Not going to be looking at pilots per se this time… but a couple of TV specials that could be considered pilots although they really were just one-off TV specials.
It’s my column so shut up, I can make it about what I want. (I just let you think that – editor)
We all read the comics. I don’t mean Captain America or Superman but the comic strips… like in the daily paper; or to you youts (not a typo) those funny little still frame cartoons you see passed around on Facebook by old people.
It may come as a surprise that in the 70’s and 80’s it was not uncommon for comic strips to be made into one shot TV specials (usually holiday related). Lets look at a few I am sure many of you either forgot existed or simply can’t believe exist still.
Doonesbury is a highly political and satirical strip that routinely attacks the social ills of America from a very liberal perspective. Beginning in 1970 writer/artist Garry Trudeau stuck his finger in the eye of everyone he could with his brash and biting view of what is wrong with America.
Taking the perspective of a bunch of hippies living at a commune the strip bred controversy constantly. So of course in 1977 NBC made it into an animated TV special.
To start off this is a VERY 1977 special. If you are unfamiliar with the politics of the era or the pop culture of the late 70’s you will not find any humor here at all. In fact you most likely won’t find any humor here regardless. This is a valiant shot taken at the mundanity that most comic strips brought to animation fall into but frankly it’s dull, self indulgent and most of all preachy as hell.
Also if you are unfamiliar with the comic strip or the characters from this particular time period you will be completely lost as there are no introductions… it’s assumed that you already know who is who and what their relationships are.
For instance they cut (TWICE) to the Jimmy Thudpucker band and feature full songs. These are characters from the strip and you are given absolutely zero context as to what the hell is going on. I mean they randomly break into horrid folk rock songs I am not entirely sure are meant as a joke or are earnest. The BD character is wearing a football helmet at all times is never explained… it just is something you are meant to already know from the strip.
This special is a time capsule of booshua arrogant hippy bullshit. Preaching to the world about how everything everyone else does is wrong but 5 hippies living in a commune are the only ones that can see the truth.
I will admit though that for a 1977 TV special airing in Prime Time this was far more dangerous than I remembered.
References to group sex, explicit pot jokes, US aggression into Indo China, homosexuality, women’s rights, racial discrimination and even a racial slur to “gooks” in Nam. Another example of how you could do so much more on 70’s television than you ever could today.
Also the voice acting is bizarre, clearly not professional actors and just friends of Trudeau. It takes some getting used to.
I love the Doonesbury comic strip but this thing misses so hard.
Plus it’s missing the best character… Uncle Duke rules.
The Far Side is one of those comic strips that those younger among us may have only heard about… but it was mainly one panel cartoons with a more literate skew, jokes that you had to think about. Knowing classic literature and film really helped.
Created by Gary Larson in 1980, The Far Side became one of the most popular comic strips in the world by the early 1990’s.
Well in 1994 CBS decided they would give Larson a TV special.
Not strictly a Halloween special (although aired as such) Tales From The Far Side is full of surreal humor and gags that you may not get at first. Larson liked to force you to give thought to the humor.
Many of his most famous cartoons are recreated here with additions. Being a series of (seemingly) random gags the special is connected by having a large portion of the single jokes springboard directly into the next one giving it all an odd sense of uniformity.
Some honestly dark humor too (the scene where an obviously dead arm is hanging out of a window with the bird in the background saying “Is this loaded? Is this loaded” for example). There are a tons of jokes about death and dying violently so I can see why this was aired for Halloween.
A very macabre special and I love it for that very reason.
Released on home video in an altered version from what aired. Some of the changes are adding scenes, some are deleting scenes.
The weird thing is that this is a special consisting of mainly visual gags with VERY little dialog so you need to WATCH it and not just have it on the background.
The special was a ratings success and won more than a few awards so in 1997 a sequel was made… and never broadcast in the US.
Tales From The Far Side II (or More Tales From The Far Side as the VHS would call it) aired overseas but we only got it on VHS.
It’s more of the same as the first one really, less focus on death though still dark for an animated special. Just as good.
Since we just passed Thanksgiving lets look at another comic strip TV special… B.C. The First Thanksgiving.
Man this is a fucking disaster.
Okay first this has fuck all to do with Thanksgiving.
There is a thing about catching a Turkey to eat but it’s a minor subplot… no actually there is NO plot to this thing so it’s just something that happens to take place for a few minutes.
The B.C. strip was created by Johnny Hart in 1958 and is still running today (Hard died in 2007 though). It’s about caveman days and making bad unfunny puns about day to day life in America. The strip itself it just bland, you read it and don’t laugh and then you move on with your life.
Someone at NBC decided in 1973 to allow it to be a “Thanksgiving” special. Ugh.
First off the animation is not bad, approximating the style of the strip at this point in time but wow… there is nothing here. NOTHING. It’s a 25 minute special with 7 minutes of content. Seriously there are so many long stretches where NOTHING happens and when something does it does so at the slowest pace possible.
An example is that one of the first things that happens is that BC burns himself upon discovering fire… and stands there for a full 10 seconds just looking at the camera and then screams. He proceeds to burn himself again… and this time waits 12 seconds to scream.
This is the very definition of PADDING. The entire thing is like this. If you took out the obvious padding this would be a 10 minute show.
Then you have the odd as hell voice acting.
They have zero consistency in vocal choices. B.C. begins the special speaking like Jack Benny for NO REASON AT ALL… then has his normal voice… then speaks like Bogart then normal then Jack Benny again. Also it’s clear it’s DIFFERENT voice actors doing each “impersonation”.
Speaking of that… wow, the voices here are all by actual actors but not by VOICE actors. This makes the dialog very stilted and awkward.
As stated previously this has fuck all to do with Thanksgiving but the most jarring aspect of it is the Christian prayer given over the last few minutes. Doesn’t the B.C. in B.C. stand for BEFORE CHRIST?
I have a head ache. I’m going to lay down now. Next time I will look at some comic strip Christmas specials… oh god including another B.C. one.