Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 31, 2005)
For some time now, I’ve asserted that when a TV series adds a child to its cast, it does so as an act of creative desperation. The show starts to run out of situations – and probably has declined in the ratings – so the producers toss a kid into the mix to add some freshness.
This almost never works. (I can’t think of any successful examples of it, but I don’t want to box myself into a corner by absolutely declaring that it always fails.) Case in point: The Flintstones. Perhaps the series would have declined without the Season Three arrival of Pebbles, but her debut sure didn’t do anything to ward off the show’s downward spiral.
But that’s probably a subject better explored in Season Four, the first to include Pebbles in every show. For now, let’s check out the 28 episodes from Season Three of The Flintstones. I’ll examine each of these programs in the way presented on the DVDs, which also corresponds to their airdates. The “P#” after the title relates the episode’s place in the production order; for example, “P2” was the second program completed. The synopses come from a site called “The Flintstones and Hanna-Barbera” (http://www.topthat.net/webrock) - thanks to them for their permission to use the recaps.
Dino Goes Hollyrock (P-62): "Dino has a shot at TV stardom opposite the actress of his dreams in The Adventures of Sassie."
Season Three opens with its best episode, and arguably the series’ strongest show. “Hollyrock” has it all: hilarious scenarios, a great spoof of show business, and even a little pathos. The scene in which Fred cries over Dino’s absence never fails to choke me up as well. This is top-notch Flintstones.
Fred’s New Boss (P-61): "Fred tries to get newly-unemployed Barney a job at the quarry, and Barney is made Executive Vice President in Charge of Production when it turns out he is Mr. Slate's nephew.”
While not as good as “Hollyrock”, “Boss” makes sure things stay on a high level. Yeah, it really stretches credibility that Slate and Barney would be related and wouldn’t already know that, but heck, this is The Flintstones, the series with the worst continuity in the history of TV. (That’s why we’ll never see the Slate/Barney connection again.) The show uses the potentially nutty situations well and is a winner.
Barney the Invisible (P-64): "Fred's attempt to cure Barney's hiccups has an unexpected side effect.”
Hmm… and I thought “Boss” stretched credibility! At least it remained in the world of believable science, while “Invisible” goes for a much more fantastic route. But it’s another very funny program, so I won’t complain.
The Bowling Ballet (P-65): "Fred enrolls in the Bedrock Dance Studio in order to regain his lost timing before the big bowling match against the Rockland Rockets.”
The series liked to use Fred in “fish out of water” situations, and obviously seeing him in a leotard is one of those. I wouldn’t call this episode a favorite, but it works quite well. The climax in which Fred uses his ballet to bowl is a highlight.
The Twitch (P-63): "Fred tries to get Rock Roll to perform at Wilma's ladies club benefit.
Time for another classic! Rock Roll is a fun character, and “The Twitch” is a catchy little tune. All the elements connect in this terrific show.
Here’s Snow in Your Eyes (P-68): "Wilma and Betty follow their husbands to the Lodge convention at Stone Mountain Ski Resort, where jewel thieves have mistaken Barney for their contact.”
“Snow” avoids too many high concept trappings and emerges as a good program. I can’t call it one of the year’s best, but it manipulates the situations well. I also love to greet people with “Slalom”!
The Buffalo Convention (P-67): " Every member of the Water Buffalo Lodge suddenly comes down with ‘dipsy-doodle-itis,’ which can only be cured by three days away from their wives at Frantic City--but Wilma's Doozey dodo bird knows the truth and could spoil everything.”
A genuine classic, my only complaint about “Convention” is that we never see Doozy again in any future shows. Of course, since the Flintstone’s cat played such a small role, I guess this isn’t a surprise. I love the Doozy character and he adds a ton of hilarity to this excellent show. He even prompts genuine emotion during the sad scenes in which Fred abandons him and then he struggles to walk back to Wilma.
The Little Stranger (P-69): " Wilma is deliberately vague when she tells Fred that Arnold will be staying with them for two weeks, and Fred thinks that Wilma is pregnant.”
“Stranger” feels like a tease. Granted, at the time, audiences may not have known a Flintstone baby was due before long, but this show seems intended to toy with expectations. It doesn’t do so well. The plot about Fred being grumpy is pointless and doesn’t pay off – we never find out what’s eating him – and the rest lacks much pizzazz.
Baby Barney (P-66): "Having told his wealthy Uncle Tex that he and Wilma have a son named "Little Tex," Fred enlists Barney's help in ensuring his inheritance.”
Another show that toys with baby expectations, at least “Barney” proves much more successful than “Stranger”. Though don’t expect a classic. We get lots of gags about baby Barney and not much meat. In addition, the show acts as another teaser for the possibility of a Flintstone delivery. It has some moments but isn’t a great show.
Hawaiian Escapade (P-71): "Wilma and Betty win a trip to Rockiki Beach to meet Larry Lava.”
Matters rebound with the thoroughly entertaining “Escapade”. I love the phrase “please – pass the poi – please” and find many other good spots here. The capper in which Wilma defends Fred sure works, and the rest of the program succeeds as well.
Ladies Day (P-70): " Fred dons a dress to get into a ball game for free, and he and Barney must deal with an angry Betty and Wilma, Mr. Slate, and an amorous client who has eyes for ‘Fredericka’ and, later, for Wilma.”
One of the series’ more complicated plots, “Day” pulls together the story threads well. It never loses sight of the humor and maintains a surprisingly coherent tale. I don’t think it stands as a classic, but it’s funnier and more enjoyable than I recalled.
Nothing But the Tooth (P-72): "Barney's toothache creates a headache for Fred, who tries to pull the tooth himself so they can use the money to go to the fights.”
One of the series’ more surreal tales, “Tooth” benefits from its goofy tone. We get lots of hilarious lines and a simple plot that contrasts with the complicated “Day”. The show turns into a consistently strange piece that offers plenty of laughs.
High School Fred (P-73): "On the advice of an efficiency expert, Mr. Slate sends Fred back to finish high school, where he is instantly popular with the kids.”
Odd – Fred just went to college in Season Two’s “Flintstone of Prinstone”, and now he has to go to high school? At least when The Simpsons sent Homer back to high school and college the series did it in the correct order. That’s not the only problem with this show. It lacks the bite of the nasty “Prinstone” and rehashes too many of the earlier program’s scenes. It falls flat and stands as one of this year’s weaker episodes.
Dial S for Suspicion (P-74): "Fred must take two physicals: one to take out a life insurance policy, and one for a new job as assistant to Conrad Hailstone at Stone Valley Inn. He soon begins to suspect that Wilma is planning to kill him to collect the insurance.”
Though an improvement on the lackluster “High School”, “Suspicion” reflects the same growing sense of niceness that will eventually infect The Flintstones. Earlier shows presented an anarchic tone, whereas the show now starts to grow soft. This episode should be one of the series’ darker ones, but it only manages a smidgen of the necessary attitude. Still, it has some funny moments; I continue to quote Fred’s bad Spanish, and the techniques used to fail his physical are a gas.
Flash Gun Freddie (P-75): "Fred and Barney pursue a career in "photo-graphy" when they purchase a Polarock camera.”
So much for the “nice infection”! “Flash” comes chock full of barbs, most of them aimed at Fred. From the catty pharmacist to the assaults he endures during the photo sessions, Fred gets the butt-end of many insults and indignities. These add up to a consistently harsh and funny episode.
The Kissing Burglar (P-76): "A thief with a romantic touch has Wilma starry-eyed and Fred seeing red.”
“Burglar” goes back to a gentler tone, though not totally so. The ways that Fred and Wilma antagonize each other are amusing, and I like the manner in which Fred’s jealousy emerges. It’s not a very creative or original episode, but it stands as a fairly enjoyable one.
Wilma the Maid (P-78): "The Flintstones hire a maid, Lollobrickida, who quits before an important dinner.
After a program in which Wilma gets the better of Fred, her own scheming backfires on her here. That brings out some fairly novel situations for the series, as usually Wilma is the voice of reason, not the instigator. “Maid” lacks great spice, but it has enough good moments to succeed.
Trivia note: I believe “Maid” stands as the only episode of The Flintstones in which Fred never once gets angry. He comes close a couple of times, but he doesn’t quite blow his top.
The Hero (P-79): "Barney saves a baby, but Fred gets the credit. Will Fred's conscience let him live with the lie?”
So much for cheerful Fred – he starts this show in a snit and spends much of it that way. The program starts well; Fred’s irritable mood leads to some laughs, as does the rescue itself. Once Fred becomes a fake hero, however, it goes downhill, as too much stiff moralizing ruins things.
DVD FOUR, SIDE A:
The Surprise (P-81): "Fred expresses negative feelings about babies when Barney sits for his nephew Marblehead--not the right frame of mind in which to hear Wilma's news.”
“Surprise” is less an episode than it is a plot device. It exists mainly to set up Fred’s dislike of babies and his eventual change of heart before Wilma springs the big news on him. It lacks much spark and humor.
Mother-In-Law’s Visit (P-82): "Fred's attempts to be nice to Mrs. Slaghoople are less than successful. So when the old battle-axe winds up in disguised, part-time cabbie Fred's taxi, he milks the situation for all it's worth.”
Not a great episode, “Visit” at least musters a little more pizzazz than some others related to Wilma’s pregnancy. The scenes in which Fred toys with Mrs. Slaghoople while a cabbie are pretty good; she usually gets the better of him, so it’s nice to see Fred come out on top for once.
