You know, there sure was a lot of cross-dressing in kids’ TV in the early seventies.
The interesting cultural throwback in today’s episode is the title of the Beatles’ second movie being a clue that Peter Platter is in trouble. Fifty years ago, it was a safe bet that just about every one of The Bugaloos‘ young viewers knew perfectly well that film was called Help!. Our kid’s certainly heard a few Beatles songs – we sang “She Loves You” to him all the time as an infant, along with “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and Roxy Music’s “Street Life” – but it doesn’t really appear that Kids These Days even start listening to pop music in elementary school at all.
I think that thanks to the old Al Broadax Beatles cartoon, which was in repeats all the time in the seventies, I knew most of the songs from the Beatles’ first seven LPs when I was his age. Or their first eleven if you counted them in the Capitol Records order. Plus all the Jackson 5ive and Partridge Family and Archies songs we knew in elementary school before we started listening to Styx and Pink Floyd. As you did in 1980.
The Mopheads, who appeared very briefly in the first episode, make a short reappearance here, and Benita gets a new one-off costume. This really drives home what a huge challenge it must have been to write for this show, with no guest stars and five sets. It made me wish that NBC had given this program a little larger of a budget to increase its scope somewhat. This was especially apparent in the episode about the rock festival, which is depicted as about four church pews in Tranquility Forest, but also here, where the only acts to show up for Peter Platter’s talent contest are the Mopheads, Benita, Funky Rat doing standup, and our heroes. The show’s almost over and the only other real musical act we’ve met is Gina Lolawattage. They don’t even have room for her in this one. The kid chuckled his way through it again, which is nice.
In episode 11, Benita tries to start a rock festival to rival the one that Peter Platter is sponsoring, fails, and tries instead to choke out everybody in Tranquility Forest. I didn’t find much to write about with that one, but episode 12 is a lot sillier. It’s the second time that the show reused a set piece from the recently-wrapped Pufnstuf movie. The villains shrink the Bugaloos to use as live musicians in Benita’s broken music box. The show ends with the tables turned, as always, but there are lots of silly gags and puns about “small” along the way.
Following on from what I was saying last night about Cockney rhyming slang, in this afternoon’s episode of The Bugaloos, Wayne Laryea teaches the audience that Harvey Nickel can mean pickle. It starts with Sparky trying to be more confident and useful, but it turns into a war over the airwaves. Peter Platter tells Benita that if she wants her lousy records to be heard, she should get her own radio station. So she blows him off the air and starts playing her hilariously terrible epic song “Nature Girl.”
The most beautifully unexpected, and, from our son’s modern perspective, utterly baffling gag is that when Benita takes to the air, Funky plays three chimes on a xylophone. I was first reminded of the little chimes that the office assistant played whenever the principal in Grease made an announcement, but of course it’s really a wink at NBC, the network that first aired the series.
The invisible episode, in which the Kroffts employ the still-new technology of chromakey to make people vanish, or half vanish. Of course it’s primitive, but it’s done with such flair that the results really are funny. By the end of the episode, the wand has made Funky’s head and torso disappear, before they turn it on Benita to zap away her legs. Our kid was howling; it’s the same sort of comedy that children’s programming has been doing for sixty or seventy years, and although the results certainly rely a lot less on actors standing absolutely still when you do it on a cartoon, if you’re just relaxing and enjoying the lunacy, it works just fine.
Also, this is the episode that introduces Sparky’s song, “Gna Gna Gna Gna Gna.” I told our son that I didn’t know whether he’ll love it or he’ll hate it, but if he lives to be a hundred, he’ll have it stuck in his head for the next ninety-two years. Upstairs, he’s doing a bit of straightening in advance of tomorrow’s big Spring Cleaning project, and I can hear that he’s singing it to himself. It’s a catchy tune. It was the B-side of a Venezuelan release of “If You Become a Bugaloo” in 1970.
Can we just take a moment to appreciate the astonishing Bugaloos Buggy? It was designed by George Barris and built in 1969 and I think it’s the finest of all of his “kustoms.” I’d give my left pinky to own this car, and I wouldn’t even say that about the Batmobile or even the mighty Drag-u-la.
There were a couple of great, great moments in this story that our son howled through. There’s a magical bit where Benita fixes her eyes on the camera and tells all the kids in the audience to scram, because she doesn’t want us blabbing her plans to those bratty Bugaloos. And there’s a “new” puppet character onscreen! Magico the Magnificent is a redressed version of the Judy Frog costume from H.R. Pufnstuf, and the voice is Walker Edmiston doing the Ed Wynn voice that he’d done for that show’s Dr. Blinky.
Until this episode’s actual plot started, our son was enjoying this a lot, but he grew a little bored and restless in the end. Just to be silly, the boy Bugaloos convince the gullible Sparky that October 12 is Joy’s 80th birthday, not her 16th, and that they’re all pushing 70 themselves. This goes on for a while, very amusingly, until Benita overhears them and becomes convinced that they’re hogging the Fountain of Youth. Actually, I thought Benita chugging about thirty gallons of lily pad water over the course of an afternoon was a scream as well, especially since they added the sound effect of sloshing water as she tried to move around, bloated, after that.
