Thursday, April 11, 2019

Shazam! TV Show - The Joy Riders

No Shazam-themed week would be complete without a glance at the 1970s TV show. Between the 1941 movie serial and the 2019 big-budget movie sat the small-screen exploits of Captain Marvel

The Introduction for Many a Kid

For most kids of my Gen-X Generation, the Shazam TV show was the first time we figured out who Captain Marvel was. Coming just a year or so after DC Comics started publishing the Shazam comic, the TV show starred Michael Gray as Billy Batson and Les Tremayne as Mentor. They travel the country (at least California) in an RV righting wrongs and helping kids make good decisions. I had a little Tonka-brand RV in the same color scheme and I imagined it was Batson's RV. But it didn't have that cool Shazam lightening bolt on the front.

In season 1, Jackson Bostwick starred as Captain Marvel and he's the one I remember. Heck, I even had the treasury-sized edition of Shazam with Bostwick standing on that rock. Yeah, I made that pose more than once, thank you very much.

I loved this show, and while I can't say I was there from day one, I certainly remember many a Saturday morning anchored in place to watch the Mightiest Mortal do his thing.

Filmation produced Shazam, the company that brought many a smile to kids' faces. You'd recognize a Filmation program by the spinning circle with the names of Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott going round and round.

Plus there was the same Saturday morning music cues, something I picked up on when I watched episode 1, "The Joy Riders."

The Premise of the Episodes

With each episode, the intro features a voice-over with "The Saturday Morning Cartoon Guy" (you'd recognize the voice if you're of a certain age) giving you the premise of the story, who Billy is, and who Captain Marvel is. Boom, you're good to go. Speaking of boom, when Michael Gray says the magic name, there's a huge lightening bolt that looks not too dissimilar from the bolt that you see in the "Gilligan's Island" intro. When you get the flash, the music changes and there, in front of your eyes, in color, is Shazam himself. Marvelous

The Joy Riders

I actually chuckled to myself when four young teenaged boys meet up at hamburger shack and talk about "borrowing" a car in which to ride around. Just imagine: in September 1974, that was one of the worst things you could do, or at least show on TV. It came across as quaint, in a kind of old-fashioned sitcom-y way, until I remembered I was the target audience at the time. Gulp.

One of the four boys, a red-headed kid named Chuck, isn't too keen on joining in on the stealing. He says what it is, but the other three laugh at him, call him chicken, before they careen away in the stolen car.

Moment before, Billy gets a message from The Elders. He's signaled via...the light ball? There, he hears about his task: he'll meet someone who will have trouble standing up to others, including his friends. The Elders are all animated, with only their mouths moving. How cool it was to hear Adam West's voice coming from one of them!

As you can imagine, Billy and Mentor try to help Chuck with the latter's feelings of inadequacy and fear of being labeled an outsider and his trio of friends turning their backs on him. Chuck's bike is even stolen, giving all four boys a tangible reminder of what they did with the first stolen car.

When the  boys boost another car and force Chuck in with them, it's time for Captain Marvel.

Captain Marvel on Screen

Look, I've only seen two episodes of the 1941 movie serial and this episode of the 1975 TV show, but if I'm being honest, the flying sequences in the old serial are better. Granted, the TV show has to operate on a TV budget, but you'd think there'd be some improvement.

Bostwick gets around some of the quirks of editing by having Shazam land feet first. He is shown in the air actually changing his trajectory, so that when you next see the hero on the ground, he's already standing. One fantastic thing they did was film many of his close-ups outside, so you get to see the sunshine on Shazam's face, hair, and cape while the wind machine is cranked up.

The boys take refuge in an old van in a junk yard, and dang if there wasn't a giant claw crane angling to pick up the van. It does, and the boys yell. The Captain hears it and, with his super strength, pulls the van back down, allowing the boys to escape.

Now, it's lecture time.

The Moral of the Story

Look, I was the target audience. I was supposed to know right from wrong. I had great parents, but what about those kids that didn't. Well, the episode ends in two ways. One, Shazam singles out Chuck for his courage in saying no. Even the other three admit that. When the lead troublemaker asks if they're going to jail, Shazam doesn't have an answer. It's up to the juvenile authorities. Have to admit: love that. There's no getting out of jail free card here.

After the commercial break, Shazam is there and Bostwick gives the moral of the story: it's really hard to do the right thing, especially if other people--or your friends--start calling you names. The producers knew their audience and, perhaps encouraged by law, made sure to drive home the message. Cheesy? Perhaps, but not necessarily bad. Cartoons and kids' programming is one way to teach young people about life, and if they listen to Captain Marvel instead of their parents and stay out of trouble, then we're all good.


I have good memories of this show, including the time when it was paired with Isis for a full hour of live-action superhero goodness. Come to think of it, CBS also aired the Tarzan cartoon and, later, the Adventure Hour with Zorro and the Lone Ranger. The network had a good amount of action cartoons. Makes me wonder if I was primarily a Channel 11 guy (the Houston affiliate) on Saturday mornings.

I thoroughly enjoyed re-watching this episode and going back to that simpler time. As I mentioned when I reviewed the movie serial, I hold degrees in history, so I'm always fascinated to research something, especially something I experienced and see it from a difference perspective. I'll certainly watch more episodes of the Shazam TV show.

No comments: