Category Archives: Television

My Three Favorite Episodes Of The Original Jonny Quest

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It has long been my favorite Saturday morning kids’ cartoon show, except it didn’t start life on Saturday mornings. Jonny Quest actually started life as a prime time animated series for a general audience. I didn’t see it when it originally aired. I was a little too young then. In fact, I wasn’t even born until the series was halfway through its original run, so I first saw it when it made its way to Saturday mornings.

This is going to a bit on the morbid side, but the main difference between the original series (which is the only version I’ll talk about, because I hated all of the other incarnations of the show) and other kids’ cartoon shows was that people died in Jonny Quest’s world. That just isn’t allowed in cartoons for kids. In fact, I recall an episode of Thundarr the Barbarian in which the “barbarian” and his team were battling several knights in shining armor. One of the enemies was punched hard enough to fall apart revealing it to be a robot. Realizing they weren’t living beings, Thundarr let his team know it was OK to stop pulling their punches. Man! I thought barbarians were always set to kill.

So, in Jonny Quest, if a jet plane blew up, we wouldn’t see the pilot parachuting to safety. If there was a gun fight, people got shot and died. There was even one episode in which Race Bannon used the plow of a bulldozer to ricochet his shot around a corner to kill a bad guy. And we know Race got him, because the fellow fell into sight having been the recipient of an incredible shot. That Race Bannon. What couldn’t he do?

Jonny Quest was also the first prime time animated series in which the characters were rendered to look like actual people. Not stylized the way the characters in its predecessor The Flintstones were depicted. The Quest characters were simplified, sure, but they had hands with five digits instead of the typical cartoon four. And they looked like people. The overall design was terrifically done by illustrator Doug Wildey. Wildey gave the series a comic book illustration style, using lots of black and varying line weight. Most animated series use a thin unvarying line, which isn’t as interesting to this viewer.

It was produced by the giants of television animation Hanna-Barbera, who had pioneered a style of animation that limited the amount of drawing that needed to be done, making a weekly animated series economically possible. And Hanna-Barbera had several series, some in prime time, others on Saturday mornings. Even with that process there would still be time crunches and at times the animation suffered.

What never suffered in the original series was the score. It was excellent. Hoyt Curtin was the composer and his musical score is among the best ever for any adventure series. It enhanced the action and set the tone so perfectly for each scene. And the opening theme is perfect.

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Watch your mouth, Race!

The series was not without its flaws. It was produced in the 1960s and wasn’t terribly sensitive in its portrayals of people who weren’t of the Western world or white. When depicting more primitive societies or Asians or Egyptians, etc. the languages spoken would just be gibberish. When issuing the series on DVD at least one line of dialogue was removed from the episode titled Pursuit of the Po-Ho. Bannon had painted himself purple in order to impersonate a god of the primitive Po-Ho people. He was attempting to instill the natives with fear. In doing so, Race called them “heathen monkeys.” That line was removed.

As an adventure series, Jonny Quest really captured my interest. The design and music were great. I loved the characters, although their dog Bandit would get rather tiring at times. All that barking. Which, incidentally, was provided by Don Messick, who was also the voice of Dr. Benton Quest for most of the series.

So, here are my Top Three Favorite Episodes:

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3) The Robot Spy (Originally aired November 6, 1964) This episode wasn’t a favorite when I was a kid, but as I got older I grew to appreciate it. It features Dr. Quest’s arch-nemesis the mysterious Dr. Zin. Zin really has it in for Quest and he wants to steal the secret of a powerful ray gun Quest is developing, so he sends in an unusual spy. It’s a robot designed so simply, it’s essentially just a large black metallic ball, that it is treated as a curiosity, which Quest brings into the secret military compound. It turns out the black ball has an eye and legs and tentacles that, when they strike the guards, can render them unconscious.

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Dr. Zin was a recurring villain. This episode was his second of three appearances and I’m certain that, had there been a second season, there would have been more Zin. My research tells me that later versions of the series featured Dr. Zin very prominently, but I don’t care about those shows. Those were made for kids.

