Monday, November 12, 2012

The Secrets of Isis Episode 12: "Funny Gal"

Every school has a clown.  I don't mean the grease-painted kind.  I mean the class clown.  I imagine even North Korean high schools have classroom comedians who can tell some mean greedy, imperialistic American jokes and have their the other students rolling on the floor with laughter.  Larkspur High's resident jokester is Carrie Anson, but most of hers are directed towards herself.  The comedic impulse often springs from self-loathing, as a kind of coping mechanism.  So it is with Carrie.

Carrie has body issues and chooses to express her feelings by making everything a goof, a lark.  Everyone's friend Cindy Lee tries to help Carrie by suggesting she run for student body president.  Andrea Thomas and Rick Mason think that's a splendid idea, and talk Carrie's friend Greg into nominating her and running her campaign.  Things get a little out of hand when Carrie overhears part of a conversation where Greg makes disparaging remarks about her (he's actually voicing the secret message Carrie sends with every joke) and it drives her into a shame spiral that culminates in a bizarre and dangerous publicity stunt-- Carrie steals Mr. Mason's prized motor boat.  With a storm coming, Isis is going to need help from none other than Captain Marvel himself to save the wayward girl and convince her she has value to everyone.

Yes, it's "Funny Gal"  (November 22, 1975), with a special guest appearance by John Davey, the second Captain Marvel of Isis's sibling show Shazam!, who just happens to be cleaning up the road-- literally; he moves a large fallen tree out of the right-of-way-- near Larkspur.  After that, it's just a short flight to where Isis is battling the elements with her magic.  I'm not sure why a simple thunderstorm is beyond Isis's capabilities, since she's previous displayed power over time itself, but anything that gets two costumed heroes working side-by-side gets my vote as a successful episode.  And besides this week's problem student herself, everyone seems to get some humorous lines this time out in what-- by mild-mannered Isis standards-- is a pretty witty script.

Sandra Vacey's Carrie is less funny gal than playfully melodramatic gal, given to theatrical pronouncements.  She also owns a megaphone and a junker of a car.  She uses both to try to organize a fast-food caravan, but her brakes go out leading to the first Isis rescue of the show.  Isis tries to convince the girl there are more important things than having a svelte body so boys will like her.  That's easy for Isis to say.  Not only is she a goddess, but she's lean and muscular like a 1970s tennis pro.  But this episode has one of the show's better lessons-- you have to learn to love yourself no matter how hammered by media presentations of beauty standards hammer you.  Look for your own talents and develop them, and don't try to hide who you really are.

Body concerns continue to plague young women even today, which suggests what progress we've made since 1975 hasn't been enough.  Unfortunately, the episode's message gets a little garbled during the boat theft stunt.  Carrie comes to realize her self-worth only because superheroes are willing to rescue her and it's a turnaround that comes a little too quickly for believability's sake.  I'm left wondering if Carrie really learned her lesson or if she was merely trying to dodge the blame for grand larceny.  I suppose Rick Mason is too nice a guy to press charges, but he really could have made Carrie's life a worse hell than she's already convinced it is.

Speaking of hells, my old high school was a vicious place but at least my time there fell chronologically between when Isis aired and when kids starting shooting each other.  We were pretty rotten, though.  Larkspur High must be the most pleasant high school in the nation, if not the universe.  While students can be hard on outsiders like Wayne Moss, the only person who picks on Carrie is herself, at least as far as we're shown.  She seems to be fairly well-liked.  Of course not all personal problems are external in origin.  Sometimes the vulnerable among us convince themselves of the worst things with no help from bullies or even the merely insensitive.  Still, Carrie's lucky to have friends like Greg and Cindy Lee, plus caring teachers like Mason and Thomas.  I can see her turning more and more to the performing arts, maybe joining an improv comedy class and working her way up through the show-biz ranks.  Imagine a world where Carrie Anson, after a few successful appearances on The Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman ends up headlining her own ABC sitcom a la Roseanne.

