I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

"Flutes, Caves, and Other Symbolic Genitalia": A review of H.R.Pufnstuf, Episode 11 “Two for Dinner.”


by Ryk McIntyre
May 26, 2011

It has long been suggested that Sid & Marty Krofft, the sibling producers of children’s TV programs back in the 1970s and 80s, not only took the brown acid at Woodstock, but that, after they came down, they went out in search of more. This was the knee-jerk assumption about anyone who had a particularly unique vision back then -- just take Frank Zappa as an example. People refuse to believe someone can be that uniquely creative without the addition/assistance of mind-altering substances. Back in the 1970s/1980s partying wasn’t just a “thing,” it was the litmus test for one’s social acceptability. If you wanted to be “in,” you had to be “on” something.

That said, I want some of what Sid & Marty must have been smoking when they came up with the show H.R. Pufnstuf. I’m not sure I want to smoke it myself, but I’d love to have it studied, up close. The common themes to Krofft Productions are lots and lots of bright colors, animated inanimate objects and nearly breathless optimism about Good, and its basic right to triumph over Evil, which is never so much “evil” as it is inept, bumbling, and ultimately, sympathetic, in a way. Krofft Productions also had enough rich veins of possible symbology and/or meaning to keep an army of Psychology majors busy for years, and H.R. Pufnstuf was no exception.

The basic premise is, there’s this boy name Jimmy (Jack Wild) and his magic, talking flute. The goofy villain “Witchiepoo” lures them to Living Island where she wants to be the first to... um... grab his magic flute. She wants Jimmy to give it to her, easy or hard. But Jimmy is rescued by a friendly talking dragon who has a “magic cave” where Jimmy will be “safe” against the evil witches’ “magic.” Is the a Freudian psychologist in the house? It’s getting kind of thick in here. The show ran for almost three years, and even spawned a movie adaptation. Most of the shows stories revolved around Witchiepoo’s quest to acquire the magic flute and/or Jimmy’s eternal quest to go back home. Oh Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy... once a witch has set sights on your magic flute, you can never truly go home again.

In Episode 11, titled “Two for Dinner” we get a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the vulnerable heart of Witchiepoo, and her hitherto-unknown hunger for a love she could call her own. I guess her hunger for Jimmy’s flute was just a “thing.” Or was it? The episode starts out with our heroes being summoned to Grandfather Clock’s lab, where the old timepiece reveals... that he has built a time machine, and believes he could use it to send Jimmy back in time to the day before he took the boat to Living island. Sounds good, what could possibly go wrong... oh, Hell.

Meanwhile, at Castle Witchiepoo, we see poor Wilhemina first taking out a bad mood on her bumbling assistants Orson Vulture and Seymour Spider (“Seymour” must have been a popular name among the Krofft Brothers, one of their later shows was “Seymour & the Sea Monster. I don’t know what that means, I’m just sayin’...). then we get yet another glimpse at Witchiepoo’s musical talent as she launches into the show tune-esque “Loneliest Witch in Town,” bemoaning her single status. She’s so despondent she can barely gather the will to zap the Time Machine with her wand, but having done so, she doesn't apparently have the will to check on the results.

It turns out that Jimmy and his flute, instead of being sent to the past, have been aged to 70 years old. While everyone else is still unconscious, Jimmy puts his flute down (at the age, he hardly needs it, right?) and wanders off. When Witchiepoo sees him, she assumes he is Prince Charming and decides he is the answer to all her lonely, lonely nights where she had no bed-mate, save for her Vroom Broom. Hey, I’m not making this stuff up, it’s all there in the show, Ok?

If you want to know if the rest of the episode smells like Octagenarian Spirit, or not, you’ll have to watch it yourself. I don’t want to give away too much and spoil the delicate interweaving of the various plot threads. Besides, the bright, swirly colors, animated time pieces and hot close-out pop music by The Boyds got inside my head and I’m all shiny now. Darn you, Krofft Brothers, darn you to heck.

Ryk McIntyre is a Multi-Hyphen sort of person. Poet, critic, performer, workshop facilitator and co-host at both GotPoetry! Live (Providence) and Cantab Lounge (Cambridge,MA). He's been living in RI for the past 6 years, with his wife and daughter. Ryk has performed his work at Boston's ICA, NYC's New School, Portsmouth, NH's Music Hall and Lollapalooza, to name just a few. He has toured the US, performing in countless Poetry open mics and festivals.  He turned down Allen Ginsburg once.