Sunday, May 24, 2015

In Defense of “Spock’s Brain”

Note: This review is part of the 2015 Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Click here to check out this blogathon's complete schedule.

Writing about the original Star Trek in 2015 is like writing about The Beatles or The Wizard of Oz or sunlight. Everybody knows what it is, thousands of other people have already written about it, and at this point there doesn’t seem much left to add.

So rather than offer yet another tribute to the vision of Gene Roddenberry, or more praise for the show’s forward-thinking philosophy on race and class and technological achievement, and its optimistic view of mankind’s future, I thought it would be a more interesting challenge to find something praiseworthy in what is regarded by fans as the series’ worst episode. 

That would be “Spock’s Brain,” the show that kicked off Star Trek’s third and final season. "Frankly during the entire shooting of that episode, I was embarrassed," was Leonard Nimoy’s recollection. And if you’ve heard his singing on “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” you know he doesn’t embarrass easily. Was it justified? Let’s find out.

Our story begins with the Enterprise approaching a mysterious alien craft. Before Captain Kirk can inquire if there might be any attractive young women aboard, one actually beams over, incapacitates the crew and then walks over to Spock and begins stroking his forehead. 

Sometime later the crew wakes up. Spock has been moved to sickbay where a solemn Dr. McCoy informs the captain, “His brain is gone.”

“If it was taken out, it can be put back in.” Kirk responds, showing the quick thinking that made him a Captain.  But McCoy warns that the procedure must be performed within 24 hours. Because, apparently, a body can’t survive without a brain for more than a day, unless it belongs to a Kardashian.

Thus begins the quest to reunite Spock’s brain with the rest of him, which requires the crew to beam down to a planet populated by cavemen wearing fuzzy blue skirts.

Sound ridiculous? Absolutely. But the next time this episode airs on MeTV and you’re tempted to change the channel, here are five reasons why “Spock’s Brain” is worth your time.

1. Marj Dusay
Before spending two decades on various daytime dramas, Marj Dusay was a frequent and always welcome guest star on many 1960s series like Get Smart, Hogan’s Heroes and The Wild, Wild West. She specialized in seductive brunettes who try to lead good men astray. Removing someone’s brain is going to rather extreme lengths, but it does fit the pattern. As Kara, the woman who makes Spock an involuntary organ donor, Dusay also gets to deliver the episode’s most memorable and inscrutable line: “Brain and brain – what is brain!”

2. William Shatner Gives 110%
Every Trekker has his (or her) William Shatner-as-Kirk impression, complete with convulsive body movements, random pauses between words and other assorted histrionics. The thing is, you don’t see that Shatner in “The Space Seed” or “City on the Edge of Forever,” when the story could stand on its own merits. It was only when the script was lacking that he would try to forcibly inject some drama into substandard material. So when Uhura asks Kirk why someone would steal a brain, Kirk responds, “Yes…why…would…they…want it?” “Spock’s Brain” needs all the help it can get, and Shatner is happy to oblige. 

3. It Makes a Perfect Drinking Game
As classic TV drinking games go, it’s hard to top the one for The Bob Newhart Show, in which participants drink every time a character utters the phrase “Hi Bob!” “Spock’s Brain” offers a variation on that theme: Count the number of times “Spock’s brain” is said by Kirk, McCoy and Uhura. If you’re drinking anything alcoholic, you’ll certainly start enjoying the show at some point.

4. The Sitcom Fadeout
Rarely does a Star Trek moment seem appropriate for a laugh track, but one certainly seems to be missing from the denouement of “Spock’s Brain.” After Dr. McCoy’s brain replacement surgery is successful, Spock immediately starts spouting dry scientific observations about the planet’s natives. “I knew it,” McCoy sighs. “I knew I shouldn’t have reconnected his mouth.” 

5. It’s Still Better than “Threshold”
The reign of “Spock’s Brain” as the worst moment in Star Trek history ended in 1995. That’s when Voyager released “Threshold,” in which Captain Janeway and Tom Paris were turned into salamanders and had reptile babies. After that, this episode seems almost quaint in its silliness.

And here is one bonus reason to stay tuned: even substandard Star Trek is better than any episode of Dating Naked, Honey Boo Boo, The Real Housewives of Lompoc and much of today’s television, for which brains are also optional. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Museum of Comfort TV Salutes: The Hoyt-Clagwell Tractor

Imagine a place where all of the instantly recognizable objects associated with classic television are on display. It doesn’t exist so we’ll create it here, and pay tribute to many of our favorite Comfort TV things.

