Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Secrets of Isis Episode 22: "...And Now You Don't"

The miscreants who stole the "trigger mechanism" of Rick Mason's fabulous weather-making contraption are still at large, but that doesn't stop his colleague Andrea Thomas and their four sleuthing student friends (that's Rennie Carol, C.J., Ranji and Feather to you and me, Russ) from celebrating Mason's release from jail.  While the villains fiddle-fart around meteorologically and create thunder and lightning from a clear blue sky, the good people of Larkspur High poke gentle fun at Mason's recent predicament by baking him a chocolate cake full of jail-break accessories like a metal file and a shiv made from a melted Styrofoam cup and a toothbrush handle.  After all, what are friends for if not to help you bust out of the calaboose when you've been falsely accused of theft and espionage?

Just kidding about the shiv, by the way.

And so we come to the grand finale of The Secrets of Isis, "...And Now You Don't" (aired October 23, 1976), part two of a thrilling story which has already seen Mason arrested for a crime he didn't commit, a music-and-magic performance, four students risk life, limb and their own freedom to help, a kick-ass custom van, Isis calling Captain Marvel for help and a trio of crooks make off with a most dangerous device.  You couldn't ask for a more exciting way to bring a series to a close, and yet it also makes you wish they'd gone for a third season.

Which, I suppose, was the whole idea behind this sudden change in direction.  From gentle personal dramas punctuated with jeopardy to gentle crime drama punctuated with jeopardy.

This is an action-packed thirty minutes.  When the kids foolishly try to scam the thieves and capture them, but thanks to some clumsiness clambering around inside a warehouse, Feather and Ranji end up trapped inside some kind of holding pen with everything electrified (some nice animated lightning bolts complete the effect). C.J. kung fu kicks his way into the warehouse, but it takes Isis to effect the rescue; someone at Filmation must have remembered it was her show after all.  All Isis has to do is pass through the warehouse roof's molecules then whip up a rhyming spell that affects electricity and all is well.  Kind of.

Now that the true mastermind has been revealed as Mason's scientific rival, the Professor, helpful federal agents decide the kids' harebrained decoy idea isn't so harebrained after all and adapt it for themselves, using Mason as the bait.  The bad guys quickly kidnap Ranji and Mason at gunpoint, forcing them to their doom in Ranji's sweet ride.  What a way to go!

But Isis and Captain Marvel are flying in hot pursuit.  When the Professor tries to make his escape in a convenient helicopter, Mason bravely leaps into the passenger's seat.  Captain Marvel uses his fabulous strength to ground the whirlybird as C.J. engages the villains in combat.  Finally, Isis duplicates herself multiple times to trap them and it's back to the amphitheater where Ranji and Rennie admonish us to believe in magic.  A stunned Mason can't get over Isis's last trick, but Thomas pretends he must have imagined the whole thing.  Finally, she turns to us, the viewers, winks and offers her last piece of teacherly advice, "You gotta believe."

And with that, The Secrets of Isis becomes part of television history.  You couldn't ask for a better way for Isis to end, unless said way featured Cindy Lee riding to the rescue on the back of a couple of crocodiles while blowing a trumpet.

NOTES:  Wow!  A helicopter!  The fine people at Filmation went all out for the last episode of Isis, didn't they?  It's not some futuristic prototype or anything sexy like that, but I doubt rental fees, insurance and fuel didn't come cheap for this baby even in relative Isis terms.  This is the Isis equivalent of hiring Marlon Brando to play Superman's dad or Jack Nicholson as the Joker.  Only the helicopter weighs approximately 600 pounds less than mid-70s Brando.

We've touched on Joanna Cameron's acting skills just a bit during this marathon blog event but we haven't really done her justice.  In each episode, Cameron provides poise, grace, a child-friendly gravitas and just a touch of self-awareness to keep from appearing silly.  The acting in Isis varies from summer stock quality at times up all the way up to confident, slick professionalism, and Cameron holds her own at the center of Isis and contributes the most to its believability, at least to its intended audience.  Plus, she looks fantastic in the Isis costume.

It's fun to deconstruct things in an absurdist way, but Cameron consistently pulls Isis out of the realm of slick camp like the Sid and Marty Krofft oeuvre.  Probably renders it slightly boring in a way to people who love to snark and snipe, but I can appreciate the show's sincerity, and Cameron's.  Instead of psemi-psychedelic weirdness, Isis gifts viewers with some mild excitement that calls to mind the best of ABC's Afternoon Specials rather than splashier fare like Electra Woman and Dyna Girl-- except for this episode, which plays out like an extremely low budget Bionic Woman series entry.  While she's overshadowed a little in this two-parter by the Rick Mason-centric plot, the introduction of the sleuthing teen team and a guest appearance by Captain Marvel, Cameron gets to sign off on Isis knowing she never phoned it in, put her tongue too far in her cheek or sacrificed her dignity while entertaining impressionable young kids (and possibly their older siblings).  A job well done!

