Monthly Archives: October 2017

Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.4 – Robyn Has a Gift

Well, the grouch in me has to complain that this episode is a little more treacly than I’d prefer. At its core, it’s about Robyn not feeling as though she fits in or is good at anything, and needing some reassurance from her mother that she’s special regardless. Modern day children’s television tends to hammer these lessons in without any kind of subtlety. I’m not complaining “Oh no, a moral,” I’m saying “Don’t stop the mayhem for a moral; we’ll figure it out.”

And that’s a particular shame this week, because otherwise this is really, really funny. Again, the grouch in me wishes we could have enjoyed the chaos that could have erupted in an art gallery, because that’s where the plot is going before Robyn saves the day. Otherwise, this episode is a real joy. I absolutely loved Robyn drafting Blurp and Slurp to help with her project, and Sweet Mama’s failed attempt to apply some passive-aggressive guilt on her idiot offspring is hilarious. I really loved Robyn ripping off the monsters when they demand higher payment, and the monsters being stupid enough to think they got the upper hand.

But while the opportunity for chaos never completely forms, the appearance of several massive sand centipedes is fantastically funny, and leads to a brilliant bit of comedy when Sigmund very casually explains the difference between poisonous and venomous. I do adore the way Sigmund is so casual about weird things in this show. At one point, he explains that if the tips of his tentacles are ever sore, he just bites them off and waits for them to grow back. It’s a funny detail made hysterical by Drew Massey’s delivery of the line. I didn’t realize Massey had played Sid the Science Kid. I suddenly hear the similarities!

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The Twilight Zone 1.25 – People are Alike All Over

I’d never seen this episode of The Twilight Zone before, but its twist ending has been ripped off and parodied so many times that I sort of knew where it was going. So will anybody older than, say, our kid’s six, so I’ll “spoil” it for you: this is the one where the first Earthman on Mars, played, of course, by Roddy McDowall, ends up in an alien zoo. Rod Serling wrote the teleplay from a short story by Paul Fairman, “Brothers Beyond The Void,” which first appeared in a 1952 issue of Fantastic Adventures.

Our kid was, on the other hand, absolutely walloped by the ending. He was at a loss for words. “That was just… strange,” he said, not even able to commit to whether he thought it was happy or sad that our hero met such a fate. It’s been a while since I was that thunderstruck. Odd feeling.

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Catweazle 1.4 – The Witching Hour

I’m afraid that while our son enjoyed some of the gags in this episode, he really didn’t understand the plot at all, and didn’t ask for our help. This time out, Carrot asks for Catweazle’s help in coming up with a spell to help his father lose interest in a Jaguar-driving posh lady played by an Australian actress named June Jago. The price of the spell? One box of matches. Wizards work cheap when they don’t understand the value of things.

Catweazle comes up with a spell that requires a little hair from the target, which is handy as she has an appointment in a beauty salon. The series appears to have been filmed in the summer of 1969, and this salon is the most 1969 thing ever. But while the wizard’s antics had him giggling, our son had absolutely no idea what he was up to. It turns out that he didn’t understand what a voodoo doll was, and so Catweazle’s magic had him stumped. How odd. Children’s television used to be full of voodoo dolls. I wonder where they all went?

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Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.3 – Dibs

I wasn’t quite as taken with this episode as I was the previous two. The story’s about Sigmund misunderstanding the concept of “dibs,” thanks to Johnny’s incompetent explanation of the rule, leading to a rash of petty thefts of very silly items around Dead Man’s Cove. But this should have escalated into mayhem, and it doesn’t. Johnny’s solution to the problem is agreeably amusing, but at its core, this is a story about paying attention to little brothers. I’d appreciate a little more lunacy before giving us a heavy-handed moral.

On the other hand, while David Arquette’s Captain Barnabas is the lone note of lunacy in this story, it does lead to a climax that our son enjoyed, in which all his neighbors humor him by “agreeing” with him using “air quotes.” I’m not entirely sure that Arquette’s performance is entirely in sync with his much more natural co-stars, but it can lead to some funny moments.

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The Twilight Zone 1.23 – A World of Difference

An odd little coincidence here: Marie drew a connection between this episode and one that we watched in August, “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine.” Both concern actors that escape into the unreality of a film, although the two stories are very different. In “A World of Difference,” written by Richard Matheson, the fictional character of a movie doesn’t understand why his life doesn’t seem to actually exist, why everybody keeps insisting he’s actually a Hollywood actor, and why a very unpleasant woman claims to be his ex-wife.

The coincidence is that the protagonists are played by Ida Lupino in “Shrine” and Howard Duff in this episode. The actors were married in real life, and would appear together onscreen about eight years later as the Batvillains Dr. Cassandra and Cabala. Lupino would return to direct a celebrated episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Masks,” in the fifth season.

Anyway, we were pleased that our son enjoyed this episode, because the last couple weren’t among his favorites. I enjoyed seeing Eileen Ryan and David White in supporting roles, although White would later get so identified as Larry Tate on Bewitched that I couldn’t remember the actor’s name! The very best part of the episode, though, features an eerie synthesizer piece while Duff’s character races back to the studio in a stolen car. It’s absolutely terrific POV camerawork from the car’s hood, showing off the wide, wide avenues of the Los Angeles suburbs and dozens of beautiful old fifties cars.

