Sunday, January 8, 2012

New Zoo Revue (1972)

Note: We're moving TV Shows About Girls over to MAG for double the laffs and jiggle!

Directed by Tom Belcher
Starring A hot chick in a miniskirt, a dude in a mustache, a hippo, an owl, and a frog.
Genre: Kid's stuff


I used to really hate this show as a kid. Honestly, it was one of the worst parts of growing up in the 70's. Well, besides the poverty and domestic violence. It debuted in 1972 and ran on UHF channels really early in the morning, just after Romper Room, if I remember correctly. It was clearly geared towards toddlers and pre-teens, but even so, it still seemed like everyone involved was slightly retarded. Also, the hippy platitudes and gentle life-lessons were useless to most of us – seriously, the 70's were fucked, and even us kids had more to worry about than how to deal with grumpy asshole know-it-all owls, man. However, the show had one major hook that made it all worth it: a hot chick in a mini-skirt.

New Zoo Revue was created by real-life husband and wife team Doug Momary and Emily Peden. They also starred as Doug and Emmy Jo, respectively, on the show.

They lived in some Sid and Marty Krofft-ian wooded nightmare hellscape with giant puppet people, including the aforementioned douchebag owl, a brain-dead, googly-eyed frog named Freddy, and perhaps the most repellent kid TV character ever, a melodramatic, gluttonous lady hippo with a hick accent named Henrietta. Henrietta was like that one aunt you'd dread seeing every Christmas, the one who smelled like hairspray and medicine who tried to pass off hard candy as a snack. So all the loony muppets would run around causing chaos, and then Chuck Woolery – dressed up like an elderly mailman, for some reason – would deliver some letters, and then Doug and Emmy Jo would sing a folk song. Does this sound like fun to you? New Zoo Revue was like the dentist and bullies and brussel sprouts all rolled into one half-hour block of childhood misery. And they made TWO HUNDRED EPISODES.

But like I mentioned, Emmy Jo would usually wear mini-skirts, and even at six years old, I knew that was a treat. So I watched. Also please remember, there were literally five channels back then. It was either this, the Galloping Gourmet, some bullshit about President Ford, or the Dinah Shore show.  And Dinah never flashed any leg.

Anyway, a few years back, cheapo DVD company Brentwood released a six-DVD set of New Zoo Revue's first season (59 episodes!) so I thought I'd revisit the show 30-something years later to see if I'd like it any better. To be fair, I never made it past the pilot, so perhaps it got really fucking good twenty or thirty episodes deep. But I doubt it. Here's what goes down in the very first episode.

Freddy meets up with Charlie, who is experimenting in strange new food hybrids. He needs Freddy to build him a box to plant these unholy creations, but Freddy is too stupid to make a box. Charlie suggests he just start really early in the morning, because that's when brains work the best.

So, Freddy gets up at 6AM and starts running around the neighborhood pestering people about how to build a box. Naturally, his first stop is Doug's. Doug basically tells him to go to hell, so he just shows up at Charlie's with a bundle of sticks and hopes for the best. Charlie sings him a tune about using his brains, but you can tell he's super-pissed at this point.
“So start using your brains,” he says, after the song is over, “Or we have nothing more to say to each other.”
“Can I still say hello to you in the street?”

Honestly, fuck you, owl. Freddy was doing you a favor in the first place.

So then Freddy goes over to Henrietta's place and tells her about Charlie. She thinks the solution is food. Food's not going to make Freddy any smarter, hippo.

Also, look at her. Just look. Don't you just want to punch her? By the way, I'm pretty sure Delta Burke ripped Henrietta off wholesale for her role in Designing Women. Seriously, watch 'em side by side one day – it's the same character.

Anyway, all of the hippo's non-stop chattering about sassafras and cornbread freaks Freddy out – clearly, this one has some kind of disturbing food fetish – so he bails. As there's only about twenty feet of soundstage on this show, he quickly runs into Doug and Emmy Jo. EJ's in a very modest outfit for this one – clearly, this was before they realized the show needed more skin. Still, she looks like a flipped-out Parker Posey in that get up, so...not bad!

Freddy tells them he thinks he might be an idiot, so Emmy Jo teaches him a cruel but necessary lesson. It might also be a metaphor for sex, I don't know.
Doug: “Freddy, your brain is working all the time. But that doesn't mean you're thinking all the time.”
Emmy Jo (plucking a flower and holding it out to Freddy): “Freddy, look at this flower.”
Freddy: “It's pretty.”
Emmy Jo: “Now touch it.”
Freddy (touching the flower): “Ouch! There's a thorn there!”
Emmy Jo: "See? That's your brain sending messages to your nerves, telling you what to feel. So, Freddy, what would you like to do with the flower?”
Freddy: Gosh, I guess I'd like to give it to you.”
Emmy Jo: “Why?”
Freddy: “Because you're pretty.”

A decade or so later, Brett Michaels would have a flashback to this conversation while banging triplets in the back of a tour bus, and would turn it into a chart-topping hit.

Anyway, it turns out Freddy is incapable of making a box (no big deal, so am I), so Charlie vows to never speak to him again. Emmy Jo takes the elevator up to Charlie's treehouse and sings a pretty excruciating Judee Sill rip-off folk jam about having patience for numbskulls to him.

BTW, no offence to Judee Sill, who had some amazing jams – like Crayon Angels. Love that one.

Plus, sometimes she played topless. I think she became a nun later*. Anyway, the point is, Emmy's song was terrible.

And then everybody laughs at Charlie for being a jerk. The end.

Um, so like I said, they pretty much repeated this scenario 195 more times before they were through. Plus repeats. And every episode started and ended with that hypnotic “Comin' Right at You” song. If you grew up in the 70's, it is drilled deep into your skull, and it will never go away. It'll probably be the last thing you think of before you die.

In summation: hot girl, horrible show. This pattern would repeat itself many times throughout my life – in fact it's still happening now – anybody catch that fucking train wreck Perfect Couples with Olivia Munn? – but it all started here with Emmy Jo and flippy hairdos and mini-skirts. So, thanks? Curses? Dunno.

PS: Doug and Emily are still married and run a successful (?) production company now in Las Vegas. Most of the stuff they do seems excessively weird, like this propaganda piece for the coal industry that's got talking dogs and cartoon dinosaurs singing calypso tunes and all sorts of bizarre shit. I think it's for schools? Good to know Doug's still cranking out stuff for kids that make actual kids want to strangle themselves.

THE NEW CRUSADERS from Douglas Momary on Vimeo.

New Zoo Revue Season 1 is available on Amazon for like, 7 bucks. They'd probably take buttons or old  subway tokens for it, too.

PPS: Here's an outtake with lots of cussing. If I actually got to see this as a kid, it would have changed my life forever. Awesome.

* Actually, she died of an overdose. Same difference. She was amazing. RIP Judee.
- Ken McIntyre 

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