Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Wonder Woman vs. Wonder Woman

I assume everyone who grew up with and enjoyed the Wonder Woman TV show would also be eager to see the Wonder Woman film released earlier this year.  I am less certain as to whether moviegoers in their 20s or 30s who came along after the series would be curious to go back and discover how this iconic character was first brought to life. 

It had been a long time since I watched The New Original Wonder Woman (1975), the feature-length series pilot with Lynda Carter. But that’s the first thing I did after finishing the 2017 film.

Before we go any further, let’s address two minor details:

1. The use of ‘new’ and ‘original’ in the title was an effort to separate this adaptation from the 1974 Wonder Woman telefilm starring Cathy Lee Crosby. 

So yes, that version came first. But it’s so far-removed from the DC Comics character that I think it’s fair to say that Lynda Carter was the first actress to truly inhabit the role.

2. Before any of my readers bring it up: yes, I’m aware of the comedic, never-broadcast five-minute short created by William Dozier in the 1960s as an attempt to launch another campy superhero series like Batman. It’s dreadful and deserving only of footnote status. 

That leaves us, as I began to say, with just two versions worthy of consideration. Watching them in succession turned out to be one of the more unique Comfort TV experiences I’ve had this year.

I have the same affection for Lynda Carter’s portrayal of Princess Diana shared by many in my generation. But I tried to put that aside and watch The New, Original Wonder Woman from the viewpoint of a first-time viewer who saw the 2017 film and regards Gal Gadot as the definitive Wonder Woman. 

From that perspective, my first pleasant surprise would be how the pilot follows the same origin story as the film. That’s something we take for granted now, since Hollywood rediscovered comic books and realized early on that success requires as faithful a rendering of the source material as possible. The projects from earlier generations, including television takes on The Hulk, Spider-Man, Captain America, Dr. Strange and the aforementioned Cathy Lee Crosby film, felt no such obligation. 

But here, we open with a world at war that breaches the remote, idyllic setting of Paradise Island when American pilot Steve Trevor plummets from his downed plane. Both versions find Diana intrigued by her first encounter with a man, and plotting to return with him to the fighting against her mother’s wishes. But for true comic purists, the TV account is far more loyal to the comics, with its tournament to decide which amazon will leave the island, the “bullets and bracelets” climax, and the revelation of Diana as the masked victor. 

Those who don’t care as much about such specific plot points will likely be struck more by the tone of these scenes, which is less solemn and more sexy. Cloris Leachman delivers a more tongue-in-cheek portrayal of Queen Hippolyta than Connie Nielsen, and her amazons are not dressed so much for battle as for a weekend at the Playboy Mansion. 

That lighter tone continues into Wonder Woman’s acclimation into “man’s world,” though both stories portray her initially as an outsider coping with culture shock. Carter and Gadot were each able to tap into the character’s compassion, her puzzlement at the dishonesty and casual cruelty that surrounds her, and her sometimes-childlike optimism in a better future.

When it was time to depict a superhero in action, the movie enjoyed significant advantages in budget, scale and CGI far beyond what was available (or even imaginable) to the CBS network in 1975. 

Where Gadot could convincingly take down squadrons of German troops on a muddy battlefield, Lynda Carter struggled to beat German spy Stella Stevens in a clumsy fight scene. It’s one of that version’s most disappointing moments.

So clear edge here to Gal Gadot…except I do wish the colors in the film were not so muted all the time.

Diana, like Captain America and Superman, is a hero that represents not just power but hope and honor. Their costumes are symbols of these traits, and just once it would have been nice to see Gadot on a clear day when the reds, golds and blues could really shine. 

I suspect director Patty Jenkins fell into the trap that implies the costume needs to be toned down to be taken seriously. The same thing happened to Henry Cavill as Superman, with similarly disappointing results. Lynda Carter (like Christopher Reeve) proved that you could take the original costume directly out of the pages of the comic book, and make it work.