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2) The Curse Of Anubis (Originally aired October 2, 1964) Jonny and his crew have been invited to Egypt by archeologist Ahmed Kareem, an old friend of Dr. Quest’s. Unknown to Quest, Kareem had become a radical Arab nationalist and he plans to frame Quest for the theft of ancient Egyptian treasures, which Kareem had in fact stolen. The radical believes this deception will unite the Arab nations against the Western world. However, in stealing a sculpture of the god Anubis, Kareem unknowingly causes a mummy to return from the beyond to punish those who had violated an ancient tomb.

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What I really like about this episode is the ever encroaching threat of the mummy. However, no one is aware that the mummy has been reanimated and is on their trail. In the end, when things seem most desperate for our heroes, the mummy arrives to exact justice.

This one uses Curtin’s score particularly well when building the tension of the stalking undead avenger.

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1) The Invisible Monster (Originally aired January 28, 1965) This is a popular favorite and it’s easy to understand why. Dr. Quest gets an urgent call from a scientist friend whose experiment had gone terribly wrong. Somehow he had created an invisible creature that feeds of electrical energy.

The Quest team head to the remote tropical island where Dr. Quest’s colleague had been running his experiment. But they are too late. The scientist’s lab has been destroyed and he has disappeared and is feared dead. Something has left footprints and a path of destruction in its wake. Part of that destruction is a local village of island natives.

There is so much that is cool about this episode. The invisible menace, the sounds it makes, and, when Jonny gets an idea how to make the creature visible, it looks great. A giant hump of a creature with one eye and a gaping mouth. Such a good episode.

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That first season had plenty to like: Admirable heroes, interesting villains and monsters, great futuristic gadgets, exotic locations, and plenty of adventure. All with fantastic music, great sound effects, terrific design, and people who would actually die.

If you would like to hear me and a couple friends go on about how great this series is, you can download my friend’s podcast The Assault of the Two-Headed Space Mules episode #29.

Packing Peanuts!

Update 5/25/18: It occurred to me I ought to link to the source of much of the information I related  here. It’s from a fan produced YouTube documentary about the original series. It’s in three parts and filled with lots of interesting insights. Click here to see part one.

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Images used under fair use.

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A Pedant Watches An Old Episode Of Hawaii Five-O

maxresdefaultTwelve seasons! Wow! The cop drama series Hawaii Five-O was on the air from 1968 to 1980. That’s twelve seasons. I knew it was a long running series, but I didn’t remember it went that long. Impressive.

And it’s been living on in syndication ever since. Today the classic cop show that gave us the immortal phrase “Book ’em, Danno” can be seen on the MeTV or AntennaTV oldies channels. And it’s… of its time. Looking back on some of those old TV dramas, during this new Golden Age of Television, makes them seem rather naive and hokey.

Jack Lord, the star of the series, played Detective Captain Steve McGarrett. And he could be very over-dramatic at times. McGarrett would really work up a head of steam, when he wasn’t otherwise trying to be very, very intense. Steve wasn’t a lot of laughs.

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Jack Lord: Just a little like Karloff, don’t you think?

Lord was one of those “chin actors.” I don’t know if I just made up that phrase or not, but what I mean is his acting style led him to point his chin at the person he would be talking to. And, is it me? Or did Jack Lord look like Boris Karloff? A better looking version, but there is a resemblance.

He did have great hair, though. When I was a kid, I used to think his big hair swoop was intentionally meant to mirror the big wave of the Hawaiian surf we saw in the opening titles of every show.

Also, let’s not forget the show’s excellent theme song as played by The Ventures. It’s a great instrumental track that is still a thrilling listen.