Greek mythology tells of Sisyphus, who was condemned to the underworld for his sins and forced to push a heavy boulder up a steep hill, only to have it roll back down as soon as he finished the job.

Where Sisyphus had his boulder, Oliver Wendell Douglas had his Hoyt-Clagwell tractor. 

Both men were cursed to repeatedly have their day’s labor undone by cruel fate (and in Oliver’s case, deficient factory standards). His noble attempts to uphold the tradition of the American farmer he so admired were no match for an ancient derelict vehicle that would fall apart if you tried to ride it, or start it, or even sometimes if you just looked at it the wrong way.

It was Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, who described Green Acres as the story of Oliver Douglas in hell. Everything about life in Hooterville bedeviled him at one time or another, from his wife Lisa’s “hotscakes,” also suitable as an afterlife punishment, to the agricultural guidance he received from county agent Hank Kimball, the ideal personification of government bureaucracy.

But Oliver’s Hoyt-Clagwell surpassed mere incompetence to verge on outright malevolence, like a rural version of Stephen King’s ‘Christine.’ Even Mr. Haney, who sold Oliver the tractor, couldn’t control it. In one episode Eb recalled how it used to chase Haney across the field; even on those rare occasions when it’s moving, this tractor cannot be trusted. 

I don’t believe it ever chased Oliver, though my Green Acres recollection is not without gaps. I do recall it catching fire, losing wheels, losing its steering wheel, and nearly electrocuting its owner during an attempted battery jump. In the season one episode “Neighborliness,” Oliver tries to attach the tractor to a plow. That didn’t go well, either.

I love the name “Hoyt-Clagwell” because it sounds authentic. Of course, no such company ever existed – and even in the fictional world of Hooterville it had long since passed into history. When Oliver went to Drucker’s General Store to order replacement parts, Sam Drucker told him that Hoyt-Clagwell closed after Mr. Hoyt left the tractor business to make plastic fruit.

The tractor that was immortalized as a Hoyt-Clagwell was actually (according to multiple sources) a 1918 Fordson Model F, and in its day was considered a miracle of modern machinery. That is, when it wasn’t flipping over because of poor weight distribution. The wheels tended to break as well – talk about perfect casting.

Before I began researching this piece, I was not aware that Ertl Toys, makers of die-cast models of many classic TV vehicles, had also made a Hoyt-Clagwell tractor. Now I want one. 

Of course, we are proud to have the original here in the museum. For your own safety, however, just don’t get too close. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Vegas Episode

What happens when you take classic TV characters out of their familiar surroundings and send them to Las Vegas?

The question has been posed in countless writer’s rooms over the past 50 years, resulting in enough Vegas episodes to fill a week-long marathon.

However, a distinction should be drawn between shows that say they’re going to Vegas, and those that actually do it. It’s just a 50 minute flight from L.A., but the logistics of moving a show that far for one or two episodes was obviously too daunting for most budgets and shooting schedules. 

Of all the series with a Las Vegas episode, 90-95% relied on a stock montage of Strip resorts and Glitter Gulch neon, followed by an interior establishing shot of characters entering some sorry-looking fictional casino, hastily assembled on a soundstage, with one blackjack table and five slot machines.

It could work when it was done right – Perfect Strangers had a hilarious show that pretended to be set in – let’s all say it like Balki – “Vay-gaaaaaaaaas.” But usually the most memorable episodes are those where you actually see the characters in the city.

Let’s take a look at four stand-outs from this much smaller sample size. Having lived in the Las Vegas area since 1982 I have a particular affinity for these shows. They captured a moment in time before recent building booms robbed the resort areas of so much of their colorful heritage.

That Girl (“She Never Had the Vegas Notion, Pts. 1 & 2”)
Ann Marie gets a job in a Vegas show supporting headliner Marty Haines (Jack Cassidy, as always playing Jack Cassidy). Strait-laced Donald Hollinger has too much to drink, and Marty tricks him into believing he married another of the star’s entourage, as a way to prove to Ann that even the most virtuous man can lose himself in Vegas.