I’ll also give The New, Original Wonder Woman a slight edge in music, even with the cheesy lyrics of the main title theme (“In your satin tights, fighting for your rights”). 

It’s propulsive and memorable, where the film’s score by Rupert Gregson-Williams is just more generic bombast. There hasn’t really been a great superhero theme composed since John Williams made us believe a man can fly (no, Danny Elfman didn’t cut it with me either).

Who is the best Wonder Woman? That’s going to be one of those fun questions to discuss over pizza with pop culture-loving friends. I found it interesting that Gadot was never actually referred to as Wonder Woman in the movie, though by its final scene she had earned a title that belonged solely to one other actress for more than 40 years.

Let the debate begin. Votes from Lebanon and Tunisia will not be tabulated. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Starter Sets: The Bionic Woman

One of the pleasures of being a classic TV lover is sharing a favorite show with someone who has never watched it. 

Unfortunately, most people do not put much thought into this process.

I had a friend introduce someone to The Bionic Woman with “Bionic Beauty.” The outcome was sadly predictable. After this virgin viewer listened to Lindsay Wagner’s regrettable rendition of one of the cheesiest songs of the 1970s, there was no going back.

The most commonly employed method of introducing a series to a prospective convert is to just simply hand them the season one DVD set. 

While there’s certain logic in experiencing a series from the beginning, a lot of classic shows did not come out of the gate with their best stuff. For every “Fear in a Desert City” (The Fugitive) there is an “Encounter at Farpoint” (Star Trek: The Next Generation). And if your potential convert is a millennial with the short attention span typical of that generation, your show may not get more than one episode to make a positive impression. 

So you should begin with a classic episode, right? Wrong.

Imagine starting a Next Generation newbie with “The Measure of a Man” from season two. He or she will almost certainly be impressed by the writing and performances, but with no prior exposure to the characters, the challenging situation the characters contend with will not resonate as deeply. One needs to become acquainted with Picard, Data, Riker and Guinan to fully appreciate their response to a unique dilemma. Coming in cold to one of the show’s best moments can short-change the experience.

I believe the best approach is to select 3-4 episodes from the first third of the series that feature stories emblematic of the entire run. These shows should establish a foundation for the genre, the characters, the setting and the era, one that will generate interest in the rest of the series.

“Starter Sets,” my choices for the best episodes to accomplish this goal, will be another occasional feature here. Since I mentioned The Bionic Woman, let’s go there first, especially as it’s another series where starting at the beginning is problematic. The first appearances of Jaime Sommers were in two feature-length episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man.   

Both are flawed, albeit serviceable as origin stories, but are not representative of the show that would follow.

If I wanted to create a new Bionic Woman fan, I’d start with these episodes.

“A Thing of the Past”
This early season-one show offers an ideal introduction to the character of Jaime Sommers and the community of Ojai, California where she resides. A new viewer will discover that this isn’t an action show centered on Jaime’s unique abilities. Instead it’s more of a character study of Jaime herself – a kind, compassionate schoolteacher who moonlights as a government agent. 

“Sister Jaime”
This wonderful episode is an outstanding example of the Jaime-undercover stories, in which she assumes another identity to uncover some bit of criminal wrongdoing. Here, she joins a convent, one of the last places you’d expect nefarious activity. “Sister Jaime” features some wonderfully humorous moments that are another series staple.

“The Jailing of Jaime”
What happens when a mission goes wrong? “The Jailing of Jaime” spotlights Jaime’s resourcefulness, as well as her affectionate father-daughter-like relationship with Oscar Goldman, wonderfully played by Richard Anderson. 

“Jaime’s Shield”
Jaime joins the police force. This two-part episode will acclimate your new viewer to the fact that The Bionic Woman frequently employed multi-part episodes. But where this is a practice to be dreaded on other shows where story padding is obvious, here it is something to treasure. The series was always at its best in these longer adventures, and “Jamie’s Shield” provides the perfect appetizer for such classics as “Doomsday is Tomorrow,” “Deadly Ringer” and “Fembots in Las Vegas.” 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Petrocelli: Purchase or Pass?

