This first adventure involves a kid named Chuck (Kerry MacLane) who feels peer pressure to be part of a gang that has become involved with stealing cars and going on those titular joy rides.
Using a small red-dome like device decorated with blinking lights, Billy speaks an incantation to establish contact: “Oh Elders fleet and strong and wise -- appear before my seeking eyes.”
One of the Elders then quotes Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Polonius in particular: “This above all, to thine own self be true.” Future episodes feature quotations from Wordsworth and Aristotle.
Of course, one must remember the time slot and historical context: Saturday morning in the mid-1970s.
Accordingly, “The Joyriders” involves a “teenage dilemma” and a message about that dilemma. The story is didactic, to be certain, but also lacking in any genuine scope or real danger. In the age of Captain America: Civil War (2016), this feels like superhero storytelling in a very minor league indeed, but of course, it is fruitless to make such a comparison, since decades separate Shazam! and such productions.
But importantly, Shazam! also does not travel the route of its contemporary superhero series like Batman (1966 – 1969). It deliberately eschews campy super villains for more “real” (if, again, small-potato) stories.
Shazam actually looks as though it was filmed under the auspices of modern guerrilla filmmaking principles, with shots grabbed in parking lots, on back streets, in junkyards, and so forth. There isn’t a single interior shot in the whole half-hour, unless one counts the front seats of Mentor’s RV.
Billy reveals that he and Mentor are on vacation, and that he is relieved he doesn’t have to prepare and deliver the morning news cast at his school.
But other than that information, we don’t know how Billy and Mentor met, how Mentor came to know of the Elders, or upon what principles the strange communication dome in the RV operates.
Instead, the episode is an immediate descent into SoCal juvenile delinquency and After School Special-type lessons about moral behavior.
Chuck has had his bike stolen, so he understands what it would feel like to have a car stolen. Today, I find that a lack of empathy -- across the culture -- is perhaps the biggest problem facing us as a nation.
We have politicians who grew up with a social safety net -- a social safety net that sent them to college or helped them endure deaths in their families -- and yet today those very same politicians want to gut the same programs that were there for them in those times of need and pain. Why is it so hard, I wonder, to put oneself in the position of the less-fortunate “other?”