The episodes were filmed in 1969, a great time in the city’s history. You’ll see Ann and Donald dodging cars while crossing Fremont Street (no longer necessary as it’s now closed to traffic), and riding a merry-go-round outside Circus Circus. But most of the filming was done at the legendary Sands, where the Rat Pack reigned throughout the 1960s. If you love that era of show business, it’s a thrill to see the lush hotel grounds and the lavish casino, and a sign outside the showroom that promotes an upcoming appearance by Louis Prima. 

The Partridge Family (“What? And Get Out of Show Business?”)
Nothing like starting at the top: in the first episode of this classic series, the Partridge Family appears at Caesars Palace.

As their iconic bus approaches the resort’s main entrance, we see their name in huge letters across the marquee; below, in smaller letters, two other shows are promoted – one for some guy named Duke Ellington. As this was the pilot, filmed before anyone had heard of the series, I can only guess how many passers-by wondered about this group that was top-billed over one of the legendary jazz composers and bandleaders of the 20th century. You can also make out the marquee for the Flamingo Hilton across the street, where Sonny & Cher were appearing.

The performance that follows this scene was not shot in the resort’s famed Circus Maximus Showroom or anywhere else in the city. In fact, the Vegas footage comprises just one minute of the episode. But the sequence adds an authenticity to the family’s show business success. 

The Bionic Woman (“Fembots in Las Vegas, Pts. 1 & 2”)
In which Jaime goes undercover (but not much cover) as the strongest showgirl in Las Vegas history, and chases a Fembot past the fountains outside Caesars Palace. If you couldn’t tell from the title alone, this is a classic slice of Comfort TV cheese.

The casino sequences were filmed at The Maxim, which was located across the street from the original MGM Grand. It closed in 2001. 

Charlie’s Angels (“Angels in Vegas, Pts. 1 & 2”)
The series’ season 3 debut had something for everyone – a cameo from Las Vegas’s most famous detective (Robert Urich as Dan Tanna), Kris Munroe singing with Darren Stephens (Dick Sargent), Kelly Garrett joining the famous Folies Bergere revue, and Sabrina Duncan romancing a casino owner played by Dean Martin, who between takes was romancing Kate’s stand-in, Camille Hagan.

Granted, the whodunit payoff at the end is pretty weak, but there’s much fun to be had along the way, including a great speedboat chase and shoot-out at Lake Mead. Most of the action was shot at the Tropicana Resort, which is still here, and the Dunes, which sadly is not. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Bewitched Continuum, and Other Outstanding Classic TV Episode Guides

I love episode guides.

There are dozens of television show companion books in my library, and I particularly enjoy revisiting those that devote most of their pages to an in-depth examination of each episode from their respective series.

Books like this were plentiful 15-25 years ago, when there was more of a market for TV companion volumes. Back then, you could go into any bookstore and the “Film/TV” section would comprise an entire aisle. Today, that subject is lucky to secure a single shelf in the six or seven bookstores still in business. 

Since the advent of the Internet, episode guides have moved online – and almost all of them are crap. There are exceptions – “Family Affair Fridays” over at Embarrassing Treasures offers wonderfully insightful and frequently hilarious analysis of that charming sitcom, but most website guides provide nothing beyond episode titles, airdates and guest cast listings.

That’s why I was delighted when Adam-Michael James’s new The Bewitched Continuum landed with a Yellow Pages-like crash on my doorstep. It delivers more than 600 pages of Bewitched episode guide. That will either strike you as overkill or “Oh, yeah!” If you’re in the latter category, you’ll definitely want to check out this exhaustively researched chronicle. 

An episode guide does its job when it makes you want to take the journey through the series again. Not that most classic TV fans ever need an excuse. But a well-written guide offers the possibility of seeing something new in a 40 year-old TV show, or better understanding how a single episode fits within the context of the entire series. It adds to our appreciation of a creative work.

As I began reading The Bewitched Continuum I found myself learning things about shows that I have watched a dozen times. James provides a synopsis of each episode, followed by a review that focuses primarily on how consistent the show played by the rules it established for witches and witchcraft (short answer: not too well).

The author also points out the best moments in each show, offers renewed appreciation for the series’ still-impressive special effects, and cites examples of inspired dialogue (writers always appreciate good writing). In addition to the episode guide, he provides a by-the-numbers overview of Bewitched that tells us how many times Darrin was fired by Larry Tate (15) and how many times Endora calls Darrin “Durwood” (133!) among dozens of other trivia nuggets. 

