Shazam! 2.6 – Speak No Evil

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.

Shazam! 2.5 – Goodbye, Packy

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.

Shazam! 2.4 – Double Trouble

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.

Shazam! 2.3 – Fool’s Gold

“I wonder who Captain Marvel will rescue in this story,” Daniel asked as we sat down. I’m really pleased by how much he enjoys watching old shows with me.

This one’s really unusual, and I liked it more than most. It’s Jackson Bostwick’s final episode, and his big scene is tunneling into a collapsed mine to rescue an old hobo – slash – prospector who goes by the name Seldom Seen Slim. He’s played by the veteran actor Dabbs Greer, who had a really long career going back to 1950, many of those early roles (312[!!] listed at IMDB) uncredited. You probably know him best as Old Paul in The Green Mile, but he was also Reverend Alden in Little House on the Prairie.

This is subtle, but the usual structure of a Shazam! episode sees Billy and Mentor meeting some characters at the point of a crisis and effecting a reconciliation in some way. This isn’t quite like that; it’s more like a Fugitive or Route 66 where the situation is going to be resolved regardless of our traveling heroes; Richard Kimble or Tod and Buzz (or Linc) just need to stay out of the way, keep their heads down and not get killed as the character drama comes to its conclusion and hope that it’s not too grim.

Obviously, something that is going out to kids on Saturday mornings isn’t going to end badly – certainly not in 1975 – but this doesn’t have the easy and pat moral reminders that a typical Shazam! has, like “don’t tell lies,” “trust the police,” and “don’t hang out with kids who steal cars for joyrides.” The closest thing here would be, what, “don’t be a little ass to old hobos in the desert?” No, the heroes are very much on the periphery of these characters as their story comes to a conclusion, and don’t impact anybody’s understanding or resolve the matter; the hobo and the kids do that on their own.

I wondered whether the writer had actually contributed to more adult dramas in the 1960s to come up with such a structure. It is credited to Olga Palsson Simms, who does not have a listing at IMDB. Google only pulls up this credit and a notation that a woman by that name died in California in 1997. I wonder who she was.

Shazam! 2.2 – Debbie

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.

Shazam! 2.1 – On Winning

I’m more than just a little bit envious. I checked out seven episodes of 1977’s All-New Super Friends Hour for Daniel to watch. They’re terrible, of course, but those DVDs are as complete as can be, with all the interstitials, magic tricks, health tips, previews for the next week’s episode, and everything like that. Somebody hacked the end-of-show moral message from the master films of these episodes – many, if not all, are at least included as very low-quality bonus features – and the closing credits of this episode has an announcement about the episode of Isis that followed it. Except it’s an announcement about a totally different Isis episode than the one that originally aired as the season premiere… what a mess.

The episode is tame, safe, and dull. It’s about sibling rivalry, and all Captain Marvel does this week is fly the teens’ dad from the bottom of a ravine to join the others. Eric Shea plays one of the teens; nine years previously, he had been that kid who wandered through the first Shame episode of Batman yelling “Come back, Shame!” Daniel liked it at least. The teens ride dirt bikes.

Shazam! 1.15 – The Gang’s All Here

I’d be fibbing if I implied that the two-parter that ended the first season of Shazam! was some kind of undiscovered gem, or any less timid than the standard of the previous episodes, but it is the first one that feels like the show’s writers or producers had ever read a Captain Marvel funnybook. It does have an actual villain, a teen gang leader played by Jack McCulloch, and Billy does get tied up and gagged, keeping him from saying his magic word, which is an old, old trope from the comics. Nevertheless, our son was less engaged than usual, although he did declare this was “pretty cool.”

No, it’s really not very good, even by the show’s standards, and Carol Anne Seflinger has even less to do in part two than she did in the first half. The extras who make up the teen gangs include one fellow with a ’70s porn moustache who’s at least ten years older than the rest of the bad guy crew. The climactic fight takes place at an oil refinery, and the local police refuse to get involved because they can’t arrest anybody who “might” commit a crime. No, they don’t even send an officer to tell these punks to scram, so Mentor calls the highway patrol instead. I’m not sure they arrest anybody either, but at least they show up. Let’s hear it for CHiPs.