During Comfort TV’s classic TV tour of the 50 states, the legal drama Petrocelli was selected to represent Arizona. I recently finished my journey via DVD through all 44 episodes of this 1974-1976 series, and though this isn’t really a review site I thought I’d share a few thoughts while the show is fresh in my mind. 

For the uninitiated, Petrocelli stars Barry Newman as Anthony J. Petrocelli, a Boston-bred, Harvard educated attorney who becomes fed up with the big city rat race, and relocates with wife Maggie (Susan Howard) to the small town of San Remo. He is assisted on his cases by ex-cop turned investigator Pete Ritter (Albert Salmi).

In addition to his legal acumen, Tony had two quirks that were part of nearly every episode. The first was his aversion to parking meters, expressed through an array of creative tricks that were not always successful. The second was his decision to build his own house, brick by brick, out in the desert, while he and his wife lived in a trailer parked on the property. The home was nowhere near completion when the show was canceled. I like to think they eventually got around to finishing it. 

There was an obvious fish-out-of-water premise that I expected to be explored more frequently; Tony, the Italian in his shiny dark three-piece suits, didn’t mix naturally with the blue-collar, denim-clad locals. But such culture-clashes were surprisingly rare.

Instead, there were three successive phases of Petrocelli explored through 44 shows, suggesting a network and creative team struggling to find the right winning formula.

The “Yet Another Version” Phase
The first and best of these dominates the show’s first season, positioning Petrocelli within the tradition of crusading attorneys and courtroom climaxes.

A murder is committed in the opening scene, and someone is arrested that the cops believe they’ve got dead to rights. Tony takes the case after meeting with the accused and deciding that he or she is not guilty. He later shares his confidence with the district attorney, who will then casually mention evidence Tony did not know about (“Oh, your client didn’t tell you? We found his fingerprints all over the murder weapon”).

But just as the outlook seems dire, at some point during the trial Tony will say something like “With the court’s permission I’d like to take you back to the night of the murder, and present yet another version of what may have happened.” 

Inexplicably, the prosecution does not object, or ask the judge to tell opposing counsel to save any speeches for his closing statement. Tony's re-enactment that exposes the real guilty party is so convincing that the judge stops the trial without even giving the case to a jury.

The “Fighting Attorney” Phase
Between seasons one and two, somebody decided Petrocelli needed more action. Thus, in addition to defending his clients, Tony now had to defend himself while being chased by helicopters, having his camper run off the road, getting shot at and getting jumped in biker bars.

The “Oh, @&%$ it, let’s just make him Mannix” Phase
It must have been decided that the action scenes were working, because in the last few episodes Tony was so busy running for his life he sometimes never saw the inside of a courtroom.

Through all of these changes, the series could have relied on the relationship between Tony and Maggie to ground each episode, but sadly their scenes together are among the shows’ least compelling. 

You know that wonderful chemistry shared by Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers in Hart to Hart? That’s not here with Barry Newman and Susan Howard. It’s not Sonny-and-Cher-after-the-divorce bad; there’s just no heat.

Fortunately the series did have one consistent joy for Comfort TV fans, and that was an amazing collection of guest stars as defendants, witnesses and not-so-innocent bystanders.

“Edge of Evil” features William Shatner and Harrison Ford – where else can you see Captain Kirk and Han Solo in the same show? Star Wars fans will also enjoy spotting Mark Hamill in two episodes. 

There’s Rick Nelson in “Music to Die By,” performing one of the best songs from his country-rock phase (“One Night Stand”), playing a singer managed by gravelly-voiced David Doyle. And there’s Susan Dey, still looking Partridge-y, before she went blond and brittle on L.A. Law (“The Falling Star”). 