If you enjoy books like The Bewitched Continuum, here are five other classic TV tomes with episode guides done right. I’ll refrain from including my own efforts in my Dukes of Hazzard and Charlie’s Angels books – that is for others to judge.

1. The Lucy Book (Geoffrey Mark Fidelman)
In one volume you’ll get detailed episode guides to I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy and Life With Lucy. The author is a  fan of his subject, but he is not afraid to call out episodes where Lucy was just going through the motions. 

2. Growing Up Brady (Barry Williams)
Very few classic TV actors would have any interest in sharing their thoughts on every episode of the series that made them famous. But here, Barry Williams offers the ultimate insider’s view of The Brady Bunch, including the episode where he was stoned on camera. 

3.  The Fugitive Recaptured (Ed Robertson)
One of television’s crown jewels deserves an episode guide worthy of its status. Ed Robertson delivers with discerning show reviews and interviews with cast members, producers, writers and series creator Roy Huggins. 

4. The Avengers Dossier (Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping)
It’s quirky, with star ratings for such categories as “Kinkiness Factor,” “Champagne” and “Eccentrics.” But The Avengers was a unique show that merits an equally off-kilter appraisal.

5. The First 28 Years of Monty Python (Kim “Howard” Johnson)
Monty Python historian Kim Johnson has written five books on the British comedy troupe. Here, every episode of the Flying Circus is described and dissected, along with quotes from all six Pythons on the stuff they liked, the stuff they didn’t, and what was censored for American broadcast. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

James Best: Remembering Rosco

I have already posted that Comfort TV is not a place for obituaries, but I felt compelled to write a few words about James Best, whose death was announced today. I don’t want to break my own rule, so let’s call this a remembrance instead.

When I wrote my book on The Dukes of Hazzard back in 1998, James Best was the only actor involved with the show who asked whether he would be paid for doing an interview. I’m not saying this to disparage the man so close to his passing – because then, as now, I understood why he felt entitled to ask that question.

Like so many television stars of that era, who watched with disbelief as the cast of Friends negotiated themselves a deal that paid each of them $1 million per episode, Jimmie Best always felt that he was not fairly compensated for his talent and his contribution to a classic and much-loved television series.

We’re not comparing shows from the 1950s to those 30 years later, when such salary escalation would be expected: Dukes ended in 1985; Friends debuted in 1994. There is less than ten years between them. And now that both have ended their runs we think of them in the same terms, even if they appeal to different fan bases – classic, long-running shows, that still air on TV every day, and that still make us happy every time we get a chance to be reacquainted with old friends. 

How much of the enduring love for The Dukes of Hazzard can be attributed to James Best? I was a teenager when the show debuted, so for me at first it was all about the Dukes themselves. Bo and Luke, so cool, fighting the good fight, outrunning the hapless Hazzard cops, jumping the General Lee over rivers and trains and whatever else stood in their way to clearing their names following yet another crime they did not commit.

And then there was Daisy. No explanation needed for the impact she made on a young man at the time.

But when I revisited the show as an adult, in preparation for writing the book, I gained a renewed appreciation for Best’s remarkable, ever-sputtering portrayal of Sheriff Rosco. Together with Sorrell Booke as Boss Hogg, the pair was one of the most underappreciated comedy teams that television ever produced.

I’m sure I thought they were funny the first time around – but then those scenes played more like filler between car chases and hot pants sightings. Today, they are the highlight of every episode. The timing, the physical comedy bits, the way Rosco’s affection for Boss never wavered despite the treatment he received. Boss and Rosco were a redneck version of Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton – frequently at each other’s throats but the best of friends beneath the bluster. 

One need look no further than the season two episode “Granny Annie”  to appreciate Rosco’s affection for his “little fat buddy.” Boss has been kidnapped and Rosco tied up at the sheriff’s station, but he gets to the CB radio and pleads with Bo and Luke to rescue his friend, despite all the trouble Boss has inflicted on the Duke family. 

It’s a poignant and beautiful moment in a show that never liked to get too sentimental. And it’s a reminder of what actors can bring to scripts that don’t have much else going for them. No other series illustrated this more clearly than The Dukes of Hazzard. The show’s writing was generally weak and the plots mind-numbingly repetitive. But we never got tired of watching as long as it was Boss and Rosco (and Enos) taking on Bo, Luke, Daisy and Uncle Jesse. 

