Monday, September 30, 2013

Rein-Toon-Ation: Spectacular Spider-Man (2008)

Five years after MTV's ill-fated series, Spider-Man returned to broadcast television, but it would only be for a short time.

Spectacular Spider-Man bowed on the CW in 2008, and was the 2nd and last Spider-Man series produced by Sony's animation division, Adelaide, which co-produced the 2003 series with Canada's Mainframe studio. This time around, the characters were drawn in a pseudo-manga style favored by co-executive producer Craig Kyle, a writer at Marvel Comics at the time. In comparison to the webhead's other series, the designs were wrong, in an attempt to emulate the style used by WB on their DC Comics adaptations.

Josh Keaton took over the dual role of Spider-Man and his alter-ego, Peter Parker, who is back at college in this series, which brings up another interesting puzzle. In the previous series, Parker and friends were in high school, so it's safe to assume that this would be a natural progression. However, for villains like Electro, the character designs had been amended yet again. At least Electro was an adult this time. Well, at least I think so, since I didn't see him appear on the show. An interesting casting quirk found Edward Asner, who voiced J. Jonah Jameson in the acclaimed 1994-9 series for Fox, cast this time as Peter's Uncle Ben. I'd say Asner would've been better served continuing as Jameson, but at present, J. K. Simmons, who essayed the role in the Sam Raimi trilogy of feature films, is doing just fine, thanks. Simmons, however, wasn't Jameson here. Daran Norris had that role, as well as that of Jonah's astronaut-son, John, who'd eventually become the Man-Wolf.

After 1 season, Spectacular moved to DisneyXD, following Disney's acquisition of Marvel, and the series finished its run on DXD. Ironically, the series is back on CW today, as part of Saban's Vortexx package. Spectacular returned to CW in August, serving as a lead-in to Justice League Unlimited.

Many have compared this series favorably to its successor, the current abomination known as Ultimate Spider-Man. Not much need be said. Meanwhile, scope out the open to Spectacular, with a cheesy theme song, to boot:

Rating: B-.

Daytime Heroes: Danger Mouse (1981)

The British know how to poke fun at their own pop culture heroes.

Take for example, Danger Mouse. Thames Television & Cosgrove-Hall Productions introduced the one-eyed rodent to audiences in 1981 in England, and some time after that here in the US, when Nickelodeon acquired the series.

Meant to be a parody of British spy series of the 60's, such as Danger Man (which we know here in the US as Secret Agent), Danger Mouse proved to be very popular on both sides of the pond, and even spinning off one of the villains, Count Duckula, into his own series, which we'll cover as we get into Spooktober.

Scope out the episode, "Close Encounters of the Absurd Kind":

Nickelodeon, assuming they would still have the US rights to the series, would be well served to bring the show back at some point, just for kicks. It would save their current in-house shows from getting completely burned out.

Rating: B.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Toons After Dark: Undergrads (2001)

Ever since Beavis & Butt-Head ended its first run, MTV has had a poor track record with animated programming. In fact, Beavis had its 2nd run cut short after the relaunch in 2011.

10 years before that, MTV had tried a cartoon set at college. Undergrads had promise and a cushy time slot, airing on Thursdays, as Beavis would 10 years later, but was under-promoted, leading to dismal ratings and eventual cancellation after 1 season.

Series creator Pete Williams designed the everyman character of Nitz after himself, but because most folks assumed that actor David Duchovny (The X-Files) was the role model, well, maybe a case can be made of Williams & Duchovny being separated at birth? Williams, in fact, performed most of the male voices himself. 12 years later, he's still trying to get the series relaunched through any means necessary, but it seems that MTV and Canada's Teletoon aren't interested.

MTV would try a college-themed cartoon again 2 years later, but 3 South was worse.

Here's the Undergrads opener, "Party":

Rating: B-.

On The Air: Phineas & Ferb meet Spider-Man & The Avengers (well, some of them)(Mission Marvel, 2013)

After all the hype, another letdown.

A couple of message boards I frequent indicated that fans were stoked over a Disney/Marvel crossover that was to be one of the animated events of the summer. Unfortunately, what resulted was less than perfect.

"Mission Marvel", a 1 hour episode of Phineas & Ferb, has the boys meeting three of the Avengers (Iron Man, Thor, & Hulk) and Spider-Man after the heroes have lost their powers thanks to a draining device created by the world's dumbest mad scientist, Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz, who in turn is recruited, then betrayed, by a quartet of villains---M.O.D.O.K, Venom, Whiplash, & the Red Skull, whom the heroes were fighting in New York when they lost their powers.

There are the usual Phineas & Ferb hallmarks:

*Agent P, aka Phineas' pet platypus, Perry, tangles with Doofensmirtz while the boys and their buds are on a scientific mission in space. Shoot, the space station is shaped like the heads of Phineas & Ferb.

*Candace (Ashley Tisdale), Phineas' older sister, messes things up not once, but twice, but after reconciling with Phineas, decides she wants to "bust" him & Ferb, if for no other reason than for her own self-gratification. This ream is beyond stale, and creators Jeff Marsh & Dan Povenmire need to turn the page with Candace. Her antics detracted from the gist of the story.

*Cute, trite musical numbers, including in the open, set to a surf rock beat (think Beach Boys). Not as much of a problem, except for an elongated sequence of the villains, led by Doofenshmirtz in this case, on a mayhem spree through town. Candace & Isabella's duet near the end had a point to make, leading to the finish.