There is one episode, in particular, about which I will get a bit pedantic. The episode is called The Bell Tolls At Noon (originally aired January 6, 1977) and it features Rich Little in the part of a revenge killer. That’s right – Rich Little! The Vegas entertainer from the days of yore (1970s mainly) who made his living doing impressions of famous celebrities. He did Pres. Nixon, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Jimmy Stewart, and many others. His biggest breakthrough impression was his Johnny Carson. When he figured how to do Johnny, it made his career.

In The Bell Tolls At Noon, Little plays a recovering drug addict, Johnny Kling, who is obsessed with old movies. He has put himself on a mission of revenge against a group of drug dealers, who he blames for the drug overdose death of a young woman who was very special to him.

Kling’s first kill is a sniper shot of one of McGarrett’s informants. This greatly upsets McGarrett, because the informant had just set up a meet at which he was going to give the very serious cop everything he could to bring down a major dealer. This puts McGarrett on the trail.

The trail leads to a drug rehab center where we find Kling entertaining fellow recovering addicts by doing, can you guess? Yep! Impressions of old time Hollywood actors. What? Rich Little’s character does impressions? Little was born to play Johnny Kling! (Well, I suppose Frank Gorshin could have played the roll.)

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“Oh, man! I’m killin’!”

Anyway, McGarrett stops to watch the act, which seems dated even in 1977, and the intense detective does manage to crack a smile at the stale material. He then actually meets and talks to Kling (once the ovation for the routine finally dies down, that is). The two talked to each other with at most a couple feet separating them. McGarrett looks Kling right in the face. This is important to remember. Ok?

At that time, there is no reason to suspect Kling, so off he goes to kill his next victim. This time he calls McGarrett after the kill and sends the detective to a motel, where Kling says the books have been closed on a particularly bad bad guy.  The killer had set up one of the motel rooms so that, when McGarrett finds the victim, the scene mimics an old Cagney gangster film. Kling is really into Cagney and that plays into the finale of the episode, which I won’t spoil.

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“Oh, man! I’m killin’!”

The scene that gets to this pedant comes when the Five-O squad investigates that motel room. Danno brings the motel manager to be questioned by his boss. She isn’t much help when it comes to describing the strange man who rented the room. She’s very vague. She can’t even remember if he was taller or shorter than her. She did recall that the man wore sunglasses and she remembered the kind of clothes he was wearing.

McGarrett instructs Danno to have her work with the police sketch artist, who just happens to be at the scene. He was just sitting off camera. The Five-O squad must have quite the budget if they can bring a sketch artist to every crime scene. Usually witnesses are brought down to the station to work with sketch artists, but not on Steve McGarret’s Five-O squad!

So, off she goes to start working with what must be the world’s greatest police sketch artist. He must have been some kind of a witness whisperer, because he was able to pull out details from a witness who had already been so vague.

Soon the artist finishes two sketches. One with the suspect wearing sunglasses, one without. We only see the one without the shades. Before we see the sketch, the witness takes a look and says, “Well, it’s not a spitting image, but it’s OK.”

Danno brings the sketches over to McGarrett, who was seething in the corner. He tells his boss that he can’t vouch for the accuracy, because the witness kept changing her mind. She must have changed it a hundred times. She just about drove the artist crazy. That’s when we get to see the sketch…

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Not a spitting image?! Lady, this is the definition of a spitting image!

The audience gets to see a police sketch like no other. This is not a sketch drawn from a witness’s vague recollections. This is a portrait of Rich Little! The man himself either sat down to be drawn by a portrait artist or gave the artist a headshot photo from which to draw this “sketch.”

And McGarrett, who had met the man earlier that day, looks at it and shrugs. He tells Danno to show it around, but thinks it’s probably a dead end.

Steve! Look at it! It’s Rich Little!

He did eventually make the connection and stop the bad guy.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

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Scooby Doo, How Could You?

Writer’s note: The following is another blog ripped from my personal blog at dimland.com. It has been updated and rewritten just a little bit…

I’m a skeptic. What that means is I require good, scientific evidence before I accept an extraordinary claim. I’ve learned that, throughout history, ever mystery ever solved has turned out to be not magic. Not ghosts. Not demons. Not monsters. Not any paranormal or supernatural phenomenon at all. Nope. The mysteries all turn out to be something in this world and not out of this world. (Thanks to Tim Minchin and Michael Shermer for much of what I just wrote are their words.)

