Not a lot to say about tonight’s episode. Marie suffered through it, our son roared with laughter, and I enjoyed it more than I did the last time I saw it. It’s written by Krofft regular John Fenton Murray and concerns Sigmund’s rich Uncle Siggy falling in love with the humans’ housekeeper Zelda. In an earlier episode, the boys used Zelda’s mudpack-n-rollers weekly beauty treatment to scare away Blurp and Slurp. Amusingly, it doesn’t work at all with the lovesick old-timer.
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The more antagonists a show like this has, the better. This episode features a new recurring menace for the boys, a crotchety old lady who has moved in next door. Miss Eddels is so crotchety that Zelda becomes their ally. She’s played by Margaret Hamilton, the immortal Wicked Witch of the West. I let our son know that the actress was forty years older and a lot less green than the last time he saw her.
Even without the amusing star power of the show’s latest antagonist, this really would be a great episode, and our boy howled with laughter through the whole thing. Milt Rosen contributed a pretty simple farce with mother-in-law jokes and nosy neighbors that just has a few fish puns added to the script, but it’s such a good script that it doesn’t matter that it could easily be repurposed for just about any other show with kid antagonists. One of my favorite beautifully funny moments is when we see that they’ve run away from home, Blurp and Slurp arrive at Sigmund’s clubhouse with little suitcases.
But even that pales before the perfection of the “farewell” note they allegedly leave Big Daddy, which Johnny has forged to bring him to help, and plants in his favorite chair. The “don’t try to find us” note explicitly explains where they have gone. The detail isn’t punctuated with a punch line or a stupid laugh track. It isn’t needed. Nobody could possibly be so stupid, except, of course, for Blurp and Slurp.
One of our heroes, Walker Edmiston, makes an in-person appearance in another silly episode written by Rita Sedran Rose. Edmiston did many of the voices for the series, and Sharon Baird, who also shows up as a human this week, was wearing the Big Daddy costume. It makes financial sense, when you need additional humans to play assistant principals or women who try to use a phone booth that’s occupied by a runaway sea monster, to cast people who were on the payroll already.
The beauty of this episode is watching Blurp and Slurp argue about idiotic nonsense and proving their stupidity. Beyond debating whether you spell trouble with a capital D or a small d, or how “correctly” spelling dumb “D-O-U-M” was just a lucky guess, the Oozes despair because some monster law requires that somebody from their household attend school, and these two are too stupid to attend at all. This really is a laugh-out-loud funny episode, with great jokes and lots of fun slapstick.
Our son had his usual ball, but we think he most enjoyed the revelation that Blurp and Slurp are afraid of ghosts, and all the caterwauling and fun that develops from that. He also loved learning that Sigmund’s former homeroom teacher is named “Mr. Godzilla.”
This time out, preparations for Big Daddy’s birthday party are happening at the same time as the local sheriff’s. Blurp and Slurp abduct Sigmund to clean, and the boys go get him back. There’s nothing in Warren Murray’s story here that’s all that new. It feels like a repeat of everything that’s worked so far.
But repetition is the key to a young viewer’s heart. Our son was in heaven, hopping up and down with excitement. He didn’t appreciate Blurp and Slurp’s bullying, and the sight of a big sea monster appearing at the window caused a fun yelp, but he took it in good spirits and had an absolute ball after the few seconds of surprise.
It’s kind of rare to see direct continuity between episodes like we see in this Si Rose script. It takes place soon after the previous episode, in which Johnny dressed up as Frankenstein’s monster. This time, Johnny gets captured and the wolfman shows up to use the Oozes’ shellephone. Naturally, the sea monsters assume, incorrectly, that this is Scott in disguise and attack him, leading to a slapstick chase that had our son howling, because, of course, it’s a real wolfman.
Before he started giggling over that lunacy, our son was in absolute heaven over the prescribed diet for a sick sea monster: mashed eels, melted jellyfish, and warm squid milk. He repeated this over and over with a chuckle. This show’s even more perfect for kindergartners than I imagined.
I decided early on that we’d take a couple of days’ break from Freewheelers every few episodes, and this turned out to be a good idea. More on that later. So my son and I watched Sigmund tonight and enjoyed another episode written by Si Rose. I was really amused that he remembered what his mother had said about Johnny Whitaker’s hair last week. As though it was a brand new gag, he said “I’ve heard of long hair, but a rose bush?!”
He also completely adored the various fish and monster puns, including “peanut butter and jellyfish,” “abalone on rye,” and “ghoul in the family,” and missed an important plot development we had to wind back to hear because he was so busy laughing over Big Daddy calling his two older sons “yo-yos.”
Speaking of monster puns, here’s something cute. I love specially-made one-of-a-kind prop newspapers, press kits, and magazines. Big Daddy is reading an issue of Playbeast, and the front cover is some dopey piece of artwork, but look what’s on the back! It’s Orson Vulture from H.R. Pufnstuf standing in front of a chalkboard covered with math stuff. Evidently, Witchiepoo sent him to learn about cosines. We get no clearer picture than this grab. I wonder who else is in the picture or where it was used.
