Saturday, March 18, 2006

SATURDAY MORNING CULT TV BLOGGING: Land of the Lost: "Downstream"

How many Saturday morning TV shows in the 1970s had episodes written by the great science fiction author, Larry Niven? Or saw their dramatis personae face death week-in and week-out? Or made knowing jokes about mushrooms with hallucinogenic properties? Or pondered such ideas as a "closed universe" - a so-called "locked room in space?"

Well, the Star Trek animated series was pretty impressive, but I was thinking of another show, actually. These are just a few of the reasons, I believe, why Land of the Lost has continued to impress and convert new fans for thirty-two years. Sure, it's a kid's show with 1970s special effects, but there's something convincing, even adult, about the show's consistent approach to drama and science fiction.

Take the fourth episode of the first season, this week's installment, "Downstream." It's authored by Larry Niven, and finds the Marshall family seeking to escape the Land of the Lost by building a raft and heading downstream. The plan is to take the swamp to the river and - sooner or later - reach the ocean. The family flees on its make-shift raft, says its goodbyes to Grumpy and Dopey, and heads off, only to find a waterfall ahead. The family barely manages to escape to a subterranean cavern before their raft is destroyed.

There, in the cavern, the Marshalls discover Jefferson Davis Colley III (Walker Edmiston), a Civil War soldier, from the Confederate Army. He (and his cannon) have been prospecting a jeweled cavern. Thus this is the episode that introduces the Land of the Lost's power source: those colored crystals that power the matrix tables in upcoming episodes and can provide a light source or explosive, depending on how they are used in combination. The discovery of this natural resource is an element of Land of the Lost's ongoing and recurring environmental theme. This closed universe, a microcosm for Earth, possesses everything it needs for its denizens, if only the resources are allocated wisely. The Marshalls will become the stewards of the land in upcoming episodes, maintaining balance and keeping the land harmonious, but the hardest thing about this task is dealing with other people (Paku and Sleestak, respectively), those who have a different philosophy about how the resources should be shared and allocated.

Anyway, Jefferson keeps the Marshalls hostage for a time, and Rick points out to him the error of his ways. "You fought a war because you didn't want other people telling you what to do," he reminds the Confederate, pointing out his hypocrisy. And that's the sermon for the day.

"Downstream" also features some great, under the surface humor that no doubt went over the heads of many youngsters. Colley takes one look at the Marshalls and says "There are some mighty strange folk in California," a joke about the West Coast and the Entertainment Industry. There's also a joke about television. Will complains while prospecting that he hasn't seen a TV show in a long time and Marshall quips that it doesn't seem to have done him any harm. And later, Marshall makes a funny reference to drugs. "Some mushrooms have funny chemicals," he informs Will and Holly. Indeed, Rick Marshall. Indeed.

The best element of this episode is the ending, which finds the Marshalls discovering precisely where the river ends: where it started. There is no escape from the Land of the Lost. It's a pocket universe with no end and no beginning. There's no way out. Again, this seems like a fairly advanced concept for a time bloc in which marketers were selling Cocoa-Puffs. But that's why I like Land of the Lost. It's easy to dismiss the show as kid's stuff, but there's more going on in this series than in many adult series from the same era.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:38 PM

    ...And then they never bother to use the explosives or other crystal combinations again (with any regularity).