Recently, the subject of professional complainer-about-television Mary Whitehouse came up on Twitter, and I started thinking about how everybody in Britain knew who Whitehouse was, while her closest American counterpart, Peggy Charren, is largely unknown. That’s despite Charren’s far greater success in keeping American children’s television in the seventies so tame and unthreatening, while British kids were having afternoons filled with psychological horror and gore. Mary Whitehouse was so notorious for her complaints about everything from kids’ programming to sitcoms to paranormal dramas that her thoughts on any given program would get column inches in all the newspapers, but darned if she ever effected any real change or censorship.
One mammoth difference between children’s TV in our two countries: the villains. Sure, American TV for kids in the seventies was full of memorable villains. They were either played for laughs (just check out all the Krofft shows in the side menu) or they were so ineffective that they were unthreatening. Compare anybody from Saturday morning teevee’s rogues’ gallery to Iain Cuthbertson in Children of the Stones, or to Patrick Troughton in The Feathered Serpent. Troughton’s character, Nasca, would have Witchiepoo, Dr. Shrinker, the Oozes, every last one of the villains in The Ghost Busters and all thirteen members of the Legion of Doom lined up for sacrifice.
And there would be blood. Nasca engineers a shocking body count among the speaking parts in this serial. Offscreen, the army launches a surprise attack and massacres half of the Toltec force, but I’m still amazed by the number of named characters who don’t make it out of this story alive. This is brutal, wonderful stuff.
But longtime readers may recall that our son has never liked villains very much. Since Nasca spends all six episodes in charge of everything, quickly adapting his plans to counter any move the heroes make and manipulating every situation to his ends, he dominates the story in the same way that Tony Soprano or Avon Barksdale dominated their programs a quarter-century later. And our son hated him. Every time the good guys get close to turning the tables, Nasca has a new surprise.
We had to have a long talk after the show about the best way to communicate unhappiness with stories. We asked him to please ask us to pause the show so we can talk about it rather than letting his discomfort drive him to distraction. After all, the good guys would surely win eventually… kid just needed some reassuring.
On the other hand, until about fifteen minutes into episode six, even I wasn’t convinced the good guys were going to win.
That’s all for now for The Feathered Serpent. We’ll watch series two in a couple of months – I wouldn’t miss it for the world – but our poor kid needs a break from the horrors of ancient Mexico! Stay tuned for more!