Some may count the 1980s as the last great decade of pop culture. I disagree. The first half of the 80s was undoubtedly influential, but it was a continuation of the individuality of the previous decade. Around the halfway mark, the 80s gave way to the lack of personality blandness that saturated the 1990s (and beyond, to today). Rather, the 1970s was the last decade of pop heaven, and Saturday Morning With Sid and Marty Kroft serves well as the Calgon to take us away to that Neverland time capsule.
This Rhino DVD collection of pilot episodes will probably be best enjoyed with a bowl of Quisp cereal and some full blown Vitamin D milk. None of that wimpy 2 % or skim crap (you might also enjoy a bowl of Quake, if you can find it). Now, slip into a plaid robe, a pair of fuzzy house slippers, kick all those boring hyper-realists out of the house. Then, turn on the TV and hit play. DO NOT fall into the temptation of using the remote control (yes, it’s a DVD, but let’s try to get as close to the genuine experience as we can). Throw the pillows on the shag rug carpet and let the cartoons begin.
The pilots assembled here make for a grand psychedelic starter kit, but some are surprisingly subdued; the series would reach higher planes of inspired lunacy later. No matter. Sid and Marty Krofft stuck to their idiosyncratic formula, which was characterized by prepubescent heroes and heroines, puppet comedy relief, knee-tapping kitsch songs and (badly) canned laughs from the laugh track. It is extremely doubtful that the Krofft Brothers were insightful or perceptive enough to realize just how surreal their macrocosm was. Yes, for me, Sid and Marty Krofft are big bold, dopey examples of naive surrealism. It is no accident that the 1970s animated programs of Sid and Marty Krofft proved to be among the all-important aesthetic diving boards for many later and contemporary surrealists artists, such as Paul Ruebens, Todd M. Coe, and many more.
The Krofft Brothers’ first three series shared much in common, and only a single season was filmed for each (although reruns kept them in syndication for an additional year or more). H.R. Pufnstuff is the first and most famous. The pilot premiered in 1969 and began as a series heavily influenced by The Wizard of Oz (1939) with a dash of “The Magic Flute.” The Oz theme of a child being transported to an otherworldly dimension would serve as the primary ingredient in the Krofft recipe.
Jimmy (Jack Wild) and his magic flute, Freddy, are shipwrecked on Living Island. Little do they know the storm which brought them to the isle was whipped up by Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes). Witchiepoo is an incompetent version of the Wicked Witch of the West, far less threatening due to her slapstick clumsiness. Witchiepoo, flying on her Vroom Boom, wants the singing magic flute (substituting for the ruby slippers) for herself.
Pufnstuf (Lennie Weinrib, who also scripted) is, essentially, Glinda, the Good Witch of the North dressed up as a dragon Mayor. Oddly, in the pilot, Pufnstuf is almost a supporting character. Pufnstuf saves Jimmy and Freddy despite knowing that as long as his visitors remain on Living Island they will be threatened by Witchiepoo. Pufnstuf needs advice, so he takes his guests to see Living Island’s version of the Wizard, a wise owl named Dr. Blinky. Naturally, the bird is no help. This leads to the first showdown between Jack and Witchiepoo, with the West Wind (a John Wayne caricature) gratefully lending a breath of fresh air. With the bulk of the pilot dependent on Jack Wild, it is fortunate that the young actor’s on-screen personality has shoulders enough to pull it off (in spades). He leads a good cast. The subdued nature of the first episode of the first series gives minimal indication where the Krofft universe would take us. While H.R. Pufnstuf would become the Krofft yardstick and a cult fave it is not the mecca of this particular collection.
The second Krofft series was The Bugaloos (1970). The Bugaloos is sugary, high cholesterol surrealism, enough so that they should issue warning labels reading “not recommended for diabetics or viewers with high blood pressure.” Martha Rae is the former celebrity turned villain here, playing the washed-up singer Benita Bizarre, who lives in a jukebox and desperately wants a comeback (big stretch there). Benita and her ADD robot henchmen are looking for a British rock band and, on the way, manage to practically run over the firefly named Sparky (that’s Billy Barty inside that goofy suit).
The Bugaloos of Tranquility Forest come to Sparky’s rescue. Sparky meets IQ (white blonde male teen/grasshopper/guitarist), Harmony (African male teen/bumblebee/keyboardist), Courage (brunette male teen/ladybug/drummer) and the cheeky Joy (white female teen/butterfly/vocals). Sparky, like the cowardly lion, cannot fulfill his function. He is afraid of the dark and flying. To encourage Sparky to believe in himself, Joy leads her Bugaloos into a song, of course. It’s a song about honey, sunshine, butterflies, doe-eyed close-ups, slo-mo twirling through a field of flowers, and rainbows. I had to check my sugar levels repeatedly while watching this one.