Marvel founding father Stan Lee not only turns up as a hot dog vendor, but does a little bit of narration on the order of his work in the 80's (Incredible Hulk, seasons 2-3 of Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends). The narrative was brief. If you blinked, you probably missed it.

As I wrote when I previously reviewed Phineas & Ferb, the boys' can-do, positive attitude is enough for the show to earn a E/I designation from the FCC, and that certainly applies here. Disney blew it by not repurposing the show on ABC before giving up the network's Saturday morning lineup a couple of years back, plain & simple.

One saving grace is that Marvel's answer to "Dumb & Dumber" (Joe Quesada & Jeph Loeb) aren't involved in the production of this episode. If they were, it could've been worse.

IGN provides us with the following trailer.

One thing that didn't make sense was using M.O.D.O.K. & Red Skull, two foes more closely associated with Captain America, though Iron Man has tangled with M.O.D.O.K. in the books, if memory serves. Red Skull, though, figures prominently in a story arc over on Avengers Assemble, so at least his presence is explained away. Also, Black Widow could've been used here to give Candace & Isabella a role model.

Rating: B-.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Daytime Heroes: Transformers (1984)

After striking gold with G. I. Joe, Hasbro, Marvel Comics, & Sunbow teamed up again, this time with the Transformers, morphing robots at war, bringing their feud from a distant planet to Earth.

The series marks its 30th anniversary next year, but that first year brought with it the first comics tie-in from Marvel, a bi-monthly miniseries that was so successful, the publisher went back and started a monthly series soon after. As it is, the Transformers have become a franchise unto itself. The original series, which has been dubbed "Generation 1", or "G1", in the wake of a 1992 relaunch, has since seen a small handful of follow-up series, first on Fox, then on cable on Cartoon Network & The Hub.

The success of the series led Tonka to develop their own morphing robots, leading to Hanna-Barbera's Challenge of the Go-Bots. Ironically, the Go-Bots have been retconned, via the acquisition of Tonka by Hasbro in recent years, into the Transformers' universe, but Leader 1 and his team have yet to reappear. Give them time.

Here's the intro:

Like G. I. Joe, Transformers was adapted into a feature film in between seasons 2 & 3, and, of course, there's the live-action movie franchise that will see a 4th installment in another year or two. In this writer's opinion, the original is still the best.

Rating: B+.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Saturtainment: Commander USA's Groovie Movies (1985)

One of USA Network's earliest hits was a weekend series that celebrated and satirized the horror movie hosts of television's Golden Age.

Commander USA's Groovie Movies bowed in 1985 and continued until 1989. Some might say the network gave up on it too soon, but then, they tipped their hand by moving the series to Sundays. Initially, the Commander (Jim Hendricks), a "retired superhero", would screen a pair of cheesy B-or-C-movies, with comedy sketches to lead into and out of commercials. Once the series moved to Sundays, it was down to one feature per week.

Here's a sample open:

These days, USA would rather shove reruns of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit or NCIS down the viewers' throats with weekend marathons than reach into their movie vaults. No, the corporate suits figure, that's what they have SyFy & Chiller for. Too bad they haven't recalled the Commander.

Rating: C.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

On The Air: Axe Cop (2013)

10 years after Spike TV's ill-fated attempt at counter-programming [adult swim], Fox is trying something similar, but on Saturday nights, this after they'd tried to fill the void created by MadTV's departure with either reruns of primetime shows or a short-lived series hosted by actress-comic Wanda Sykes.

Axe Cop began as an online series after a modest drawing appeared on the creator's Facebook page 4 years ago. Someone at Fox saw the potential in making a weekly, 15 minute series, and picked up the rights. The series bowed in July with a primetime preview on the 15th before the official launch on the 21st.

The title character is simply known as Axe Cop, his partner is Flute Cop, and well, you get the idea. It's a send-up of crime dramas and superheroes taken to an extreme, even more so than the network's two adaptations of Ben Edlund's The Tick, and while Tick made us laugh, some of Axe Cop's tactics might make some people cringe. Like, would a real police officer carry an axe? Nope. And this is the network that has a serial killer carrying a broadaxe on one of their freshman primetime shows (Sleepy Hollow), and has a reputation for doing a lot of bizarre, outside-the-box ideas.

Where the show falls apart is the excess of expository dialogue. Trying to cram that into a 15 minute show, plus a plot that has more holes than a cake of Swiss cheese, including the implausibility of a car that can fly to another planet to a specialty shop that rents dinosaur horns. I like the artwork, but everything just collapses in the second half of the show.

Here's a trailer:

I wasn't laughing. I was doing some face-palming instead. Not a good sign.

Rating: D.

Daytime Heroes: Bonkers (1993)

One of Disney's last entries in the Disney Afternoon block took viewers back to Toontown, which was the setting, of course, of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" a few short years earlier. Personally, I think Disney missed the boat by not doing a TV series with Roger, but that's another story.

Bonkers is a bobcat who's now a rookie police officer, and as rookies tend to do, he makes mistakes, which, in this case, usually end up being doozies. I never got the chance to watch the show, so I can't rate it, but here's the episode, "Do Toons Dream of Animated Sheep"?, which, as you can tell, pokes fun at the book that was the inspiration for the movie, "Blade Runner", more than a decade earlier.

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: You'll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine) (1976)

Here's a Soul Train classic performance from the incomparable Lou Rawls, performing his hit, "You'll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine)":

Monday, September 23, 2013

Daytime Heroes: My Little Pony (1984)

Hasbro's My Little Pony toy line marks its 30th anniversary next year. Modern-day "Bronies" (male fans of the current Friendship is Magic series) might not know that the first Pony cartoon also came out in 1984, as a made-for-TV movie.

In fact, there were two such movies that set up the launch of My Little Pony & Friends, which Marvel Productions & Sunbow introduced in syndication in 1986. The series lasted two seasons, but Pony was brought back in 1992, meaning that Friendship is Magic is the 3rd series incarnation of the franchise.

As the title of the 1986 series implies, this was an anthology series, with Pony as the lead feature, along with three rotating backups, all based on other Hasbro properties: Glo Friends, Moondreamers, & Potato Head Kids, the latter of course spun from the Mr. Potato Head toy franchise.

In sharp contrast to the current series, the Ponies had help from some humans in the original series. I have to believe Hasbro decided against following that same tack with the present series. The humans, obviously, were meant to represent the viewers themselves, a time honored practice that has since ended.

My Little Pony Informer (naturally) uploaded the 2-part season 2 episode, "Flight to Cloud Castle", from 1987:

I didn't see enough of this series to warrant a rating.

Sunday Funnies: The most famous Abbott & Costello routine of them all! (1953)

Abbott & Costello's famous "Who's On First?" skit was used in a couple of films, and I would imagine also on radio, so it made sense that they'd try it on their self-titled sitcom, which we've previously reviewed here.

In the 1953 episode, "The Actors' Home", it starts with an audience request...........

60 years later, it's still a laugh riot! Rating: A+.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Looney TV: The Plucky Duck Show (1992)

Someone at Fox thought that Plucky Duck would be the breakout star of Tiny Toon Adventures, which was airing 5, sometimes 6, days a week on the network. If they really believed that, then maybe they'd have pushed WB & Amblin Entertainment to make more original episodes of The Plucky Duck Show, which lasted one season as a result (1992-3).

Plucky (Joe Alaskey)'s adventures were cobbled together from reruns of Tiny Toons, seasons 1 & 2, which Fox, WB, & Amblin tried to pass off as all-new. Anyone that followed Tiny Toons, of course, knew better, which is why the series failed.

I never saw the show, so there's no rating, but let's leave you with the open, which itself recycles the Tiny Toons theme, but with Plucky-centric lyrics. Talk about on the cheap!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Daytime Heroes: Sinbad, Jr. & the Flying Carpet (1965)

Sinbad, Jr. holds the distinction of having been produced by two different studios in the same season. American International wasn't happy with the way Sam Singer and Trans-Lux were producing the shorts, so they turned the series over to Hanna-Barbera, which meant a casting change. As we know, Tim Matheson (Jonny Quest) took over as Sinbad, with Mel Blanc as Salty. However, as this Sam Singer production we'll show you reveals, it appears that Dallas McKennon, who'd done Courageous Cat for Singer, handled both roles, as Salty sounds a little like his Daniel Boone role of Cincinnatus, and Sinbad has a little of Courageous to him, a voice pattern that McKennon would revisit and alter for Archie 3 years later.

Here's "Sinbad, Jr. & the Flying Carpet". This episode is taken from a tape that has it included with a syndicated repackaging of The Porky Pig Show. Also, there's a health lesson with Popeye from his CBS series.

In case you wonder, MGM, and for that matter, by extension, Sony, owns the rights to Sinbad, Jr. now, which would explain why the shorts haven't been seen on Boomerang in a long time.

Rating: B.

Toon Sports: Bolts & Blip (2010)

Bolts & Blip is one of four new shows airing as part of CW's Vortexx Saturday lineup this season. What you might not know is that the series originally bowed in its native Canada in 2010 on Teletoon, and made its US debut in July of this year. In fact, none of Saban's acquisitions for this season are entirely new. For example, Spectacular Spider-Man returns to CW after a 4 year absence, having debuted there in 2008, and airs in back of Bolts.

Bolts is set in the year 2080, where robots are playing sports on the moon. Yeah, that sounds weird, doesn't it? The only recognizable name in the voice cast is Patrick Warburton (Rules of Engagement), whom I'm sure you'll recognize as the series opener rolls along.

The CGI animation is better than what WB has commissioned for Cartoon Network's Beware the Batman by plenty, but it's a sad fact that Bolts is already out of production. CW will carry the entire series, and then that'll be it.

Rating: B.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sunday Funnies: Why isn't this on an NFL blooper reel? (1986)

This is also on my other blog, The Land of Whatever.

Let's go back to 1986, and the most famous penalty call by an NFL referee. Ben Dreith became the stuff of legend in calling this penalty against the Jets in a game vs. Buffalo:

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Do you remember Cookie Man? (1968)

Nabisco's contribution to the era of campy crime fighters was Cookie Man, who appeared in a series of ads promoting Chips Ahoy! chocolate chip cookies, beginning in 1968, and ending in the early 70's. He never said a word, letting a narrator carry the action, especially in these 30 second chunks.

TV Toy Memories uploaded this sample, narrated by comedian Dayton Allen:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Saturtainment: Fan Club (1987)

Fan Club was a short-lived syndicated series that lasted one solitary season (1987-8). In my area, it aired ahead of the NBC Saturday morning lineup for much of the season, but that particular day-part was a black hole where syndicated shows went to die.

