Apr 17, 2015

Totalitarian Television: Underdog and Friends

When I was a kid, all of the grown-up men I knew worked in the great smoking factory that my Dad called "the goddam hellhole."  And all of the grown-up women were their wives, cooking and cleaning and raising their kids in the small square houses that stretched out to infinity in all directions.  Everyone assumed that this was my destiny, too.  When I grew up, I would spend every day in the goddam hellhole, and come home every night dog-tired and cursing to my small square house, where my wife and kids would be waiting.  

Most of the tv programs I watched offered an escape: Gilligan and the Skipper didn't work in a goddam hellhole, they were sailors, and Robbie Douglas' Dad and Uncle Charlie lived happily together without wives.  But if I got up too early on Saturday morning, or dared to watch tv on Sunday, a series of badly animated cartoons pushed obedience to Big Brother:

Tooter Turtle longs to escape his dreary pond in the woods, so he asks Mr. Wizard to hook him up with a new job: firefighter, lumberjack, pilot, astronaut, college student.  Catastrophe strikes, and Mr. Wizard returns him to reality with his chant: "Twizzle, twozzle, twozzle, twome, time for this one to come home."









Tennessee Tuxedo, a penguin voiced by Don Adams of Get Smart, thinks he is just as good as any human, so he and his friend Chumley get jobs as weathermen or movie producers, or start a rock band.  Catastrophe strikes.  Inevitably.  The theme song tells us: "He will fail, as he vies for fame and glory."  (Later it was changed to the less depressing "he may fail").

The message was clear: don't dream, don't aspire.  Conform.  No escape is possible.



Commander McBragg, a retired British army officer, told an unwilling visitor about his adventures in India, Africa, China.  But was he telling the truth, or making it all up?

At least they didn't have wives.  But the superhero Underdog (voiced by Wally Cox)  had a girlfriend, Sweet Polly Purebread.  And his alter ego wasn't a cool journalist, like Clark Kent, or a millionaire, like Bruce Wayne -- he was a shoe shine boy!

The cartoons were produced by Total Television.  Some originally appeared on King Leonardo and His Short Subjects (1960), and some on Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales (1963) or Underdog (1964), but by the time I was watching, they were relegated to the ghetto of early Saturday or Sunday mornings.

At least they were better than Rocky and Bullwinkle.