That's not to belittle the supporting work by Brian Cutler and Ronalda Douglas.  Cutler grounds each episode with his low-key, minimalistic approach and geniality, while Douglas adds perkiness.  We learn quite a lot about Cutler's Mason, but we're only just getting to know Douglas's Rennie Carol so the abrupt series end registers as even more disappointing.  While I had a lot more fun with Cindy Lee, she became more a Greek chorus over the course of the first season and less a participant, her job to introduce Thomas to the student of the week then bow out until required for a reaction shot or some exposition.  Rennie seems to get her hands dirtier, and offers a lot more personal info along the way in her shorter stint.  Mason remains the ideal Steve Trevor-esque sidekick to Isis.

The show really missed an opportunity by not having Joanna Pang reprise her role as Cindy Lee sometime during this season.  It would have been a lot of fun to see both her and Rennie Carol on the case together, or eating sandwiches on the lawn at Larkspur High while talking about how great Ms. Thomas is and comparing notes on Isis sightings.

Evan C. Kim busts out his Bruce Lee impression here, using the Dragon's patented high-pitched growls and yowls as he super-kicks his way into the warehouse where Feather and Ranji are about to be fried by lightning bolts.  I'm not sure what good Shao-lin kung fu is against electricity, but when your friends are in trouble, you'll try anything.  Kim would later put his Lee sounds-n-moves to work in the longest, most elaborate segment of 1977's Kentucky Fried Movie.  I'm generally in favor of any call-back-- comedic or otherwise-- to Bruce Lee, one of my personal heroes.

Ranji pulls out the stops for the show's musical climax, a reprise of the "You Gotta Believe" song we saw him rehearsing with Rennie Carol in the previous episode.  Not a microphone in sight, but he and Rennie fill that amphitheater with sound.  It reminds me of some of one of those chorus performances you'd see at amusements parks like Six Flags Over Georgia when your poor, exhausted parents wanted to get out of the sun.  You know, at the Crystal Pistol Palace.  Yeah, I hated those, too.

Ranji and Rennie Carol team up for a cute scene where he uses her in a levitation trick.  You know Rennie isn't really afraid, but she whimpers to comic effect.

Two signs this show was shot in the mid-1970s-- Mason drives a VW Thing he's equipped with a CB radio.  Thomas marvels at his high-tech device, and it comes in handy, too, when the kids pull their first boneheaded stunt.

The Professor eats an apple while discussing schemes with his minions.  Well, minions is glamorizing them a bit.  They're more like hirelings.  Is the apple symbolic of the Professor's knowledge of evil?  I'm probably reading too much into it.  He's just a guy who digs apples.  Paul Hampton, the guy who plays him, wrote songs for the likes of Elvis Presley, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Bette Midler.  Nobody major, but maybe you've heard of them.

And once again Captain Marvel puts his lonely life on display, this time just hanging out in the desert without even boulders or fallen trees as an excuse.  Maybe the guy just likes to get out there, breathe some fresh desert air and think.  Think about the poor life choices that turned him into the kind of guy who likes to wander the deserts alone while wearing a superhero costume.  The helicopter capture at the end is pretty spectacular a stunt not only by Isis standards but even by Steve "The Six Million Dollar Man" Austin standards.  Let's see Lee Majors fly and drag a helicopter out of the sky.  It's accomplished partially with a process shot with Marvel slightly out of scale and then with an altogether believable physical performance by John Davey as he mimes straining against the heavy aircraft while Brian Cutler watches from the passenger's seat.

For the second episode in a row, someone throws his or her voice.  This time it's Isis, calling to her superheroic colleague.

Isis's final trick is pretty neat, too.  Mason regales a doubting Thomas (I'm clever!) with a story of twelve Isises (Ises?), but count them for yourself.  He's off by seven, giving Mason a tendency towards exaggeration or at least over-excitement.  There's a sweet moment when Isis turns and smartly declares, "And that, Ranji, is how I do it."  Nice way of taking back some of the spotlight that's rightly hers.

You gotta believe!


Richard Bensam said...

I'll miss these reviews. I hope you've got something in mind to take their place?

Adding in an SF gadget and a guest appearance by Captain Marvel is as close to a "jumping the shark" moment as one would expect from the series ending. But if they were going to break out of the format, instead of going for a Rick Mason-centric plot one might wish they'd done something based around the virtually unexplored backstory of Isis. Couldn't some old archaeologist former colleague of Andrea Thomas have found the magic staff of Isis' ancient foe and unwittingly brought him into the present day, or something? I'm just saying.

Joel Bryan said...

Thanks, Richard! I'm pretty sure these reviews were slightly more popular than leprosy, so it's nice someone liked them.

Yeah, I agree with you about pretty much everything you wrote there. While these episodes-- really one big episode-- were the most exciting of the entire series, the relative lack of Isis-centrism was kind of odd. They probably should have done something with her backstory. It's amusing we're told to believe, but it seems Filmation wasn't quite convinced themselves.