Olympic gymnast Mitch Gaylord was tapped as host, but all he did, really, was introduce some pre-taped on-location interviews with various celebrities. Almost halfway through the season, the producers finally got a clue and decided Gaylord needed an on-air partner to help things along, especially when it came to queuing up segments on music. Enter Martha Quinn, less than a year removed from ending her first go-round with MTV. That should've given the show the ratings boost it needed, but it wasn't sustained enough to keep the show on the air.

Following is a short clip, introduced by Gaylord, with Kim Wilde, who was back on the charts at the time after a 4 year absence.

What could've saved the show was 1) a better time slot and 2) a little more Martha. Enough said.

Rating: B-.

Bad TV: Hulk & The Agents of S.M.A.S.H. (2013)

It's clear to me that comics & television writer Jeph Loeb (ex-Heroes) has forgotten what makes a superhero cartoon so special in this day & age. If not forgotten, he simply doesn't care if people don't like his product.

On his watch, DisneyXD's Marvel Universe block is a mess. He decided that Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes had to be sacrificed in favor of a more watered down show aimed at younger viewers (Avengers Assemble, previously reviewed). His other shows have too many bells & whistles to distract the viewers from how bad the writing is.

Case in point: Hulk & the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., which premiered last month. It's not enough that Hulk is also part of Avengers Assemble, but that show is meant to be a spin-off from last year's "Avengers" movie. No, he gets to lead his own team, but he's better off if they'd adapted The Defenders. At least there's a chance they'd have gotten that one right.

As for the rest of the team:

*-She-Hulk: Jennifer Walters is Bruce (Hulk) Banner's cousin, who gained her powers via a blood transfusion from her cuz in the comics more than 30 years ago. She still practices law, but she's so enamored with being a green Glamazon, that she rarely reverts to her former self. She's there for the teenage boys to drool over.

*-A-Bomb: Rick Jones is one of Hulk's oldest friends in the comics. Some genius at Marvel decided to make him a blue Hulk.

*-Red Hulk: General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross was an enemy of ol' Greenskin way back in the day. As with Jones, someone at Marvel decided it was a cool idea to make him a Hulk. Oh, yeah, he's also Bruce's father-in-law, and Bruce's wife, Betty, was turned into the Red She-Hulk in the comics. The only way Red She-Hulk joins the party is if this show is renewed for a 2nd season.

*-Skaar: Believe it or else, this guy fills the brainless brute void left by the Hulk himself. Worse than that, he was introduced in the books as Hulk's illegitimate kid, the result of a liason with some alien warrior princess.

Co-Executive Producer Joe Quesada can take the blame for the last three, as they were all developed on his watch as Editor-in-Chief. The episode I watched On Demand features a guest appearance by Spider-Man (Drake Bell), and so this is along the same stupid line as Ultimate Spider-Man. Someone do us a favor and chain Quesada & Loeb to some dead cacti?

Here's a sample clip:

If you're a comics purist, watch at your own risk. If you're the target demo, ask your older siblings to help you understand this twaddle.

Rating: D.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tooniversary: Betty Boop meets Popeye (1933)

It's been a long time since this one's been on TV.

80 years ago, Popeye made his screen debut, but while he was the title character, he was also guest-starring with Betty Boop, one of Max & Dave Fleischer's first stars. This classic cartoon, a pilot for Popeye's own series, has been banned from airing on television, presumably for some politically incorrect images or dialogue.

It wasn't too long ago when Betty Boop was being shown in my area. The Variety Channel, a digital subchannel, carried the shorts on Saturday afternoons, but the channel was booted by the local Fox affiliate, which has shifted digital sub-stations three times in all, before settling on The Country Network (now Zuus Country) a year ago. It's a pity that no cabler is willing to take a chance on Betty, who'd be a perfect fit for [adult swim], given the fact that her shorts were geared more toward adults in the first place.

Anyway, here's "Popeye The Sailor"'s 1st cartoon.

Rating: B+.

No great idea should go without being tried

Someone started a thread on ToonZone the other day asking if it was possible that Scooby-Doo would ever meet Bugs Bunny or any of the other Looney Tunes characters. As it turns out, five years ago, a prominent writer-producer who'd worked with both had an idea that would've-should've-could've gotten on the air, if it wasn't for the fact that the suits at Warner Bros., who'd initially green-lighted the project, had a sudden change of heart.

Tom Ruegger, one of the masterminds behind WB's resurgence in animation in the 90's, had a project in development that would bring Bugs, Scooby, et al, together under one roof, taking full advantage of the resources that WB had available to them. Tom outlined his plans on his blog 2 years ago, which was linked in the thread in question at ToonZone. As Tom explained it, after current WB executive producer Sam Register came aboard, Mixed Nutz, the Hanna-Barbera-meets-the-Looney-Tunes project that Tom was working on, was scuttled, all because Register had what he thought was a better idea on how to use Bugs and his pals. One must assume that Register's pitch ultimately led to The Looney Tunes Show, which has wrapped production.

Given that WB has fielded and produced a myriad of bad projects in recent years (i.e. Coconut Fred's Fruit Salad Island), what's stopping them from fulfilling the wishes of generations of cartoon fans? Lord only knows.

My message to Tom is this. Don't give up the idea. In this day and age, there's a chance Mixed Nutz may still see the light of day. Register had his chance, and got 2 years out of The Looney Tunes Show. We know Cartoon Network is run by morons, but WB can always shop the project to one of the other networks that would actually give a tinker's dang. We know Disney won't be interested, but The Hub might. Ya just never know.

