The Bugaloos 1.3 – Our Home is Our Hassle

Until some kind soul reissues The Bugaloos, or an eBay seller goes off the algorithm grid and sells a copy of the DVD set for a reasonable price, we’re stepping away from Tranquility Forest after this, our third little bootleg outing. But I had to leave on the remarkable high note – if that’s the right phrase at all – of Martha Raye bellowing a song – if indeed “song” is the right word – called “Nature Girl.”

The great comedy of Benita Bizarre is that the character is almost entirely unaware that she’s a talentless loudmouth, and yet she’s played by somebody like Martha Raye, who was phenomenally talented. All of Benita’s songs are horrible, but “Nature Girl” sounds like a foghorn and she pulls the most amazing faces as she sings it. All those Jim Nabors records from the time all almost subtle in comparison. You can almost hear the director egging her on. “Go bad, Martha baby. No, go real bad.”

The Bugaloos’ own song of the episode, “Sparky,” is completely forgettable in the ear-popping wake of “Nature Girl,” but Daniel enjoyed the heck out of it at the time, and drummed on his legs to the beat. He really loved the episode, and howled with laughter all through the climax. It’s a slight take on the same premise used for the end of the Pufnstuf movie. There, the good guys convinced the bad guys that the castle is infested with angels, while here, the Bugaloos drive Benita and her gang from their own home, which Benita’s forced herself into, by disguising themselves as ghosts. Our son loved it and laughed and yelled at the villains.

And speaking of villains, I’ll have quite a lot to say about the next entry in the Krofft Khronology… and not much of it very loving. But next time, more Batman.

The Bugaloos 1.2 – The Great Voice Robbery

We’re in a similar routine to the early episodes of Pufnstuf, where we assure Daniel that the villain won’t get away with her rotten scheme, but he still finds her unnerving and hides his eyes. Then the rescue starts him giggling and laughing. This time out, they ensnare Funky Rat with a whacking great mousetrap that snaps on his snout. He loved that.

I love how the show makes Martha Raye into such an object of mockery. Unlike Witchiepoo, who didn’t like anybody and vice versa, Benita Bizarre is convinced that she’s wonderful and amazing and the only thing wrong with her latest record, “Snowflakes Keep Falling on My Skull,” is Funky Rat’s poor engineering skills. But when she gets the idea to swipe Joy’s voice with some techno-gadget, she’s only self-aware enough to think that DJ Peter Platter will perhaps like her music just a little more now.

Everybody had a crush on Caroline Ellis, who played Joy. She has kind of a thankless job this episode, silently lip-syncing to Martha Raye’s lines while letting body language, and the other Bugaloos’ overreactions to her banshee voice, convey the awfulness of the situation for a couple of scenes. It is kind of odd that they ran an episode like this so early in the series, instead of developing the Bugaloos’ characters a little more first, but we immediately know that she’s the most sensible and sweet-natured of the group. After all, those boys just want to get out of chores and housework to go surfing.

photo credit: Voices of East Anglia

The Bugaloos 1.1 – Firefly, Light My Fire

I do have a few regrets in life. One of them is that I didn’t buy the complete Bugaloos DVD when it was released eleven years ago. We sort of figured they’d be around forever, and not commanding $120 on Amazon. Somebody’s pricing these sets a little high, I think.

So we’re gathering around the laptop instead of kicking back on the couch, and watching the first three episodes of this adorable and silly series from somebody’s bootleg copies online. Daniel said that he liked it, and also even said that he wanted to watch the next episode tomorrow, but he also didn’t like the bad guys at all. Again. It was amusingly appropriate that some of the plot involved encouraging Sparky, a pitiful firefly who is afraid of the dark and cannot fly, to be brave. When Benita turned on our heroes, he slid right off of Marie’s lap and crouched down between our chairs, looking up at the laptop with a scowl.

If you’ve never seen The Bugaloos, it’s completely wonderful. Sid and Marty Krofft passed on making a new season of H.R. Pufnstuf, instead pitching NBC on this gentle-but-edgy and surreal series. They took what they learned from the production of Pufnstuf to make this for a good deal less money. They still went over their $1 million budget from NBC, but they didn’t spend twice as much this time.

The story is about four humanoid “bugs” in Tranquility Forest, “the last of the British colonies,” who are happy to spend their days singing and helping anybody who needs them, and who are pestered by a remarkably weird and selfish woman who lives in a jukebox. Her name is Benita Bizarre, and she thinks that she’s a singer, and she knows that she needs a backing band.

It was a little mean of Martha Raye to steal the show from her co-stars every single week, but she really couldn’t help it. Cast as the Bugaloos were two young musicians who really could not act – John McIndoe and John Philpott – and two young actors who were fresh out of stage school – Wayne Laryea and Caroline Ellis – and, as attractive and engaging as they all are, they’re nevertheless pine straw in front of Martha Raye’s hurricane.

Each episode of the series featured at least one new song. Most of these were written by Hal Yoergler, although Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel did the theme tune, and Fox wrote at least one more tune for the show. This time out, the song was Yoergler’s absolutely charming “Senses of Our World.” Benita’s song, which recurs in multiple episodes because she refuses to admit that it is a turkey, is apparently called “Supersonic Sneakers.” I’m not sure who gets blamed for writing that thing. Every performance is hilarious: a fabulous actress deliberately making hash of an execrably stupid tune.

It’s interesting to compare how this program was made against Pufnstuf, which was a single-camera film production. This was videotaped, allowing the director, Tony Charmoli, to use chromakey for the first time on a Krofft show, filling the windows of Benita’s penthouse with a pulsating psychedelic pattern. They also shot an entire season’s worth of material on each set before moving on to the next one. This leads to oddball little continuity mistakes throughout the series, like in this episode IQ sneers at Benita’s singing before he has actually heard her sing. The result is something that was made for much less money than Pufntsuf was. It still cost more than NBC was paying the Kroffts, though!

photo credit: Voices of East Anglia