentally whammied Paul Revere into the present (and if that’s not actually the sort of thing Jeannie always did, it’s absolutely the sort of thing that happened often on Bewitched!) and this episode treats Pufnstuf exactly like that. “Hey, he’s not supposed to be here, so send him home!” No explanation about how they know who Puf is, they just do.

Anyway, since our son doesn’t pay attention to the onscreen credits, he was so hyped up about Sheldon and Sigmund talking about a fire-breathing dragon that I was worried that Pufnstuf would disappoint him. It did give him a delightful moment of confusion and then he laughed all the way through it. Honesty, however, compels me to admit that his favorite bit was a godawful joke about trees and bark. Our son sat on the floor tonight – ours are hardwood – and he just pounded the daylights out of it with laughter.

Overall, it’s a cute episode. It is definitely nowhere close to being as gleefully malevolent and hilariously mean-spirited as the great Pufnstuf / Lidsville crossover, although the sight of Sweet Mama plopping an enormous apple in Puf’s mouth in anticipation of cooking him is pretty funny.

Mentioning Sweet Mama brings up a question I can’t wait to have answered. This will be the last episode of the original Sigmund we will watch together and blog about – my wife is breathing a sigh of relief – but we’ll certainly be writing about the new series when it is available. The Kroffts’ social media team has been aggravatingly quiet about it, but according to actor Kyle Breitkopf’s Facebook, they wrapped production on the first season last week. (And Scott Kolden will be showing up in some form, as Johnny Whitaker did in the pilot.)

If you watched the new pilot (as we did last year), then you know that it didn’t have the Ooze parents in it, just Sigmund, Blurp, and Slurp. I wonder what Big Daddy and Sweet Mama will be like. In the original, Big Daddy is clearly Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker, and Sweet Mama is Bea Arthur as not-really-all-that-much-like Maude, but these characters are ancient history for today’s kids. Have they given them the same characterization, or will they be updated for today’s audiences? I really can’t wait to see.

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