You Know the Voice: Olan Soule (1953)

Well before being cast as the voice of Batman by Filmation in 1968, Olan Soule had racked up an impressive resume as a character actor. We previously featured him in a review on Captain Midnight, and he also had appeared on Dennis The Menace & The Andy Griffith Show among other gigs. In the 1967-70 revival of Dragnet, Olan played forensic scientist Ray Murray and a judge in a couple of other episodes.

Apparently, Murray was actually in the Witness Protection Program or something when he made it back to L. A., because in the original Dragnet, the character was known as Ray Pinker, but the job description was the same. In all seriousness, the name change may actually have come about because the word "pink", or variations thereof, were used to describe suspected members of the Communist Party. Anyway, here's Olan, in the beginning of the Dragnet episode, "The Big Hands", with Jack Webb & Ben Alexander. I think you might be able to find Cliff Arquette, aka Charley Weaver from Hollywood/Storybook Squares in this clip, too.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

On The Air: Avengers Assemble (2013)

Earlier this year, comics fans virtually rioted over Cartoon Network's bone-headed decision to cancel Young Justice & Green Lantern, rather than expand their DC Nation block. No, what helped their decision was the fact that the toys associated with the shows weren't flying off the shelves. Then again, a case can be made that GL was doomed from the start because the 2011 live-action movie, while it made a decent amount of money, wasn't a blockbuster, and the toy tie-ins weren't selling for that, either.

Toys, you see, are important to the growth of action cartoons. It's been that way for the last 30 years. From GI Joe & He-Man to today's reboots of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the continuing Ben 10 franchise at CN, kids from approximately 7-12 will buy the toys if they're digging the shows. I actually know a kid who attends Sunday School at my local church, and he's been seen wearing this oversized replica of the Omnitrix from Ben 10.

Of course, I've been digressing, trying to get to the point of this piece. Marvel Studios & DisneyXD made the same bone-headed mistakes as CN. The network cancelled the popular Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes (Disney's answer, if ya will, to Young Justice) and replaced it with Avengers Assemble, a spin-off from last year's megahit blockbuster film that is meant to keep fans interested until the next "Avengers" movie, "Age of Ultron", hits theatres two years from now. The bulk of the blame is being laid at the feet of comics & TV writer Jeph Loeb (& 9 Stories), who, while being a critics' darling, hasn't always delivered a complete story that made sense in the comics. Still, because he's worked in TV on Heroes & Lost, that somehow qualifies him to earn a position of power with Marvel's TV branch?

To quote the Vancome Lady (Nicole Sullivan) from MadTV: "Oh, no, I don't think so".

What Loeb & former Marvel Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada, another guy who wasn't living up to his press clippings 100% of the time as an artist and/or writer, and somehow landed a position of power, want is to dumb down their cartoons to make them a little more palatable for the young ones. Quesada, you'll recall, is the jackanapes who decided that Spider-Man wouldn't be married anymore because he ascribes to the old saw that superheroes shouldn't be married, else it increases the danger they put their loved ones in. Balderdash! What qualifies Quesada and/or Loeb to be put in charge of a cartoon show? Absolutely nothing!

Enough ranting. I actually looked at an episode of Avengers Assemble On Demand earlier today. It's not as bad as I've been told by some sources.

The lineup is the same as the movie, which means this series finds Hawkeye & Black Widow as team members, and Black Panther, Wasp, & Ant-Man are out----for the moment. Falcon is on board. If you want your Wasp fix, I think she was on the Marvel Super Hero Squad Show, reruns of which are airing on The Hub. Earth's Mightiest Heroes ain't coming back to DisneyXD or even to Disney Channel anytime soon, not as long as Quesada & Loeb have anything to say about it, so look for it on DVD. Anyway, Hawkeye looks the same as he did in the movie, although he has a blond buzzcut (actor Jeremy Renner is dark haired) and has sunglasses to replace his cowl. Not much of an exchange there. The Widow is fetching, of course, attired in the Emma Peel-inspired catsuit that everyone knows from the comics dating back to the 70's. How can you go wrong there?

There are or will be crossovers with stablemate Ultimate Spider-Man, perhaps the worst Marvel toon on the air now or of all time, depending on who you talk to, though the casting department gets points for bringing back JK Simmons from the Sam Raimi "Spider-Man" trilogy to reprise as J. Jonah Jameson. Where Marvel fails is the whole idea of dumbing down their toons, insulting the considerable intelligence of their older fans while trying to entice a new generation of future readers with toys and bad plot ideas.

The episode I saw has the Avengers battling Dracula. Fine, but the design for Drac falls closer to Francis Ford Coppola's 1990's failure, "Bram Stoker's Dracula". He has silver hair and is clean shaven. Marvel had created what I thought was the definitive comics Drac 40 years ago, and opted not to use this model? That's another strike against Quesada, Loeb, and the Man of Action stable (Ben 10, Generator Rex), which includes writers Joe Casey, Steve Seagle, & Joe Kelly, who would know better. However, actor Corey Burton makes up for this folly with a excellent performance.

Anyway, here's an ad for the preview, which aired in late May, from DisneyXD's YouTube channel:

Rating: B-.

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: Let Her In (1976)

On Welcome Back, Kotter, John Travolta played dumber-than-a-door knob Vinnie Barbarino, but on April 10, 1976, Travolta appeared on American Bandstand to promote his debut record. It's too bad his singing career went by the wayside after 1983's "Two of a Kind", which reunited Travolta with "Grease" co-star and duet partner Olivia Newton-John, since it took nearly 30 years before he did any more recording. Had he put equal focus between singing and acting, maybe he contributes to the "Pulp Fiction" soundtrack by doing a 60's pop cover, or passes on doing L. Ron Hubbard's bidding and makes a movie like "Battlefield Earth".

