Saturday, July 22, 2017

Saturday Morning Cult TV Blogging: "The Drought" (November 13, 1976)

In “The Drought,” the Ark II goes in search of a time capsule containing a pre-apocalypse “cloud seeder” to help avert a deadly drought in the nearby desert.  During the mission, Samuel programs the Ark II to run on voice control. 

 This proves a poor selection when the crew’s old nemesis, the scoundrel Fagon (Jonathan Harris) stages a trap for Jonah and steals the vehicle.

It turns out that Fagon and his gang of young “Flies” want the cloud seeder as well, and now, with Ark II, have the means to get it.  Unfortunately, Adam, Samuel and Ruth are all captured in the village of the time capsule by a primitive witch doctor who believes that the Rain God is angry with them.  He orders them to be sacrificed in “The Cave of No Return.” 

The young Flies want to help the kindly crew members, but Fagon refuses to join them.  Meanwhile, Jonah attempts to convince Fagon to give up possession of the high tech vehicle because “you can have everything in the world, but without anyone to share it with, you have nothing.”

Fagon helps to free the trapped crew members and show the witch-doctor the error of his ignorant ways. The Ark II continues on its mission, and this time, Samuel programs the vehicle to respond only to the voice commands of the vehicle’s crew.

Jonathan Harris guest stars here as the Ark II equivalent of Harry Mudd, a selfish, roguish man who proves a constant foil for the good-intentioned Ark II team.  What remains a little baffling about this episode is that Jonah and the others allow Fagon to attain a position of authority in the witch doctor’s community.  He promises to teach the villagers “irrigation” methods, but this is a variation of what he promised in “The Flies.”  There, he assured Jonah he would educate the wayward youngsters, but we see in this episode that he did no such thing.  

So why would Jonah trust him again now? 

There’s an old saying:  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  There’s every reason to suspect that Fagon will remain just as foolish and selfish in the future as he has been in the past.   This is hardly “mission accomplished” and the unsatisfactory conclusion of “The Drought” only points out again the kind of amorphous missions that the Ark II conducts.   The crew’s goals and rules are not always clear or carefully established.  Accordingly, it hardly seems like good procedure to leave the untrustworthy Fagon in charge of an important project.

In terms of Ark II technology, this episode introduces the “magnetic force beam” -- a kind of tractor beam-- that Fagon utilizes in order to steal the cloud seeder.  He gains the knowledge by using the Ark II’s technical manual…which looks a lot like a script book.

Next week: “The Wild Boy.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Bugaloos: "Our Home is Our Hassle" (September 26, 1970)

In “Our Home is Our Hassle,” Peter Platter announces from his uptown station a contest for best original song…with a money prize attached. Benita Bizarre (Martha Raye) desperately wants to win it, but needs a song.

She soon overhears the Bugaloos singing in Tranquility Forest. In particular, it’s a song about Sparky (Billy Barty) finding his inner courage and not being afraid to be alone. Benita realizes that she can also draw inspiration from Tranquility Forest and plans a field trip. Unfortunately, she and her minions are polluters and litterers.

There, in the forest, Benita also zaps the Bugaloos and plots her original song, “Nature Girl.”  

After being "un-zapped," the Bugaloos pretend to be ghosts so as to force Benita scurrying from the forest and back to her high-rise juke box.

Once more, Benita Bizarre is absolutely covetous of the Bugaloos and their talent, in this episode of the Sid and Marty Krofft live-action Saturday morning series of the 1970’s. 

Specifically, she believes that the forest will inspire her in the same way it inspires the Bugaloos. What she can’t understand is that even if inspired by the natural world, she can’t replicate the talent of the original singers.

The plot of “Our Home is Our Hassle” is very much in keeping with the first two episodes. Benita launches a crazy scheme against the Bugaloos, and the Bugaloos soundly defeat that plan.

There are two new “props” in this episode.

The first is the “bug” zapper, a weapon which can immobilize the Bugaloos. The zapper knocks them out, and only by setting it to reverse can they be awakened.  The bug zapper prop re-appears throughout the series, in future episodes.

