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.

Isis 2.4 – The Cheerleader

Daniel knew where this episode was headed early on. They’re really heavy-handed about cheating in these shows, aren’t they? This time out, a cheerleader pilfers the questions for the chemistry test and is really obnoxiously brazen about it, but our son knew that she shouldn’t be doing that.

The cheerleader was played by Laurette Spang, who’d later play Cassiopeia in the original Battlestar Galactica. I kind of felt like the episode’s director, Hollingsworth Morse, asked her to play it exactly like Maureen McCormick would have played an episode of The Brady Bunch where Marcia decides to cheat. The head of the cheerleading squad was played by Danil Thorppe, who would later have a recurring role as a detective in the very ’80s cop show Hunter.

Isis 2.3 – The Class Clown

Continuing the tedium, this time out we have a practical joker on campus. He nearly kills Rennie in a lab accident that spills chemicals all over the floor, and then he sabotages the school bus that takes everybody on a field trip. It’s called “The Class Clown,” but “The Sociopath” might have been a more honest title.

Ark II 1.5 – The Balloon

A part of me is enjoying this blog experience for the fun of noting the credits of actors that we might not otherwise really know about. Guy Stockwell I know of, of course. The late brother of Dean Stockwell, Guy was omnipresent in the 1970s, guest-starring on just about everything. But I might never have noticed Christopher Juttner, who was twelve years old when he made in this episode. Juttner also had small parts in several other shows and movies from the period that we’ll be watching in the future. Looks like he only worked in Hollywood for about nine years, but he stayed pretty busy. And I certainly wouldn’t have noticed Del Monroe, because I don’t know anything about Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea – he played Kowalski and was in almost every episode – and he’s wearing a mask here.

This installment is about an isolated village that’s run by a xenophobic leader (Stockwell) who doesn’t want any help from anybody, even if they’re like the Ark II team and have a vaccine to help with an epidemic that’s ravaging his community. It’s the sort of story that will end whenever somebody in charge comes to his senses, which will happen with about four minutes before the end of the episode. The most interesting thing, though, is that Hollingsworth Morse, after years of working for the Kroffts and Filmation, finally got to pull off a big special effect sequence when Ark II’s heavy-duty laser is used to clear “fifty tons” of rock from a mountain pass. It’s certainly dated, but it looks about as good as this effect would have looked on even a higher-budgeted prime-time program in 1976. I guess we’ll have to look at some prime-time shows at some point soon to make sure.

Isis 1.12 – Funny Gal

“I didn’t know Captain Marvel spoke bird,” said Daniel, who was, again, thrilled to see the two superheroes crossing over.

This time out, Isis sends her pet raven, Tut, to find Marvel because she’s not able to stop a big storm over the ocean while also getting a stranded ship to shore. One of the students, an eccentric girl named Carrie, has taken out Rick’s fishing boat as a very odd publicity stunt for her class election campaign. So Isis works her magic while Marvel tows the boat home, and maybe later the two superheroes got a cat out of a tree or helped an old lady across the street.

But seriously, the lesson of the week is that you should always care for yourself and not put yourself down. Carrie compensates for thinking herself fat and ugly by dressing outlandishly, acting melodramatically, and driving a rusted, junkheap 1950s car around while lamenting that pretty girls get all the luck. Then, in the way of television, the producers cast a perfectly attractive young actress named Sandra Vacey, who was certainly neither fat nor ugly.

Ark II 1.4 – The Slaves

The guest star in tonight’s episode of Ark II was Michael Kermoyan, who was principally an actor from stage and theater. He was best known for playing either the king or the kralahome in many performances of The King and I, even taking over from Yul Brenner during Brenner’s vacation from the role in the 1977-78 Broadway revival. Playing the villain, Baron Vargas, in this episode was almost like auditioning for his big TV part in the next season, when he’d play the evil Dr. Strange in 1977’s Mystery Island serial, which Hanna-Barbera made for CBS.

And as the villain, he gave Daniel one of his first genuine shocks in a while. Baron Vargas keeps a small group of superstitious slaves under his thumb via some telegraphed-to-any-adults-watchingly obvious fake magic. He warns Jonah that he will turn him into a chicken, and hocus-pocus, alakazam, with a trap door and a blast of smoke, Jonah is replaced by a chicken. “I don’t want to watch this,” Daniel grumbled and crawled into Mommy’s lap. “I’m pretty sure it’s just a trick,” she assured him.

Isis 1.11 – No Drums, No Trumpets

Last time, we saw an episode that dealt with some high schooler’s problem and ran out of plot with six minutes to go. This time, the first six minutes deal with a kid at Larkspur High throwing a complete tantrum because his ham radio didn’t take first prize in the science fair and almost driving off a cliff in a rage. That settled, the remaining fifteen minutes deal with some bad guys who’ve holed up in a ghost town, and, Scooby Doo-like, try to drive off any curious people with guh-guh-guh-ghosts.

The transition between plots was handled very clumsily, with a brief “we interrupt this broadcast for a special news bulletin about something that’s going to impact the plot in a moment” scene, but the importance of a message to “be on the lookout for some bad guys” was instantly lost on Daniel as soon as carts started moving and doors started opening by themselves in the ghost town. When the non-threatening villains (a kids’ show in ’75, remember) tell Andrea and the two teens to wait patiently while they load up their van and get away, Daniel had absolutely no idea who they were.

One of the teens is played by the actress Christopher Norris, who would later co-star as Gloria in Trapper John MD for several years, and later joined the cast of Santa Barbara for a couple of hundred episodes. The non-threatening bad guy with a speaking part is played by Michael Greene, who was the Riddler’s tall henchman in “The Ring of Wax.”