Anyway, here's "Let Her In". It's safe to say that none of the teenagers surrounding Dick Clark ever tried out for the $20,000 Pyramid, if the intro is any indication.........

Friday, September 13, 2013

Saturtainment: Snorks (1984)

A Dutch author had negotiated with Belgium's Peyo, the creator of the Smurfs, for the use of the little blue people on an album by another Dutch artist. That fell through, but out of this came a completely new race of beings who lived under the sea, and captured the imagination of American audiences just as the Smurfs did, but without the iconic status.

Snorks debuted on NBC in 1984 and spent 5 seasons total, including a stint on the syndicated Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera before settling into reruns on cable. As with the Smurfs, H-B had to acquire a license to produce this series, reruns of which air from time to time on Boomerang.

Here's the intro:

If I didn't know any better, I'd think SEPP, which holds the rights, might have risked facing litigation here in the US because due to the general design, aside from the tubes atop the Snorks' heads, they'd look like clones of Quaker Oats' Quisp, an alien created by animator Jay Ward in the 60's. Since no lawsuits were filed, I guess everything was fine after all.

Rating: B.

You Know the Voice: Barney Phillips (1952)

Well before he was cast in Hanna-Barbera's Shazzan in 1967, Barney Phillips was a modestly successful character actor who co-starred for one season on Dragnet as Officer Ed Jacobs, opposite Jack Webb as Joe Friday. The timbre of his voice might not be the same, suggesting that he went to a deeper, basso profundo for Shazzan. Here, from 1952, is the Dragnet episode, "The Big Cast", with special guest Lee Marvin. Pay close attention when Phillips speaks.

The video is also on my other blog, The Land of Whatever.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Toon Sports: The Flintstones in Little Big League (1978)

With baseball season almost ending----well, the regular season, anyway-----let's take a look back at a silly little treat with The Flintstones.

Little Big League was a 1 hour primetime special that aired in 1978. I don't recall it being on NBC, though some sources say it did, and NBC did begin a new Flintstones series, under the title, The New Fred & Barney Show, a few months after this special aired.

Fred (Henry Corden) and Barney (Mel Blanc) are opposing coaches in the Bedrock Little League. Fred's under heavy pressure from a cop (Ted Cassidy), a judge, and his boss, Mr. Slate (John Stephenson), to deliver a championship. The judge & the cop, you see, have sons on the team. Barney, on paper, anyway, might have an edge thanks to his son, Bamm-Bamm (Frank Welker, who'd eventually inherit the role of Barney years later), a prodigious power hitter. Fred decides to take a chance and puts his daughter, Pebbles, on the team as a pitcher. Trust me, you'll laugh until you cry seeing this.

By the way, Pebbles' voice was done by a then-unknown actress who'd later become a TV icon----Pamela Anderson.

Edit, 12/5/17: Unfortunately, Dailymotion has pulled the video due to a terms of use violation. If/when it returns, we'll bring it back.

This has aired a few times on Boomerang and/or Cartoon Network over the years, but since Boomerang isn't running movies anymore, I'm not sure if it is actually out on DVD yet.

Rating: A-.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Saturtainment: Astronut (1964)

Terrytoons' The Astronut Show was spun off from the character's initial appearance in a Deputy Dawg short 2 years earlier. However, like the good deputy, Astronut didn't hang around very long. His series lasted just the one year.

To get you started, let's take you back to 1962, and "Astronut", uploaded by Dwightffrye:

Now, here's Astronut with his human friend, Oscar, in "The Kisser Plant", first released in 1964:

I will admit I've never seen any of the Astronut shorts, just his appearance with Deputy Dawg. However, the concept was pretty much the same straight through. Rating: B-.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Daytime Heroes: Space Angel (1962)

Cambria Studios, home to the infamous Synchro-Vox method, only produced a small handful of series, which have been cult favorites for one reason or another.

While Clutch Cargo is the most infamous of the lot, Cambria called on veteran comics artist Alex Toth, 4 years before he went to work for Hanna-Barbera, to design Space Angel, a daily 5:00 serial that was in production for just two years, but would remain in syndication until at least the early 70's.

I previously discussed this series whilst reviewing a DVD release of the show over at The Land of Whatever several months back, but now it's time to take another look. This time, with the episode, "The Ghost & the Crystal Mace":

Synchro-Vox now seems to be the property of Conan O'Brien, who must be a fan.

Rating: C-.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Game Time: Answers Please (1966)

The success of the GE College Bowl led, inevitably, to some copycats, but geared to high schoolers.

Perhaps the most famous was It's Academic, which boasted game show icon Art James as host for much of its run. Closer to home, WRGB, now the CBS affiliate, had two such quiz games.

Little Red Schoolhouse began on radio on WRGB's then-sister station, WGY-AM (the two are now owned by separate entities), and transitioned to television in 1963, ending in 1970. I admit I've never seen Schoolhouse, or at least I have no memory of doing so. Hey, I was born the same year that Schoolhouse made its TV debut!

