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.
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.
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.
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!
The police dispatcher in whatever small town this is really enjoys her job. This time out, the teen vandals who had earlier caused a small fire in the school have climbed the fence at the power plant and started some special effect business with cartoon lightning bolts. The dispatcher radios the sheriff and, proving definitively that you can steal a scene without being in it, ends her transmission by emoting “two kids are trapped… and Sheriff, they are in trouble!”
The vandal who wants to do the right thing is played by Danny Bonaduce, in what appears to be his first job after The Partridge Family ended its four-year run. I wonder how this would have been promoted to the Tiger Beat audience of teen girls in 1975. The episode seems to have originally aired on October 11 that year, but I wonder whether all of Bonaduce’s fans – and they were legion at the time – would have got the word to tune in that morning specifically.
When my daughter was younger and enthralled by non-threatening teen boys like Drake Bell, she would know about every guest appearance such idols would make in any program, because the channels like Nick or Disney would promote these stars’ appearances relentlessly for a couple of weeks. I don’t remember any kind of ads like those on Saturday mornings in the seventies, and think that the Teen Dream mags of the day would just have a blurb about “a forthcoming episode of so-and-so, Saturday mornings on your local CBS station,” because they probably didn’t know what day it would air before they went to press. What’s the point of casting a celebrity if you can’t target his fan base? Things were different then.
Speculation about such matters is far more interesting than this very preachy, very talky episode. Captain Marvel even cautions the audience – I mean, the trapped kids – about messing around with electricity and not to copy what we just saw him do. Captain Marvel is indestructible. You are not. Remember this, and do not try to imitate him.
Two things to note about this very silly episode. First, the parents rescued a wolf cub and, rather than turn it over to a zoo, they let their daughter bond with the animal for months before realizing that wolves are not easily domesticated. Anybody who does such a thing needs a punch in the nose.
Second, the girl and her wolf run away and end up in a typewriter-cussin’ hot air balloon, for pity’s sake. The rescue is realized by cutting between the gondola, held a few feet off the ground by a crane, and stock footage of a balloon that’s thousands of feet higher in the sky.
Daniel was not interested in this episode, but he did want to ask me about every conceivable animal that shouldn’t be raised as pets. I’m not in favor of keeping pets, generally, so this was a pretty tedious half hour.
In the previous episode of Shazam!, Filmation landed the very familiar face of Dabbs Greer, and in this one they find a small role for Bill Quinn, who also racked up more than two hundred appearances, and was very well-known to anybody who watched ’70s cop and detective shows. He popped in to darn near every one of them. A couple of years later, he’d play Mr. Van Ranseleer in more than eighty episodes of All in the Family and Archie Bunker’s Place. Here, he has a brief scene as a rich landowner who wants the sheriff’s son to quit coming onto his property and riding one of his horses around.
But the sheriff has a bigger problem: a crook, wearing a Captain Marvel costume, has robbed a gas station. Captain Marvel turns himself in, and hangs out in jail for several hours, making this the first episode where Marvel gets more screen time – considerably more – than Billy.
My son appreciated the change of tone in this installment. Sure, there’s the inescapable moral message – respect the law – but it was nice to see some actual criminals with an actual plan that involved the hero, which this show had not done previously.
I must have been too young for it to really register that there was a different actor playing Captain Marvel at the time, but I think that kids who were older than I was must have been surprised to see a new guy in the role, especially when Jackson Bostwick was back the following week. But that wasn’t to last; Bostwick was let go after filming two episodes, which were aired first and third this season.
For what it’s worth, Filmation immediately put the word out that Bostwick had been holding out for more money, and that John Davey was rushed onto location the same afternoon in July 1975 that he accepted the part. Bostwick countered that he had obtained a mild injury doing a stunt and was actually seeing a doctor when he was expected on location. The Screen Actors Guild later agreed with Bostwick, and Filmation had to pay him for the five episodes (of seven) that they didn’t use him.
The biggest name among the guest stars in this episode is Wallace Earl Laven, who is in two scenes as a mother who, sensibly, doesn’t want her teenage daughter hanging out with some punk who ends up arrested at the end. She had been acting since the 1940s and continued to appear in small TV roles for the next decade. Of principal interest to me, however, is the appearance of an original “mission”-style Taco Bell building, with tacos, tostadas, and bellburgers on the menu. If you don’t blink, you can also spot a big Kentucky Fried Chicken “bucket” sign on the stretch of businesses where they filmed this.