When John Schneider and Tom Wopat walked out for most of the series’ fifth season, and were replaced by two lookalike actors, the show became almost unwatchable. Likewise, when James Best decided he was tired of driving squad cars into lakes and not being given such basic accommodations as protective clothing and ear drops to prevent infection (once again, he was right), he left the show until his demands were met. A parade of substitute sheriffs (Dick Sargent, Clifton James, James Hampton) could not even approach the unique comedic talent Best brought to the role. 

So when James Best asked if he would be paid for an interview, he was saying, “I created a character that millions of people still love. I brought something to this show that no one else likely could have. I didn’t get a cut of the merchandising on a show that inspired thousands of products, and even though you can still watch me play Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane every day on television, the checks from that job stopped coming a long time ago.”

I got it. My book’s publisher predictably refused the request, but Jimmie ultimately came around and did the interview anyway. He wanted to be a part of the book. He wanted to say some kind words about Sorrell Booke, who had passed away. He wanted the fans to know that he loved Rosco, too.

Underpaid? Absolutely. But who can put a price on what is now 40 years of happy memories shared by millions of fans? Even those Friends salaries don’t come close.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Museum of Comfort TV Salutes: Mrs. Beasley

Imagine a place where all of the instantly recognizable objects associated with classic television are on display. It doesn’t exist, so we’ll create it here, and pay tribute to many of our favorite Comfort TV things.

Let’s start with television’s most famous doll (or at least its most famous non-homicidal doll –sorry, Talky Tina fans). 

Mrs. Beasley was the best friend to Buffy Davis on Family Affair from the first episode of the series until its final episode, five years later. By then, most young girls had started to outgrow their dolls, as illustrated in the most heart-shattering manner possible by Jessie in Toy Story 2 (curse you, Sarah McLachlan!).

But it never seemed odd for Buffy to still care about her constant companion, though one might wonder how Anissa Jones felt about playing some of those scenes when she was 13 years old. 

This is one of those situations where I wonder whether series creator Don Fedderson had a purpose in selecting the type of doll that was right for Buffy, or if it just seems like a wonderfully perceptive choice in retrospect.

Most little girls prefer baby dolls, so they can play the mother; or they’ll be drawn to the wish-fulfillment appeal of Barbie, with her Malibu dream house and square-jawed boyfriend and endless closet full of perfect outfits.

Mrs. Beasley, with her old-fashioned blue polka-dot dress and spectacles, looked like a kindly grandmother. That seems strange at first, but it makes perfect sense that a little girl who lost her parents would be more comforted by the presence of a mature image than by an infant. Here was an older person who cared about her, who was never going to leave her behind. 

The doll’s most memorable appearance came in the first season episode “Mrs. Beasley, Where Are You?” in which Mr. French accidentally knocks her off the terrace ledge of Uncle Bill’s deluxe apartment in the sky. Buffy’s crippling separation anxiety,  a recurring theme throughout season one, is brought back to the fore as Buffy tries to cope with another loss: “People you love always go away. I know.” 

Family Affair. Not for the faint of heart.

Mrs. Beasley also plays a pivotal role in the climax of “The Toy Box” from season two, which starts with Uncle Bill doing his best Rob Petrie impression after tripping over Jody’s skateboard. That mishap inspires a new Davis home rule: any toys not put away properly will be locked up and donated to charity.

You probably see where this is going. One inadvertent jostle as Buffy runs off to wash for dinner lands Mrs. Beasley on the floor, and when Mr. French sees the doll lying there he is devastated at the thought of what happens next (Sebastian Cabot is amazing in this very brief scene). 

Thankfully, Uncle Bill believes the experiment has served its purpose, and not only commutes Mrs. Beasley’s sentence, but also liberates all the other confiscated toys. Whew!

Mattel introduced a 21-inch talking version of Mrs. Beasley to the toy market in 1967, one year after Family Affair debuted. This created another classic TV connection for the doll, as the voice in the Mattel version was provided by Maureen McCormick.  

This was a natural marketing opportunity, but I was surprised at how many other Mrs. Beasley items were also produced, including coloring books and paper dolls and a jigsaw puzzle and even a “Where’s Mrs. Beasley?” board game.

Remco tried to replicate the success of Mrs. Beasley with Kitty Karry-All, the doll Cindy dragged around a few early Brady Bunch episodes. It didn’t work.