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The Saturday morning cartoon series Scooby Doo, Where Are You? did a lot to set a skeptical foundation for a generation of kids. Debuting in 1969, the series followed a group of four kids and their dog who traveled the countryside looking for mysteries in need of solving. These intrepid trust-funders (there was never any mention of any of them having a job) would stumble upon a mystery involving apparently supernatural causes. They would then search for clues. Chased by ghosts, witches, werewolves, and other assorted creeps, our heroes would manage to reveal the truth and catch the bad guys.

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The bad guys never turned out anything anywhere near being supernatural. It was never a ghost or a witch or a werewolf. It nearly always turned out to be someone in a costume, except that one time when it was a robot run amok in an amusement park. It’s a wonder the gang, especially Shaggy and Scooby, would continue to be scared of g-g-g-ghosts. After all the times the mystery turned out not to be supernatural, you’d think they would no longer believe in ghosts or anything similar.

I watched Scooby and the various later incarnations up until Scrappy Doo came along and ruined the show. But, even up to that point, the mysteries were always normal and natural phenomena.

In 1999 came the full-length animated special Scooby Doo and the Witch’s Ghost. A few years ago, my son was watching that adventure on DVD when I came home from work. I was shocked and disappointed. Sometime during the 30 years since Scoob and the gang debuted, the ghosts had become actual ghosts! No! Say it ain’t so.

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The show featured a grrl rock band called The Hex Girls. They referred to themselves as “eco-Goths.” From what I could tell that meant they were rockin’ girls that liked to look like the undead and sing about saving the earth. All the Goth look with none of the nihilism.

One of the group was Wiccan. No problem. But the show kept treating Wicca as though it was an ethnic group and not a religion. I may be wrong, but I don’t think Wicca can be considered an ethnicity.

But, I’m just picking nits.

What really bothered me was the fact Hanna-Barbera, the producers of Scooby Doo, thought it would be a good idea to drop the no supernatural policy and have an actual ghost witch in the story. My skeptic’s heart was broken.

The first two thirds of the show followed the original Scooby Doo ethos by having bad guys in costumes using trickery to scare people, but in act three it went supernatural. A character who turned out to be a double-crossing villain found a book of spells and released the witch’s ghost from whatever limbo in which it had been imprisoned. This time it wasn’t smoke bombs and mirrors or any other tricks. This time it was magic. Actual magic.

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That’s not smoke and mirrors, it’s an actual ghost witch. For shame!

It took the Wiccan girl, who was pure of heart, to read the spell that re-imprisoned the witch’s ghost. Mystery solved.

I was appalled. I explained to my son how it was wrong for Scooby to have been promoting the supernatural, after having shown kids that such mysteries always have a real world explanation. Scooby had taught kids that the supernatural, the paranormal, and the unexplained are merely mysteries that can be solved without invoking magic.

I don’t have a problem with other TV shows and movies, for kids or adults, indulging in supernatural fantasy. I am a a fan of The X-Files, Jonny Quest (the first season), Harry Potter, Dracula, Frankenstein, haunted house stories, etc. Those shows always allowed for the supernatural to be real (despite Scully’s protestations). Scooby Doo didn’t accept the magic when it started and for years after. But when Scooby Doo went supernatural, I felt betrayed.

Scooby Doo, how could you?!

Packing Peanuts!

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A Pedant Watches An Episode Of Star Trek: TNG

I’m a little bit of a pedant. Ask some of my friends and they’ll say I’m a lot of a pedant. Ask my wife and she’ll go all dead in the eyes and quietly groan.