Benita hears the chirping Bugaloos from within her jukebox and believes she has found the key to her comeback. Alas, our “hey, hey we’re the Monkeys” wanabees, not so keen on fame and fortune, put up resistance. Cue Krofft-styled S&M with our excruciatingly short-skirted Joy being bound and tied to a giant neon 45 record player with a horny needle. Cheap sunglasses, multicolored boas, slapstick mayhem, flying records, a fleeing rat, and Sparky playing saboteur all get thrown into the chaos. Rest assured, we will end this episode flying high in Tranquility sky.
Lidsville (1971) stars Charles Nelson Reilly (at his flaming, campy best in bald wig, green face paint and thick mascara) as Horatio J. HooDoo, Billie Hayes as Weenie the Genie and Butch Patrick (best known as Eddie Munster) as the teenaged Mark. Mark was transported into Lidsville after falling into Merlo the Magician’s magic hat, and before you can scream: “Alice!” poor Mark is surrounded by hat thugs, two of which are clearly patterned after Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Mark is inprisoned, but he gets help from Weenie, who turns out to be a bumbling excuse for a genie. You are never quite sure whether Weenie is supposed to be a male or female genie, which lends some refreshing androgyny to Lidsville. In addition to the bad hats, there are a whole village of good hats, who are a wee bit tired of Hoo Doo’s severe hat tax (I am not making this up). Apart from some dated stereotypes, Lidsville holds up well, mainly due to its high octane, Charles Nelson Reilly-led camp surrealism. However, again, the pilot is a conservative (for Krofft, that is) starting point.
Almost twice as many episodes were filmed for Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (1973). Star Johnny Whitaker was already a household name from playing Jody in Family Affair. Here Johnny plays… Johnny who, with his bud Scott (played by … Scott Kolden) discover Sigmund the Sea Monster (Billy Barty again). Poor Sigmund does not like scaring people, so his sea monster Ooze family (brothers Blurp and Slurp, Sweet Mama and Big Daddy—who channels Carrol O’ Connor) have kicked Sigmund the sissy out of Dead Man’s Point cave. Of course, Johnny and Scott’s new pal has to be hid, in the treehouse, away from housekeeper Zelda (Mary Wickes) and snoopy Sheriff (Joe Higgins) who has the hots for Zelda (!). Meanwhile, the Sea Monster cave is just not quite the same without the much put-upon Sigmund. And the visiting rich uncle misses his favorite nephew—to the tune of threatening disinheritance, if Sigmund is not returned. Blurp and Slurp grudgingly oblige to retrieve Sigmund. A doomed love affair between two monsters and a patrol car ends in some yuk yuk prat falls. Johnny fancies himself as Brian Wilson and, unfortunately, the producers gave him plenty of songs throughout the series’ run to try to prove it (he never did). Crude and imbecilic, this series eventually descended into the most phantasmagoric mound of Sweet-N-Low Saturday morning television ever offered.
Land of the Lost (1974) is considered the golden ticket of the Sid and Marty Krofft cult classics, and deservedly so. Many justifiably feel Will Ferrell should be blacklisted for having messed with this one. The cult status of this series is almost solely due to good first season writing by real writers, including sci-fi pros David Gerrold and D.C. Fontana (they both penned some of the better Star Trek episodes). Often, Land of the Lost feels like a continuation, of sorts, of Star Trek, proving that, above all, it is in the writing: because even dated, cheap FX and amateurish acting cannot sink the first season.
The story concerns ranger Rick Marshall (Spencer Milligan) and his children, Will (Wesley Eure) and Holly (Kathy Coleman) who fall over a waterfall during a routine rafting expedition. Or perhaps, they fall through a waterfall TIME PORTAL! They end up in a new world, the Land of the Lost. Initially, it seemed our three heroes merely found themselves in Jurassic Park, except this world has three moons, a dwarf sasquatch, a T-Rex (named Grumpy) and, later, the lizard men known as Sleestacks. The pilot is something like the Pop Tart before the Rice Krispies. It’s good, but a precursor to the real deal. Unfortunately, the second and third seasons did not maintain the level of writing, and this was indicative that the inspiration in the Krofft formula was losing steam. In the final two entries, the steam is simply lost, as in…
The Lost Saucer (1975) was a mercifully brief series about a lost saucer inhabited by the androids Jim Nabors and Ruth Buzzi (!), along with a dog-horse hybrid called… Dorse. Nuff said.
Far Out Space Nuts (1975) stars Bob Denver and Chuck McCann as two NASA employees who get catapulted into a… you get the idea. Except, there is absolutely no chemistry between the two leads and the slapstick makes late Three Stooges look sophisticated.
Despite the last two entries, examples of the producers being well past their tether, overall this disc is a good entry point to the Sid and Marty Krofft universe. Sid and Marty Krofft’s Saturday Morning Hits offers more of the same mix.