Nov 24, 2012

TV Rewind: Freakazoid - "The Island of Dr. Mystico"

Hello and welcome to TV Rewind, a series that will explore the shows of yesteryear and dissect them one episode at a time. My goal is to explore lesser known programs that you may not be aware existed. For my first series, I have chosen Freakazoid!, a beloved cartoon that ran on the WB from 1995-1997 and made for some weird, Animaniacs-style parodies of the superhero genre. I will attempt to give you the goods every weekend, just like the actual show. While I may not do it every week, make sure to look out for double headers in which I review episodes on Saturday and Sunday.

The Island of Dr. Mystico

Welcome back. I apologize for the week off, but as you all know, things happen. However, there are few episodes that I would love to return to as much as "the Island of Dr. Mystico." It manages to parody everything while sticking in line with the familiar satire elements of Freakazoid. It is also a great episode because we finally see the return of every superhero villain that the show has introduced with exception to maybe Deadpan. It also features the show's penchant for b-movie parodies mixed with a little Dr. No for good measure. This episode may not have the satisfying conclusion that it deserves, but we can forgive the rest of the elements.
The episode begins with an introduction by Leonard Maltin (voiced by himself) in which he describes the Freakazoid episode "the Island of Dr. Mystico" as being somewhat of a cult classic. He details the history of how it started off critically praised, but fell into a bad aura when it was discovered that it wasn't European.He even suggests looking out for a walk on role by Emmit Nervend as a dancing chanteuse. This is quickly derailed by an oranguman (half man, half orangutan) bursting onto the set where Maltin is filming and brutally assaults him.
It is followed by the actual episode, which begins with the Narrator (Joe Leahy) sharing the necessary back story. A batch of the world's most evil villains are being flown by Freakazoid (Paul Rugg) to a remote country of France, where he insists that they will never bother anyone again. He ends by screaming into the camera "Good riddance you thieving jackals!"
Somewhere over the Atlantic, a plane called Prisoner Air is being flown by Freakazoid and co-pilot Cosgrove (Ed Asner). With Steff (Tracey Rowe) as the stewardess, we join them in the cockpit as they are enjoying the flight. Every now and then, Cosgrove compliments Freakazoid, only to tell him that he is about to collide with an oncoming airplane, blimp, or Marlon Brando. Without delay, Steff will come in, the boom mic will come into scene, and she will say "That was quite a jolt, Freak."
Meanwhile in the passenger area, the Lobe (David Warner), Cave Guy (Jeff Bennett), Cobra Queen (Tress MacNeille), Candlejack (Bennett), and Longhorn (Maurice LaMarche) are bickering among each other. Professor Jones (Jonathan Harris) is serving them, but is a very cowardly man. He gets consistently ridiculed by everyone and is forced to have Steff protect him. The Lobe is also a little scared, as people are constantly taunting him. Cobra Queen tells him to pipe down and just enjoy the trip. Sure enough, Freakazoid scares him when he tells the Lobe to look out the window.
Meanwhile, Dr. Mystico (Tim Curry) is sitting in his own private lair watching computers that are spying on the plane. His big plan is to kidnap them on his little island. He does this by having an elaborate gadget point a mirror directly into Freakazoid's eyes. As a result, he talks overly dramatic and crashes the plane into a big blue thing. It turns out to be the ocean. 
After everyone pulls the plane ashore, Cosgrove loosens everyone's shackles and tells them not to run away, or they will be grounded. Longhorn doesn't follow the advice and quickly vanishes. The Lobe wants to take charge, but Cosgrove says that he can't because it is Freakazoid's show. After a few minutes, they discover that Longhorn has been abducted and has left behind his nose ring. This causes the team to form a strategy: Steff, Jones, and Cobra Queen stay behind to work on the plane while everyone else goes to look for Longhorn. Actually, Candlejack is not invited along and is forced to stay behind. Freakazoid insists that he pass the time by scaring Jones, which is done to comical effect.
As the team goes further into the wilderness, Cosgrove introduces the buddy system. He does this with the aid of a video showing monkeys holding hands and why it is important to stay together. Despite all of this, Cave Guy doesn't like it and is quickly vanquished into the wilderness where he leaves behind nothing but his loin cloth. Now the Lobe is getting jealous of Freakazoid, as he believes that he has better plans. However, in this time, Cosgrove disappears and then Freakazoid falls into quicksand. The Lobe contemplates letting him drown so that he can get the show. This results in an inner segment in which a host of the show Morality and You talks to Kissinger (LaMarche) about morals. Kissinger's only reply is incoherent mumbling. The Lobe ends up helping him only to have Dr. Mystico and his cat Spockle kidnap them with the help of some orangumen.
The next scene shows everyone gathered around a table in Dr. Mystico's lair. As he gives exposition, everyone just laughs at him and forces him to flip out, claiming that he isn't crazy. Things don't go well and soon everyone is poisoned. Cosgrove, who grows earpy by the second, waits until Dr. Mystico tells him to faint to actually do so. It is also interesting to note that this is the second time that we see his eyes, which disappear again after this episode for some reason.
The group wakes up in a prison made of molecular bamboo. The group is also welcomed by Kissinger and Maltin in the cell. It is in this time that Dr. Mystico reveals his big plan, which is to fuse their brains with a bunch of orangutans in a nearby cell. With this, he plans to take over Cleveland. He actually means the world, but he is always mixing up the two for some reason. This only justifies the group's insistence that he is crazy. It is quickly discovered that Dr. Mystico's plans need to be delayed so that he can take Spockle to go tinkee. 