It would probably turn into a real bummer like Grace Under Fire starring Brett Butler, so maybe that's not such a good thing after all.  How about a short stint as a writer-performer on Saturday Night Live, then a collaboration with Ben Stiller on his old sketch comedy show?  Maybe she'd be doing something critically acclaimed but little-watched on NBC.  Better?


Notes--  Appropriate, I suppose, for the first episode since "Fool's Dare" to deal with the problems of a female student, "Funny Gal" mines some mild humor out of Rick Mason's mild mannered mid-1970s male chauvinism.  Thomas and Cindy invite him to a picnic lunch, so he decides to mooch rather than bring his own spread.  He manages to guilt them into giving him some of Thomas's famous fried chicken and one of Cindy's deviled egg sandwiches.

"You know something, Mr. Mason," Cindy opines, "I think you ought to get married."

"I'm going to," Mason replies soberly.

Thomas looks at him in surprise.  "You are?  When?"

"As soon as I find someone who looks like Isis," Mason tells her.  His eyes dart playfully to Cindy as if to tell her a joke is in the offing.  And here it is:  "And cooks like you."

"If that's your attitude towards women, you're going to end up a very old and hungry bachelor," Thomas says, smirking ever so slightly.

He's also apparently tricked the two into cleaning his boat for him (multiple times!), so he's kind of a con artist, too.  I know it's just a way for the episode to establish Mason has a boat-- you know, in order for Carrie to steal it later without having to create a whole new boat-owning character-- but how's he able to afford a boat on a teacher's salary?  Something odd is going on.  Probably not as odd as his love for meaty pizza pies with strawberry jam among the toppings, though.  Week by week we unpeel Rick Mason like an onion and discover new layers to his personality, while lead character Andrea Thomas remains largely a mystery.  Perhaps she simply has no hidden quirks.  Self-actualized, that's what she is.

Cindy Lee breaks out of the overalls and busts her hump down at the marina while wearing that patchwork culottes outfit she last wore in episode 6, "Lucky." Must be her tropical/resort wear.  Or maybe the overalls were in the wash.  Isis knows they could stand a vacation!

There's a slick little flying effect where Isis soars past the high school on her way to save Carrie.  They must have suspended Joanna Cameron somehow.  I'm not sure how secure the flying rig was, but Carmeron wears that confident Isis expression on her face, so either it was pretty safe or she deserved an Emmy award.  She then uses her magic powers to flip Carrie's out-of-control car around (without using a rhyming couplet-- maybe the scripters misplaced their rhyming dictionaries).  They use a simple film edit, but the shot also involves a super-imposed Isis in the foreground.  Along with boat rental and whatever equipment they used for the scene where Captain Marvel physically tows the boat to safety this must have been one of the more expensive episodes to date.

I like that Captain Marvel actor Davey (he later played a ton of roles in both The Rockford Files and Barnaby Jones, two shows I used to love back in those days) doesn't try to deepen his voice to sound more heroic, but he doesn't have a lot of vocal presence.  Seems kind of like the beefy guy next door, who just happens to enjoy cavorting in red tights and a white cape for a little post-office stress relief.  Nice dive, though!

Sandra Vacey's last credit is for the disastrous heist film Every Girl Should Have One where she appeared with John LaZar (formerly the bizarre Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell of "This is my happening and it freaks me out!" Beyond the Valley of the Dolls infamy and later the villain of Deathstalker II) and Zsa Zsa Gabor.  She's just fine in this episode, so it's surprising she didn't keep at it.  On the other hand, how can you top performing with John Lazar and Zsa Zsa Gabor?  Better to call it quits.

One little slip-up.  The opening scene apparently takes place in the late afternoon, as evidenced by the long shadows and golden light, but a few moments later as Carrie's car goes out of control, the shadows are all short and directly beneath objects indicating a shooting time closer to noon.  Boy,  I really hope someone got fired for that blunder!

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