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Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.3 – Frankenstein Drops In

I decided early on that we’d take a couple of days’ break from Freewheelers every few episodes, and this turned out to be a good idea. More on that later. So my son and I watched Sigmund tonight and enjoyed another episode written by Si Rose. I was really amused that he remembered what his mother had said about Johnny Whitaker’s hair last week. As though it was a brand new gag, he said “I’ve heard of long hair, but a rose bush?!”

He also completely adored the various fish and monster puns, including “peanut butter and jellyfish,” “abalone on rye,” and “ghoul in the family,” and missed an important plot development we had to wind back to hear because he was so busy laughing over Big Daddy calling his two older sons “yo-yos.”

Speaking of monster puns, here’s something cute. I love specially-made one-of-a-kind prop newspapers, press kits, and magazines. Big Daddy is reading an issue of Playbeast, and the front cover is some dopey piece of artwork, but look what’s on the back! It’s Orson Vulture from H.R. Pufnstuf standing in front of a chalkboard covered with math stuff. Evidently, Witchiepoo sent him to learn about cosines. We get no clearer picture than this grab. I wonder who else is in the picture or where it was used.

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Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.2 – Puppy Love

Forty-some years before working with dogs on Mutt & Stuff, Sid and Marty Krofft brought along a few four-legged friends to the Paramount stage where they filmed this silly show, and let things get really silly as Sigmund falls in love with one of the neighborhood puppies. Fluffy’s owner, Peggy, is played by Pamelyn Ferdin, who we remember from 1977’s Space Academy. She made two appearances on the show; it’s strongly hinted during Johnny Whitaker’s closing bubblegum rock tune that he has a schoolboy crush on Peggy, but sadly this really wasn’t developed on the show.

Our son adored this episode, from all the dopey puns (“Clam up? Some of my best friends are clams!”) to the climax, in which Fluffy brings several other neighborhood dogs to chase off Blurp and Slurp. Incidentally, this is the second episode in a row where the noise of all the sea monster brawling is dismissed as “prowlers.” Zelda, the housekeeper, is oddly unconcerned about all this potential crime.

Regarding the quality of these screen captures, as with the DVDs of Land of the Lost, the copies available are very badly in need of restoration and remastering, and suffer from color bleeding and blurs. The seventeen episodes of season one have been released twice in North America, by Rhino and later by Vivendi, but you can get both seasons, all 29 episodes, in a region-free four-disk set from Beyond in Australia. Amazon’s currently sold out of that version, but click the pic above and you can order a box set that includes the complete Sigmund along with H.R. Pufnstuf, Land, and Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. That’s 105 episodes in one package for about $60. Not bad at all, even with the need for some extensive restoration work.

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Sigmund and the Sea Monsters 1.1 – The Monster Who Came to Dinner

When we first started this blog and our son had just turned four, I had planned to show him at least some of the entire Saturday morning Sid and Marty Krofft lineup, in the order the shows were made. That got derailed. He was so frightened by Witchiepoo, Benita Bizarre, and Hoo Doo that I knew that my ever-so-gentle son would absolutely hate the Ooze family in Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.

The Kroffts’ first three antagonists, after all, are ridiculous fantasy villains. They may have a few traits in common with real-world nutcases and narcissists, but our son’s not going to have to worry about blowhards like them until he’s much older and starts paying attention to politics (HEY-OH!). But the Oozes are a dark mirror of a real family. They’re dysfunctional and horrible and, if they were to move to Blackpool, they’d prove stiff competition for Monty Python’s Most Awful Family in Britain competition, but they’re close to what a real family could become in the worst circumstances. And though hilarious stupidity rules the roost in the Ooze cave, Big Daddy’s demented cruelty and Blurp and Slurp’s unreasoning bullying would be too much for our kid at the time.

He’s old enough now to see it and appreciate it as something completely unreal, even though these “family members” do their darnedest to shatter his image of how all families should be loving and safe. Last year’s pilot for the revamped Amazon series – I haven’t heard yet when it will begin broadcast, but I’m waiting! – sensibly focused much more on the human cast and never went into the caves or introduced Sigmund’s awful parents, just his two dumb brothers. So, in anticipation of the new series beginning sometime soon, I’ve picked an eleven-episode “greatest hits album” of some of this goofy show’s high points which we will watch over the next couple of months.