The group thinks of a way out with no luck. It reminds Maltin of a movie. Suddenly, Freakazoid decides to call his intern Greg. Pulling out his cellphone, he calls him and asks for him to drop off the key to the cell. All that the group can do now is wait. It isn't long however until Greg arrives with the key as well as coffee for everyone. He gets a healthy dose of love from the group as they run out of Dr. Mystico's lair and into the wilderness back to the plane.
Along the way, Dr. Mystico and his orangumen are chasing after him. Freakazoid gets the idea that they should fight back, because the villains are mighty and Maltin knows everything about movies. This is quickly ruined when the team decides to run away anyhow. Back at the plane, Candlejack is still scaring Jones and the plane is fixed. Everyone hops aboard and suddenly there is a runway built for the plane to take off of. This is of course thanks to Greg. Despite a few orangumen scaring the Lobe, the plane manages to escape without much conflict. This is met with Steff saying "That was quite a jolt, Freak."
While in the air, everyone is busy sleeping. Candlejack is levitating and Maltin is sucking his thumb. Freakazoid is asleep next to Cosgrove, but he assures everyone that there is someone flying the plane. The episode ends with a French person calling on the phone onto have the pilot, Kissinger, respond in his mumbling voice.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Where to start with the brilliance of this episode? We'll start with the obvious. The title "the Island of Dr. Mystico" is in reference to the iconic film the Island of Dr. Moreau. In fact the general concept of mutation is lifted straight from the film. In fact, the episode can be seen as loosely based on the premise. Still, it gets juicier when you consider that Dr. Mystico is a parody of James Bond's titular villain in Dr. No, cat and all. Of course this could just be Inspector Gadget's Dr. Claw knock-off, but both have cats. Add the fact that it is voiced by Tim Curry, and you have an even juicier villain. It is also really effective to see the contrast between Freakazoid's zanier, more cartoon villains and Dr. Mystico, who is more serious and doesn't have as much of a punch. Either way, getting Curry to voice him only adds a level of genius to the character despite the plot's quick turnaround with convenience. 
After the title comes the brilliant choice to cast Leonard Maltin as a movie historian, which somehow adds more credibility to the episode. He is not known for his acting and in fact has a limited resume. However, he makes the most of it here and while he doesn't do the cliche movie nerd too much, his appearance is almost heartwarming because it is a brilliant casting along the lines of Jack Palance back during "the Chip" episodes. It introduces kids to movie critics and it somehow works, especially as I feel this episode is going for a campy, Scooby Doo vibe in the third act. 
This episode is also bursting with pop culture references, some almost too subtle. The airplane is called Prisoner Air, which is meant to fly prisoners to France. This is all a slight nod to Con Air, which also seems to be the built in premise of Freakazoid's story before Dr. Mystico is introduced. Add in what is clearly meant to be a Leslie Nielsen in Airplane running gag ("That was quite a jolt, Freak!") and you can see the tapestry that went into the plane scenes alone. This is an exceptionally deep episode in terms of references, and it also helps that very few are as on the nose as they were in "Quantum Freak."
I also just love that we finally get more than the Lobe in an episode. It has been too long since we got something besides either a Lobe or Gutierrez plot that is nice just to see everyone in the background. It is also interesting that for a change, almost all of the villains seem vulnerable and cooperative. Cobra Queen is helping Steff with the plane and confessing secrets about her dating life. The Lobe is scared of everything. This is a nice change from their plotting to destroy Freakazoid. It is also nice because it also helps to contrast Dr. Mystico's level of insanity. 
As always, I just love when Cosgrove gets to narrate important information over ridiculous footage. This time, the idea of talking about the buddy system over monkeys holding hands was almost perfect. He isn't so much funny as authoritative in this episode, but I cannot imagine someone with better line delivery. Also, the fact that Freakazoid almost ran into a Marlon Brando balloon captures how Cosgrove can elevate a nonsense gag into hilarity.
I still feel bad that Jonathan Harris is dead, because I so want the Cosgrove/Professor Jones show to happen. They are great together, and having Candlejack chase them around was a delight. If there is any fault, it is that half of the cast seems to have been dumped for majority of the story. Nothing wrong with that, but the amount of time spent with Steff, Cobra Queen, Candlejack, and Jones was exceptionally low and almost seemed to be shown for comical effect. However, I do love the cameo by Greg. It is just showing how meta this show can get.
As we wind down to the last few episodes, it is hard to really say how much I wish that this show made it another season. Season one had many brilliant moments, but essentially had enough duds to be considered experimental. Season two on the other hand has been almost immaculate and has blended satire with wit so perfectly that the potential for the third season being the best almost seems inevitable. I mean, we are just now discovering what makes Professor Jones a brilliant character. Also, I just wanted to see Longhorn and Cave Guy get stand alone episodes again.
I suppose this is what makes Freakazoid brilliant. It managed to be of its time yet also very much transcend the level of pop culture references and become its own monster. I cannot think of too many other shows that had Tim Curry, Leonard Maltin, and Jonathan Harris all in one episode, let alone a kid's show from the 90's. I will try to not make this rambling for the next few episodes, but it will be hard, especially as I feel that "the Island of Dr. Mystico" shows the series meeting their potential almost in full.

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