Saturday morning TV: The Herculoids

(image via IMDb (c) Hanna-Barbera)

If I were Zandor (Mike Road) of The Herculoids, ruler of the Lost in Space-ish planet Amzot/Quasar, I would seriously consider installing some kickass space defence systems, or at the very least, a really big, red “Beware of the space dog” sign that would sail around in orbit and perhaps deter would-be planetary usurpers.

Because Zandor, his wife Tara (Virginia Gregg) and son Dorno (Ted Eccles original series, Sparky Marcus 1981) have a serious problem with wave after wave of invaders coming from space, taking the family and their cohort of powerful animals hostage, and trying to declare themselves lords and rulers of the planet Amzot/Quasar, whose naming committee got stuck in gridlock at some stage and never settled on just one name. (To be fair, the planet had different names in different iterations so it’s not as indecisive as it first appears.)

It’s a bit like when you have a cockroach infestation problem – you can try and deal with each wave as they come scuttling through your kitchen, loungeroom and every room in your room, or you can just be done with, get the pest controller in and keep them for good.

But then, if you were producing The Herculoids, as Hanna-Barbera did from 1967-69 and then 1981-82, you wouldn’t have had much of a series if the invaders had simply been stymied by a great big wall of laser-spewing satellites or great big orbiting cannons.

So, fine, Zandor and his family, aided by rhino/triceratops hybrid Tundro (Mike Road), flying space dragon Zok (Mike Road), rock ape Igoo (Mike Road) and protoplasmic creatures Gleep and Gloop (Don Messick), did without a cosy planetary deterrence system, settling for fighting back endless armadas, gangs, cohorts and masses of invading creatures, all of whom saw the planet as ripe for the taking.

A little hilariously, Zandor and his family almost always look surprised that it’s happening again so pattern recognition is not a big thing for the family who appear surprised that someone is attacking their sparsely-populated planet once again.

You’d think someone would immediately go “What’s that weird sound? Oh god, not invaders again!” but they don’t and thus begins a new cycle of invade, take prisoner, shoot, repel and sit back.

Fortunately for the good, scantily-clad residents of Amzot/Quasar – seriously they dress like Tarzan with some cave person chic thrown into the mix – they come well-equipped with some on-ground defensive capabilities.

Zok, for instance can shoot laser beams from his eyes and tail, all without a single detached retina or burn mark while Tundro shoots volleys of explosive rocks out of his truncated, broken-ended snout.

Gleep and Gloop work equally well repelling would-be kidnappers, saving Zandor, Tara and Dorno from hurting themselves as they fall off cliffs/from spaceships etc etc – by the way Dorno almost never calls Zandor and Tara dad and mum, something only changed in the ’80s revival – and breaking themselves into pieces to get help or foil the bad guys (and they are, usually, the males of the species).

And Igoo? Brute strength my friend and a whole lot of booming, thundering yelling and constructive tantrum-throwing; he’s not a chilled, relaxed kind of guys at the best of times but then again, if The Herculoids daily repel-the-invader is anything to go by, there’s a damn good reason for that.

Again, if Zandor would simply put in an orbital defense system, perhaps Igoo, in fact the whole extended family could kick by the Amzotian pool and relax.

Until that happens, and given production ceased on the show in the early ’80s, that’s highly unlikely, The Herculoids is get invaded/repel invasion/rinse/repeat.

In that respect, it’s not that much different from a host of other Hanna-Barbera shows which executed on their repetitive premises with fiendish commitment to the task at hand.

But unlike say Scooby Doo or even The Hair Bear Bunch, which balanced out the repetitiveness with humour and personality, The Herculoids, at least watching it as an adult, feels less compelling, its over and over and over and over again dynamic a little too obvious.

That doesn’t mean its not watchable, and as a kid I loved the way they worked together as a family to get rid of their attackers and the way in which they are clearly devoted to one another, but it certainly didn’t pass the “watching as an adult” test that other Hanna-Barbera shows have passed with flying colours.

But then, I have always been a fan of the quirky and the offbeat, things that shows like Scooby Doo and The Hair Bear Bunch have in spades and which The Herculoids, because of the type of cartoon it is, simply doesn’t have.

The good thing about The Herculoids is it showed Hanna-Barbera could be intense and gritty in their own cartoonish way but all these years later, I’m not sure it holds up as well, looking more dated and been-there-done-that than many of its one time contemporaries.

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