John Ritter was a client, as was Scatman Crothers, Mitch Vogel, Ned Beatty, Anne Francis, Denver Pyle and the aforementioned Stefanie Powers. Mark Goddard, Elinor Donahue, Cindy Williams, Barbara Luna, Joan Van Ark, Tim Matheson and Katherine Helmond are among the familiar faces that pop up in smaller roles.

As courtroom drama, Petrocelli is not up to the standard set by Perry Mason or The Defenders or even Judd for the Defense. As a whodunit, it mixes a few genuinely clever twists with mysteries so obvious you’ll have them solved in the first ten minutes. I still enjoyed most of my time with the show, but it falls just short of having that ‘re-watchability’ factor that is necessary for a permanent place in my collection. Of course, your mileage may vary. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Marcia Brady: Trailblazer

We don’t discuss current events in this blog, except when they have some relation to the shows covered here. I have always ascertained that classic TV – even those series that are deemed the most simplistic by our ‘sophisticated’ modern standards, can do more than just provide 30 or 60 minutes of entertaining diversion. They teach us something about the times in which they were made – and might even teach us something about the times we live in now.

Case in point: you may have heard the news that the Boy Scouts are opening their membership to girls.

Ten years ago that announcement would have generated prominent national headlines and days of cable news debates. Today, with our culture undergoing so many seismic shifts away from bedrock standards once taken for granted, it’s a development that barely registers more than a collective shrug, even from those who can’t make sense of the world anymore.

Of course when I heard the news, my thoughts went to a season two episode of The Brady Bunch that tackled this very issue. 

“The Liberation of Marcia Brady” opens with Marcia and her friends answering questions about the women’s liberation movement from a TV reporter. “If we’re all supposed to be created equal, I guess that means girls as well as boys,” Marcia says, a sentiment that makes perfect sense then and now. Then she talks about how her brothers put her down sometimes just because she’s a girl – “and it’s not fair!” 

When the interview airs, the reaction of said brothers is about what you’d expect. Greg’s review: “First time my sister gets on TV and she sounds like a kook.” 

Marcia, determined to take a stand, shows up at Greg’s ‘Frontier Scouts’ meeting and asks to join. 

Everyone there is stunned, including Mike Brady, one of the troop’s leaders. Surely this can’t actually happen, but when the Frontier Scout handbook is reviewed no one can find a rule refusing membership to girls: “I’m afraid we just always assumed it was for boys.”

Greg wants to show her how silly she looks, so he sets out to join Marcia’s club, the Sunflower Girls – but he’s one year too old, so Peter is coerced into the job. The boys expect Marcia to be appalled, but instead she’s delighted: “Peter, at least you see my point,” she says. 

That sets up the episode’s most memorable scene, in which Sunflower Girl Peter tries to sell cookies door-to-door. Meanwhile, Marcia struggles mightily but just manages to meet the Frontier Scout field initiation requirements, from making fire to following a marked trail through the woods. 

But when it’s time for the initiation, Marcia decides not to go through with the ceremony. “I just wanted to prove I could do it,” she tells her dad, before asking Mom if the new fashion magazines came in.

“The Liberation of Marcia Brady” aired just six months after Mary Richards first walked into the WJM newsroom. It’s one of the show’s better episodes, I think, providing some still-funny moments and a look at how the early stages of feminism and the women’s movement were being discussed in the average American household. Barriers were being shattered everywhere on TV, just as they were in the real world. 

Times have indeed changed in the 46 years since this episode; so much so, in fact, that a modern audience might mistake the message for one more prominent in the times we live in now – that everyone should be allowed to do everything on their terms, regardless of any preexisting criterion.

Marcia’s contention was that women should have the same opportunities if they have the requisite skills. She used the Frontier Scouts to prove that point. Someone watching the episode today might think the episode argues that girls can and should be Boy Scouts, especially in light of that organization’s new policy change.

To me that suggests becoming a Girl Scout is a consolation prize for not being able to be a Boy Scout. I don’t think that’s true, and neither do the Girl Scouts, who released a statement to that effect.