If you’ve never seen this series, it has Johnny Whitaker and Scott Kolden as two brothers who befriend the hapless and kind Sigmund (Billy Barty) after his family throws him out for incompetence. His family then has to get him back to meet the demands of a rich uncle. Johnny and Scott have to hide Sigmund from the prying eyes of their family housekeeper – Mom and Dad are eternally away – along with various neighbors and incompetent policemen.

When I was a kid, I honestly didn’t like this show at all. Seeing it again, when I was a teenager, on the Krofft Super Stars syndicated package didn’t improve matters. It wasn’t until adulthood that it finally clicked. There certainly are a number of indefensible, lousy episodes – particularly in the second season, when everybody involved with the show used up their last ideas – and nobody’s going to call this art, but at its best, it’s triumphantly funny slapstick, with Blurp and Slurp’s violence and under-their-breath grumbling devolving into clenched tentacles and the sort of physical mayhem totally absent from later seventies live-action children’s television.

Last night, I was still a little leery and cautious about this show, so we had a “prologue” talk about bullying and how absolutely nobody we’ve ever met is anything like the Ooze family. Perhaps I was being too cautious, but dads can be that way sometime. Tonight, we watched the first episode, which was written by the Kroffts’ veteran comedy scribe Si Rose, and he really enjoyed it. He did get antsy with worry when Blurp and Slurp chased Sigmund and the boys all around the house, but he liked all the fish-related puns and bad jokes (although he misheard one as “two shakes of a needle’s tail,” so that one doesn’t count), and of course he loved the climax, in which the two idiot monsters mistake the local sheriff’s police car for a cute, albeit standoffish girl monster.

Marie was alternately fascinated by just how much physical damage the suit actors seemed to be inflicting upon their costumes – these things had to last for seventeen episodes but they seemed to do everything to Blurp and Slurp short of setting them on fire – and by the remarkable hair shown off by Johnny Whitaker. Even accepting that it was 1973 and fourteen year-old boys had long hair then, the “random bush” on top of his head is a pretty amazingly seventies ‘do.

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Dr. Shrinker 1.9 – Slowly I Turn

It’s true that I wear Krofft blinders and adore most of the company’s output beyond reason, but there are three of their shows that I just don’t enjoy: Lidsville, The Lost Saucer, and this ridiculous show, Dr. Shrinker.

In the 1975-76 season, ABC was really pleased with the numbers they were getting from Krofft productions, both on Saturday morning with Saucer and in prime time with their first variety show, Donny & Marie. So for the 1976-77 season, ABC ordered a blend of the two: a variety show for kids with different comedy and adventure programs within it. The Kroffts had actually started their Saturday morning careers building the suits for another example of the format in 1968: The Banana Splits Adventure Hour.

The first season of The Krofft Supershow was comprised of edited repeats of Saucer along with three new series: Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, which we watched earlier this year, Wonderbug, and this comedy adventure, which starred Jay Robinson as the maddest of all mad scientists. The Supershow was hosted by a kid-friendly band of five glam rockers called Kaptain Kool and the Kongs, and their interstitial segments, musical numbers, and comedy bits were taped at the Omni complex in Atlanta, where the Kroffts were losing money in an ill-fated indoor amusement park, while all the actual shows were, of course, taped in Los Angeles.

So, cast-wise, we’ve got Jay Robinson, finding one note and playing it precisely and without any others in his repertoire, as Dr. Shrinker, the “madman with an evil mind,” and Billy Barty as his assistant Hugo. The unfortunate “shrinkies” are all-American Brad, played by Ted Eccles, his girlfriend B.J., played by Susan Lawrence, and her brother Gordie, played by Jeff MacKay, who later went on to star in several prime-time shows in the next decade. Everybody argues with each other, nobody is happy, and I have always found this show to be tedious. Even as a kid, I questioned why Dr. Shrinker needed to recapture “the shrinkies.” He doesn’t actually need them anymore, not to “prove” that his shrinking ray works, does he? All he has to do is take the weapon to the next mad scientist convention and shrink something else.