Foxy Grandma (P-80): "Fred hires a housekeeper who turns out to be Grandma Dynamite, the notorious bank robber.”
Hmm… it seems odd that they produced this episode before “The Surprise”, since Wilma’s already pregnant here. However, it should have aired before “Visit”, as it sets up the arrival of her mother. In any case, it’s a pretty mediocre show. I like the parts with the two bad maids, but once we meet Grandma Dynamite, it rapidly goes downhill.
Fred’s New Job (P-83): "Operation Get You a Raise, which involves Barney dressing up as ‘Mr. Rockafeather’ and making a counter-offer for Fred's services, backfires, and Fred is fired by Mr. Slate.”
If Fred needs money, why doesn’t he drive a cab again? And why doesn’t Mr. Slate recognize his nephew Barney? These and other continuity problems can drive you nuts! Otherwise, “Job” is a good show. It’s something of a throwback to the wilder feeling of the first two seasons, and that’s a positive.
Dress Rehearsal (P-84): "Wilma is about to go into labor.”
This episode exists mainly as a long prelude to Wilma’s delivery of Pebbles. While that means it lacks much plot, it engages us with more than enough good comedy to be worthwhile. Of course, the arrival of Pebbles marks an important moment in the series history as well. My favorite moment? When Barney almost gets Fred to kiss his foot – back in college, we quoted that bit all the time.
DVD FOUR, SIDE B:
Carry On, Nurse Fred (P-85): "After firing Wilma's nurse, Fred assumes the household duties and mislays Pebbles.”
Wilma acts out of character here. The nurse is a total witch and Fred reacts appropriately to her outrageous demands, but Wilma does nothing to stand up for him or the Rubbles. That seems odd, but continuity has never been this series’ strong suit, so it doesn’t surprise me they’d change Wilma’s characters to suit the situation. Otherwise, this is an average episode, though we feel more sympathy for poor Fred than usual.
Ventriloquist Barney (P-86): "Barney's voice-throwing trick adds to the general mayhem when he and Fred take Pebbles to a wrestling match.”
Without question, Barney’s ventriloquist antics make this episode amusing. I love his impersonation of Wilma, and the other gags are consistently amusing. The remaining parts of the show seem less inspiring, though a few laughs result.
The Big Move (P-87): "Fred disapproves of Barney's lowbrow influence on Pebbles, so he moves the family to a snobbish high-society community.”
Only a few episodes ago, Fred had to moonlight to pay for a $25 crib, and now he has enough money to rent a mansion? And he was cool with showing Pebbles wrestling but he suddenly objects to other potentially lowbrow escapades? Oy, the nightmares that come with the series’ lack of continuity! (That reminds me: I swear they accidentally put Mr. Slate in the audience next to Fred at the wrestling match in “Ventriloquist”.)
“Move” is the kind of episode the series would have handled better in its earlier years. As Season Three progresses, The Flintstones becomes nicer and nicer, and it lacks the anarchic venom of the prior work. This means some moderately amusing spoofs of the idle rich but not anything too memorable.
Note that I think “Move” comes from a video source and not the original film master. It was noticeably shorter than the other episodes in this set; while they run between 25 and 26 minutes, this one finished at less than 23 minutes. Part of that was because it lacked the usual “teaser” opening and went straight to the credits, but it still would be shorter than average anyway.
Swedish Visitors (P-88): "While the Flintstones endure a rocky family camping trip, Wilma rents out the house to earn back the vacation money she has already secretly spent on herself.”
“My name is Rubble – I’m mean and I’m mad!” That line alone makes “Visitors” a winner, and the catchy tune the musicians write about the Flintstones also clicks. The show lacks particular bite, but it’s amusing enough all the same.
The Birthday Party (P-77): "Barney must keep Fred busy while Wilma plans a surprise party for him, but he loses his car with a sleeping Fred inside.”
Season Three ends on a pretty good note with “Party”. It goes off on some bizarre twists like Barney’s impersonation of a Scottish detective and presents a reasonable amount of humor. Fred’s attempts to find the partiers in his new neighbor’s candy dish always struck me as curious, but it’s entertainingly odd.
As I mentioned at the start of the review, I think Season Three of The Flintstones is when the series “jumped the shark”. The arrival of Pebbles marked its official decline, and we’ll see more signs of that in Season Four. To be sure, the show still churned out some great programs, but we’ll find more dreck and less gold as the years progress.
Pebbles is a problem because she symbolizes the series’ increasing niceness. The Flintstones had a real edge in its earlier days, but that only occasionally manifests itself in Season Three. The comedy seems safer and without the same level of bite much of the time.
That said, I still consider Season Three to be a success. It probably includes fewer great shows than the first two years – and the quality declines as the package progresses – but some true classics emerge. I could live without a few of these programs, but I’m still very happy to have the many winners.