Oh hey, Tony “Leave It to Beaver” Dow directed some of these.

§ May 18th, 2020 § Filed under swamp thing, television § 11 Comments

So in response to my brief description of the original 1990s Swamp Thing TV show, Brian wondered:

“‘Off-putting’ how? I have never seen this show, but have always been curious about it. Thanks!”

You’re welcome!

I thought about this question a lot over the weekend, actually. Mostly along the lines of “why did I say it was off-putting?” And to be completely frank, I couldn’t really put my finger on it. It had been years since I’ve seen episodes of the series, after all (even with the DVD sets…more on that in a moment), so I couldn’t remember any specific examples. Maybe I was conflating Swamp Thing with other late ’80s/early ’90s direct-to-syndication series that, to my mind, haven’t really aged well in my memory (and perhaps in reality)?

Well, there’s only one way to find out, isn’t there? BUST OUT THE SWAMP THING TV SHOW DVD SETS.

A couple of confessions here…last time I noted that I had the full run of the series on DVD. I was mistaken. I have “Volume 1″ (containing seasons 1 and 2” and “Volume 2” (containing the first 26 episodies of Season 3). Yes, there were some broadcast shenanigans apparently, resulting in what amounted to a very long third season. I don’t know, don’t ask me. But the end result was that, I dutifully bought those first two sets and never did get around to getting that last set. I seem to remember thinking “ugh I haven’t even watched these first two sets, I’ll get that third one eventually, I’m sure it’ll always be available for cheap.”

And yup, soon as I realized, like, this weekend, “oh yeah that third set, I need to get it” and tried to look it up, of course it’s out of print and not available. Not even on eBay, where out-of-print items go to get listed at stupid prices. Thus have I fallen down on my job as Swamp Thing Fan, but I imagine I’ll get a copy of this Volume 3 someday. On the other hand, when searching for that third set, I did see the DVD collection of the cartoon was being offered by multiple sellers for about $60 a pop. Take it from me, kids…don’t pay $60 for this. It was barely worth the…what, ten bucks I paid?

Okay, second confession…I think I’ve barely watched these discs. I did watch the special features (interviews with Swampy’s cocreator Len Wein and Swamp Thing himself, Dick Durock), and a handful of episodes, but I don’t think I ever made the commitment to watch them all straight through. I did watch some, and I certainly watched episodes of it when it was on actual broadcast TV, with commericals and everything, like some kind of savage, so I have experienced the show. But it’s been so long since the show was originally on the air, and probably a good decade or so since sampling these discs…I honest don’t remember a whole lot about them.

I did recall a couple bits…the opening title sequence and narration (“DO NOT BRING YOUR EVIL HERE” and Swamp Thing’s obviously animted eyes at the end), and, what I think may have been the element (heh) of the show that gave me the impression of its off-puttedness: Swamp Thing’s voice. It was modulated or altered somehow, giving it this odd almost metallic sound which seemed out of place given the nature-oriented being Swampy was supposed to be. Kinda like autotuning, only without the pretense of attempting to be musical. Points I guess for trying to do something different, given that in the Return of Swamp Thing film it seemed like they did literally nothing to the character’s voice, but the sound grates just a little.

My other memory of those show is that they did their level best to avoid showing the actor, the previously noted Mr. Durock, in the full Swamp Thing get-up. I had a specific recollection of someone talking to Swampy while all you could see is his head poking up over some shrubbery or whatever. And to be fair, in the two episodes I sampled on Sunday (season two’s “Birth Mark” and season three’s “Night of the Dying”) Swamp Thing did indeed show up in full regalia when necessary. Now it could be I’ll see some time/cost saving measures of our hero standing behind walls and stuff and only showing his head in other episodes, but we’ll see, assuming I keep watching these.

And, you know, I might. The episodes I watched…weren’t the greatest TV shows I’ve ever seen, but they were pleasant enough. It’s kind of nice to watch a superhero-based live action adventure show that’s only a half-hour long (AKA about 20 minutes without the commercials) so we’re in and out of the story quickly enough before you start thinking things like “this is kind of dumb” or “enough of all these ordinary people gabbing, when’s Swamp Thing showin’ up?”

One of the episodes, “Birth Marks,” introduced “Abigail,” played by an as-I-recall-embarrassed-by-it-later Kari Wuhrer, and of course Swamp Thing aficionados know, characters named “Abby” are of some importance in the Swamp Thing mythos. I haven’t watched enough of, or recall enough of, the show to know if there’s any similarity to the comic character beyond the name, but she does have mysterious psychic powers, recalling those issues of the first Swamp Thing comic book series where Abby Arcane evidenced some strange abilities of her own.

