Jason of Star Command – Chapters 13 and 14

Len Janson and Chuck Menville continue script duties as the serial gets closer to its climax. The big moment in chapter 13 is a return of the big alien beast from the fifth part of the story. Once you shell out for animation that good, it makes sense to use a little more of it.

Both the alien monster and Sid Haig’s Dragos had our son more worried than he usually is. He says that he doesn’t like Dragos because he’s so mean and – surprisingly – “always wins.” We had to have a little chat in between the episodes to discuss the reality that Dragos has not actually accomplished much of anything, and that his bonehead spaghetti aliens are totally incompetent. But I think that because he keeps capturing Jason and his friends, even though they escape almost immediately, and because he always acts like he has the upper hand, that’s enough to convince a kid.

Plus, you know, it’s Sid Haig. Dude scares plenty of grown-ups.

Jason of Star Command – Chapters 11 and 12

There’s just a hint that there may not actually be enough plot to fill sixteen chapters of this story. Some guest writers, among them kidvid vet Chuck Menville, come aboard for a two-part detour. Chapter ten had ended with our heroes helplessly about to crash on a planet, and chapter twelve ended with them helplessly about to land on the Death Sta– I mean Dragonship, which is where they were heading in the first place. In other words, you could safely excise these two chapters and lose nothing of the plot. Such was the way of the classic Saturday matinee serials that this program emulates.

The guest villains this time out are the gorgeous Julie Newmar, vamping it up as Dragos’s moll Queen Vanessa, and her associate Bork, played by Angelo Rossitto. We’ve seen Rossitto buried under foam and fur in some of Sid and Marty Krofft’s earlier shows. He was the original Seymour – and Clang, the smaller one – in H.R. Pufnstuf, and Mr. Big, the gangster hat in Lidsville. He’d been working in Hollywood since the late 1920s.

Bork controls a deeply silly monster with the head of a sheepdog and a costume that says “we can’t afford Julie Newmar and a monster costume at the same time.” Nevertheless, our son thought the beast was remarkably mean, with “claws like saws!” We mistakenly thought he was very excited when Jason was trying to activate a heavy switch before Queen Vanessa and Bork returned. He clarified that he was very nervous and worried. As ever, I’m pleased that when I find the shows a little wearying and see-through, he’s having a ball, loving the action completely.

Ark II 1.12 – Robin Hood

For a group of highly trained young people, the Ark II crew don’t know much about folklore. Little clue, guys: when somebody adopts the identity of Robin Hood to steal grain from people in uniform, with rare exception, he’s the good guy. The story’s by Len Janson and Chuck Menville, who did a lot of work for the company this year.

Now that he’s a little old enough to understand who Robin Hood was, Daniel enjoyed this episode and I’m pretty sure we can find him some other examples of the character in film and TV. As is typical in productions like this, Robin’s merry men include people named Big John and Alan, in this case played by Johnny Doran, who did an episode of Isis for Filmation the previous season.

Ark II 1.10 – The Robot

In 2008, M. Night Shyamalan made a silly movie called The Happening about a gas that puts people into trances and makes them sleepwalk their way into certain death. Darned if the same sort of gas isn’t at play in this episode. Two people are in the process of walking straight off a cliff before our heroes jump them. And Len Janson and Chuck Menville’s story is much, much better than the later horror movie.

But nobody remembers this episode for that odd coincidence; if people remember it at all, it’s because Robby the Robot is in it. This was Daniel’s first time seeing the iconic costume, which was used as a prop in some show or other about twice a year for two decades. There’s a “do not be afraid, little girl, I will not harm you” scene that had him grumbling and hiding under his blanket for a minute, but otherwise he thought the robot was “pretty cool.”

I wonder how many Robby suits there were in the seventies. I guess every production company’s prop guy knew who to call if they needed a big robot suit; the costume had the same effect with some people in the audience as a beloved celebrity making a cute guest appearance. I remember when my dad was watching Wonder Woman with me when Robby showed up once, and he was really pleased to see him. Dad was one of the teenagers in 1956 who had made Forbidden Planet a hit in the first place.