The second prop is the full-scale “Buggy,” a decked out Bugaloo car.

One new, and soon to be recurring plot element is that Bugaloos hatch an inventive plot, using disguises, to carry the day. An upcoming episode has them dress as domestics (“Courage, Come Home,”) while “Lady You Don’t Look Eighty” puts them in old age-make up. Here, in “Our Home is Our Hassle,” the Bugaloos over their aces and hair in white pancake make-up, don sheets, and pretend to be ghosts haunting Tranquility Forest.

Oddly, in this “white” form, they resemble nothing so much as the albino Family of mutants in the 1971 film The Omega Man.

The song of the week involves Sparky’s courage. The Bugaloos sing “Sparky…won’t you light your light shine on!”  The topic of Sparky’s courage also recurs, and re-appears in “The Love Bugaloos.”

Here's the song, "Sparky:"

Next week: “Courage Come Home.”

Friday, July 21, 2017

John and Jim's Excellent Journey Podcast #2: Space:1999

Check out the second chapter of my podcast with the extraordinary and learned James McLean. Our topic for this episode of John and Jim's Excellent Journey: Space: 1999 (1975 -1977).

This episode was recorded in April, well before Martin Landau's passing last week, but it is posting at the perfect time to remember one of the actor's most beloved roles.

Here's the link:

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Planet of the Apes TV Series Cult-TV Blogging: "The Liberator"

In “The Liberator,” the fugitives come across a village of enslaved humans who, every so often, must provide to the ape prefect workers in a dangerous mine. 

Unfortunately, the humans selected by the apes die in short-order, apparently because of contamination to some toxic gas or substance.

The fugitives -- Galen (Roddy McDowall), Alan (Ron Harper) and Pete (James Naughton) -- get captured by the villagers, and are to be offered up to the apes as fodder for the mines. 

They learn, however, that the toxicity is a result of toxic gas canisters from the twentieth century, stored in a temple.  The leader of the human village, Brun (John Ireland) plans to make gas bombs to kill the apes, and free his people.

The fugitives must dissuade him from this genocidal plan, as it could kill everyone -- human and ape -- in the vicinity.

“The Liberator” is a bit of a change of pace for Planet of the Apes (1974), the short-lived CBS series. In this installment, the devastating, high-tech weaponry of the 20th century is resurrected to be a tool of mass destruction in the distant future, and Alan and Burke must contend with mankind’s history and legacy.

This is the kind of story I had hoped to see more of on the series. Virdon and Burke must stop a fellow human, Brun, from his murderous plan, even though this rebel leader possesses valid reasons for hating apes. In particular, Brun has seen his people enslaved by them.  Not just enslaved, actually. He has seen his people die from that enslavement.

Our protagonists face a difficult choice here, forced to consider what the “greater good” really is.  Since they are people of the 20th century, they are, in a sense, responsible for the existence of the nerve gas weaponry, and this fact makes the human insurrection (and plans) their problem.

I also enjoy the subplot here involving the treatment of the devices of the 20th century. The weapons, and the gas mask which protects people from the deadly gas, are all perceived by this futuristic “Dark Age” society as supernatural relics of the Gods. The astronauts understand that “mumbo jumbo doesn’t kill men,” but to the apes and humans of the era, this is a realization they are not able to make.  Brun figures out the truth, but doesn’t tell his people. Instead, he creates a cult or religion, to make them fear and obey him.

“The Liberator” -- even down to its title -- also suggests a core conflict of all those societies in which some denizens possess more freedom than others. The human leader sees himself as a liberator of his people, but we would, today, classify anyone who kills an innocent population as a terrorist. The difference between liberator and terrorist is a difference of viewpoint. The oppressed see a liberator. Those in power see a criminal, a murderer.

I enjoy the fact that our heroic triumvirate is landed smack down in the middle of this difficult scenario, and forced to act for the good of all. Again, the fact that the toxic nerve gas is a product of their time makes Burke and Virdon feel a vested interest in the outcome.

Next week, the final episode of Planet of the Apes: “Up Above the World So High.”