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

"Oil’s Well that Ends Well": Wonderbug on the Krofft Supershow

by Kristen Vagliardo
July 1, 2011

“Krofft has some super shows ; They will blow your mind away.” Well, yes and no. Supershow oft times seems like a mash-up of particularly bad Saturday Night Live skits --- you know, the ones where it must have seemed funny at god-knows-when-in-the-morning when Lorne Michaels had demanded five more ideas before sun-up? But although I can go without Bigfoot and Wildboy,1 Magic Mungo, and particularly the rock star hosts of the endeavor, “Kaptain Kool and the Kongs,” I must admit that Wonderbug, the mini-show that stood the test of Krofft time (from 1976-1977 anyway) speaks to me in some odd fashion.2 In this particular episode, the Kroffts incorporate current events (although they do it in a rather heavy-handed way). Put aside the blatant stereotypes added for comedic value and you’ve got a nice little piece almost worthy of ABC’s After-School Specials.

But first, a word on our hero. I come from a long line of car-namers and often wish that my current Nissan Sentra, Kevin, had magical powers when it comes to dealing with the Pike between five and seven in the evening. If only I had a magic horn. The junkyard-find on Wonderbug does, and could handle the Pike with one cylinder tied behind his back. With Wonderbug, the Kroffts proffer up that rare breed of car which the TV gods occasionally saw fit to share: the wacky, magical, self-aware, “crime fighting” (or at least crime-fight-assisting) car. You can trace his ancestry, perhaps, to the series My Mother the Car starring Jerry Van Dyke (1965-1966). His kin also include Herbie the Love Bug (b. 1968) and Speed Buggy (b. 1973 d. 1975). Perhaps you are familiar with his more-savvy, much sleeker younger brother, KITT (b. 1982), and KITT’s driver Michael Knight (played by none other than David Hasselhoff)? Anyway, our buggy is no schlep (well, he is, since that’s the name on his license plate) when it comes to making the world a better place.

"Wonderbug 2.6", as always, co-stars the magic car’s teenage triumvirate: Barry: (played by David Levy)3 ; C.C. McNamara (played by John Anthony Bailey)4; and Susan (played by Carol Anne Seflinger) . The kids’ friend, Johnny Littlefoot, has inherited an oil well, but he can only keep it if he comes up with five hundred dollars by midnight. The money will be collected by our evil villain, Mr. Meeker from the bank. Oddly enough, Mr. Meeker has already figured out a way to tap into the Alaska pipeline through said well and can’t afford to lose it. Which is an interesting twist for Saturday morning children’s television program: 1977 was the year when President Carter first warned Americans about their dependence on foreign oil. Construction on the pipeline began in March of 1975 and the first oil moved through in June of 1977.5 Thanks writers, for an ingenious way to get its existence into the minds of kids in the audience, since it was most likely at the forefront of their parents’ minds.

Kudos also for the evil, money-grubbing attitude of Mr. Meeker which reminds us all of the exploitation of the common man (and in this case, a Native American teenager) for profit. Obviously, Johnny Littlefoot’s ownership of the oil well will stymies Mr. Meeker’s devious plans. And what a continuation of woe for Johnny who explains, “I was going to use the money to help my people,” when Mr. Meeker informs him that alas, the well is dry.

After an odd sequence where Barry is turned to the dark side by Mr. Meeker by some Jekyll and Hyde Formula 5 (I guess every evil banker can order this solution easily), C.C., Susan and Johnny Littlefoot realize that something is not quite above-board in this whole situation. They find some Jekyll and Hyde Antidote Water, after sussing out the reason for Barry’s multiple personalities and turn him back. But alas, Barry has turned over the magical horn and now our Wonderbuggy is devoid of his magical powers.

All seems futile until Barry exclaims, “Why don’t we just disguise ourselves as Arabs and buy the horn back from them?”6 Indeed. Barry then dons the most blatant and, certainly by today’s standards, offensive, of sheik outfits and the gang accompanies, (yes, all of them) dressed as dancing girls. All of this in about 15 minutes of live action with the usual Krofft trippy touches.

You’ll need to watch to learn the exciting conclusion, but I assure you, as Barry so aptly puts it: “Oil’s well that ends well.” Johnny Littlefoot and his people: 1, corporate greed and exploitation: 0. The Alaskan pipeline apparently remains unaffected by the whole episode. And so ends the week’s Supershow. It IS “just a crazy world… and most of what appears isn’t true.” But twenty years later, in the absence of alternative energy and kindly bankers, I will hold out hope for at least magical car.

1 Which is, I admit, worth a watch simply for Bigfoot’s broken, gravelly English. He may have taught Wildboy everything he knows, but Wildboy didn’t do so hot quid- pro-quo-wise.

2 n.b. Season one of the Supershow ran, in addition to Wonderbug: Dr Shrinker and the glorious Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, which became a stand alone series in 1977.

3 Levy later became an author/psychologist. You can follow along with his assessment of the L.A. Lakers here: http://faculty.pepperdine.edu/dlevy/content/drDavidLevyAndTheLakers_10202007.pdf

Levy also received an Emmy nomination for his work on Wonderbug in 1977. Makes sense: he is the only one of the teens who can understand Schlep’s sputters.

4 In addition to various guest spots on shows such as Happy Days, M*A*S*H, and Good Times, Bailey had a fruitful career as a porn star under the name Jack Baker.

5 http://www.alyeska-pipe.com/pipelinefacts.html

6 One of the reliable tropes of Wonderbug was to depict Susan as the creator of plans only to be interrupted by Barry with “there’s no time for that now, Susan.” Immediately following, Barry would offer the same suggestion and C.C. would congratulate him on his wisdom.

Kristen Vagliardo is a Central Square girl who works at a museum and used to write lots of incredibly boring papers on obscure topics. She enjoys the Egyptian Revival, refusing to buy music from itunes (thus filling her apartment with needless CD detritus) and quoting from eighties movies that no one else recognizes. You can find her on Twitter at vagliard.