Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Secrets of Isis: "Year of the Dragon" (October 16, 1976)

A top chemistry student, Julie Chen (Jeanne Jo) is embarrassed by her Chinese heritage, and her Chinese father (Victor Sen Young) who lives in Chinatown and conforms to the traditions of his homeland.

When Chen wins a top chemistry honor, and is to be given an award at a high school assembly, she takes steps to prevent her proud father from attending.  Mr. Chen learns that his daughter is ashamed of him, making matters worse.  Rennie tries to convince her that she is doing both her father and her friends a disservice, but Julie will hear none of it.

But when Julie falls down a well, her father comes to her rescue.

And when he falls down a well, Isis comes to his rescue….

The Secrets of Isis (1975 – 1976) presents another weird episode here. In “Year of the Dragon,” we meet the extremely touchy Julie Chen, who gets offended every time a student or teacher asks her anything about Chinese culture.  She says she is tired of being expected to know everything about the Chinese people from “Charlie Chan movies” to “chop suey.” 

The only problem is that no character in the program treats her this way at all.  So Julie just comes off looking extremely sensitive and touchy.  Week after week, we have seen Mrs. Thomas and her students treat all people with high levels of empathy and compassion, so Chen's anger and resentment is weird.  It basically comes off as her problem, which may or may not have been the episode's point.

Julie also has a lot of bad luck.  She runs away from those who want to be her friend, fearing they will mention her Chinese traditions.  The first time she runs away, Julie lands in an auto junkyard and nearly gets crushed in a junked car.  The second time she runs away, Julie falls down a well and is trapped.

Then, the episode ends in cloyingly cheesy fashion as Mr. and Mrs. Chen make stereotyped “Pidgen English” jokes about Mr. Mason’s inability to use chopsticks correctly.  This moment is legitimately off-putting.

Now that no one’s trapped in a well, it’s easy to make fun of your own culture (and others’ perceptions of it), I suppose.  This ending kind of misses the point.  The whole story wasn't about how it is okay to mock your own culture if you feel others are doing it.  The point was to show how you can balance your own cultural traditions and still embrace American culture too.

Still, it’s a good thing Isis is around this week, and she uses her powers of stop-motion animation to lower a ladder down to Mr. Chen in a well.  She offers this incantation: “Oh broken ladder with rungs too few, restore thyself as good as new!

Only two episodes of Isis left. Next week: “Now You See It…”

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