4/2/14

"Hanna-Barbera's All-Star Comedy Ice Revue" (1978)

Nothing surpasses the beauty and elegance of a bad idea.
--Craig Bruce
It has been a longstanding notion of mine that people were very easily entertained in the 1970s, as a majority of the popular culture I've seen from that time was seemingly made to accommodate the lowest of the lowest common denominator. Oh, sure, this was the decade that gave us "Stairway to Heaven", Farrah Fawcett, Fawlty Towers and Star Wars, but on the other end of the spectrum it was also the decade that gave us "Disco Duck", Scrappy Doo, the variety show phenomenon, and one of the most reviled televisual offerings in the history of Farnsworth's box, The Star Wars Holiday Special.

(Of course, other decades had their low points, too - the '80s gave us Saved by the Bell, the '90s inflicted the Backstreet Boys on us, and have yet to recover from the reality TV show craze of the '00s - but the 70s seem to be more remembered as a good decade for bad ideas.)

Talking of Scrappy Doo, the 70s was also the decade where the animation duo of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, once known for popular characters like Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound, went to crap. This was the decade where the quality of their creations were in flux, recycling everything from characters to show pitches to animation sequences to fill out entire broadcast network Saturday morning schedules before they had The Smurfs to fall back on. Carbon copy groups of teenagers with talking animals who weren't oversized Great Danes going around solving mysteries, a girl band and their entourage travelling haphazardly through space for no apparent reason, all of their characters from the 60s floating around in an ark battling personified social issues like smog and litter and vandalism, the Harlem Globetrotters as superheroes...

They used the wrong spelling of the word "revue". I have SUCH a good feeling about this one...

Hanna-Barbera's All-Star Comedy Ice Revue was another such misfire, first airing on CBS on January 13, 1978, and like other crappy TV specials I can think of, has justifiably not been re-aired since. It was released on videocassette in 1986, but that's about all the attention it got after it aired. Time Warner probably owns it now, and hasn't seen fit to release it on DVD. (Don't strain yourselves, guys!)

Okay, here's the rundown - the special is supposed to be like a Dean Martin celebrity roast or something, only with ice skaters and ballet and stuff like that. Your masters of ceremonies are country singer and Hee Haw host Roy Clark and One Day at a Time star Bonnie Franklin, flanked by a cavalcade of actors dressed as some of Hanna-Barbera's most beloved characters (and the Hair Bear Bunch) to celebrate the 48th birthday of one Fred Flintstone of The Flintstones, the most popular prime-time animated sitcom ever to be accused of ripping off The Honeymooners.

There's only one slight detail - Fred is absent from this whole affair, as he is sitting at home watching the special on TV, thinking he was supposed to be on the next day, and only just realizes that he's supposed to be at the ice arena now, so much of the special is focused on this particular plot point.

To think many of those people had dreams of skating in the Olympics.

Roy and Bonnie are forced to fill up time to wait for Fred, and the guy in the Jabberjaw costume is not making life any easier for them, as he pretends to be Don Rickles, makes several failed attempts at wisecracks at the honoree's expense (this is a roast, remember) and insists that with the man of the hour nowhere to be seen, they should roast HIM instead.

What's Jabberjaw, you ask? Think Scooby Doo with a talking shark set in Al Gore's dystopian vision of the future, or in a world where the bad guy from The Spy Who Loved Me actually succeeded.

To make matters worse...apparently they couldn't get Frank Welker to play Jabberjaw as he did in the TV show, so voice acting duties went to Don Messick. And I have nothing against Don Messick, his voice is legendary--Scooby Doo, Papa Smurf, Hamton on Tiny Toons--but his attempt to sound like a shark who borrows shtick from both Rodney Dangerfield and Curly Howard comes out sounding like--ughh--his Scrappy Doo voice.

In a nutshell, it's Scrappy Doo once again trying to steal the spotlight from a character more popular that he. Only as a talking shark.

Sharks just aren't popular. Once Jaws came out, the market was pretty much oversaturated.