The phrase ‘separate but equal’ has been forever tainted by its association with school segregation in the 1960s, where no such equality existed. But here, if equal truly means equal, it should not be discarded altogether.

Yes, Marcia can be a Frontier Scout, but that was never her preference. As a Sunflower Girl she can spend time with her friends and talk about topics they have in common. We’re all like this. We seek out the company of like-minded groups with similar backgrounds and interests, through a church or a community organization or even on Facebook. There is nothing wrong with this, though the culture is now sending a different message. 

We live in perplexing times. Occasionally, we can lean on the simplicity and sincerity of television shows from the past to help navigate them safely. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

In Defense of ‘Here’s Lucy’

The prevailing opinion among TV intelligentsia goes that I Love Lucy (1951-1957) is one of television’s crown jewels, and that The Lucy Show (1962-1968) is not as highly regarded, though perhaps its best moments rivaled the quality of its predecessor.

By contrast, Here’s Lucy (1968-1974), an unofficial continuation of The Lucy Show, surpassed the freshness expiration date for its antiquated sitcom formula – and its leading lady. 

But as is often the case with television, those who make such pronouncements did not speak for the public at large. Here’s Lucy ran for six seasons and 144 episodes. It ranked among the top ten highest-rated programs in its first four years, rising as high as #3 in 1970-71.

It’s likely that Lucy’s basic brand of comedy may have seemed outdated to those that preferred more substantive sitcoms like All in the Family, MASH and Good Times. But clearly there were just as many viewers who enjoyed a weekly visit with a friend they had watched for 20 years. For them, it was comfort TV.

Looking back on Here’s Lucy now, it’s easy to appreciate its old-world craftsmanship: the way standard plots unfold with clockwork predictability; Lucy’s comic incompetence at office work and blustery Gale Gordon as her exasperated boss (and in this case, brother-in-law); the lavish musical production numbers, expertly arranged and choreographed within the show’s standard shooting schedule, and performed for a live audience. 

The series frequently featured big-name guest stars, something The Lucy Show did in its later seasons as well. At the time these appearances were not considered all that special, but more than 40 years later it’s wonderful to watch so many classic film and television icons sharing the stage with Lucy.

Not that the show needs my defending, but here are ten episodes from an overlooked series that is worth a second look.

Lucy Meets the Burtons
This is the most famous Here’s Lucy episode, as well as the highest-rated, thanks to its Hollywood royalty guest stars, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. 

The couple is nearly upstaged by Taylor’s 60-karat ring, which figures prominently in the story when Lucy tries it on and can’t get it off. The show’s comic centerpiece was recycled from the I Love Lucy episode “The Handcuffs,” and works just as well the second time. 

Lucy the Fixer
Lucy meets Harry at his home to take care of some work. She discovers a lamp isn’t working and sets out to fix it. When she’s done, Harry’s house is in a shambles. 

“Lucy the Fixer” delivers a master class in the kind of physical comedy that dates back to the silent movie era. The timing, the steady build from minor trouble to major disaster, the reactions of Lucy and Harry every time the destruction escalates – it’s flawless.

Lucy Sells Craig to Wayne Newton
One of the delights of Here’s Lucy that separates the show from Ball's previous series is how it utilizes the talents of Lucy and Desi’s two teenage children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., as Lucy Carter’s kids Kim and Craig. 

“Lucy Sells Craig to Wayne Newton” is an ideal showcase for Lucie’s song-and-dance flair and Desi Jr.’s dry wit and drumming skills. Wayne Newton’s old-school style of showmanship meshed well with the series’ corny charms.

Lucy and Vivian Vance
Vivian Vance made a handful of guest appearances on Here’s Lucy, and each visit rekindled a 20-year on-screen relationship as beloved as any in television history. Viewers knew these moments were likely the end of an era, and you can hear the tumultuous audience reaction each time Vance first appears on stage. Perhaps the material they’re working with doesn’t compare to those moments on the chocolate factory assembly line, but their comic chemistry is undiminished.  

