Saturday, July 23, 2016

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Shazam: "The Brothers" (September 14, 1974)

The second episode of the Filmation live-action series Shazam first aired on September 14, 1974 and is titled “The Brothers.”

In this didactic tale, an older brother, Danny (Steve Tanner) refuses to acknowledge that his younger sibling, Chad (Lance Kerwin) can take care of himself, because he is blind.  Danny is over-protective and smothering, and his behavior irritates Chad, who wants to hold on to some semblance of a normal life.

Meanwhile Billy Batson (Michael Gray) learns from the Elders that he is destined to share his secret identity as Captain Marvel with Chad.  This prophecy comes to pass, as Michael and Mentor (Les Tremayne) attempt to rescue Danny from a life-threatening rattle-snake bite.  

In this crisis, Danny must place his trust in the blind Chad, and Chad comes through.

“The Brothers” follows almost-to-the-letter the narrative outline of the first Shazam installment, “The Joyriders.”  The Elders warn Billy about a lesson he must learn, quote a famous historical figure on the subject of that lesson, and then set Billy out to save the day.  Billy does so, but only by becoming Captain Marvel.

In this case, the lesson is that sometimes you must reveal your true self to help another human being, and the quote of the week comes from the Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850) and Lyrical Ballads, his work with Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

“The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.”  

As a critic, I’m pretty much a sucker for works of art that contextualize their stories in terms of pertinent quotations, because -- generally-speaking -- such quotes provide us an insight into how an artist would like his or work to be seen.  I loved the quotes that opened Millennium (1996 – 1999) episodes, for instance. They always helped to contextualize the story in terms of human history, and literature.

And I can plainly see the appeal of including “famous” (or at least relevant) quotations in a live-action Saturday morning kid’s program.  With a little luck, the inclusion of such quotes encourages kids to learn more about Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Aristotle, or the “writer of the week.”

At the same time, however, the overtly preachy or heavy-handed nature of stories like “The Brothers” probably does much to drive kids away from a series like Shazam!  It is relentlessly moralistic. And therefore the quotations from famous writers feel more like an English class assignment than a part of an exciting superhero program.

Also in keeping with the format of “The Joyriders,” parents don’t seem to exist in this dojo.  

Instead, children are left alone for long stretches of time, and must ferret out moral problems without the supervision of adults.  Only Mentor is present as an “advisory” figure, at least so far.  The thematic concerns, as I noted in my post last week, are all juvenile ones.  And the opponents for Captain Marvel are mostly small-potatoes.  This week, he must only contend with Danny’s injury from a (stock-footage) rattle snake.

Similarly, there are very few interior shots in “The Brothers.”  There’s just a scene or two in Danny and Chad’s house, but the rest of the episode takes place on desert roads and in rocky canyons.  I’m not complaining about the approach, just noting, again that sometimes Shazam boasts the feel of a guerilla production.  There’s no home base (save for the mobile recreational vehicle), and no recurring settings, either.

As before, there are also some unexplained aspects of the Elder/Mentor communication in this Shazam episode. The Elders seem to be able to hear everything Mentor says, even though he does not travel with Michael on the boy’s weird vision-quest like trips to the Elders’ realm.  Mentor isn’t present visually, in other words, for the meet-ups, yet he always knows exactly what was spoken during the conferences.  Is he just eavesdropping?

Next week: “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” starring 70s child star Pamelyn Ferdin (The Mephisto Waltz, Space Academy, etc).

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