Variety shows aren't necessarily known for their plots, so here are some edited highlights:

Bonnie dresses up as a polar bear and sings "You Are My Lucky Star" while skating girls dance around and sing the completely unrelated "We're in the Money".

Then we're treated to an unusual comedy vignette from a duo named Course & Young, who I can't even find info on Google about. One of them tries to sing a song but gets distracted by the janitor, who keeps hitting him with a mop, knocking things over, then tries to blow him up and bites him in the leg.

I'll be over here crying for those poor baby seals if you need me...

A Jackson Five-ish group called The Silvers, of whom I have also never heard, sing a song titled "Disco Showdown" while all the dancers and costumed animals get day-yown on the ice.

Sashi Kuchiki, a shirtless guy in a badly-made thong, skates and jumps around with flaming torches while some men and women dressed entirely in yellow give us a fitness workout video.

Roy Clark plays the theme from that one movie Love Story whose name escapes me on the guitar while some lady dances in the background.

This aired during the family hour, right?

And also, for the purpose of entertainment and DEFINITELY not to pad out the special's running time, the audience is treated to some live-action vignettes from another recently-produced live-action Hanna-Barbera program, The SkatebirdsThe Skatebirds, for those who don't know (i.e. all of you), was a Banana Splits-style supershow-type dealie starring a trio of live-action people in rollerskating bird costumes getting chased around by someone in a live-action rollerskating cat costume (rollerskating in an ICE skating special, go figure). I couldn't tell you anything else about it, apart from the fact that it gave us among other regular segments a cartoon called The Robonic Stooges, which is just...ughhh...oh lord...that'll take you to some dark places.

Why am I always forgetting which one of them is Fleegle?

Finally, the climax is a grand birthday tribute number where all the cartoon-character-costumed actors dance around with chefs for some reason paying their respects to the still-absent Fred. The Hair Bear Bunch trio tell jokes that stopped being funny in the third grade, some ice dancers in Wally Gator costumes dance around for a bit while one of the Bears chases after them with a flyswatter--why, I do not know--and finally a giant birthday cake flanked with dancing girls is brought out onto the ice.

During this whole farce we get animated updates on Fred's travel to the ice arena, as he and Barney watch the whole affair on a portable TV set in the car on the way there.

Okay, special, explain this to me. In the cartoon segments, which are clearly based in Bedrock, the "place right out of history" where The Flintstones takes place, we are clearly in the prehistoric setting, while the live-action ice skating segments were filmed in Bakersfield Civic Auditorium in 1978 A.D. California. How does this work? Did the ice rink suddenly fall through a hole in the time-space continuum and land 65 million years in the past? Did Fred somehow go through a wormhole and end up in the Bedrock of the late 20th century just in time for his 65,000,048th birthday?

Well, as it turns out, Fred doesn't make it after all, because when it seems that he finally arrives on stage, it's actually another actor in perhaps the worst character costume of the bunch. All the other costumes use fur, but Fred having no fur to speak of, has a head obviously made out of plastic. His mouth doesn't even close.

After that, the special ends and the credits roll.

Roy, get off the screen! You're distracting me from the pretty girl!

So...how does Hanna-Barbera's All-Star Comedy Ice Revue stack up?

To answer that question, let's break down its title.

It isn't exactly "all-star", since not only does it include lesser-known characters like Jabberjaw and the Hair Bear Bunch (and of course the Skatebirds, whose show you can't even find episodes of on YouTube), but I've never even heard of ANY of the musical, comedy or ice skating acts in it. I barely even know anything about the hosts, other than that one of them sang country music and the other was on a TV show that starred Valerie Bertinelli.

And it also didn't have anything in the way of comedy, either. None of the gags were funny, Jabberjaw was just annoying, and the laughter, par for the course in a Hanna-Barbera production, obviously came from a can.

In fact, the only thing that Hanna-Barbera's All-Star Comedy Ice Revue promises and actually DELIVERS is...ice. The one thing I can definitely guarantee you is that there is ice in this special. Ice that is both danced and skated upon.

And, honestly, the ice wasn't all that bad.

Fwed Fwintstone wuvs you DIS MUCH.

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