MacGyver 2.11 – Phoenix Under Siege

I’m still not entirely sure what the heck the Phoenix Foundation actually is. They keep calling it a “think tank,” but the actual scripts seem to keep using it as a place full of bomb disposal experts and MacGyver seems to keep getting the sort of missions that real world think tanks like the Rand Corporation never send people to solve. Maybe Phoenix just hoovers up all the veterans and mercenaries and adventurers and soldiers of fortune they can find, just in case they run into a story that needs one or two.

But I’m just nitpicking. It’s not like anybody ever lost sleep over an episode of The Champions wondering what the heck Nemesis actually did. In Stephen Kronish’s “Phoenix Under Siege,” we learn that the Phoenix Foundation keeps disarmed bombs in a lab on the fifth floor of a Los Angeles office building. It’s December 14, 1986, and the Edmonton Oilers are in town to play the Kings. MacGyver’s grandfather Harry, who we met last season, has come to town to see his grandson and see Gretzky, and Mac left the tickets in the office. (This can’t have done the North Stars’ PR people any good, suggesting Minnesotans would rather take a bus to Los Angeles than see the North Stars at home.) Simultaneously, a terrorist employed by a nebulous “liberation front” arrives with three lackeys to reactivate one of her dormant explosive devices.

For a low-budget “running around an office building at night” story, this wasn’t bad at all. It seems logical that they would balance some of the all-location stories with some that were made almost totally in a studio with a smaller cast, and this one worked well. Tricia O’Neil is really entertaining as the believably ruthless terrorist, and Jack Anderson is fun as Harry. I actually picked this story last year because John Davey, the second actor to play Captain Marvel in Shazam!, is in it. Unfortunately, it’s just a two-line blink-and-miss-it part as a state trooper in one of the story’s several flashback scenes.

Isis 2.7 – …and Now You Don’t!

As the show wrapped up with its big climactic action scene (chuckle), our son shouted “Hey! That’s the first time they’ve ever shown Isis and Captain Marvel flying together!” And it would be the last. That’s probably a good thing; I swear all of Filmation’s special effects budget and know-how must have gone to Ark II in ’76, because I had just about enough of the crummy processing effects this season.

As I said last time, Filmation deserves a thumbs-up for being ahead of their time with the idea of a big season finale against a larger-than-usual threat. But of course, it’s 1976 and children’s TV advocates won’t let anybody do anything violent, so you’ve got the Supersleuths yelling and jumping at the bad guys but not actually threatening anybody. Rick Mason jumps in the villain’s getaway helicopter, and they… go up, and Captain Marvel pulls the copter back down. Excitement abounds!

Also, I missed it in part one of this story, but one of the baddies is played by Michael Blodgett, who had previously appeared on TV that season as King Alex in two episodes of Electra Woman and Dyna Girl a couple of weeks earlier.

But that’s that for Captain Marvel and Isis. If you’ve got a five year-old in your house, then you might enjoy watching these programs with your kid. Ours was so endlessly fascinated by Isis’s ever-changing powers – “I never saw her make twelve versions of herself before!” – that it often out-charmed the tame production. But next on the block, in a couple of days, we’ll look at a very, very different type of superhero.

Isis 2.6 – Now You See It…

It’s a million miles from a contemporary superhero show, but give the people at Filmation credit for a little ahead-of-their-day thinking. They wrapped up Isis‘s second season with a two-part team-up with Captain Marvel that not only featured actual villains with a sci-fi threat, but also with three new characters who were hoping to be spun off into their own show in the next season. The baddies have stolen a device that controls the weather. The only other time we’ve seen technology anything like this was in a season one story with a force field.

This was Daniel’s first experience with a backdoor pilot. Filmation was hoping to sell a network on The Supersleuths, three good-looking young people who travel around in a van and solve mysteries. Not at all like the Scooby Gang or the Clue Club or Josie and the Pussycats, honest. He enjoyed the episode and is looking forward to part two. As with the pair of two-parters in the first season of Shazam!, this doesn’t have a cliffhanger ending; it just stops at an appropriate part in the narrative.

