Isis 1.15 – Dreams of Flight

Huh. You get so used to Isis using magic that it was actually a little surprise to have her stop a runaway truck by just climbing in the cab and hitting the brakes.

Anyway, this was the last episode of the show’s first season, and the last one for Joanna Pang, who didn’t return when the show went back into production for the 1976 season. The guest villain – another misguided kid – was played by Paul Hinckley. Two seasons later, he would star opposite Lennie Weinrib in 1977’s Magic Mongo for Sid and Marty Krofft. These are his only credits on IMDB.

Isis 1.14 – Scuba Duba

This episode of Isis guest stars Brian Byers, who was frequently seen in small roles in the 1970s as a hunky, good-looking young fellow. First he impulsively almost falls off a mountain because he didn’t check his rope, and a couple of days later he nearly drowns because he didn’t wait for a partner and didn’t check his scuba tank.

Daniel was really worried about the guy! He’s never liked innocents being put into serious danger in shows and tonight, he hid under his blanket for a couple of minutes. He has only just begun learning to swim and takes all our safety warnings very, very seriously. Seeing this clod ignore the rules might have hit home a little for him, which is good. So the moral-of-the-week does work, but I do wish we’d have a few more villains in this show.

Isis 1.13 – Girl Driver

The previous season, they did a Shazam! where Butch Patrick is all whiny because some icky girl is trying to play sports. This season on Isis, the prospective auto club president is equally whiny because another icky girl can drive real well and work on engines. She’s played by Susan Lawrence, who would play B.J. in Dr. Shrinker the following season. Lawrence had a very short career in Hollywood, lasting only about six years, but she had several high-profile TV appearances before she retired.

My son was pretty sure that the girl would win the rally to prove she can be auto club president because the boy cheats. He watches a Nick Jr. cartoon called Blaze and the Monster Machines and that’s the plot of pretty much every single episode: one of the whiny, naughty cars cheats and loses, as he explained to me at hilarious length after we finished. I appreciate these shows trying to have a moral or two, but my son’s breathless, amusing recaps of Blaze’s last few adventures were a lot more entertaining than the original cartoons!.

Isis 1.10 – The Show-Off

This episode is downright odd. It starts off being a story about a kid who won’t accept anybody’s help and keeps showing off. Andrea talks him out of being ridiculous and then the show realizes that there’s still a good six minutes of episode left. So Rick and Cindy get trapped in a cave with an escaped gorilla. Seriously. Neither the landslide nor the gorilla have anything to do with the show-off kid.

Why a gorilla? I guess because they did a bear in episode six.

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?

Isis 1.8 – Bigfoot

There were an awful lot of reported Bigfoot sightings in the seventies, mostly on television adventure shows. Kids tended to get their hopes up whenever a character said that they’d seen Bigfoot. Only the cruelest of television producers would then substitute a really, really tall hobo in place of the giant ape creature that we’d been hoping to see. Darn you, Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott.

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 1.2 – Fool’s Dare

Isis looks seriously aggravated in the above picture because her Pontiac’s been stolen and repainted by car thieves! The criminals were played by Charles Cyphers and Frank Whiteman, each of whom have racked up dozens of small roles in decades-long careers. They were very busy in ’70s TV.

Daniel was a little worried by this episode, because Cindy was dared into the supposedly abandoned junkyard where the villains were operating. He’s never liked it when innocents are in danger. But Isis’s “do anything” powers saved the day. This time she magically hurled about a dozen tires at Cyphers, which he thought was hilarious.

Isis 1.1 – The Lights of Mystery Mountain

Shazam! had been such a hit in its first season that CBS didn’t only order a second season of it – although, in the typical cheap way that networks handled kid shows, they just ordered seven new episodes and added them to the ones they kept repeating – they also ordered a companion series. The block would be called The Shazam!/Isis Hour and the new show, starring Joanna Cameron, became the first live-action superhero show to star a woman on American TV.

(Incidentally, the show was produced and transmitted simply as Isis in its two season run of 1975-77. When CBS reran it in 1979, it was listed on the schedule as The Secrets of Isis, the name by which it’s better known today, and how it’s been sold for DVD and streaming.)

While Shazam! mostly confined itself to moral lessons, Isis was a little more willing to engage in the typical Saturday morning adventure fare of the day, with villains concocting Scooby Doo plots about fake space aliens and stuff. This would occasionally be too exciting for viewers, I guess, because this show also has its share of hitchhikers and people cheating on tests for its superheroine to handle.

Cameron was joined in the first season by Brian Cutler, who played the clueless science teacher Rick Mason, and by Joanna Pang as Cindy, a student who often led them into trouble. Albert Reed appeared in several episodes as the school principal, Dr. Barnes. With production duties shared between shows, many of the same writers and directors worked on these fifteen as were working on the seven new episodes of Shazam!. This first episode, for example, is directed by Hollingsworth Morse, who had shot several installments of Shazam! already.

The principal guest stars in the first episode are Kelly Thordsen and Hank Brandt, who were regularly cast as cops or bartenders in seventies TV. I don’t know about you, but looking at that screencap above, I can kind of see the crew from one of those innumerable cheap seventies monster movies waiting for the shot to finish so they could haggle with Morse for some leftover 16mm film for the picture they were trying to make on the other hill, and maybe ask whether Brandt and his costume could possibly come join them for a day’s work.

There’s nothing much here that other shows like it weren’t already doing, and Isis herself is so untouchably powerful – she can pretty much do anything, provided she can compose a couplet about it first – that even if Saturday morning superheroes could engage in fisticuffs in the seventies, the crooked developers and jewel thieves that she confronts in this show wouldn’t last very long. But it has its own simple charms, and Joanna Cameron has a nice twinkle in her eye and seemed to enjoy making the show, and the weird, phony UFOs that are used to frighten the locals in this episode also succeeded in alarming Daniel just a little bit. He thinks this is pretty cool and is looking forward to more.