SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS - The Complete First Season (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, October 20, 2005
For all the Gen-Y readers out there, try and picture this: you're a kid living in the early 1970s, getting your cartoon fix not from cable channels or after school shows made in conjunction with a toy line, but solely from Saturday morning network television. One of those shows is about two young teenagers that find a short sea monster named Sigmund, kicked out of his cave home by his cruel family. And, in a move that took place a decade before a different Californian pre-teen invited a homeless extraterrestrial to come crash at his place, Sigmund's two new pals let him move into their clubhouse. That's SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS, and believe it or not, it ran for three seasons and I loved watching it when I was a kid.
SIGMUND was the invention of Sid and Marty Krofft, the two producers behind such staples of kids TV as H.R. PUFNSTUF, FAR-OUT SPACE NUTS and their most memorable creation, LAND OF THE LOST. SIGMUND is truly a product of its time, a bizarre blending of pre-teen sitcom hijinks, surfer musical and fantasy escapism made in the years just prior to Colonel Steve Austin falling back to Earth and being bionically rebuilt for prime time network television. Every episode revolves around Sigmund's (played by Billy Barty, voiced by Walker Edmiston) dysfunctional sea monster family concocting some new plan to mess up Sigmund's post-cave life with brothers Scott and Johnny. Somehow the boys never fail to hide the fact that there's a green, four-foot tall sea monster hiding in their clubhouse from their Aunt Zelda or the other human adults they know.
As far as the Krofft brothers' contribution to kids' TV goes, SIGMUND wasn't their high water mark. The stories are unbelievably silly, even for the time period; the sea monsters look goofy (their 'eyes' sometimes get stuck rolling around in their plastic bubbles when they move); and there's only so many episodes you can watch before you start to wonder just how nobody over the age of 15 seems to see these sea monsters shambling back and forth between the kids' clubhouse and their home in a sea cliff cave. There are also those Teen Beat sugary pop songs that older brother Johnny, a kid with the same kind of red afro that Napoleon Dynamite has now somehow made cool, croons every second or third episode. But here's the ironic twist: for all of its faults the show has more of a genuine heart going for it than most of today's modern cartoons. About the closest kind of vibe that I can describe SIGMUND as having is like THE BRADY BUNCH; you know that there is no place like Bradyworld that exists but when you watch the show, there's a sense of warmth and welcomeness wrapped up in its presentation. I'm sure part of it has to do with my own nostalgic recollection of growing up in the 70s, with its horrors of orange shag carpeting and faux wood paneling, but there's something to be cherished for the silly but good-natured innocence of Sigmund.
It seems that the producer behind Rhino Home Video's first season collection of SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS understands that the kids who watched the show have grown up and become a lot more sophisticated about their TV viewing, but that the show can still have a special place in our hearts. All 17 episodes from the first season of SIGMUND are presented in truly fantastic video quality; I'm not sure if the episodes were cleaned up or cut from a new master, but they look as bright as their first day of broadcast. Sid Krofft provides a commentary track for the first episode while the show's two human stars, Johnny Whitaker and Scott Kolden, voice a commentary track for the final episode (the classic where Sigmund gets amnesia and believes he's their human brother.) Both tracks are fun to listen to, but don't go looking for any revelations into the filmmaking process here. For that kind of information, watch the two video interviews with Krofft producer Si Rose and Whitaker/Kolden and your mind will be filled with all kinds of anecdotes about their time spent making the program and Whitaker's life as a teen idol. Me, I just thought it was kind of cool that Scott used to animate Sweet Mama's barking lobster for the scenes back at the sea monsters' cave. What nine-year-old kid wouldn't think that was cool?
If you're really brave, hit 'Johnny's Video Jukebox' for a compilation of all of the songs that Whitaker sung during the first season. Words cannot adequately explain this.
If it sounds like I'm unduly beating on this DVD, really, I mean well. It's been 25 years since I last saw Johnny, Scott and Sigmund but I love that I have the chance to see them again, warts and all. So will you.
Mania Grade: C+
Disc Grade: B+
Reviewed Format: DVD
Stars: Billy Barty, Johnny Whitaker, Scott Koldens, Mary Wickes
Distributor: Rhino Home Video
Original Year of Release: 1973-1974
Suggested Retail Price: $34.95
Extras: Commentaries with stars Johnny Whitaker, Scott Kolden and series co-creator Sid Krofft; interviews with producer Si Rose and stars Whitaker/Kolden; Johnny's Jukebox Videos