Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Secrets of Isis Episode 15: "Dreams of Flight"

Chela Montoya dreams of flight.  She's made a neat little red glider that soars freely above Larkspur High the same way she dreams of doing.  Well, not so much above Larkspur High as above the earth itself as an astronaut.  She's quite the young aerodynamic engineer, but feels hindered by her brother Raoul, who thinks she's wasting her time.  Meanwhile, cocky Mark Dawson in his surplus army shirt with PFC chevrons on the sleeves wants everyone to know he's Larkspur's top gun, cockily declaring to a disapproving trio of Andrea Thomas, Rick Mason and Cindy Lee he plans to win the school's Aerodynamics Day.  "No lack of confidence in that boy," Thomas observes.  Then she's off to convince Raoul to let Chela enter the contest.

Raoul's struggling with a problem of his own.  He's supposed to paint a huge mural for the barrio, but he's got artist's block.  A quick talk with Thomas and then another more heartfelt one with Chela solves both her problems and his.  But that dastardly Mark just won't leave well enough alone.  Several foot chases ensue, a thrilling runaway truck misadventure with Raoul trapped in a trailer and then a tense moment where Mark, having stolen Chela's remote control airplane, finds himself hanging on for dear life above certain death with only Raoul to... WAIT!  HERE COMES ISIS!

"Dreams of Flight," which aired December 13, 1975, has a lot on its mind.  Too much.  It completely lacks focus, almost as if at some story conference the production team decided to combine two unrelated scripts about a bright young woman into airplanes and a talented artist intimidated by too large a canvas.  Maybe the first felt too slight and the second didn't present enough Isis action, so instead we get this mishmash.  It's heavy on the action, but that action is somewhat repetitive, with Raoul chasing Mark on foot not once but twice.  The first chase leads to one of the more exciting Isis rescues-- the goddess has to stop a runaway semi-truck because Raoul's gotten himself locked in the back-- but it feels kind of random.  Getting stuck in the trailer is bad enough, but then the sequence extends as the driverless truck careens down a mountain road (conveniently hugging the curves) until we've almost forgotten all about poor Chela.

I have to admit when the show established the Chela-Raoul conflict, I expected Raoul to be a macho ethnic stereotype.  Instead, he's a gentle artist who quickly sees reason and comes to understand he has to back his sister's dreams.  Even when Mark shows up and taunts him with a lot of racist insults and ignorance, Raoul takes it in stride.  He's too good natured to let this goon upset him with pure foolishness, but when Mark starts dicking around with Chela's plane, Raoul chases the coward away.  As played by Fabian Gregory, Raoul's one of the more pleasant characters on a show chock full of them.  Cynthia Avila as Chela ends up shortchanged as the show shifts its focus to the conflict between Raoul and Mark.  If only they'd allowed the story to climax at the Aeronautics Festival!

That's the episode's major flaw.  We expect Chela to prove her mettle by beating Mark fair and square in front of the entire student body, but instead we get trucks and rescues with Chala shunted aside.  She wins her victory without even being present and we never get to see her in direct competition with Mark or anyone else for that matter.  I feel like Milhouse whining, "When are they going to get to the fireworks factory?"  You just don't introduce a story element that huge and then refuse to deliver.  It's the story's natural climax and logical end game for Chela's character arc, not this footchase nonsense and Mark's accident and patently phony turnaround with its dubious message-- if only people of color could save each and every bigot from almost certain death, we'd live in a more progressive world.  I do like the denouement with Raoul's mural displaying elements of Chela's dreams, from a boy playing with a model, to Chela herself swinging in a tire, a winged Aztec warrior, a paper airplane, to a bold astronaut figure.  It's actually quite a lovely creation.

And there's ol' Mark, sitting in the bushes, all covered in multicolored splotches of paint.

After all these years having her character denied a real triumph is probably no big deal to Avila.  Her career continues to this day, and she's peachy in her few scenes, ably conveying the sweetness and smarts of a young woman with big dreams.  Gregory and Hinckley didn't fare as well professionally.  This was Gregory's last credit as far as I can determine, and Hickley disappeared after a one-episode appearance on The Krofft Supershow, which gave us Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, certainly more colorful but in all other aspects inferior to Isis as far as I'm concerned.  No, I don't really care about people entering puberty with the help of Deidre Hall, thank you very much.  Krofft nostalgia is very 1990s and way too easy, like hacky jokes about Shaggy and Scooby Doo smoking pot or Smurfs having sex with Smurfette.  Cindy Lee wouldn't listen to that kind of crap and I suggest you practice mental hygiene and do the same.

Where was I?  Oh yeah.  The guest actors on Isis.  Tom Williams, who has a quick scene as a helpful hobby shop owner, still does a lot of voice over work, most notably as a baby in approximately ten thousand TV shows and movies.  I guess that's his specialty.  He's also played cops and the like, which is probably to be expected of a tall middle-aged guy.  At least I hope he's still able to work.  He's in his eighties now, and his most recent credit was in 2006 as "Baby Ella" on the UPN sitcom Eve.  Guy's been in everything from Punk Brewster to The Torkelsons to Night Court to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Notes--  Larkspur High sure has a lot of science events.  They all seem to be fun as well as educational.  That's Andrea Thomas and Rick Mason for you-- the school was lucky when those two joined the faculty.  They're involved in the students' lives, knocking themselves out to make learning science enjoyable for everyone.  Any school would be thrilled to have two teachers like that!

Speaking of our teacher characters, I can't praise Joanna Cameron's performance as Thomas highly enough.  Whether she's encouraging Chela, verbally jousting with Mark, or giving Raoul a lesson in sibling support she's pitch-perfect in this episode.  Cameron easily could have headlined a prime-time TV show about a concerned and dedicated young teacher changing lives and boosting test scores even without the goddessy-superheroic trappings, and she still would have made it watchable.  There's never a sense of "Lord, I wish my career would take off and zephyr wind me out of here," just tons of charisma and complete commitment to making Thomas as believable as possible and Isis a dazzling role model.

Brian Cutler gives able support in his few scant scenes as well.

Sadly, we've come to the end of the Cindy Lee era.  She's not in this episode much, just at the beginning where she helps out with a little exposition and at the end declaring Raoul's painting to be "terrific!"  And wouldn't you know it-- she goes out the way she came in, wearing those baby blue overalls!  Sure, she starts the episode in a swinging blue miniskirt that Marcia Brady would kill to wear, but I can't think of a more fitting send-off for Cindy Lee than a last scene in those overalls.  Joanna Pang should have had them bronzed as a keepsake.  She might have if only she'd know this would be her final bow as Larkspur's perpetually cheerful factotum.

But don't worry, Isis fans.  We're going to keep on watching and commenting right through the Rennie Carol episodes.  I'm looking forward to them.  As I've noted before, I tuned into the second season of Isis only to feel let down by Cindy Lee's unexplained disappearance (that's still my only specific memory about watching this show).  I guess I just didn't like change.  Now I'm excited to figure out what Rennie Carol is all about.  Will she be as earnest and enthusiastic as Cindy Lee, or will she present a more low-key personality?  Whichever it is, she's definitely change the lead trio's chemistry.  And dietary habits.  No more deviled egg sandwiches for Rick Mason.

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