Monday, May 04, 2015

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Simian Sidekicks

Do you have a monkey on your back?

If you are the star of a cult-TV series (especially one aimed at kids...), the answer is likely affirmative.  Across the decades, simians of one type or another (chimp, gorilla, etc.) have appeared frequently as sidekick or comic relief.

The tradition likely began before TV rose, with the stories of Tarzan and his pet chimp, Cheetah.  

What's the purpose of having a simian sidekick, especially when they are notoriously difficult for actors to work with?  

Well, chimps, gorillas and the like are cute, display intelligence, and can motivate drama. By "motivate drama," I actually mean they can get into all sorts of trouble, and require rescue.

Going back to the early 1960s, Mitch the Monkey (voiced by David Graham) participated in the adventures on Gerry Anderson's Supercar (1961-1962). He's a super-marionation monkey!

In Irwin Allen's Lost in Space (1965 - 1968), the Robinsons encountered a "bloop" that Penny (Angela Cartwright) named "Debbie." This little space monkey had pointed ears, and a propensity for getting intro trouble. She is a semi-regular character in the first season, though appears less frequently in the program's later years.

For some reason, simians often accompany superheroes too. 

On Space Ghost in the 1960s, Blip appears in all the episodes. And in The All-New Super Friends Hour (1977), Gleek is the sidekick to the Wonder Twins.

In the 1970s, Filmation single-handedly kept simian sidekicks in the mix.  In the live-action The Ghost Busters (1975), a Saturday morning series starring Larry Storch, the sidekick was Tracy the Gorilla (Bob Burns).  

And in the post-apocalyptic Filmation series, Ark II, Adam the talking chimpanzee was a regular crew member.

In 1999, when Mystery Science Theater 3000 moved to the Sci-Fi Channel, Professor Bobo (Kevin Murphy) became a villainous minion to Pearl Forrester, and the tradition of simian sidekicks continued...

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