Monday, September 24, 2012

The Secrets of Isis episode 3: "Fool's Dare"

Who is the greater fool, the fool or the fool who follows him?  Cindy Lee tries to find out in this turbulent episode of Isis.  It's "Fool's Dare," which first aired Saturday, September 20, 1975.  Car theft runs rampant and it's got the Larkspur High School faculty worried.  Not far from the school, Cindy handily (or foot-ily) defeats two friends in a bike race.  The sore loser dares her to spend one hour in an abandoned junk yard.  Her pride wounded, Cindy hops the fence.  Right into danger.  Can Isis rescue the injured girl from a couple of (tepidly) desperate characters?

This otherwise adequate episode could have been improved with one simple addition.  The bike race!  We only get to see its aftermath.  While Cindy's adventure behind the junkyard wall provides child-appropriate suspense, there are just too many shots of the girl limping around and between old wrecked cars.  Opening with even a short action sequence with quick-cuts of the kids speeding along on their bikes would have provided a better visual hook to lead viewers into the talky first half and they could have cut the fat down to the real meat of the junkyard sequence.

We do get some Isis staples.  Teacher Andrea Thomas as a natural-born sleuth, Rick Mason's low-key sense of humor, Dr. Barnes's calm wisdom and Tut providing forced comedic relief.  Tut the talking crow is one of the few pandering elements here, an out-of-place touch of Saturday morning juvenilia on a show that generally avoids it.  I mean, avoids it as much as a children's show can with its main conceit a crime-fighting Egyptian goddess who works magic through rhyming couplets.

And Cindy.  Perpetually chipper.  Sunny.  The girl is so positive and trusting, so confident in the people around her and their motives, she's completely caught off guard when embittered loser Ernie first accuses her of cheating.  "I didn't cut you off," she insists, laughing innocently because she has no way of judging his wounded ego or how far he'll go to salve it.  She's backed up by boy #2, who seems squirmily uncomfortable about the whole thing, and cheerfully tells Ernie, "It's just a bike race.  It's not important!"

Not to you, Cindy.  You have your sincerity and self-esteem.  Others aren't so lucky or secure in themselves.  Like Ernie, who issues his petulant challenge.  He must have felt emasculated by his loss because he first employs the gender superiority stratagem.  Cindy knows girls are every bit as capable and curious as boys.  She's stung by Ernie's foolish assertions, but not fatally.  Undaunted, Ernie goes with that tried and true favorite:  threatening Cindy with the "chicken" label.  This, Cindy finally decides, is completely unacceptable.  Plus, for our own selfish entertainment needs we must have her in jeopardy so we can call in Isis and solve the car thefts.  Cindy can't do it all by herself, but she can spy on the crooks as they paint Ms. Thomas's car yellow.

The show's view of crime and criminals is a signifier of both a simpler time and its target demographic of Saturday morning kids.  When they realize Cindy's spotted them, the two car thieves' inclination is to run away before she can call the cops.  Actually, that's a pretty smart idea as far as criminality goes.  In our darker time or on a more adult-oriented show (or a hypothetical gritty hardnosed comic book reboot), they'd grab her and either beat her or kill her.  They'd at least threaten her with injury or death.  But then they'd go from theft to violent crime and more serious penalties.  Smarter to cut your losses.  After all, this is Isis, not The Dark Knight Returns.  All it takes is our hero tossing quips, old tennis nets and tires to put an end to car thievery forever.

Notice too how Ernie realizes on his own the disservice he's done Cindy and comes back to put things right. Without a prompting from Isis he apologizes.  Cindy, being infinitely kind-hearted, instantly forgives him.  "And I realize you're a better bike rider than I am," Ernie tells her.  "Some of the time," Cindy quips.  When Ernie admits he shouldn't have dared her, Cindy accepts her share of the blame for taking him up on it.  Ms. Thomas gently reinforces what the kids have learned for themselves, and the two boys help the injured girl walk away to get medical aid or ice creams or both.  The end of an Isis episode leaves its audience with positive vibes about just about everyone in the story.  Except the car thieves, and even they're apparently good at painting cars because the next time we see Ms. Thomas's car in the series, it's still yellow.

Makes you wonder if they shouldn't have just opened a legitimate paint and body shop.  If that's not an oxymoron in itself.

Speaking of cars, Ms. Thomas has a sweet ride, doesn't she?  It's a '74 or '75 Pontiac Firebird, baby!  No wonder these guys targeted it.  The car must have strained the show's meagre budget because they display not one but two of them-- the original in red and the re-painted yellow one.  It's impressive for Isis.  Did they rent two or actually find one in need of re-painting and work things out in trade?  Maybe it belonged to a crew-member or actor and the paint was in lieu of pay.  I'm not sure it was intentional, but giving the straitlaced science teacher a hot rod hints a bit at her dual nature.  Teacher and goddess.  And yet Ms. Thomas has her own skill set that should be appreciated-- she cracks the car theft ring using ordinary high school science equipment and strong observations skills.  Even Rick Mason scores on that one.

A couple of trivia points.  Joanna Pang slips up and refers to her teacher as "Miss Andrea" while spying on the thieves.  We can probably forgive her because Cindy seems to have the privilege of referring to her teachers by their first names.  And the two boys-- we never see them on the show again-- are played by Josh Albee and Jeff Tyler, a reunion because they earlier essayed Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in a 1973 TV adaptation of the Mark Twain classic Tom Sawyer.

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