Category Archives: TV

Saturday Morning Graveyard: “Rickety Rocket”

We spend a fair amount of time around here talking about the state of kids’ culture (it’s even in our logo!), which means we also spend a fair amount of time grousing about the ways it could be better. But because we are sensible people, and because we lived through a time when things were, generally speaking, kind of worse, we feel duty-bound to occasionally sift through the wreckage of our misspent youth and point out just how far we’ve come. In that spirit, we present Saturday Morning Graveyard, which takes a quick, disbelieving look back at some of the poorly animated hooey we were given as impressionable kids.

Rickety Rocket (1979-80)

Presented as part of the generally dreadful Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show, Rickety Rocket was a sort of animated perfect storm. It’s lamentably true that, Sesame Street excepted, children’s television did a lamentably poor job of depicting cultural diversity during the ’70s and ’80s — but that’s partly because it did a bad job of depicting rational human behavior in general, which is why, when Ruby-Spears Productions decided to add a little color to its lineup, they came up with an appalling blend of Scooby-Doo, Sanford and Son, and The Jetsons. Observe:

On the one hand, you can applaud the show for sending the message that in the future, inner-city kids will have learned how to cobble together junk left behind by fleeing whites from their decaying neighborhoods and turn it into a sentient rocket. On the other hand, said rocket is a pile of junk with big lips, and the kids are minstrel caricatures. So, you know, kind of a wash.

Troubling subtext aside, Rickety Rocket was basically your standard “junior detective” cartoon of the ’70s, which is to say it involved the protagonists (who called themselves — wait for it — the Far-Out Detective Agency) putting their wits together to defeat bad guys who were just a little more dim-witted than the heroes. Because it took place in the future, Rocket included lots of exotic elements, such as aliens and monsters like Count Draculon — basically it was Scooby-Doo without the masks coming off at the end. And big lips.

Rickety Rocket is hard to watch for a number of reasons, but I think it’s important to point out that I don’t think there was anything intentionally racist about the show; for one thing, I don’t know the story behind its development well enough to make that kind of accusation, and more importantly, as I said before, the cartoons of the era generally subsisted on broad stereotypes and idiotic behavior no matter who they were depicting. Still, it’s a perfect example of the kind of lazy thinking and cruddy animation that typified the Saturday mornings of our youth. Makes Dora the Explorer look pretty outstanding, doesn’t it?

Aquabats

“The Aquabats! Super Show!” Is Awful, Long Live “The Aquabats! Super Show!”

Aquabats

The Hub

I started writing about music for money in 1987, when I was a dumb eighth grader who thought it was the height of rock-crit iconoclasm to write wordy four-star reviews of records by artists like Toto and Bruce Willis. Fortunately, I had an editor who bought into this madness, but that isn’t the point — the point is that some of my earliest writing was published just as CDs were becoming popular, and I wrote a lot of stuff about how awful CDs were (including an editorial titled — wait for it — “Compact Discontent”), but when the calendar turned to 1988, I did own one solitary, single compact disc. It was an album called New Monkees, by a band called New Monkees, which was created in conjunction with a short-lived television series titled New Monkees.

I’m bringing this up now because the New Monkees have been on my mind ever since I forced myself to sit through the first episode of The Aquabats! Super Show!, a triumph of goofball entertainment whose low-budget idiocy reminded me, again and again, of the manic, candy-colored foolishness I’d rush to tune in for every Saturday afternoon during the New Monkees‘ fleeting 13-week syndicated run. I loved it, but I was a 13-year-old boy, and thus a moron. The show was terrible.

The Aquabats! Super Show! is awful in similar ways, although I suspect the braintrust behind the show is doing it on purpose, which makes me feel funny inside: The creative team includes Yo Gabba Gabba! showrunners (and serial exclamation point abusers) Christian Jacobs and Scott Schultz, whose fondness for low-budget aesthetics and silly humor is used to far greater, more innocent effect on the latter series. Aquabats! employs a superficially similar conceit, with cheap costumes, minimal sets, and Ritalin-fueled editing, but I detected a layer of gross, winking irony here that isn’t as obvious with Gabba!

As my friend Will Harris pointed out in his enthusiastic review for the AV Club, Aquabats! is a clear spiritual descendant of the sort of wacky live-action lunacy that flourished briefly on Saturday morning television during the ’70s. The difference — and I think it’s a crucial one — is that those folks were actively trying to do cool, cutting-edge stuff, whereas Jacobs and Schultz are having a retro laugh that rings hollow.

For me, anyway. But as I said before, I thought the New Monkees were awesome when I was 13, and I’m sure I’d think the same of The Aquabats! Super Show! if I were 13 now. I’m simply not the target audience for this stuff. I wish it were more honest, and less deliberately evocative of such a chintzy era, and I also can’t pretend to understand why [old man rant] everything has to be so garish and loud and spliced up with so many quick cuts [/old man rant]. But every generation needs its stupid jokes, and as these things go, Aquabats! is utterly harmless. You may want to make sure it’s airing in a separate room, but it’s harmless.

DVD review & giveaway: Elmo’s World: Elmo’s Favorite Things

la la la la, la la la la, Elmo's World

la la la la, la la la la, Elmo's World

Last week Elmo celebrated his birthday  and this week he is releasing a brand new DVD, Elmo’s World: Elmo’s Favorite Things. (out today, February 7th) The latest disc from the Sesame Workshop contains eight (8) episodes of Elmo’s World and features the DVD premiere of Elmo’s World Building Things.

As you would expect, the regular cast of characters are all here: Elmo, Mr. Noodle, his brother Mr. Noodle and their sister Miss Noodle. And of course, Dorothy his pet fish is also here. It’s a collection of episodes that normally air towards the end of every Sesame Street episode. At this stage in the game you know exactly what you’re going to get from an Elmo DVD. Whether it’s Elmo talking to children, Dorothy, Mr. Noodle or other Sesame Street monsters; your child will be entertained, educated and engaged, just like mine, from start to finish.

What exactly are some of Elmo’s favorite things? School, Birthdays, Pets, Games, Dinosaurs, the Beach, Building Things and Friends. Each episode provides a fantastic educational opportunity between parent and child. As my daughter is almost three, this DVD is right in her wheelhouse. She was mesmerized from beginning to end and was more than willing to give me a play-by-play of everything that was happening.

It should come as no surprise that Elmo’s World: Elmo’s Favorite Things would be another solid edition to your child’s DVD collection.

Bonus: We have a copy of the DVD to giveaway! How win it: Leave a comment on this post, share this post on Facebook or RT the @Dadnabbit Twitter account. We will pick a winner this Friday. Good luck!

Details: Approximately 135 minutes. It also includes a downloadable activity book which my daughter loved almost as much as the DVD.