It’s something I’ve been since I was a child and I have been doing my best to keep it under control. Well, the other night I was re-watching some Star Trek: The Next Generation (the finest of all the Star Treks) and an episode from season four, Clues, had me getting a bit or a lot pedantic, depends on if you ask me or my friends. Please, just don’t ask my wife.

Before I go any further, I will warn you that there are spoilers ahead. I’m going to pretty much describe the entire show, so if you haven’t seen it… Well, I warned you.

The episode Clues starts off as most Star Trek: TNG episodes do with the Enterprise gliding along through space. Captain Picard (the greatest of all the Star Trek captains) is informed that a fairly boring, previously uncharted star has been detected by the ship’s sensors. What brings that fairly boring star to the Enterprise’s attention is the M-Class (Earth-like in Star Trek speak) planet orbiting it. That piques Picard’s interest and they alter course to investigate.

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The entire crew, except Commander Data (seated at bottom), rendered unconscious.

When the Enterprise begins to approach that fairly boring star, but isn’t quite in visual range of the planet, a wormhole suddenly appears and swallows the ship. Everyone on board is knocked out except Commander Data, who is an android and therefor immune to the effects of the wormhole. The bridge crew revives and Data explains that an extremely unstable wormhole had sent the Enterprise some distance from where they were and everyone, except him, was knocked out in the process. Knocked out for a mere 30 seconds.

The decision is made to not go back to investigate the M-Class planet, but instead to send a probe to gather information. The information from the probe shows that the sensors were wrong and the planet wasn’t M-Class, after all. It seems odd, but Data gives a plausible explanation and  no one thinks anymore of it.

Until…

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24 hours of growth in 30 seconds?

The ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. Crusher, brings a space moss growing experiment she had set up, just before the wormhole encounter, to Captain Picard and she asks him if they were only out for 30 seconds, why does her experiment show 24 hours of growth? This is the first clue that something is amiss. I won’t go into all the clues, but they begin to add up and it becomes obvious that Data isn’t being truthful about the wormhole and the 30 seconds. When questioned Data repeatedly responds that he cannot answer the questions, but he does indicate the crew might be in danger if he were to reveal what he appears to be hiding.

The decision is made to return to the scene of the crime. It may be dangerous, but the mystery must be solved if they are to ever trust Data again. When they arrive they find the M-Class planet the sensors had originally spotted. They are also confronted by a mass of green mist that sends out a little puff that hits up against the ship’s defensive shields and dissipates. However, a tiny amount had gotten through, undetected, and enters the body of a sleeping Counselor Troi. The mist takes possession of her body and she goes to Data’s quarters.

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A possessed Counselor Troi entering the Enterprise bridge.

We know she is possessed by some alien life form due to her demeanor and her voice. The alien tells Data that the plan didn’t work and that the ship had returned. The android pleads with the alien do nothing and he promises to attempt to fix the situation. The alien compiles as Data is called to the bridge for a final showdown with Captain Picard. Realizing the jig is up, Data informs the crew that he was under Picard’s orders not to tell what had really happened during the wormhole incident.

He explains that the alien possessing Troi is part of a species of xenophobes who are determined to stay isolated. They have the ability to affect the minds of other intelligent species. The aliens knock out any intruding species and then moves them to another part of space, making it appear as though a wormhole was responsible. Usually the hapless travelers figure themselves lucky and move on, but Data screwed that up. He remained conscious and revived the crew, so they became aware of the aliens.

Instead of destroying the Enterprise, as was the aliens’ first choice, Picard talked them into arranging it so that it appears to the crew the whole scenario plays out the same way as with other interlopers. But, since Data will still know, Picard would order Data to never reveal what really happened at the wormhole. The aliens agree and they do their magic, which takes 24 hours.

The problem is too many clues were left behind and humans just can’t resist a mystery. So, they came back. Picard convinces the aliens to give his crew a second chance. He told them to consider the first attempt a rehearsal “to shake out the flaws.” This time they would make certain to leave no clues behind. The aliens agree.