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The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976)

Are you ready to spend fifty minutes checking your wristwatch? Then have I got a Halloween special for you! In 1976, the endlessly prissy Paul Lynde was a recurring guest on ABC’s Donny & Marie, when he wasn’t the center square on – is this right? – 828 episodes of Hollywood Squares. Apparently to give the Osmonds a week off, the production team taped a Halloween special with Lynde instead, with guest stars Florence Henderson, Tim Conway, and Roz Kelly, who had found an “I Didn’t Do It Kid” level of fleeting fame in the role of Pinky Tuscadero for three weeks on Happy Days and tried keeping it going here.

With musical guests Kiss, who made their national TV debut that October night, they made the least funny and most 1970s thing ever. Jokes, such as they are, are built around Baretta and The Legend of Billy Jack, at least when Lynde isn’t sneering about Kiss’s makeup and elevator shoes, because hey, moms in Peoria and Des Moines, these rock and roll stars are weird people. Within weeks, the horrifying rumor that Gene and the boys never took off their makeup had cemented. I have no idea why that was meant to be so frightening, but my folks were really bothered by it. Yours as well, I imagine.

We didn’t watch every minute of this monster. I asked to zoom through Peter Criss’s performance of “Beth,” because while I can smile through or ignore most of the Kiss catalog without incident, the only thing that song was good for was inspiring a funny Evan Dorkin comic strip about “the Kiss Navy.”

So why in creation did we watch this thing? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?

Billie Hayes plays Witchiepoo and Margaret Hamilton plays the Wicked Witch of the West. The writers gave them some of the worst dialogue you’ve ever heard. Good grief, who was responsible for this mess? Bruce Vilanch, you say? Oh, yeah, he’s credited at least in part for The Star Wars Holiday Special and all nine – all nineBrady Bunch Hours. Good Lord. And the man writes for the Academy Awards these days. There’s a career arc.

I enjoyed prepping our son for this more than revisiting it. I asked him last week whether Witchiepoo or the Wicked Witch was worse. He had settled on Elphaba (for that’s her name, damn your eyes) before I reminded him that Witchiepoo actually made him cry once. Earlier this evening, serendipity was on our side. We went by a Halloween Express to buy him a Hulk costume and there was a welcome mat that read “I’ll Get You, My Pretties.” I had fun with that.

He giggled a bit through this, because this is television for six year-olds, and there’s great comedy for that age bracket when you’ve got Billy Barty biting Paul Lynde in the leg and a Peterbilt crashing through the wall of a diner. He really enjoyed the other two of Kiss’s songs, specifying that he likes “hard rocking music.” But the look on his face when Witchiepoo turned up was priceless.

And honestly, I’d sit through just about anything to hear the lovely Witchiepoo cackle. Just about anything. I don’t believe she’s in any Pink Lady & Jeffs, but if this family’s ever not nice to me, I’ll make them watch those.

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Ponyo (2008)

Marie asked whether we were going to show our son Ponyo. I said nah, let’s throw him in the Miyazaki deep end with Princess Mononoke.

I’m kidding, of course. If you want to start listing reasons why Hayao Miyazaki’s films are so beloved in the United States, then you could get a little cynical and grouchy, or you could note that there are Miyazaki movies for every age. He’s directed films for eleven-at-hearts and for older audiences, but he’s also made a few that are absolutely perfect for six year-olds. So here’s the first of a couple that we’re watching this fall. Ponyo was released in Japan in 2008 and came out in the US with a very wide release in multiplexes all across the country the following year. It did pretty respectable business for a cartoon without any merchandising, and while it wasn’t a blockbuster, it attracted crowds beyond anime fans, and I just can’t believe anybody left without a smile of curiosity and amusement. It’s just so darn cute.

Our kid was absolutely hypnotized by it. The movie hits on similar themes of life out of balance that Miyazaki has explored in other films, but the core for children is a simple adventure film centered on a five year-old boy named Sosuke and his very odd new companion, a little girl who was a small fish when he first met her. They have a safe, not-frightening, but visually dazzling experience of looking for his mother after the little girl, given the name Ponyo, throws the world off-kilter by abandoning an underwater life of magic in favor of humanity.

I won’t say there’s a ton here for adults to really embrace beyond the beautiful animation. While the movie never drags and never annoys – given the unspeakable awfulness of modern American cartoons, that alone is a massive recommendation – the lack of any real struggle or danger keeps me from embracing the characters or situation. This is a movie to be shared with children, who will almost certainly be as charmed and captivated as ours was. Put another way, watched without a kid, then Ponyo is a treat for the eyes from a visionary director, but so lacking in meat and fire that it’s mostly forgettable. With a kid, this is exploring a vibrant and exciting little world. If you don’t have children of your own, sit down with somebody else’s and prepare for two incredibly satisfying hours.

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Catweazle 1.3 – The Curse of Rapkyn

Hey, it’s Peter Sallis! I wasn’t expecting to run into many guest stars that I recognize in this show. It’s always nice to see Peter Sallis. He was such a great talent. He plays a museum curator in this one.

In this one, Carrot wonders whether the farm’s ongoing financial problems might be a real, honest-to-badness curse on the land. If he can find out that there is one, then Catweazle might be able to lift it, right? And indeed it turns out that a witch named Rapkyn did curse the land and then hid away two cursed stones on the property to keep the bad luck going. But how can they find the stones?

We thought this one was just hilarious. On the down side, the sound quality on these episodes is pretty fair at best; I guess they didn’t have a good sound recordist to place the microphones on location. But the concentration pays off, because Catweazle’s yelping and fumbling is really amusing, and the physical comedy is just great. Our son and I really enjoyed what happens when Catweazle finds the head of a stag mounted on a wall. The old wizard’s never seen anything like that before!

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