Lucy Visits Jack Benny
Jack Benny was among Lucy’s closest friends and a frequent guest on her TV shows. What makes this episode special is not its trite premise – Lucy’s family rents rooms at Jack’s Palm Springs estate, offering Benny several opportunities to display his tightwad persona – but a remarkable cameo at the end when a busload of tourists is dropped at the home for a tour. The bus driver is Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden. It’s a brief moment, but a special one. 

Lucy and Harry’s Italian Bombshell
Lucy ran her shows with military precision, which didn’t leave room for spontaneity. So it’s a remarkable thing to watch Gale Gordon ad-lib a line in this episode, which causes Lucy to start laughing to the point where she nearly breaks character, and to have the scene make it into the final episode. I’d give you the details but if you haven’t seen it, it’s more fun to experience unspoiled.

Lucy and Mannix Are Held Hostage
Lucille Ball’s studio clout kept Mannix on the air after a low-rated first season, so it’s not surprising to see Mike Connors appear as the detective on Here’s Lucy. It can be strange to watch a serious character engaged in broad physical comedy, but here it works – the scene in which Lucy and Mannix are tied to chairs, back-to-back, is one of those physical comedy set pieces treasured by Lucy fans. 

Lucy and The Andrews Sisters
Watching Here’s Lucy now is a nostalgic experience, but here’s an episode that generated nostalgic emotions when it first aired in 1969! Lucy and her daughter join Patty Andrews in recreating a big band era concert featuring the music of The Andrews Sisters. The performance is (mostly) played straight, to give these classic songs their due. 

Lucy the Crusader
Lucy tries to return a defective stereo, and gets the runaround at the store. She rounds up other customers stuck with lousy merchandise from the same manufacturer and leads an assault on the company’s stockholders meeting. The succession of prop gags as each defective item is demonstrated has its moments, but “Lucy the Crusader” made the list thanks to Charles Nelson Reilly, in his usual flamboyant form as the head of the store’s complaint department.

Ginger Rogers Comes to Tea
Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers appeared in the 1937 musical Stage Door. This episode, broadcast 34 years later, is practically a testimonial to Ginger, featuring Lucy and Harry singing “Cheek to Cheek” and a dance number (that Ginger choreographed) featuring Ginger, Lucy and Lucie Arnaz. It’s another delightful, carefree moment in a series that had no higher aspirations. And what’s wrong with that?


Here’s Lucy is available on some wonderful DVDs put out by MPI, featuring new introductions from Lucie Arnaz and other cast members for every episode from every season. And no, they didn't pay me to write that.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Chad & Jeremy: The Comfort TV Beatles

I’ve always believed shows from the Comfort TV era have retained a timeless appeal in part because they refrained from commentary on the issues of their day.

Would Father Knows Best have been better if Jim and Bud Anderson spent several episodes debating whether President Eisenhower was doing a good job? Would a discussion about the Cuban Missile Crisis have made one of Rob and Laura Petrie’s dinner parties more interesting? I think it would have the opposite effect – taking viewers out of stories that, because they cannot be dated so precisely, are as relatable now as they were 50 years ago.

Still, some happenings are so culturally momentous that they were impossible to ignore completely. One of them was The Beatles. 

References to the Fab Four can be heard in many classic ‘60s shows; when Opie joins a band on The Andy Griffith Show (“Opie’s Group”) Goober hopes they’ll be “as big as them Beagles.” And on The Beverly Hillbillies (“Hoe Down A-Go-Go”) Miss Jane tells Mr. Drysdale that The Beatles are the top band in the world. Drysdale still prefers Guy Lombardo.

Perhaps the most Beatles-centric classic TV episode is “The Ladybugs” from Petticoat Junction‘s first season. The three Bradley sisters, joined by Sheila James (Zelda on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis) don mop top wigs and form their own band. 

