Saturday, November 19, 2016
Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Shazam!: "On Winning" (September 6, 1975)
The Shazam (1974-1977) episode “On Winning” begins with Mentor’s camper breaking down, after Mentor (Les Tremayne) and Billy Batson (Michael Gray) witness a dirt bike race.
Soon, the Elders call, and tell Billy about “the natural balance of love.” They also report that “a parent’s love knows no rivalry.” There is also a warning, however in the message: “There are some for whom winning is all.”
These cryptic words come into sharp clarity as Billy and Mentor meet up with a family on a fishing trip. The older brother, Craig (John Lupton) and the younger one, Corkey (Eric Sheq) are fiercely competitive. Corkey fears that his father, Dan (Stephen Hudis) thinks he is a loser, and loves his brother more. He will do anything to be seen as a winner, even if it involves deceit.
When Dan is trapped on a mountainside and needs rescue, however, Corkey realizes how much his father loves him. Captain Marvel arrives just in time to save Dan, and negotiate a happy ending.
Another Shazam episode, another family to be healed.
After stepping-out on the formula a little bit with a look at human evil (“The Past is Not Forever”/ “The Gang’s All Here”) the series is right back to its typical fare.
In this case, that fare is a mild story about a boy who learns that he is loved, even if his older brother can do more than he can, and therefore is the focus of parental praise.
Why this story needs to be told with a superhero is a good question. There must be a fire somewhere, with victims needing saving, right?
But Shazam and its counterpart, Secrets of Isis, are all about children reckoning with life lessons. They are protected from harm while learning those difficult lessons by comforting and powerful adult figures, either Captain Marvel, or Isis. These figures of authority are not judgmental, and they never allow things to get too far out-of-hand. They are a super safety note.
What I’m talking about here is children finding the freedom to explore what it means to grow up, but with those authority/parental figures exerting a kind of protective boundary for them, so they don’t get hurt.
I suppose that isn’t a terrible idea for a superhero show, but in these series we learn very little about the actual heroes. Where did the device come from, that contacts the Elders, for instance? Who is Captain Marvel, and does he possess an identity/life beyond Billy’s calls for intervention?
These are some fascinating topics to explore, but Shazam instead remains locked in to its rigid, childish (but didactic formula). It seems very naïve by today’s standards, for sure.
Next week: “Debbie,” and the arrival of a new Captain Marvel (John Davey)...at least temporarily.