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Sunday, May 26, 2013

SAY KIDS...WHAT TIME IS IT? IT'S HOWDY DOODY TIME: THE LOST EPISODES -- DVD review by porfle




Say, kids! What time is it?



If you answered "Howdy Doody Time!" then you just might be ready to take a nostalgic trip back to Doodyville to see what Howdy, Buffalo Bob, Clarabell the Clown, and the rest of the Doodyville gang are up to. And this 5-disc DVD set, called (take a deep breath) SAY KIDS...WHAT TIME IS IT? IT'S HOWDY DOODY TIME: THE LOST EPISODES (is that a long enough title or what?) is just the right vehicle to get you there.



Beginning in 1947 as "Puppet Playhouse" on the fledgling NBC network, the name was later changed to "Howdy Doody" after its freckle-faced marionette star and continued to air until 1960. Bob Smith played the buckskin-garbed Buffalo Bob, and Bob Keeshan, who would go on to great success in children's programming as Captain Kangaroo, co-starred as the horn-honking, seltzer-spritzing Clarabell the Clown, along with a supporting cast of live actors and marionettes. On each show they would entertain a studio audience of kids known as the "Peanut Gallery" with skits, songs, games, and silent movies narrated by Buffalo Bob. As Clarabell, Keeshan's successor Lew Anderson remained silent throughout the series, communicating only by sign language and by beeping his horn, until the final episode when he ended the show with a tearful "Goodbye, kids." (I'm getting verklempt!)



Thus, the lights went out in the Doodyville studio...until 1976, when the show was resuscitated for another 130 episodes before going down for the last time. Taped in Miami, Florida, "The New Howdy Doody Show" was a worthy successor to the original, at least judging by the few 50s episodes I've seen. Somehow the new version seems brighter, faster-moving, and more fun, but I was too young to catch the old show so nostalgia isn't a factor for me--you older Peanuts may disagree.



Buffalo Bob's older here, and I think that works in his favor. He's somehow more lovable and endearing now, and his enthusiastic, yet easygoing demeanor and keen sense of humor set the tone for the show. He loves to perform, singing and mingling with the Peanut Gallery (which has now greatly expanded to include not only dozens of kids but their giddy baby-boomer parents as well). Lew Anderson is a delight as the mischievous Clarabell, who loosens things up considerably by constantly pulling pranks and spraying everyone with his seltzer bottle. It's funny how agitated the Peanuts get whenever they see Clarabell sneaking up on an unsuspecting victim like the show's groovy bandleader, the leisure-suited, white Florsheim shoe-wearing Jackie Davis.



Of course, more than a few of these kids look as though they're being held hostage--even by the 70s, this sort of innocent nonsense was an alien concept to the more "sophisticated" sensibilities of some of the junior cynics in the Peanut Gallery. In one episode, there's a little blonde girl scout with glasses who I swear looks like she'd go postal if she could get her hands on a machine gun. So in a weird way, watching the various reactions of the kids to this old-fashioned brand of children's entertainment is pretty interesting in itself.



But you might as well leave that attitude behind, Missy, when you pop one of these discs into the DVD player. Because in Doodyville, the kids compete in "Good Behavior" contests and one of the most anti-social things you can do is to pop someone's balloons. Howdy Doody is everyone's favorite kid, of course, but his pal Dilly Dally runs a close second. Other marionette characters include the sweet-tempered Indian maiden Princess Summerfall Winterspring, the broomstick-riding cutup Sandy Witch, and, my favorite, the irascible old grouch Mayor Phineas T. Bluster. He's definitely the funniest thing about the show, whether strutting around self-importantly spoiling everyone's fun for his own selfish reasons or gleefully proclaiming his own greatness as he does in his hilarious ode to himself, "Bluster's Love Song":



"Oh, why oh why does everyone admire me so muh-uh-uch,

Oh, why oh why do people think I'm groovy?

Can it be because I happen to be so good-looking

Can it be they think that I should star in a movie?



"Oh, as a star I know that I would be the hottest, de-spite the fact I'm always shy and modest

I'm diligent, intelligent, I ring your chimes so I know they will put me on the front cover of Ti-ime...



"...oh, why oh why does everyone think I'm divine and I'm a saint

That's not only your o-pin-ion, it's mine

That's not only your o-pin-ion, that's not only your o-pin-ion, it's my opinion, too, because you see

I love, love, love, love...meeeeeeeee!"



This musical number cracks me up, especially when they cut away to everyone reacting in horror and covering their ears. And when Mayor Bluster's bratty nephew Petey, who looks like a short-pants version of him, joins the cast, it gets even funnier--they're a great comedy team. Rounding out the assortment of stringed characters are Mambo the Dancing Elephant, Tommy the Turtle, and the delightful Flub-A-Dub, a creature made up from parts of eight different animals.



A new live-action cast member is Marilyn Patch as Doodyville's schoolteacher, "Happy Harmony." With dimples deep enough to park a truck in, she's so perky she makes Mitzi Gaynor look like Ed Sullivan and provides viewers with ten times their daily minimum requirement of sweetness and light. At times, her zippy, wide-eyed energy makes even the kids in the Peanut Gallery regard her with puzzled amazement. But she's incredibly cute, giving us older Peanuts an added incentive to watch the show. And as a Harvard-educated Ph.D. in children's television research and human development, who starred in her own Saturday morning kid's show called "Marilyn and Calico" at age 11, she isn't just some happy-faced bimbo they hired off the street. Knowing that she has such a lifelong dedication to educating children through the media adds considerable weight to her character.



Each of the five discs in this set represents a week's worth of episodes with its own story arc. The self-explanatory titles are "Doodyville Arts Festival", "Dilly Dally's Birthday", "Good Behavior Contest", "Doodyville Laugh-A-Thon", and "Songfest." In all, there are 25 episodes for a total running time of about 600 minutes. The discs are beautifully packaged in a colorful fold-out box that fits into a metal tin and comes with a 20-page booklet with pictures, show info, and trivia (example: the Canadian version of the original "Howdy Doody" show featured Robert Goulet as "Timber Tom").



IT'S HOWDY DOODY TIME is bright, breezy fun, and surprisingly funny once you get into the spirit of it. There's zero irony, and none of the kind of humor that's funny for kids on one level and really funny for adults on a "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" level. I don't know about you, but darn it, sometimes I just get a craving for something like this between viewings of PULP FICTION, BOOGIE NIGHTS, and HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES. It's pure kid stuff, and if you're open to that sort of thing when it's done really well, you can have a ball watching these shows.



Buy it at Amazon.com

Read our interview with Marilyn (Patch) Arnone
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