Isis 1.9 – To Find a Friend

Isis demonstrates even more superpowers in this episode. She can roll back time to get a look at a kid who stole an antique pistol from guest star Mike Lookinland from The Brady Bunch, but oddly she cannot see where the young thief, whose criminal aspirations don’t extend beyond shooting rabbits, went next. Her time power can only recreate the scene that a witness provided.

Pondering the limitations of Isis’s magical powers may be a silly thing to do, but that’s more interesting than anything that happens in the episode. The show started with four weeks of actual criminals – petty ones, mind, but bad guys – but it’s just been dullsville since. Nice to see a former Brady kid getting work from Filmation, though, about three weeks after we saw a Partridge on Shazam!, in fact. Who’s next, one of the children from Apple’s Way?

Shazam! 2.7 – The Odd Couple

At last, Captain Marvel and Isis have their first teamup. In retrospect, the oddest thing about “The Odd Couple” is that it took them so long to establish that the shows take place in the same world and can cross over at all, waiting until the end of Shazam!‘s second season. The heroes join forces to battle the raging stock footage of a forest fire. Yes, it’s easy to mock, but director Hollingsworth Morse had a real challenge with this one, and stock footage was really the only practical solution.

Daniel loved it. He’s used to all the cartoon team-ups, of course, but seeing this in a live-action show was a complete surprise, and had him grinning one of the biggest smiles ever when Les Tremayne showed up in Andrea Thomas’s always-conveniently-empty classroom to ask for Isis’s help. At the beginning of this year, we saw the Green Hornet and Batman team up, but that didn’t really mean anything to him since he didn’t know who the Hornet and Kato were. Heh. Some years down the road when he’s ready for the Arrowverse, his mind’s gonna be blown.

The content of the team-up is pretty mild by itself, but I actually enjoyed the in-universe implications. Indulge me, or call this entry a day, the rest of this is going to get silly. We’ve always taken it for granted that the Elders – unlike the funnybooks, there is no “Wizard Shazam” at the Rock of Eternity – somehow gave Billy the dual identity of Captain Marvel and set him up with Mentor and the RV, but they typically stay at a distance beyond giving Billy little homilies about trust or friendship to get the message-of-the-week going.

This time, though, they flat out tell Billy that Captain Marvel is going to need help before the day is through, and Billy can’t imagine who that could be. Later, when he scouts the forest fire and realizes it’s more than his power set can tackle, it’s Mentor who contacts the Elders with Billy’s code-phrase, and they tell him how to get in contact with Isis. (I’m assuming they also teleport him to her school, because the forest fire is apparently very deep in the wilderness and far from civilization, yet the episode shows Mentor visiting Andrea Thomas like the school’s around the next bend in the road!)

So how does that work, I wonder? All we know of how Andrea got the Isis medallion is that which is revealed in her show’s title sequence, but did the Elders have something to do with that? Or do they just keep tabs on anybody on Earth-Filmation who manages to obtain super powers?

Speaking of Filmation, we’ll return to Shazam! in a few weeks, syncing the third season of the show with Isis‘s second, and look at something else from that studio in the meantime. Stay tuned!

Isis 1.7 -Lucky

It’s kind of easy from the safety of forty years’ distance to mock Filmation’s superhero shows for being slow and earnest, and being more concerned about good moral behavior than telling an exciting story. I’m writing this a few days before the release of Warner Brothers’ latest superhero movie, Suicide Squad, a film I have zero interest in watching, and if the early reviews are any indication, it, like its misbegotten DC stablemates of the last few years, is so concerned about being exciting that it hasn’t left room for any brain or heart at all.

So it was a pleasant and eyebrow-raising surprise to see this episode, which is about understanding death, and nothing more. The kid you see above is played by Johnny Doran, who had starred in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler a couple of years earlier, and he is terrific. I kind of got a sinking feeling when I realized that the kid’s beloved golden retriever was not going to run away as I predicted, but was going to die. The kid is just excellent; he really sells the despair of grief, absent-mindedly gets into trouble, and, after Isis saves him, he challenges her on why she could not save his dog’s life earlier.

Isis’s explanation is, as you might expect from a program made in 1975, steeped in Ecclesiastes by way of the Byrds, telling the kid about cycles and seasons. Doran is given a weight that most kid actors simply could not have carried off at all, and he did a simply amazing job. I also enjoyed the decision to let Joanna Cameron just be the superhero for several minutes, rather than showing up, doing something with special effects and running off. On this instance, Isis was needed for more than the usual rescue and pep talk.

Daniel handled it with concern and seriousness, and of course we talked afterward a little bit and made sure he knows to ask me or Mommy if he has any other questions. My hat’s off to director Hollingworth Morse and everyone who put this episode together. It may not have entered the popular culture’s long memory like that Sesame Street where they talked about Mr. Hooper, but for treating grief seriously and explaining death with adult honesty, this is a memorable and important episode. It certainly isn’t one I would enjoy watching again, but I’m impressed that they made it and did it so well.

Isis 1.5 – The Outsider

This episode starts out like a standard Shazam! “kids just need to be accepting” morality tale before transforming into a po-faced and completely unbelievable ecological story. A scene where Isis stops a runaway bulldozer entertained Daniel, while I wondered whether Hollingsworth Morse had used the same hillside location where he had shot the H.R. Pufnstuf opening credits six years before.

In the cast, both Mitch Vogel, who played the red-haired hillbilly who is teased by the school jocks, and Harry Hickox, who played the developer, were nearing the ends of their acting careers and would leave the business before 1979. Vogel had played the orphan kid taken in by the Cartwrights in the last couple of seasons of Bonanza and Hickox had a deep list of small parts dating back to the early ’50s. We’ll see Vogel again in another Filmation show before long.