The Supersleuths were played by Ranji, Craig Wasson, and Evan C. Kim. That’s how he’s listed, Ranji. IMDB doesn’t have another credit for the actor. The character sings, plays guitar, and does magic. Wasson played Feather, who’s streetwise and does impressions, and Kim played CJ, who provides the muscle. If their show had gone to series, then of course we’d watch it for the blog, just like I’m sure we’d consider watching Gary Seven, Mr. Bevis, and The Coltons in some parallel universe.

Shazam! 3.6 – Out of Focus

We finished watching Shazam! this evening. After 28 installments, the show was not picked up for a fourth season, because, as mentioned a few posts back, Scooby Doo and his new pal Dynomutt had almost every kid’s attention that season. So, with a second appearance by Isis, the show wrapped up with some of the most incompetent villains I’ve ever seen, even grading on the curve of a Filmation show.

You should see these two dimwits robbing a “hi-fi store.” No gloves, no masks, an unbelievably distinctive green custom van. The duo spend the episode trying to regain some super 8 film that might show them loading boxes from a couple shooting a documentary about Main Street that might have caught them. Nobody ever actually develops the film to find out. With fingerprints all over the place and a getaway shaggin’ wagon that can be seen from across town, they’d have done better to make for Mexico.

Then the dimwits manage to get themselves trapped in a cave. Andrea Thomas just happens to be in town for the documentary festival, and tags along with the cops for what turns into a rescue party. Before she bothers turning into Isis, she’s even putting her arm on the filmmaker guy’s shoulder, whom she has not actually met or exchanged a single word with before. I’m sorry, but it really looks like while she’s out of town, she’s looking for some action.

So that’s that for Shazam!. It was often even sillier than I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised by some of the guest stars, and by many of the stunts in the first fifteen half-hours. It may not have had the Monster Society of Evil, but it succeeded in entertaining our five year-old, who once again punched the air when Andrea turned into Isis. It was actually pretty cute the way he was hoping that Andrea would change into her superhero costume, as though there were any chance at all she wouldn’t. It’s really not a bad show at all, provided you’re watching it alongside the target audience.

Shazam! 3.5 – The Sound of a Different Drummer

At this point, I’m kind of used to the sound of the bottom of the barrel being scraped. This time, two inconsiderate teens are trying to force a violinist played by Eric Laneuville to play baseball instead. They chase him into what is clearly a public park, past a sign claiming that it’s a missile testing range. The producers hired a uniform for the soldier and got several reels of stock footage of missiles, but evidently forgot to tell the location scout that they needed some place that didn’t have picnic tables for this scene.

Anyway, Laneuville went on to play Luther on St. Elsewhere for many years, and he’s since been a very in-demand director, working on shows as disparate as Gilmore Girls and Blue Bloods. One of the other teens is played by David Doremus, who had played Hal on the treacly Nanny and the Professor in the early seventies. And telling the teens that respect is more important than winning or losing at the ball park, it’s Dodgers legend Maury Willis. I’m certain that I had Topps and Hostess cards of him when I was a kid.

As for our kid, I chatted with him about respecting his friends’ wishes if they don’t want to play with him, and that he should always talk to a grown-up instead of running away from his problems. I figured that was the least I could do. Then I resumed chuckling about them turning Griffith Park into a missile range.

Shazam! 3.4 – Finders Keepers

This is, by leagues, the best episode of either show so far this season. It’s the first of the year’s team-ups, and it’s got sharks, actual bad guys, and a dune buggy. That’s a whole lot more of interest than any other half-hour of the year.

Daniel really liked watching it. It sets up Isis’s arrival very early on, since it turns out that her raven, Tut, also hangs out with another teacher, a Sister Mary Katherine, and some of her students stumble on some stolen money buried on the beach after a bank robbery. So he got to grin about Tut and hope, hope, hope that Isis would also be coming by later on. He probably had his fingers crossed for about fifteen minutes and Isis didn’t let him down.

The climax is in the running for the weirdest special effect of the show. The robbers run into a convenient natural tunnel in the mountain, and Captain Marvel jackhammers the ground with a thick tree branch. Then he drags the long stretch of broken ground out of the cave, just tugging at a big length of fabric with dirt and rocks all over it, with the two bank robbers lying prone at the superheroes’ feet. Anything to avoid actual physical interaction and get the censors and the kidvid safety advocates all hot and bothered, I suppose.