Answers Please began as a summer replacement series for Schoolhouse in 1966, as an outlet for staffers at WRGB & WGY to test their mettle against other adult teams. After Schoolhouse ended in 1970, Answers Please became the premier high school quiz show in the region, but went through a succession of hosts during its 23 year run, ending in 1989, including news anchors Ed Dague & Jim Brennan, weatherman Tim Welch, and, in this 1985 episode, John Wagner, who was on the faculty at Guilderland High School. When Guilderland qualified for an appearance on the show, Wagner recused himself, understandably, and Welch returned to the podium as a fill-in. Brennan took over the following season, and remained at the helm for the series' final years.

Answers Please aired on various days of the week, but spent the bulk of its run on Sunday mornings until the mid-80's, when it shifted to Saturdays, blacking out CBS programming.

Now, let's get to the action with this 1985 match between Cooperstown & Coxsackie-Athens. Uploaded by Andrew Gatt:

These days, local stations can't be bothered to produce programming in-house like this anymore. It would save them some money if they did.

Rating: A-.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

On The Air: Digimon (1999)

In the wake of the runaway success of Pokemon, particularly after WB plucked it out of syndication in February 1999, Fox needed to answer with an anime of their own. Oh, the chaos it caused the network's Saturday morning lineup still resonates even today!

Digimon bowed in Japan five months before its American debut, when producer Haim Saban acquired a license to bring the series to the US. Saban already had established a foothold at Fox, thanks to the equally popular Power Rangers franchise. However, Digimon's stay on Fox was a short one, as, after the network had shoved the series down the viewers' throats, at the expense of other Saban-licensed properties from Marvel Comics, and other Fox shows, the series shifted to Disney-owned ABC Family and to UPN, the latter for a brief period in 2002.

The sixth incarnation of the series, subtitled Fusion, debuted in Japan in 2010, and makes its American debut today on Nickelodeon, which holds American rights to the franchise. Saban reacquired a license for the franchise a year ago, right along with the Power Rangers, taking both series over from Disney. Let's go back in time, though, to the first episode of the Digital Monsters series from 1999, "And So It Begins":

I wouldn't be at all surprised if Fusion finds another US home on CW's Saban-programmed Vortexx block at the end of the month.

Rating: B.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes?: Snap, Crackle, & Pop become superheroes in the 90's

Once again, this is something I've come across for the first time, because I never saw these ads when they first aired back in the 90's.

Some wise guy decided to turn Kellogg's beloved Rice Krispies elves---Snap, Crackle, & Pop---into superheroes.


Now, you'd think I'd have known about this long before now, but nuh-uh. I don't know about the rest of y'all, this just reeks of a new kind of cheese. Wiggedy-wack cheese, if you get the drift, brother.

Anyway, Snap, Crackle, & Pop have grown up some---I'd wager they were presented as late teens or young 20-somethings---and this ad campaign was meant to reintroduce the product to a new generation. I can't otherwise fathom the rationale here. Like, Rice Krispies just turned 80 this year, making it one of Kellogg's oldest brands. Which begs to ask----was this makeover necessary?

Only the last ad appears to be fully animated. The others have the boys interacting with humans, just as they have for years. The ignorance of humans, not acknowledging that the boys' names are on the fronts of their costumes, suggests a slight left-handed nod to The Lone Ranger. Like, an extreme left hand.

Now, let's scope out this silliness.

Could you picture Kellogg's ok'ing similar makeovers with their other characters? I don't think so.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Remember Coco the Jungle Man? (1967)

Until today, I had never seen this commercial, but when I found this, and learned about the cast, well, I had to share.

Back in the 60's, Kellogg's used a generic white background for a lot of their cereal boxes, not the rainbow of colors used in later years (blue for Rice Krispies & Frosted Flakes, for example, green for Apple Jacks, etc.). From this era we get a short-lived cartoon hero shilling for Cocoa Krispies.

Coco the Jungle Man, who remotely resembles that kid in the famous Tootsie Pop commercial in design alone, apparently was used sparingly. If the voice sounds remotely familiar, though, well, it should. It belongs to Ted Cassidy, then the voice of Frankenstein, Jr. & Meteor Man of The Galaxy Trio. Now, I'm not sure if Hanna-Barbera was still producing commercials for Kellogg's after their stars (i.e. Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss) stopped appearing on Kellogg's boxes, but this could make a case. If I could venture a guess, I'd say the late Don Messick was Horrible Harry, the British bloke masquerading as an ape, in this bit........

When I found this, some folks on YouTube were debating whether or not it was really Ted Cassidy, or even Thurl Ravenscroft, the long-time voice of Tony the Tiger, but when you consider that Cassidy "spoke" the theme to Atom Ant with a similar pitch to his voice two years earlier, well, what do you think?

Edit: 1/20/16: Turns out that Coco is, in fact, voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft, not Ted Cassidy. Oh, well......

Tooniversary: Silly Sidney (1958)

Terrytoons entered into a new, but very brief, era in 1958 when animator Gene Deitch was brought in to run the show. He only lasted a year or two, but you have Deitch to thank for Silly Sidney.

Sidney was a neurotic elephant who was, as the stereotype would otherwise suggest, afraid of mice, but he also could get a little cranky at times. Lionel Wilson initially gave Sidney a voice based on Ed Wynn, then amended it twice before turning things over to Dayton Allen. Sidney, turning 55 this year, only appeared in a small handful of cartoons between 1958-61, and those toons were included on The Hector Heathcote Show during its 2 year run on NBC (1963-5).

My earliest memory of Sidney wasn't a cartoon. Instead, I seem to recall a book & record that came out way back in the day, and if memory serves, comedy legend Soupy Sales read the story. My memory might be a wee bit inaccurate, but Wikipedia certainly was no help.