The crew once again regains consciousness as they did after the original wormhole encounter. The first encounter and clue-finding aftermath have been completely erased from their memories, the clues have been removed, and the ship’s clocks have all been set to show a mere 30 seconds of unconsciousness had been experienced by all. Again, they decide not to go back. Again, they send a probe, but this time they also set up a warning beacon to advise other ships to stay away. And, again, Data remains the only crew member to know the truth and, since he is an android, he will keep the secret forever.

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“I know something they don’t know.”

The episode ends.

Pretty good, but the pedant in me surfaced. The first go-round took 24 hours to set up. Then there was the time of finding clues and returning to the planet, which for simplicity I’ll say took 24 hours. And the final attempt to remove all clues and do the wormhole trick again, I’ll say took yet another 24 hours. That’s 72 hours that have gone by in what the crew and the ship’s clocks think was 30 seconds.

Well, that’ll work fine until the Enterprise meets up with another ship, puts into space dock, or sends a report to Star Fleet. At some point, they will notice they are three days behind and will likely trace it back to the wormhole incident and back they’ll go. This time the aliens will say, “That’s it! Three strikes, you’re out!” And destroy the ship.

What is a pedant to do?

Worry not. I was able to figure out a way around the 72 hours. If the first encounter happened on a Tuesday, the aliens would have to make it appear to have happened on a Friday. There would have to be memories implanted so the crew thinks they did stuff during those three days. They would, also, have to make it look as though three days of work had been done. And there would have to be three days of log entries by the captain and the crew. As long as someone thought of these tasks, the crew and the aliens would have been able to work them out.

There’s still one thing, though.

When the alien possessed Counselor Troi she was in bed and was wearing a nightgown, but when she shows up at Data’s quarters she is in her uniform. Why would the alien care enough to have her change clothes?

I might never be able to work that one out.

Packing Peanuts!

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Some Nitpicks Of ‘To Serve Man’

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Warning! There will be spoilers!

Of course, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone was groundbreaking television. And, of course, it is universally loved and respected. As it should be! The show cleverly addressed sensitive social issues without much of the audience even realizing it. Science fiction is sneaky and very useful that way. And it was also pretty darned entertaining. Most of the shows still hold up today.

There were plenty of memorable episodes that commonly get rated among the best of the series. There was the one with William Shatner being the sole passenger to see the creature damaging the wing of the plane. There was that episode in which a misanthrope and book-lover, played by Burgess Meredith, survived a nuclear attack and was left alone with all those books. Finally, able to read as much as he wanted and not be disturbed by the nuisance of people, he stumbled and broke his glasses, rendering him unable to read with no one around to fix them. And the show with the beautiful Donna Douglas playing a woman who didn’t match society’s view of physical attractiveness. Oh! And who can forget that nasty kid (Billy Mumy) who wished people into the cornfield?

Classics all.

I think what is probably the most memorable show, however, is To Serve Man, written by Serling, originally airing March 2, 1962. It is the story of the arrival of a super-intelligent and seemingly benevolent extraterrestrial race. These rather large aliens, played by the rather large Richard Kiel and voiced by Joseph Ruskin, have come to Earth to end disease and famine. And to save us from ourselves by making it possible to end war. They bring us peace, safety, and prosperity. They also offer the wonderful opportunity to visit their home world.

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When their representative addressed the United Nations, the alien was told that delegates from “most of the important countries” were present. Really? I wonder how that made the “unimportant countries” feel. And just which ones are unimportant? Canada? Belize? France?

Well, yeah, France. But still!

(Incidentally, the UN Secretary General, in his address to the assembly, mentions that the first alien spacecraft to land on Earth landed outside of Newark, New Jersey. I’m certain that was Serling’s nod to Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 radio broadcast, War of the Worlds. In that show, the first spaceship landed in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. A small, rural town near Princeton University, not far from Newark. Eh? See what he did there?)