If you want a Mattel Mrs. Beasley now, it will cost you more than $200. A lot of the dolls are still in circulation, but very few still talk or have the original black plastic glasses, which broke easily. Of course, the one on display in our Comfort TV museum is safely under glass where it can be enjoyed by future generations.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Terrible Shows I Like: The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

I thought I knew my Hanna-Barbera. Not just The Flintstones and Jonny Quest and the other big guns, but all the Scooby knock-offs that filled my Saturday mornings in the 1970s – Clue Club, Funky Phantom, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids. I can banter on The Hair Bear Bunch, discuss the finer points of Devlin and name each member of the Chan Clan.

So it was humbling when, last year, I discovered an H-B series that I had not only never watched, but never knew existed.

The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn debuted in 1968 on NBC, airing Sunday nights at 7pm. Canceled after 20 episodes, the series was rerun as part of The Banana Splits Hour in the 1970s. 

That’s the part that confuses me because I watched the Banana Splits as a kid and remember several of the features between the Splits’ skits, like The Three Musketeers (who could forget that annoying pissant, Tooly?), Arabian Nights and the wacky serial Danger Island. But if I had watched Huckleberry Finn I would remember, because bizarre concepts like this one are hard to forget.

For those as oblivious to its existence as I was, here’s a brief introduction. Mark Twain’s iconic literary characters Huck Finn, Becky Thatcher and Tom Sawyer (all played by real actors) are chased into a cave by the villainous Injun Joe. They emerge on the other side and become lost in an ever-changing world of Hanna-Barbera animation. 

For the remainder of the series, the three young friends wander into jungles and deserts and pirate ships and frozen wastelands, surviving various escapades while always trying to make their way back to Hannibal, Missouri.

I found it all rather ridiculous on first viewing. Why these characters, and not three present-day teenagers with whom young viewers could more easily identify? Perhaps the idea was to leverage their built-in name recognition (this was the era before Huck Finn was banned from school libraries). But while it’s more enjoyable to read Twain than most novels assigned in English class, I doubt there were many students eager to follow Tom, Huck and Becky into more adventures.

The cast was unable to convey the same qualities that made the characters memorable in the books. Michael Shea’s Huck is not the crude outcast Twain envisioned, but a wide-eyed, easygoing country boy given to exclamations of “Criminy!” while fleeing from Mongol hordes or Egyptian mummies.

Lu Ann Haslam’s Becky is sweet but not as clever as she had to be in the book to catch Tom’s eye. Here she’s given little more to do than cheer on the boys as they deal with the villain of the week (“Hurry, Tom!” “Watch out, Huck!”). Only Kevin Schultz’s Tom Sawyer retains some of the mischievous wit and heroic streak he had in Twain’s novels.  

The blend of live-action with animation was uncharted territory for Hanna-Barbera, though audiences had certainly seen this trick before – most famously perhaps in Mary Poppins. It’s handled well here, which is surprising as the H-B studio has never been synonymous with technological wizardry.

The young leads do their best to react to hand-drawn backgrounds and characters, with inconsistent results. In “Menace in the Ice,” you would think barefoot Huck might look a little more uncomfortable after walking across miles of snow.

So, not a great show, though I will understand if I hear opposing views in the comments from those who grew up with it. Nostalgia certainly makes it easier for me to happily overlook the flaws in Wonderbug and The Secrets of Isis.

But against my better judgment, I do enjoy it.  There’s irresistible comfort in watching H-B animation from this era, and hearing the familiar voices (Don Messick, Janet Waldo, Daws Butler, Paul Frees) featured in all of the company’s shows.

And just when you think you’ve got its formula figured out, The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will surprise you. In an episode called  “The Gorgon’s Head” there’s a quiet moment when Huck and Becky talk about how long they’ve been away, and how summer has turned to fall back in Hannibal, and about the people that must be missing them. You’d never see that kind of raw emotion in Speed Buggy.

I also really like the theme song, another H-B asset (sometimes their songs are better than the shows!). It plays over a live-action closing credit sequence set on a Mississippi steamboat, which makes me wonder if it takes place before the characters got lost, or is meant to be reassurance that they eventually do find their way home. It’s the only time you see the three friends really happy.  

Sadly, there was no final episode to provide any resolution. But how great would it have been if Hanna-Barbera characters had been included in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit? When Eddie Valiant drives into Toon Town, we might have glimpsed Tom, Huck and Becky, now in their 30s but wearing the same clothes, still trying to find that elusive cave that will take them back to Missouri.

Other Terrible Shows I Like: