Judge Paul Pritchard took a trip to Archie's Funhouse. Complete waste of a time. Why didn't anyone tell him the place closed in 1971?
"Welcome to Archie's Funhouse!"
Archie's Funhouse arrives on DVD some 38 years after its initial run on TV. Blending animation with a live studio audience, the show set out to capitalize on the success of the previous two iterations of The Archie Show, while offering up something a little different.
Facts of the Case
Archie Andrews, Reggie Mantle, Forsythe "Jughead" Pendleton Jones III, Betty Cooper, and Veronica Lodge are names that will forever be revered, for together they are (drum roll) The Archies—the greatest bubblegum pop band the world has ever known!
Having had over two decades of success in the comic book world, the characters went on to have their own TV series, The Archie Show, in 1968. The series mixed the gang's wholesome adventures (raising money for the school dance, for example), with the band performing a musical number. The follow-up series, The Archie Comedy Hour took the same formula and threw in a new character, Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
When The Archies returned to TV it was in a new format, a variety show for kids. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Archie's Funhouse: The Complete Series!
Being a) born some years after the show had run its course and b) born in England, my knowledge of The Archies is somewhat limited. Aside from "Sugar, Sugar," which I'm sure even inhabitants of the most remote places on Earth have heard, my only other experience of the characters is Jason Lee's and Dwight Ewell's hilarious discussion regarding Archie's and Jughead's sexuality in Chasing Amy. So while trying to work out whether Archie really is "the butch" in the relationship, I sat down to enjoy Archie's Funhouse: The Complete Series.
Coming into the show without any preceding familiarity of it meant that I wasn't in danger of being crushed if the show had aged badly. Of course, this also meant I was coming into the show with fresh eyes, without fear of nostalgia clouding my judgment, meaning there would be no easy let-offs for the show.
Taking on a live variety show format, the series is a mix of comedic skits and musical performances aimed squarely at kids. In fact, the show even uses a live studio audience made up of youngsters to add to the variety show feel. What the hell they were showing the kids to get them so hyped up is anyone's guess, but I'd imagine a lot of sugar-filled soda was involved.
Discs one and two of the three-disc set contain all 16 episodes of Archie's Funhouse:
Acting as our host, Archie himself presents each segment with his typical keenness. There are three different sections to each show, "Thunderbolt Theatre," "The Giant Jukebox," and a number of short sketches.
"Thunderbolt Theatre" is basically a quick fire round of one-liners, with members of the cast paired up, and sports such gems as:
Betty: "Come on Ethel, guys like Jughead are a dime a dozen!"
Archie: "Moose, stop making faces in the mirror!"
Oh, my aching sides! The section is knowingly corny and Hot Dog will frequently show up, between gags, to comment on how awful the preceding joke was.
The short sketches consist of music-hall style skits, where members of the band get into misadventures. These range from the band going fishing to Veronica and Betty giving Archie's car a clean, which involves pouring bleach and soap into the engine.
Finally there's the "Giant Jukebox" where the group perform one of their songs. While the band are best remembered for catchy numbers like "Sugar, Sugar," the songs performed on the show were often more socially aware, such as Mr. Factory's message about pollution or "We're One Big Family," which deals with racial equality. Complete with videos that offer a surprisingly good representation of the song's message, it adds a little more depth to Archie's Funhouse.
The show's mix of animation and live studio audience is definitely a success. Giving the show a unique look, it also offers a little more than just the usual canned laughter track that most Filmation shows employed.
Eschewing any real narrative, Archie's Funhouse is one quick-fire gag after another. Moving from a corny one liner one second to a clichéd joke or Looney Tunes style mishap (usually featuring Big Ethel's attempts to win over Jughead) the next, the show is relentless. In fact, I found the show's mix of music and comedy to be similar to The Muppet Show, which came some years later. Unfortunately, unlike Jim Henson's masterpiece, The Archies lack that spark of genius that immortalized Kermit, Fozzie and Miss Piggy as iconic TV stars. The belly laughs that still ensure The Muppets are worth watching are replaced by a more groan-inducing style of humor that, though able to raise the odd laugh, means potential for repeated viewings is somewhat limited. The show's fast pace and goofy enthusiasm is infectious and makes for an entertaining 20 minutes; just don't expect to find yourself partaking in an Archie's Funhouse marathon. The series is good old-fashioned family entertainment that is inoffensive and often provides a message in its many musical numbers. While the show may teach such important lessons as racial equality, judging from the treatment of Moose, it's not above taking cheap shots at those less mentally equipped than us.
Special features for the set are impressive for such an old show. The bonus episodes featured on Archie's Funhouse: The Complete Series were originally broadcast as part of the show's predecessor, The Archie Comedy Hour. Running at considerably less than the hour the title implies, the show was comprised of reruns of The Archie Show, and used story-based narratives compared to Funhouse's skit based format and proves to be more enjoyable for it. Still, the "side show" sequences that frequently pop up hint at the direction later seasons would take. Next up we have the "Archie and His New Pals TV Special," which utilizes a format similar to The Archie Show and introduces Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Again this is more fulfilling that the Funhouse episodes.
For fans wanting to take a peek behind the scenes there's the Ron Dante featurette. Offering an interesting look at the work that went into creating the group, and detailing their success, I found the feature to be surprisingly interesting; for hardcore Archies fans I'd imagine it would be a highlight of the set. The "jukebox" feature allows the viewer to play the songs featured in the show back individually. Finally there are the complete videos for "Jingle Jangle" and The Archies biggest hit, "Sugar, Sugar."
Audio and video are very much limited by the show's age. Perfectly acceptable, the full-screen transfer contains a few scratches and specks of dirt, but for the most part is pretty good. The audio may only be a mono track, yet it does its job and at least perfectly replicates how the show was originally broadcast.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The repetition of Archie's Funhouse is certainly an issue. I can't see anyone but the most ardent fan sitting through more than a couple of episodes in one go. The show's skit-based format and knowingly corny humor means that one episode quickly blurs into the next. Although it's by no means poor, when compared to the bonus episodes included in the set, Archie's Funhouse is revealed to be the runt of the Archie's litter.
Had this review been for the Funhouse episodes only, the final scores would tally up quite differently. But as this review is taking into account the whole package, the extra features and bonus episodes included, things turn out very much more positively than they otherwise might have. Classic Media have put out a great little package here that earns them a recommendation.
Perhaps I'm a sucker for old cartoon shows, maybe I was pepped up on soda and chocolate, but either way I'm letting The Archies go free. The verdict on Archie and Jughead's relationship however, is still very much up in the air.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Archie's Funhouse Bonus Episodes
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