But we’re watching this with my kid, and he enjoyed the daylights out of it. The example installment on this Rhino sampler set is an amnesia episode, but I guess our son hasn’t seen enough of these yet to find them tiresome. He was captivated, concerned for “the shrinkies,” jumped up and giggled during the climactic chase, and went upstairs singing the theme song. Whaddaya know?

Incidentally, a couple of years after this show, writer Mark Evanier worked with Jay Robinson on another Krofft show, about which more in a couple of weeks. When Robinson died in 2013, Evanier penned one of his fascinating obituaries about the actor, which includes a remarkable incident where Robinson had a lengthy “come to Jesus” talk with one of the Bay City Rollers. Hollywood’s a strange place.

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The Ghost Busters 1.1 – The Maltese Monkey

In 1975, CBS tossed out about half of their Saturday morning cartoons in favor of a two-hour block of live-action programming. They bought one new show, Far Out Space Nuts, from Sid and Marty Krofft, but the others in the fall of ’75 came from Filmation, who’d proven themselves with the hit Shazam! the previous year. CBS bought The Secrets of Isis as a sister series to the Captain Marvel show, as well as this very silly, very goofy, largely unloved and mostly forgotten program. If there hadn’t been a mammoth hit film a decade later with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson as four completely different “ghostbusters,” sparking a war between two lousy daytime cartoon tie-ins calling themselves “real” versus “original,” I bet even fewer people would remember this show.

So The Ghost Busters stars Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch, best known from a great sixties sitcom called F Troop, as Kong and Spencer, and Bob Burns, in one of his gorilla costumes, as the remarkably talented Tracy. Every week, many of the same things happen. Either some ghosts show up to commit some crimes, or some humans raise some ghosts to commit some crimes, and an unseen fellow named Zero sends our heroes a self-destructing message to stop the mild mayhem.

Filmation was working with a ridiculously tight budget, and they didn’t throw it out the window like the Kroffts did. This show looks like they didn’t even spend what little they were given on it. There’s no time for retakes, no money for new sets, and I just love the huge echo of the cavernous studio when the characters are meant to be outside.

But it all works because Storch and Tucker are just so darn good together. They’re phenomenally fun. They look like they’re the best friends in the world, having an absolute ball working together and treating this stupid show with respect and good humor. You’re not watching The Ghost Busters for novel plots and unique takes on classic comedy, although this may have been Daniel’s first exposure to the old Scooby Doo hallway with four doors on either side and everybody running back and forth through them, and he just howled with laughter. No, you’re watching this show to watch two pros having a blast, with oddball, nonsensical jokes and riddles, mumbled asides and funny arguments about Limburger cheese sandwiches. And also to watch how Tucker somehow always manages to use his pinky finger and his index finger for two totally separate movements at the same time. How does he do that?

One big thing that distinguishes the Filmation shows from the early Krofft ones is the use of guest stars. Each week, there are some familiar faces slumming it in the show for some laughs and a few bucks. Surprisingly, Jonathan Harris doesn’t show up in this series, as he did on quite a few other Filmation programs, but he was probably busy on the studio’s Uncle Croc’s Block, which aired on ABC, while this show was taping. This time out, the guests are Johnny Brown, who was best known as the building super on Good Times, as the criminal Fat Man, and Krofft regular Billy Barty as his associate the Rabbit. Brown is doing a pretty cute impression of Sidney Greenstreet, particularly in the way he’s always mopping sweat with a handkerchief. Barty’s not really doing Peter Lorre, though. He’s just being Billy Barty.

But interestingly, Sid and Marty Krofft found themselves responding to Filmation’s process, starting with Space Nuts, which was their first show to regularly employ guest stars. Compared to the recognizable faces that Filmation employed, most of Space Nuts‘ guests were unknowns, but they did land freaking John Carradine for one of those. Apologies for this lone diversion into that series when I’m meant to be talking about Ghost Busters, but absolutely nobody can figure out how in the world Sid and Marty pulled off a casting coup like that.

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