When Judge Jim Thomas fell into a magician's hat, all he found was lint. Lintville was Dullsville.
Nostalgia…sometimes, it's not for the faint of heart.
In the '70s, Sid & Marty Kroftt were a force to be reckoned with. Every fall, like clockwork, they had a new Saturday morning show. The show generally lasted just one season, but the show was repeated the following year; the result is that the Kroftts maintained a substantial presence on Saturday morning, from standalone shows like HR Pufnstuf to The Kroftt Supershow, a variety show that included several short action series. That was even before Land of the Lost. Vivendi Visual now brings us Sid & Marty Krofft's Saturday Morning Hits, basically a sampler disc with a single episode of each of the following:
• H.R. Pufnstuf (1969): The evil Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes) spirits young Jimmy (Jack Wild, Oliver!) away to Living Island. Witchiepoo covets Jimmy's magical flute (not that, you perverts), but Jimmy is rescued and protected by the mayor of Living Island, the gentle dragon, H.R. Pufnstuf. Together, they foil Witchiepoo's schemes while trying to return Jimmy home. In this episode, a con artist convinces Jimmy and Pufnstuf that he has a kit for a super pogo stick that will bounce Jimmy back home; the pair stage a talent show to raise the money to buy and build the device.
• Lidsville (1971): Young Mark (Butch Patrick, The Munsters), falls into a magician's magic hat and emerges in Lidsville, the land of living hats. The hats are at the mercy of evil magician Horatio J. HooDoo (Charles Nelson Reilly). Mark helps defend the populace while seeking a way back home.
• Bugaloos (1970): A vaguely insectoid musical group just wants to have fun and make music, but the evil (and even worse, musically inept) Benita Bizarre (Martha Raye) is jealous of their talent. In this episode, she schemes to steal Joy's voice.
• Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (1973): Brothers Johnny (Johnny Whittaker, Family Affair) & Scott befriend a small but friendly sea monster who has been kicked out of his house for not being evil enough. The two boys have to keep their new friend a secret, particularly from their housekeeper Zelda (Mary Wickes) and their nosy neighbor Mrs. Eddels (Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West herself).
While the earlier shows featured the Kroftts' trademark costumes and designs, the The Kroftt Supershow were more traditional Saturday morning live-action fare:
• Electra Woman & Dyna Girl (1976): Electra Woman (Deirdre Hall, Days of Our Lives) and Dyna Girl (Judy Strangis, Room 222) fight the villainous Ali Baba, who uses stolen technology to turn Dyna Girl into a super-villain.
• Wonderbug (1976): Three teenagers fix up an old dune buggy, which they dub "Schlepcar." A magical horn transforms Schlepcar into Wonderbug, all tricked out and able to fly. Together, they foil criminals.
• Bigfoot & Wild Boy (1977): Apparently, Bigfoot found a baby and raised him; together, they fight those who would harm the forest. Frighteningly, it is actually dumber than it sounds. A pair of scientists inadvertently releases a group of aliens whom Bigfoot imprisoned many years ago. Now free, the aliens resume their plans of world domination, and I just can't go on because the story is so mind-bogglingly stupid.
Curiously, of the shows on the disc, the earliest, HR Pufnstuf, is easily the best, with the following shows getting progressively worse. None of these shows are going to win and screenwriting awards. In the case of Pufnstuf, Lidsville, and (to a lesser extent) The Bugaloos, the weak plots aren't a major problem. The shows are, for all intents and purposes, live-action cartoons; of course Pufnstuf can sneak into Witchiepoo's castle simply by donning a soldier's cloak and helmet—no one's going to notice that he's clearly a big freaking dragon, just as Elmer Fudd is never going to realize that it's just Bugs Bunny in drag (at least, until someone spots their tails). Everyone's general cluelessness—the good guys are just as likely to be fooled by a bad disguise as the bad guys—does up the silliness quotient nicely. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. The production designs are wonderfully surreal, and in each case, the villain is deliciously over the top; Raye's portrayal of Benita is akin to a Technicolor Cruella deVille on acid, and is easily the best thing about The Bugaloos; and it's hard to get better than Charles Nelson Reilly in full whackjob mode.
Quality starts to slide a bit with The Bugaloos, and then promptly takes a nosedive. Sigmund and the Sea Monster is really a fish out of water, so to speak. Because it's set in the human world, it lacks the distinctive and distracting surreal vibe of its older cousins, making its weaknesses a bit more obvious.
The shows from The Kroftt Supershow were 15-minute segments, so if nothing else they are better paced. In Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, the glamorous gals are a thinly disguised parody of the Dynamic Duo, putting "Electra" in front of everything—the Electra Car, the Electra Base, etc. They even play it as hyperserious as the Adam West show, but without the earlier show's distinctive style, it never quite works. On the other hand, you do have Deirdre Hall and Judy Strangis in spandex, and that makes up for a lot of failings.
In 2001, Warner Bros. made a pilot starring Markie Post as an older Electra Woman, embittered because her husband ran off with Dyna Girl; stunningly, it wasn't picked up, and now I have to live in a world that doesn't have Markie Post in spandex. IS THERE NO GOD?!?!?!?
Wonderbug is just bad. Silly concept, bad execution. All it really has going for it is that it looks great next to Bigfoot and Wildboy, which at times looks as though they were simply making it up as they went along.
Video is a mixed bag. While colors are strong and vivid—which is critical given the production design—there's a lot of film damage still in evidence. The video is particularly bad in the later shows. Audio isn't as disappointing; the mono track is clear and reasonably free of noise. Extras are pretty lame. When the disc was announced, there were rumors of interviews with the Kroffts and the stars, as well as a pilot episode from an unsold series. However, all that made the finished product was a gallery of pre-production art—interesting to an extent, but weak by itself.
It's fun to show your kids what you used to watch back in the day. Of course, I may have forfeited the right to bitch about my children's viewing habits. When all is said and done, though, nostalgia alone isn't quite enough.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
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