Goinginsainsburys uploaded a pair of shorts---"Hide & Go Sidney" & "Tusk":

If the Wynnesque voice sounds familiar, other actors, such as Len Weinrib & Howard Morris, have done similar impersonations. Morris did so for the Mummy on Groovie Goolies, and I'm not sure which one did Mayor McCheese in those McDonald's ads in the 70's.

Rating: C.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

It Should've Been on a Saturday: Shining Time Station (1989)

Here's a show that was really two series in one.

PBS' Shining Time Station incorporated short stories from England's Thomas The Tank Engine & Friends, which bowed six years earlier, thus celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, into the fabric of a children's sitcom that ran for four years (1989-93) here in the US.

Didi Conn (ex-Benson, Fonz & The Happy Days Gang) starred as Stacy Jones, the owner of Shining Time Station, which she inherited from her grandmother. Ex-Beatle Ringo Starr crossed over from Thomas, re-recording his narration from the original stories to fit his new role as Mr. Conductor. However, Ringo opted to refocus on his musical career and left in 1990, replaced by comedian George Carlin, with the storyline explanation being that the new Conductor was the cousin of the original. In addition, Carlin dubbed over the narrative from the Thomas segments from the first two seasons, for the likely purpose of maintaining continuity for those coming in late. An unnecessary move, though, as the original episodes with Ringo are still available, as you'll soon see.

Meanwhile, back in England, Carlin was called in to take over as the storyteller for Thomas, but it was well after Starr had relinquished those duties. There have been others since, including Alec Baldwin (currently a pitchman for Capital One) and Pierce Brosnan, who took on the gig after his stint as James Bond had come to an end. Thomas is still in production in England, though it's been 20 years since Shining Time ended. The series hasn't been seen since cable runs on Fox Family (now ABC Family) & Nick, Jr..

Here's the opener, "A Place Unlike Any Other", courtesy of a Shining Time Station fan channel on YouTube:

Unfortunately, Didi Conn hasn't gotten much work since the series ended. Co-star Brian O'Connor (Horace Schemer) later landed on VH-1 as a game show host, of all things, and hasn't been seen since.

Rating: A-.

Animated World of DC Comics: The Chimp Who Made it Big (1966)

From The New Adventures of Superman comes an adaptation of the origin story of Titano, the Super-Ape, though that name isn't used in "The Chimp Who Made it Big". Instead, it's an ordinary monkey named Bobo, who is exposed to cosmic radiation while in space, leading to his sudden growth spurt. The writers also felt obligated to do a call-back to the original "King Kong", whose television counterpart was also in his first season, over on ABC.

Edit, 1/21/19: The video has been deleted. If/when it returns, we'll bring it back.

At least this had a happier ending.

Rating: A.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Teenage Toons: Are 4 principals better than 1? (1969)

Sabrina, The Teenage Witch means well, but magically cloning Riverdale High principal Waldo Weatherbee so he can take care of all of his business is bound to bring disaster. It doesn't help that a flu bug has sidelined a custodian and 2 teachers, leaving Miss Grundy to teach additional classes. Don't they have a budget to hire substitutes for that?

Edit, 11/13/19: Had to change the video, as Manny Mateer's account has been terminated, or so it'd appear. This copy includes the debut of Ug the "Caveman":

Someone commented on YouTube that actress Jane Webb based her Sabrina voice on Marilyn Monroe. Hmmmmmmmmm. Despite the fact that Sabrina's a platinum blonde, there is that influence, not that a lot of teenage boys back then would've noticed.

Rating: B.

Monday, September 2, 2013

On The Air: Xiaolin Chronicles (2013)

Here's one that Cartoon Network wishes they had.

Xiaolin Chronicles continues the story of the 2003-6 Kids' WB! series, Xiaolin Showdown, but it is not certain if the setting is a full seven years, as would be the case in real time, since the last series ended. Chronicles bowed a week ago on DisneyXD, with a 90-minute block of episodes, which encored last night. For now DXD has the show airing at night, not sure about a daytime berth as yet. What is certain is that Warner Bros. isn't producing the new series, as production appears to be entirely in Canada. Apparently, the internal infighting within the Time-Warner chain (i.e. Warner Bros. Animation vs. CN) may be what turned off series creator Christy Hui from putting this series on CN.

Due to some Canadian laws regarding actors needing to live in Canada to work there, only Tara Strong returns from the previous series, continuing as Omi.

Windogame2 uploaded the series premiere, "New Monk on the Block", featuring the debut of Omi's little brother, Ping Pong.

Other than the minor changes, not much has changed.

Rating: B.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Toons You Might've Missed: Hector Heathcote (1959)

I first discovered Hector Heathcote when reruns of his shorts aired on WPIX as part of the Heckle & Jeckle syndicated package in the 70's. However, Hector's origins, as with backup features Silly Sidney & Hashimoto-San, date back to 1959.

The story is that Hector was a modern day scientist who used a time machine to take him to the days of the American Revolution. However, I've never seen an "origin story" backing up this claim, as every episode I've seen has Hector well settled into colonial times. As we outlined last time, NBC picked up The Hector Heathcote Show for a 2 year run (1963-5), and the only other time they did business with Terrytoons was when they acquired reruns of Heckle & Jeckle & Deputy Dawg in the early 70's to fill time due to a lack of original programmng.

Anyway, let's scope out "Peace Pipe":

Rating: B-.