Also, the first credited actor in the show is Mark Lindsay Chapman, who plays “Dr. Anton Arcane,” and as I recall, in addition to the episodes I just watched over the weekend, he’s the main bad guy in pretty much every installment. Basically, he’s the star of the show, it looks like, which is fine because he’s a fun bad guy. There’s also a passing reference to Jason Woodrue in “Birth Marks,” so I’m looking forward to see how they deal with him. I’m guessing not a weird alien plant dude?

Continuity appears to be light, but not nonexistent. As I said, “Birth Marks” refers back to Woodrue, and “Night of the Dying” flashes back to a previous episode. From what little I’ve seen, there’s a light attempt at keeping things connected but not in an overt soap-opera style parade of subplots and character development that became the going style once it became progressively easier for people to watch TV without having to sit in front of the box when the show was on (and without having to program a VCR).

So Brian…I may have jumped the gun a little calling this “off-putting.” I mean, I can get used to the voice, and the Swamp Thing’s costume is…clunky, but I can deal. I enjoyed Swamp Thing as a prime example of a kind of TV adventure program that was very much of its time. Not deep, but fun, and I’ll try to watch more and finally get my money’s worth out of these two sets. And look forward to paying too much for that third set.

11 Responses to “Oh hey, Tony “Leave It to Beaver” Dow directed some of these.”

  • Jerry Mathers was the Beaver; Tony Dow was Wally, his brother.

  • Billy says:

    I watched this when it came out and remember being a fan of the show despite not having any familiarity with the comics at the time. I couldn’t tell you anything about it now. I do remember this show being a distant second to the Superboy series and not quite as good as the first Flash, which were on around the same time.

  • WizarDru says:

    Mark LINDSAY Chapman, you mean. I was confused for a minute there. I was like ‘wait, the guy who killed John Lennon? That can’t be right.’

    Odd fact: he was apparently considered for the role of Data is ST:TNG and ended up playing Lennon in a movie where the main character was…Mark David Chapman.

  • T says:

    The oddest fact about this series, to me, is that Tyne Daly appeared in one episode. This was during a period in which she rarely did guest shots (she did appear in one episode of “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill,” but that was something of a special event, as it was a reunion with her “Cagney and Lacey” co-star Sharon Gless–the episode was even entitled “The Reunion”). Presumably she was getting other, more prestigious offers, so I have always wondered why she agreed to be on this show. I can only suppose it was some sort of “favor to a friend” or maybe “burning off a contractual obligation” deal.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    I suppose that I should add a little context for those unfamiliar with the show, or with Tyne Daly: This was a half-hour show on the USA Network, obviously made on a modest budget (all USA original shows at this time were obviously made on modest budgets). It seldom had what could be called “name” guest stars–and in 1992 Tyne Daly was definitely a name, having won four Emmys for “Cagney and Lacey.”

    The only other familiar face that I can recall turning up on the show was Roscoe Lee Browne, who played a voodoo priest or something like that. He was rather classier than his surroundings, but his appearance was less of a surprise. Hollywood never really knew what to do with him, and so his career was dotted with a lot of these “paying the rent” kind of roles.

  • Mikester says:

    Sigh. Just not my day for gettin’ things right, I guess.

    And I literally copied Mark Lindsay Chapman’s name to my clipboard to paste into the post and I still blew it.

  • Mikester says:

    Turan: I was looking at the list of guests on the show and her name definitely stood out. Didn’t see a whole lot of other folks on there I recognized, but I’m not really the best gauge for that.

  • Randy Sims says:

    Totally off topic, but I got that JAKA’S STORY remastered book today. You weren’t kidding about the quality. Really sweet looking.

  • googum says:

    Let’s check the DVD rack…nope, the season 1-2 set you mentioned. I bought it from a Ross of all places; ’cause I wasn’t about to leave Swampy there.

  • Andrew-TLA says:

    I was never able to watch the show when it was originally on, due to not having cable at the time. But it used to be on Hulu back in the day, and I caught a couple episodes there. It reminded me a lot of certain other action-adventure programming of that era–less ambitious than Alien Nation or The Flash certainly, but a cut or three above Superboy.

    Granted, that last show had college-age Clark doing more super-stuff in a single episode than Smallville did an entire season, while also managing to do comics-accurate Bizarro and Mxyzptlck. Not well, certainly, but accurate.

  • Chris G says:

    Superboy also had a much, much better Lana Lang than Smallville did.