Shazam! 1.14 – The Past is Not Forever

This is an interestingly forward-thinking bit of kidvid. It’s the first of a two-parter; like the previous one in this series, it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, instead seeming to divide the action and problems into two separate stories with the same character. Yet I am interested in how Filmation chose to end the season with a larger-than-normal two-part story with bigger issues.

This one isn’t about being trustworthy or respectful or not telling lies. It’s one baby step up closer to a proper antagonist, and a problem that isn’t going to be solved in twenty-two minutes, with lingering distrust and bad feelings among two gangs of teenagers. It starts out with a more ominous warning from the Elders than the usual fortune cookie gibberish, and Billy and Mentor soon find themselves dealing with a reformed young crook who is immediately suspected of a gas station robbery.

The cast is larger than usual, too, with six speaking parts. Among them is Carol Anne Seflinger, and two seasons later she’d be a regular in Sid and Marty Krofft’s Wonderbug, one of the shows that would end up sinking this one. Oops!

Daniel was very attentive and curious about this episode. The plot of framing people for crimes they didn’t commit was a little confusing for him, but he was really interested in this and wants to know what will happen next. We’ll find out in a couple of days.

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! 1.12 – The Delinquent

Recognize that kid on the right? It’s Jackie Earle Haley, who would play one of the Bad News Bears a couple of years later. Much, much later on, he’d make the rare transition from child star to grownup actor. He was Rorshach in the Watchmen movie, Freddie in a Nightmare on Elm Street remake, and he currently appears in the Preacher TV series. Well, maybe “grownup” isn’t quite the right word.

Daniel really liked this episode because, speaking of bears, a big brown bear shows up in this episode and Captain Marvel needs to chase it away. That’s pretty much it for the excitement this time out. Captain Marvel lands… and the bear walks away. My son was happy because bears are cool, and I suppose it would be asking a bit much, even with the surprising stunts this show pulled, to expect any kind of stuntman-bear wrestling.

For a few years in the 1990s, incidentally, this was the only episode of Shazam! to make its way around any of the VHS tape trading circles in which I moved. Others eventually joined it, mainly from the John Davey run, but for a while, this was most people’s only exposure to the show. Sadly, it’s easily among the weakest of the first twelve, without even a neat stunt, camera trick, or cool car to set it apart, and set the tone for all the mocking my friends and I ladled out.

Shazam! 1.11 – Little Boy Lost

Another “memory cheats” moment: I swear that sometime in the late seventies, my mother made me sit down and watch an afterschool special or a TV movie or something called “Little Boy Lost” about a kid who ran away, but I can’t find any trace of it now, although I did find that David Janssen, Joanna Pettet, and Greg Morris made a charity short film for the United Way in 1974 with that title.

As for this episode, which was written and directed by Arthur H. Nadel and which guest stars John Carter (Lt. Biddle on Barnaby Jones), it’s a pretty treacly “kid-and-puppy go missing” segment, which Daniel really enjoyed most because of the puppy. It does, however, have a remarkably surprising visual effect. In a very, very contrived moment, the dad, having found his missing son, and the puppy, pauses on the drive home at some kind of “ghost town” tourist attraction, “for old time’s sake,” and, in the least surprising development possible, ends up trapped down a mine shaft so that the little boy has to then get help.

What nobody saw coming was this: the entire front of one of the fake abandoned buildings falls atop the hole to the mine shaft. I’ll give Nadel and Filmation total credit for that. The “trapped dad” angle would have worked just fine, in its low budget kids’ show way, without that very neat flourish. The full-size building collapses, and Jackson Bostwick has to haul it back into place before he jumps down into the hole to save the day. It’s always nice to have a surprise watching these shows, you know?