Kate’s reaction to the Beatles is typical of many older folks of the day.

Uncle Joe: “It’s the new sound!”
Kate: “You mean, instead of music?”

The Ladybugs perform a gender-switched (and off-key) version of The Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There,” and actually appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show

The episode is a lot of fun and far more entertaining than the thematically similar Gilligan’s Island episode “Don’t Bug the Mosquitoes.”

Some of the most memorable episodes about Beatlemania are those that don’t mention the group at all. Since the shows could never get the actual band to make an appearance, they looked for a surrogate with the right hair and the right accents. Enter Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde. 

Chad & Jeremy began performing together in 1962, the same year the Beatles had their first #1 single (“Love Me Do”). From 1964-1966, at the height of their U.S. chart success (7 top-40 hits), they boosted their profile on three Comfort TV classics.

In 1965 they played Fred and Ernie, aka The Redcoats, on The Dick Van Dyke Show (“Here Come the Redcoats”). The band is booked to perform on The Alan Brady Show, but crazed fans keep finding them at every hotel, so Mel persuades Rob to let the duo stay with the Petries. Of course, the secret gets out and pandemonium ensues. The episode features two songs, “My, How the Times Goes By” and “No Other Baby.”

Of all the ersatz Beatles shows, this is the one that most closely parallels the uproarious atmosphere of the era – and is also the most dubious about whether it was justified. Those sentiments are summed up in the Bill Persky-Sam Denoff script by Buddy’s rebuff, “Boy, if I had funny hair like that and no talent, I could have made a million.” 

As for Chad & Jeremy, they know why they were hired and deliver Liverpool lilts and self-effacing charm in abundance. Hopefully it eased some fears among older viewers that music really wasn’t going to hell because of all these long-haired foreigners. 

On an episode of The Patty Duke Show that aired just one week after “The Redcoats are Coming,” Chad & Jeremy play Nigel & Patrick, an undiscovered act that Patty helps propel to stardom. The duo’s performances are more natural here, without the silly forced humor in the Redcoats show.

The episode (“Patty Pits Wits, Two Brits Hit”) once again illustrates how the musical generation gap that started in the 1950s only widened after the British Invasion. “Mindless, monotonous drivel” is how Patty’s father describes the then-current music scene. It’s also the best of the group’s classic TV appearances as they perform two of their best songs, “Yesterday’s Gone” and “A Summer Song,” plus the equally catchy “The Truth Often Hurts the Heart.” 

The following year, Chad & Jeremy pop up in Gotham City, playing themselves for once, and have their voices stolen by Catwoman (likely a bit of wish-fulfillment for some). When she tries to ransom their voices for $22 million. Steve Allen, playing a talk show host, quips “No one will pay that much money for those voices!”

“The Cat’s Meow/The Bat’s Kow Tow” is a typically strong Julie Newmar show (I still don’t think anyone has played Catwoman better) written by Stanley Ralph Ross. “Distant Shores” is another strong folk-rock performance from Chad & Jeremy, but “Teenage Failure” is best forgotten.

Also best forgotten is “That’s Noway, Thataway,” a 1966 episode of Laredo that (according to Wikipedia) was intended as a pilot for a Chad & Jeremy series. Best I can tell after watching it for the first time last week, they were trying for a Bob Hope - Bing Crosby vibe from their series of ‘Road’ films; Chad and Jeremy play cowardly, fast-talking actors who use their trunk of theatrical costumes to assume new identities in each town they visit. Here, Chad plays a preacher, hoping to deliver one sermon and abscond with the contents of the collection plate.

It doesn’t work. Happily, Chad and Jeremy would go on to better projects. They would never be the Beatles but they surpassed that legendary band in longevity, as the duo is still performing together more than 50 years after their formation. And now that we’ve lived through punk and death metal, Eminem and Nicki Minaj, it’s hard to believe that their gentle, folksy tunes were once viewed as a danger to decency.