Monday, July 9, 2012

A Phone Call From Isis

 In the 1970s, Saturday morning meant cartoons. And that’s what made the occasional live-action kids series stand out from their animated competition. One of my favorites was The Shazam/Isis Hour – particularly the second half.

Isis, as played by JoAnna Cameron, was one of those characters that help little boys realize there’s more to girls than they may have first appreciated. After two hours of Scooby Doo and Super Friends, there was something delightfully exotic about the appearance of a stunning brunette in a white miniskirt and spiked heels flying across the screen.

But there was more to Isis than Cameron’s beauty (and amazing legs). For the uninitiated, the character was based on the goddess of Egyptian mythology with powers over time and space. Science teacher Andrea Thomas visits the pyramids, and digs up Isis’s amulet, allowing her to transform into the goddess in times of crisis.

I always thought it would have made more sense for Andrea to be a history teacher or an archaeologist. Perhaps they made her a science teacher to tweak scientists, those “I won’t believe anything I can’t see or prove the existence of scientifically” types. One day you’re a secular humanist, the next you’ve got a mythical deity living inside you. That’s the heavens saying, “Not so smart now, huh?”

The stories, all basic morality plays, were set around the high school where Andrea taught. Which means that this superhero who could stop time, control nature and manipulate matter at the molecular level, who could have been out stopping wars and ending famine and turning tidal waves back into the ocean, instead devoted her powers to helping dopey high school kids who locked their keys in their car.

There were only 22 episodes, but this is a desert island show for me. I watched it in perpetual reruns in the 1970s, bought a bootleg set of VHS tapes in the ‘80s, own a carded Mego Isis action figure, and of course purchased the Secrets of Isis DVD set, and have watched every episode at least a dozen times. They take me back to simpler days, and there is a warmth and kindness that exudes from each episode that I find sadly missing in much of current pop culture.

It doesn’t matter how many times I watch these shows, I still love seeing favorite 70s-TV guest star Laurette Spang as a snotty cheerleader, the surprisingly moving “Bigfoot” episode, and lovely Christopher Norris, pre-Trapper John, M.D., as a science fair winner who gets stuck in a western ghost town. And of course, I always looked forward to the crossover episodes with Captain Marvel, the only superhero who traveled by Winnebago.

So why is this entry titled “A Phone Call from Isis”? Because one Sunday morning, many years ago, I received a very interesting call from JoAnna Cameron. Details in the next entry. As a classic TV fan, don’t you just love a good two-part episode?

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