At that meeting with the UN, the alien left behind a book. A book written in their language, which was turned over to a code-breaker named Michael Chambers (Lloyd Bochner), and his team to see if it could be translated to English. Midway through the episode, after the world had become peaceful and relaxed, we learn that the title of the book had been translated as “To Serve Man.”

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Um. Hang on. How did they translate it? As was pointed out in the book The Twilight Zone Companion, they weren’t breaking a code. This was a completely alien language. Without any kind of a guide, a Rosetta Stone, there would be no way anyone could translate that book, let alone its title. It simply would be impossible.

Well, never mind. Translate the title they did. And the title just reinforced the good feelings everyone had about these nice, accommodating beings from another planet. Still the challenge of finishing the translation was too hard to resist for the code-breaker’s assistant, played by Susan Cummings. Just as Chambers was to board the alien spacecraft for his trip to another world, she came to warn him not to go.

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She desperately called out to him that the book was… a cookbook! Dun dun duuuhhhh!

Classic Rod Serling twist!

Here’s where I scratch my head, though. Why would these super-intelligent beings come here with the intention of surreptitiously wrangling people to take back to their planet as food, give us a book detailing how they would cook (or serve) us? That don’t make no sense.

Packing Peanuts!

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Another Example Of The Weirdness Of The 1970s

The 1970s was a weird decade. Well, I suppose every decade has its weirdness, but the ’70s definitely had its own special vibe. The fashions were pretty tacky. Even the most straight-laced looks just seemed slightly askew. Wide lapels, bell bottoms, platform shoes, ponchos, and everyone seemed to have long hair. Everyone except Telly Savales, that is.

And there were all those catch phrases pulled from popular television series. “Sit on it!” “Kiss my grits!” “Up your nose with a rubber hose!” “Dyn-O-Mite!” “Nanoo nanoo!” “Who loves you, baby?”

So many catch phrases.

There were mood rings. You could own a pet rock. You could track your bio-rhythms, while you read your daily horoscopes, which were so very important in the ’70s. (Of course, you know bio-rhythms and astrology are just a bunch of nonsense, right?)

It was also possible for a comedian to make a good living on just one joke. Remember Raymond J Johnson Jr? Mr. Johnson was a character played by Bill Sulga and he made a career out of telling people they didn’t have to call him Johnson. “You can call me Ray. Or you can call me Jay. Or you can call me Johnny…”

Now that’s comedy!

There was another person who gained world fame in that weird decade by using his one joke that consisted of essentially physically assaulting people. He was a comedian from England who, in the early ’60s, started working as a lighting technician in Australian television production. He soon made his way to performing characters on camera and became popular with fans. In 1970, he began co-hosting a children’s show and soon after came his “partner” in comedy – Emu.

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The man was Rod Hull. He began working with an unusual looking bird that was simply called Emu. Emus are large flightless birds found in Australia and are quite similar to ostriches. The feathered friend was a puppet made to look as though Hull was carrying it, while he operated its neck and head.

Emu had a foul (pun!) temper and it didn’t take much to set him off. Emu would savagely attack people, creating what has been called a kind of gleeful havoc. I mean that bird would really go after people. Often times, Hull, Emu, and the victim would end up in a heap on the floor. Emu’s attacks were startling and looked quite violent while, Hull, acting as a kind of wildlife expert, would appear to be futilely attempting to control the angry bird.

And it worked. People thought it was hilarious. Including those who were on the receiving end of the attack. And that was the key, I think. If those who were attacked reacted badly, Hull might have found himself in court or with a broken arm, which actor/comedian Billy Connolly did seriously threaten to do once and, thus, avoided being attacked. However, most victims played along. Some even had fun with it.

In 1974, Hull took this act to Saturday morning kids’ programming in America. He was a regular on the Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show. That’s where I first saw Hull and his maniac bird. And the routine was funny. And it’s really just one joke!

Hull was able to keep getting laughs from that one joke into the 1980s. I just saw, and this is what prompted me to write on this topic, Rod Hull and Emu’s appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson from 1983. I gotta tell ya, Hull was fearless. He was told, by the production staff, to go easy on Johnny and to not go after Richard Pryor, who was also a guest on the show. But Hull (and Emu) understood the comedy is not in going easy. An attack is funny. An all out assault that puts Carson face down on his desk and Pryor on his back on the couch is hilarious! And to their credit, both victims were laughing through the whole bit. Click here to see what I’m talking about. And you can read an excellent behind the scenes account of that Tonight Show appearance here.

Yep. A lot of weird stuff occurred in the ’70s. And I’m kinda glad it did.

Packing Peanuts!

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The Good Life With Good Neighbors

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Tom Good had a midlife crisis at age 40 and decided to drop out of society, if not the neighborhood. Tom wanted to work at the job of life itself and leave the 9-to-5 drudgery and consumerism behind. So he, along with his understanding wife Barbara, turned their middle-class home and yard into a suburban farm. He was determined to be as damn near self-sufficient as possible.

I’m talking about the wildly successful British sit-com The Good Life (1975 – 1978). It was called Good Neighbors in the United States when it premiered on PBS in the early 80s. There had been an American sit-com with the same name a few years earlier and the presenters wanted to avoid confusion.

I remember seeing ads on PBS at the time, touting a new “Brit-Com” that would be debuting soon. It had a scene from the second episode, I believe, showing Barbara (Felicity Kendal) smashing the glass out of their greenhouse so Tom (Richard Briers) could convert it to a chicken coop. (Yep, they were going to keep chickens, too. And pigs. And a goat.) She was wearing a scuba mask to prevent glass shards getting in her eyes. Tom told her she looked utterly ridiculous and she called him “Honey Tongue.”

I think it was my mom that convinced me to start watching the show. Before long I was smitten. Sure, Barbara was cute as a button and awfully sexy at the same time, so that helped peak my interest. But, I wasn’t just smitten with Barbara. The show had wended its way into my heart. (If you tell people I said I have a heart, I’ll deny it!)

The Goods lived next door to the Leadbetters: Margo (Penelope Keith) and Jerry (Paul Eddington). Tom and Jerry (that sounds familiar) had both worked for the same plastics company that manufactured toys for breakfast cereals. They both started on the same day eight years previous. Tom was more talented, but Jerry knew how to play the game. Jerry rose to the executive level while Tom languished working with younger men, who would soon rise to the executive level as well.

Margo Leadbetter plays the lovable foil. She’s prim and proper. Very conservative. She has difficulty understanding why something is funny. She’s a snob, but she truly cares for Tom and Barbara. Well, Barbara. She tolerates Tom.

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The two couples represent different ends of the economic spectrum. The Leadbetters are affluent and love their luxuries. The Goods are damned poor, but they love their life and their freedom from the trappings of middle class society. Despite these differences, they are friends. Fast friends. In fact, although Tom likes to think he and Barbara are self-sufficient, the Leadbetters come in very handy quite often. Margo and Jerry come through for their friends even while being embarrassed by them. And, on more than one occasion, Jerry reminds Tom of the reality of dealing with society, no matter how dropped out they think they are.

The show is also genuinely funny. Particularly the episode titled The Wind-Break War, in which Margo’s new wind-break for her backyard keeps ending up in the wrong place for the Goods. A frustrated tradesman finds himself trapped in this battle of miscommunications between neighbors. The viewers are sympathetic to his plight, but we’re still laughing. Cooler heads prevail and the homemade wine pours. Innocent flirtations between couples come close to not being so innocent. And Margo gets the last laugh.

28 episodes plus two specials (one a command performance for the Queen) are all that there is. In the old days of American television that would be one season. But through those episodes the audience comes to know and love four very real characters. We struggle right along with Tom and Barbara, through a difficult harvest to a roof with a hole in it to the runt of the pig litter and to not having anything worth stealing. And we feel pride when the Goods brush themselves off and push on.

The Goods (and the Leadbetters) live the good life.

Packing Peanuts!

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