Forty-some years before working with dogs on Mutt & Stuff, Sid and Marty Krofft brought along a few four-legged friends to the Paramount stage where they filmed this silly show, and let things get really silly as Sigmund falls in love with one of the neighborhood puppies. Fluffy’s owner, Peggy, is played by Pamelyn Ferdin, who we remember from 1977’s Space Academy. She made two appearances on the show; it’s strongly hinted during Johnny Whitaker’s closing bubblegum rock tune that he has a schoolboy crush on Peggy, but sadly this really wasn’t developed on the show.
Our son adored this episode, from all the dopey puns (“Clam up? Some of my best friends are clams!”) to the climax, in which Fluffy brings several other neighborhood dogs to chase off Blurp and Slurp. Incidentally, this is the second episode in a row where the noise of all the sea monster brawling is dismissed as “prowlers.” Zelda, the housekeeper, is oddly unconcerned about all this potential crime.
Regarding the quality of these screen captures, as with the DVDs of Land of the Lost, the copies available are very badly in need of restoration and remastering, and suffer from color bleeding and blurs. The seventeen episodes of season one have been released twice in North America, by Rhino and later by Vivendi, but you can get both seasons, all 29 episodes, in a region-free four-disk set from Beyond in Australia. Amazon’s currently sold out of that version, but click the pic above and you can order a box set that includes the complete Sigmund along with H.R. Pufnstuf, Land, and Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. That’s 105 episodes in one package for about $60. Not bad at all, even with the need for some extensive restoration work.
When we first started this blog and our son had just turned four, I had planned to show him at least some of the entire Saturday morning Sid and Marty Krofft lineup, in the order the shows were made. That got derailed. He was so frightened by Witchiepoo, Benita Bizarre, and Hoo Doo that I knew that my ever-so-gentle son would absolutely hate the Ooze family in Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.
The Kroffts’ first three antagonists, after all, are ridiculous fantasy villains. They may have a few traits in common with real-world nutcases and narcissists, but our son’s not going to have to worry about blowhards like them until he’s much older and starts paying attention to politics (HEY-OH!). But the Oozes are a dark mirror of a real family. They’re dysfunctional and horrible and, if they were to move to Blackpool, they’d prove stiff competition for Monty Python’s Most Awful Family in Britain competition, but they’re close to what a real family could become in the worst circumstances. And though hilarious stupidity rules the roost in the Ooze cave, Big Daddy’s demented cruelty and Blurp and Slurp’s unreasoning bullying would be too much for our kid at the time.
He’s old enough now to see it and appreciate it as something completely unreal, even though these “family members” do their darnedest to shatter his image of how all families should be loving and safe. Last year’s pilot for the revamped Amazon series – I haven’t heard yet when it will begin broadcast, but I’m waiting! – sensibly focused much more on the human cast and never went into the caves or introduced Sigmund’s awful parents, just his two dumb brothers. So, in anticipation of the new series beginning sometime soon, I’ve picked an eleven-episode “greatest hits album” of some of this goofy show’s high points which we will watch over the next couple of months.
If you’ve never seen this series, it has Johnny Whitaker and Scott Kolden as two brothers who befriend the hapless and kind Sigmund (Billy Barty) after his family throws him out for incompetence. His family then has to get him back to meet the demands of a rich uncle. Johnny and Scott have to hide Sigmund from the prying eyes of their family housekeeper – Mom and Dad are eternally away – along with various neighbors and incompetent policemen.
When I was a kid, I honestly didn’t like this show at all. Seeing it again, when I was a teenager, on the Krofft Super Stars syndicated package didn’t improve matters. It wasn’t until adulthood that it finally clicked. There certainly are a number of indefensible, lousy episodes – particularly in the second season, when everybody involved with the show used up their last ideas – and nobody’s going to call this art, but at its best, it’s triumphantly funny slapstick, with Blurp and Slurp’s violence and under-their-breath grumbling devolving into clenched tentacles and the sort of physical mayhem totally absent from later seventies live-action children’s television.
Last night, I was still a little leery and cautious about this show, so we had a “prologue” talk about bullying and how absolutely nobody we’ve ever met is anything like the Ooze family. Perhaps I was being too cautious, but dads can be that way sometime. Tonight, we watched the first episode, which was written by the Kroffts’ veteran comedy scribe Si Rose, and he really enjoyed it. He did get antsy with worry when Blurp and Slurp chased Sigmund and the boys all around the house, but he liked all the fish-related puns and bad jokes (although he misheard one as “two shakes of a needle’s tail,” so that one doesn’t count), and of course he loved the climax, in which the two idiot monsters mistake the local sheriff’s police car for a cute, albeit standoffish girl monster.
Marie was alternately fascinated by just how much physical damage the suit actors seemed to be inflicting upon their costumes – these things had to last for seventeen episodes but they seemed to do everything to Blurp and Slurp short of setting them on fire – and by the remarkable hair shown off by Johnny Whitaker. Even accepting that it was 1973 and fourteen year-old boys had long hair then, the “random bush” on top of his head is a pretty amazingly seventies ‘do.