A special note for anybody really concerned about the continuity in these shows: here, Isis already knows Billy Batson, although in the previous two team-ups, the superheroes only met with Billy already as Marvel. I’d like to think that in between seasons, Billy, Mentor, and Andrea had a nice dinner somewhere and discussed all this superhero stuff, whether they wanted to attend the Justice League’s Thanksgiving dinner, and how nice it is that they never have to punch anybody’s lights out like Steve Austin, the Gemini Man, and the robot from Future Cop always had to do.

Shazam! 3.3 – Ripcord

Interesting casting in this episode: the little kid was played by Patrick Labyorteaux, in one of his first credited roles. He’s been very, very busy in Hollywood ever since, even playing for a decade as a regular in CBS’s JAG. Susan O’Hanlon, credited in this episode as Pratt, hasn’t been quite as busy, but she’d be at work for CBS and Filmation again two seasons later as a regular in Jason of Star Command. William Bryant played Lt. Shilton on Switch – a series my parents never, ever missed but which has been completely lost to time – the following year.

Anyway, it’s a basic rule of thumb for entertainment: if you’re enjoying something, you don’t question its premise. Look, nobody’s claiming the Shazam! and Isis episodes from 1974 and 1975 were any kind of brilliance, but they are enjoyable enough for what they are. The five we’ve seen from the 1976 batch, though, are just painfully, agonizingly dull. Even the special effects are worse. The only thing of note this time: our son has decided he wants to skydive when he grows up, like the people in this episode. His mother glumly conceded that it’s safer than playing football.

So, lost in the tedium, it suddenly struck me how incredibly strange it is that Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury are just hanging out in some cave somewhere. See, in the original comics, it’s a wizard called Shazam who gives Captain Marvel the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, and so on. That old guy just hanging out in a cave somewhere is also really silly, but it makes more sense than this. Who’s holding up the earth, for starters? Wouldn’t Atlas be furious with Hercules for screwing him over on that deal back in his laboring days? Don’t Zeus and Hercules have some girls to chase? Why do all the Greek gods and demigods and titans defer to the human king? Since when does Zeus say “You take the throne, Solomon, I’ll stand?”

Yes, these are stupid, silly questions, but they’re more fun than what’s happening onscreen. Only eight more half-hours to go this season and we’re done.

Shazam! 3.2 – Bitter Herbs

So Captain Marvel has just saved a runaway truck driven by this week’s baddie, played by Linden Chiles, only we don’t know he’s a baddie yet. And the guy climbs out of his cab and says “Really glad you came along,” with all the emotion one might show a towing company that just happened by.

I don’t know why this finally struck me as weird, but isn’t it odd the way that people respond to Captain Marvel and Isis with no curiosity whatever? Not one person ever responds with shock or surprise. I mean, if these are the only superheroes in their world, the odds of being rescued by one of them, even if you did live in southern California, must be pretty remote. Wouldn’t that be just downright amazing? Not the way anybody in this show plays it.

Shazam! 3.1 – The Contest

So now we’re in 1976, and Shazam! has started its third season, this time with six new episodes and no cast upheavals in the middle of production. CBS continued promoting this and its companion show as The Shazam! / Isis Hour, a standard Saturday morning trick to fool the kids into sticking around on the channel they were on just a little bit longer. This season, though, it honestly made sense as the stars would be crossing over into each other’s episodes more often. Filmation kind of threw a little thanks toward their stars for coming back for such abbreviated runs by giving their lead actors guest star parts on the other shows twice each.

Speaking of stars, the notable guest this time out is Walker Edmiston, whom we all know as Enik from Land of the Lost, playing the owner of a motorcycle shop. It’s a rule of the blog that whenever we spot Edmiston, we include a screencap, so here he is.

Daniel enjoyed the episode, although – and I didn’t tell him anything about any forthcoming crossovers that we’ll see in the next few weeks – he was curious where Isis was. At the end of the story, the villain, who was played by David Crosby lookalike Dennis Olivieri, tries escaping with a stolen gyroscope macguffin on a speedboat. Since a few days ago, we saw Isis and Captain Marvel teaming up for a water-based rescue, he just figured they’d get together again this time. Very close, but not quite!

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.

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!