Lots of the gags in old kids’ shows like this are rooted in the pop culture of the time for the benefit of any parents stuck watching this silliness, so there are usually little throwaway references or jokes from Laugh-In or Hee Haw, like we saw last time. But there’s a quickie reference to a place called Sun City that I never would have caught before last month. By chance, writer Mark Evanier fielded a question about a pair of TV specials called Sun City Scandals, clarifying the next day that the name was used for some well-known retirement communities like a big one in Arizona, and it didn’t have anything to do with that big casino in South Africa. It’s one of those things that grownups in 1970 might have known, just like the South Africa Sun City is one of those things that teenagers in 1985 might have known.
In the dopey old kid shows of the sixties and seventies, you used to see a lot of what I call a “magic path plot.” That’s when a character wants something, is prevented from getting it in one episode, and never mentions it in any other episode. I call it that because Sid and Marty Krofft used it a couple of times in H.R. Pufnstuf and Lidsville, where the heroes’ “way home” was blocked by the villain in what appears to be a temporary, one-episode setback, but the heroes never bother trying it again.
John Fenton Murray does this plot from the villains’ perspective in this story, which also features Martha Raye doing a really funny ten-words-a-second parody of the sort of cornpone characters that audiences would have seen on Hee Haw at the time. It’s a best-not-to-think-about-it story where Benita decides that the way to fly is to cut off one of the Bugaloos’ wings so that she can wear them. So she has a goal, albeit a gruesome and grisly one, and it’s stymied because I.Q. is rescued by his friends, but unless I’m misremembering, Benita never tries to kidnap our pals for their wings ever again. She just goes off the idea between episodes. Every other time, she will have short-term goals: win a beauty contest, get on Peter Platter’s show. You’d think, having set her mind to something like this, somebody would need to tell her “this will not work; you cannot fly by wearing other people’s wings on a backpack,” otherwise she’d just keep doing it.
You’d probably also think that I might be overthinking things a bit. I should probably repeat to myself that this is just a show and I should really just relax.
To put this into perspective for readers in the future, this was the weekend we were meant to go to Atlanta, but the trip’s been postponed. And next weekend’s trip to Memphis has been cancelled. This was the first disruption weekend of the coronavirus, so we stayed home and read books and watched TV.
With a Saturday morning free, we watched another episode of The Bugaloos from Rhino’s blurry collection, and our son enjoyed it a lot more than the previous one. This time, Sparky gets a celebrity crush on that famous firefly Gina Lolawattage, who’s scheduled to sing live on Peter Platter’s evening show. Benita sends her henchrat to kidnap her so that she can get called up as a last-minute replacement. Our kid really liked this one because of all of Sparky’s nervous stumbling, and the rather funny conceit that when fireflies in this world get all a-flutter, their tail lights turn red and they blast out smoke. Turns out the mating habits of big fireflies makes for good, silly kidvid, especially when you’re eight and really love fart jokes in the first place.
Proving that I never had much connection with the sort of people who waited impatiently for a new Harry Potter book and rampaged through it in a single night, having tracked down a reasonably-priced copy of Rhino’s out-of-print Bugaloos set, my son and I are watching the episodes at the rate of about one a month. And proving that my head might not be screwed on straight, here we go watching the episode where Caroline Ellis dresses up in a maid costume, a sight which has probably been making lustful teenagers spontaneously combust since 1970, and I give you a picture of John Philpott with some silly glasses on instead. Well, it is his episode.
Our son honestly runs a little hot and cold with this show. He enjoyed the absolute daylights out of “Our Home is Our Hassle,” which we rewatched last month, and guffawed all the way through it. “Courage, Come Home,” written by John Fenton Murray, is an amnesia story, and I guess my boy has reached the age where he’s seen one amnesia story and has realized that he’s consequently seen all amnesia stories. Another factor might be that instead of starting with some gags and silliness and taking a break for a musical interlude, this episode begins with our heroes singing their lovely bubblegum song “Come Away With Us.” I think it’s a pleasantly sunny piece of period pop that easily stands up alongside hits of the day by the Archies or the Cowsills, but he was ready for the show to get moving already.
So eventually Courage loses his memory thanks to a whack on the head in a storm, and Benita convinces him that he’s her nephew Melvin and can do all the cooking and cleaning now that she’s fired her incompetent henchmen. It’s really amnesia-by-numbers, although it has a few fun gags like the henchmen forming a picket line and the Bugaloos dressing up like her new staff – a maid, a cook, and a “gentleman’s gentleman,” though what Benita would need with a “gentleman’s gentleman,” we probably don’t want to guess – and it raised a smile or two, but overall this was nowhere close to being as funny as the previous episode.