Curse your demonic charisma, Charlie! Danger loving girls Hope and Joann cannot resist it, nor can they the illicit thrill of hitching rides. Charlie and his buddy give the two friends the ride of a lifetime involving a high-speed police chase and a disaster narrowly avoided thanks to Isis's magical powers of molecular whammy-ma-doodling and time reversal. This also leads to a sore time for Rick Mason as the horse he was riding bolts and injures his posterior region, but just when you think everyone's learned a lesson in responsible travel, Hope goes for another spin with Charlie instead of sensibly taking the city bus to the class picnic with Joann. This time there's a speeding train involved.
The first few minutes of "The Hitchhiker" (September 18, 1976) are the most exciting of any Isis episode yet. It starts like an Afterschool Special about rebellious teens, shows Charlie already in trouble with the law (he brazenly rips up a traffic ticket just moments after getting it) then goes into the chase sequence and still manages to put both Andrea Thomas and Rick Mason on horseback. It features the most amazing special effect yet attempted by the Isis crew-- the goddess uses her magic to make Charlie's speeding car pass completely through a huge earth-moving machine (I initially identified it as a road grader, but I'm not so sure what it is other than it's huge and yellow like the best Tonka toy ever created) blocking the highway-- and their momentum sends the kids hurtling off a cliff. Also their car.
A simple film-reversal brings them back but it's so intense and action-packed you're left wondering if you're watching The Secrets of Isis or The Streets of San Francisco. Cereal bowls probably spilled across the US the morning this originally aired.
It's hard not to see the whole hitchhiking plot as a metaphor for sexual awakening or experimentation. Charlie, despite his unfortunate hair, is a happening young guy known as a "good driver," and cars have always been linked with sexuality (at least in urban legends and Beach Boys songs). The initial encounter is like a make-out session at a party gone a bit too far, with Isis as the adult authority figure who steps in-- much like a timely chaperone-- to prevent complete disaster. Joann gets the message, but Hope has tasted the wild life and wants more. Later, she takes another ride with the dangerous Charlie but when he goes a bit too fast, Hope wants to back down. Charlie tells her he thought she was going to be "fun," but things almost turn tragic when his junky car-- condom with a hole in it?-- stalls on the railroad tracks in front of the speeding train of impending teen pregnancy. Driving home the point is the rift between the two girlfriends. When one of a matched pair begins dating, the other person is often marginalized. Even Rick Mason notices and comments on it, and he's dealing with a sore bum at the time.
This is yet another Isis with a high-powered guest star. Barry Miller plays Charlie with gusto and provides such energy the episode tends to flatten when he's not around. He later went on to co-star as the doomed Bobby C. in the John Travolta disco epic Saturday Night Fever, where his character dealt with teen pregnancy in a literal rather than metaphorical way. And badly, at that. He would also win a Tony for his portrayal of Arnold Epstein in the Broadway version of the Neil Simon play Biloxi Blues. But I'm certain he has his Isis role in bold on his actor's resume and probably spotlights a few clips on his personal career highlight reel.
Here's where things get crazy, though-- and you might want to sit down for this next bit. Miller also appeared twice on Isis's sibling show Shazam. Incredibly, after that, Miller also managed a guest spot on The New Adventures of Wonder Woman. All he needed was an Electra Woman and Dyna Girl role and he would have made history. But I suppose winning a Tony is still pretty good.
Ronalda Douglas explores Cindy Lee territory in this episode. With her Dorothy Hamill bob and chirpy voice, she's a similarly positive presence. Strangely, though, while we learned nothing at all of Cindy Lee's home life, the producers give Douglas a lengthy and surprisingly funny exchange with Brian Cutler where it's revealed Rennie Carol has two car-crazy brothers and knows quite a bit about autos herself. She provides the Cindy Lee voice of caution to Hope at one point, but the character comes across as every bit as cheerful as but a little less naive than Cindy. I really liked that aspect of Joanna Pang's performance-- and with her eagerness to participate in academics, I imagine Cindy Lee as either an only child or else the oldest in a competitive yet sheltered middle class household. Douglas's Rennie Carol more than likely shares a similar background, albeit as the youngest in her family. I can't help wondering if we'll meet those brothers in a later episode.
Notes-- This is the second episode in a row we find Joanna Cameron and Brian Cutler on horseback, and the second in which we get a shot of Cutler riding hell-bent for leather. Could the producers afford a stunt person, or did Cutler handle it all himself? It's hard to tell in the long shot of Mason on his runaway ride.
The photography seems a bit murky at times, too. Looks like they shot some of the scenes on a rare overcast day in sunny California. This gives the early going a kind of low-rent moodiness and there's so much going on I couldn't help but think of some old MST3K flicks like Teenagers from Outer Space or the immortal Teenage Strangler. The sound quality is also suspect, with the mix erring on the upper range, so the dialogue comes across as overly shrill at times. Of course a lot of this is due to this material being nearly forty years old. Who's going to spend the money to re-master old episodes of Isis and bring them up to current audio-visual standards?
That's not a rhetorical question. I want to know who will volunteer to do humanity this service.