Shazam! 1.13 – The Braggart

Well, shut my mouth! Last time we looked at a Shazam! episode, I teased that they weren’t going to have a stuntman wrestle a bear. No, they had one wrestle a lion the following week instead! And if that’s not enough, they had Jackson Bostwick wrangle a freaking big vulture.

You can sort of tell that Len Janson and Chuck Menville’s script started with the producers getting a day or two of filming at some zoo in California and needing to write a story around it, and so a teen claims to have walked through the rhino pit one day and his pals make him prove it. But never mind the story, look at the animals.

I’m reminded that when I was in college, I once overheard two guys arguing the merits of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, with one guy insisting that Marlon Perkins was television’s biggest badass, because every week “you had this seventy year-old guy beating up giraffes and shit.” It was the seventies; lots of people wrestled lions back then.

Shazam! 1.2 – The Brothers

I can kind of foresee that many of these posts about Shazam! will be very, very, very short. This is the episode where a blind kid gets tired of his older brother being so overprotective and wanders off. The older brother gets bitten by a rattlesnake, and Captain Marvel is needed to save Fawcett City from Mr. Mind’s Monster Society of Evil.

No, that’s a lie. He’s needed to fly back to the RV and get the snakebite kit. This did, at least, give us an opportunity to talk to Daniel about appropriate safety around snakes.

Shazam! 1.1 – The Joyriders

I thought that I’d reassure Daniel before we began watching Shazam! that there were no supervillains and no deathtraps. There are, however, kids in some kind of easily-rescued danger in most of the episodes, which might end up presenting a problem sometimes…

In 1973, DC Comics / National began publishing new adventures of Captain Marvel, a hero from the 1940s who predates the comic book company called Marvel. During the two decade gap between the end of Fawcett, his original publisher, selling Captain Marvel comics and DC’s purchase of their catalog and rights, Marvel created a completely different character with that name, the first of several, and have maintained a trademark on the name. So DC’s comic, which became a Filmation live-action show for Saturday mornings in September 1974, has always been called “Shazam!,” which is the magic word that Billy Batson uses to become Captain Marvel. This has allegedly led to so much confusion about what the World’s Mightiest Mortal is called that five years ago, they renamed him simply “Shazam.”

Me, I never had any trouble understanding that Captain Marvel is the fellow in the red pajamas and “Shazam!” is his magic word, but I did have a lot of trouble enjoying this show as a kid myself precisely because it doesn’t have any supervillains and deathtraps. It’s a gentle moral adventure about doing the right thing, unthreatening to the point of being boring. I won’t defend it, but I think it’s an interesting little curio and period piece. It would have been a billion times better if he was fighting IBAC, Aunt Minerva, Dr. Sivana, and Black Adam every week, of course.

The show stars Michael Gray as a much-older-than-the-comics Billy Batson, and he’s traveling “the highways and byways” of southern California in an RV with a guy named Mentor, played by Les Tremayne. Every week, they run across some young people making some poor decisions and, with a little help from the barely-animated “Elders” (Solomon, Hercules, Achilles, Zeus, Atlas, and Mercury), Captain Marvel sets the kids on the path of doing the right thing. There are a few merciful deviations from this format, but not enough of them. Captain Marvel is played by Jackson Bostwick in the first season and part of the second.

So tonight we watched the first episode, “The Joyriders,” in which some kids “borrow” cars – leaving keys in the ignition was apparently the thing to do in Los Angeles, 1974 – even when one of them tries to talk the others out of it. Fleeing from Captain Marvel, they drive into a junkyard and hide in a van which gets hooked by the crane and bound for the car crusher.

I had no idea that would frighten Daniel so badly, but he just about passed out with terror. We had to reassure him that, in addition to no costumed bad guys, nobody ever really gets hurt in this show either. The first episode is one of many that was written by the kidvid team of Les Janson and Chuck Menville, who wrote for just about everything in the seventies and eighties, and was directed by Hollingsworth Morse, who had directed all of H.R. Pufnstuf five years previously. We’ll be watching the first season of this show in rotation over the next couple of months, provided we can stay awake. Zzzzzzzzzz.