Movie Movie Blog Blog is at it again with The 2nd Annual 'One' of My All-Time Favorite Cartoons. Please click the link to his site and check out all of this year's entries. I mean, after you finish reading this, of course.
As the name on the header informs, Dell on Movies is, first and foremost, a movie blog. However, like last year, I'm going to take this opportunity to write about television. It's not something I get to do very often, so I'm taking advantage of the chance. The show I'm going to dive into is really a show within a show. Long before The Simpsons gathered around their TV set to watch the hyper-violent cartoon, "Itchy and Scratchy," another group of animated characters regularly came together to watch a cartoon they love. I'm talking Fat Albert's gang taking regular breaks in their own adventures to watch "The Brown Hornet," a show all about their favorite superhero. The Brown Hornet was a guy who rode around space in a hornet shaped spaceship. One of his sidekicks was a rotund gentleman by the name of Stinger. The other, a robot named Tweeterbell. The themes of each episode directly correlated with whatever Fat Albert and his buddies were dealing with in their own lives.
I'm going to violate the rules of the blogathon just a bit. I'm supposed to talk about a particular episode and tell why I love it. Instead, I'm going to talk about it as a series within the series and why it's important to me.
The last few years have seen the very public deconstruction of the show's creator, star voice talent, and a man I had come to admire throughout my life, Bill Cosby. Therefore, before getting into what I actually liked about The Brown Hornet, or Fat Albert, for that matter, I have to address the elephant in the cartoon. If you're reading this, I'll assume you have at least some idea about what has been going on with Mr. Cosby, so I'll not recap it, here. I will say that these events make it necessary for me to justify my love for his work, if only for myself. It's all about separating the artist from the art. The unearthing of Cosby's indiscretions doesn't make his work from before we knew about these things any less compelling or relevant. The fact still stands that at the time of production, Fat Albert was an important, much needed show on American television. Nor does it change the impact it had on me growing up all those years ago. Whatever my, or your, opinion of him these days, his immense impact on American pop culture is undeniable. I say this, not to absolve him in any way of any wrong doing, but to simply recognize the facts.
Another fact is The Brown Hornet was just plain fun to watch. At five or six minutes an episode, including cutaways to Fat Albert and friends watching and reacting to the show, our hero's exploits were fast paced and concise. Since we often join him mid-adventure, they were stories in which the setup were wrapped up in the action. There was also a good deal of humor since it also functioned as a parody of Space Ghost, first and foremost. It also poked fun at the old Adam West Batman series. These were shows I was highly familiar with so even at a very young age, I understood many of the show's references and what it was going for. In true 70s and 80s fashion, it always ended with a spoken lesson. First it was delivered as a slogan of some sorts by The Brown Hornet, himself. This was followed by a live-action shot of Bill Cosby explaining it to us youngsters, in case we somehow missed it. Admittedly, it's a bit jarring in 2016 too see him imparting wisdom on morals and ethics, but at the time, we all thought he was as squeaky clean as they come. Even without the fall of Cosby, the tactic of directly explaining the moral of the story is far too didactic too work today, but back then it was the norm. Many children's shows, and even some aimed at adults, did this. Remember this is the era of sitcoms periodically airing what they called "a very special episode," in which some important social issue were tackled and subsequently discussed by a cast member at the show's conclusion. In that sense, every installment of both The Brown Hornet and its parent show, Fat Albert, was a very special episode.
No, we weren't a bunch of dumb kids who needed everything explained. However, we appreciated it. We also had an understanding of the show's place in the world. Even though we were children lacking the words to define it, we knew that The Brown Hornet was groundbreaking, as superhero shows go. When it hit airwaves in 1979, there were no other black superheroes headlining their own show. Hell, it's been nearly forty years since and there have still only been a handful of superhero movies or television shows with a black protagonist. Back then, the only other black superhero on TV was Black Vulcan, who only occasionally appeared on The Superfriends in a really minor supporting role. As a kid, this was troubling for me. Naturally, I wanted to see heroes who looked like me. As we've learned in the decades since, or more accurately, are starting to accept, this is important for children of all nationalities. Therefore, it's no surprise my eyes lit up whenever Black Vulcan showed up on the screen, no matter how small his role in saving the day. It's also no surprise I would glom onto The Brown Hornet. After all, he wasn't there to help out. He was there to lead the way. Best of all, he didn't do so in a way, or possess any characteristics, that necessitated him being black. He just so happened to be just that. Because he was, Fat Albert and his gang acted as surrogates to me and my friends. They were searching for the same thing we were: a hero with skin like brass and hair like wool.