Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 21, 2004)
After the runaway success of The Flintstones, the folks at Hanna-Barbera decided to go in the opposite chronological direction. If a show about the caveman days worked, why not look at a fantastic space-age future?
This came to fruition in the fall of 1962 with The Jetsons, two years after the debut of The Flintstones. Set in roughly the mid-21st century, the series focused on a family, but not one with a similar construction to that of The Flintstones. The series featured male protagonist George Jetson (voiced by George O’Hanlon), his wife Jane (Penny Singleton), teen daughter Judy (Janet Waldo), and younger brother Elroy (Daws Butler). They also have a semi-literate dog named Astro (Don Messick) and a robotic maid called Rosey (Jean Vander Pyl). George works for Cosmo Spacely (Mel Blanc) at Spacely Sprockets.
Without further ado, let’s check out the 24 episodes from the first season of The Jetsons. Actually, the designation of “Season One” for this set seems a little disingenuous, as Season Two didn’t come until 21 years later. The Jetsons was cancelled in 1963 but its popularity in syndication led to a new version to air in the Eighties. I’ll examine each of these programs in the way presented on the DVDs. The synopses come from a site called “The Jetsons Unofficial Home” at http://www.cybercomm.nl/~ivo/ - thanks to them for their good work.
Rosey the Robot: “Jane wants a maid but George says they can't afford it. He invites Mr. Spacely over for dinner but what he doesn't know is that Jane has taken a free one day trial offer on a slightly used 'Rosey'. George is in a panic because he thinks that he can't possibly convince Mr. Spacely that he needs the raise if he sees Rosey. In a pinch, Rosey takes leftovers and whips up a delicious dinner and a Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Spacely fires Jetson and storms out the door. He calls a little later, munching the cake and says that anybody that can make such a delicious cake can’t be all bad. In the meantime, Rosey has left, thinking that she caused the family trouble, but they find her at the bus stop and take her home for good.”
“Rosey” tosses out so many sight gags connected to futuristic living that I started to worry the series would run out of material by its end. Of course, that’s not true, as The Jetsons will find many other topics to explore, but the first episode did seem to try to knock us out with its jokes. Most of these fare pretty well, as “Rosey” sets the stage for the series nicely. It seems fairly well-developed from minute one, as The Jetsons clearly benefited from all the prior years of The Flintstones.
A Date with Jet Screamer: “Pop star Jet Screamer (Howard Morris) organizes a contest. First prize: a date with the celebrity himself. George tries to make sure Judy won't win, but Judy is the lucky girl. Without her knowing it George acts as a chaperone.”
While The Flintstones mocked teen pop in its own way, The Jetsons takes on the phenomenon from a different perspective: the ultimate consumer, as it concentrates on Judy’s obsession. “Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah” also provides one of the series’ most memorable bits via Judy’s accidental hit song. Jet himself may be one of the most amusingly annoying characters ever to grace the TV screen. “Jet” seems less inventive and amusing than the prior show, but it has enough good moments to make it fun.
The Space Car: “George and Jane go shopping at Molecular Motors. The Supersonic Suburbanite turns out to be too much for them so they buy a car similar to their old model. Due to some car-related confusion, they get mixed up with bad guy Knuckles Nuclear and his gun Moll.”
While the main story to “Car” offers nothing special, the episode works due to some sly social commentary. The instant justice accorded by the video judge – complete with commercials – is terrific, and a few other moments stand out as quite solid. You have to like an episode in which a criminal subdues his pursuers with “baby gas” that reduces them to an infantile state.
The Coming of Astro: “Jane and the kids want a dog for personal protection. George doesn't believe in that but wants to keep everyone happy. To George, the answer is an apartment approved, nuclear powered trouble free dog called "Lectronimo". At the same moment the rest of the family found a biological dog named Astro. A contest should point out the superior dog.”
One negative that occurs when we compare The Jetsons with The Flintstones stems from the characters, as those on the former don’t present as much personality as those on the latter. To this point, at least, Jane, Judy and especially Elroy are darned dull. Astro helps spice up things, as he presents a lively and quirky character. The tendency to have Elroy repeat everything Astro says seems a little annoying – I guess the producers had no faith that the audience would understand his dialogue – but nonetheless, he adds a nice level of spark to the show.
Jetsons Night Out: “George Jetson and his boss Cosmo Spacely attend a robot football game. George fools his wife into thinking he's working late and so he won’t be able to attend a PTA meeting.”
The Jetsons always had some problems establishing an identity separate from The Flintstones, and “Night” feels like a show that could have been lifted from the Stone Age family’s worksheet. Except for some futuristic gadgets, the plot and exposition come across as pretty ordinary. It’s not a bad show, but it lacks much to make it stand out from the crowd.
The Good Little Scouts: “George Jetson takes his son Elroy on a Space Cub trip to the moon. He winds up being shown up by his boss's son Arthur.”
The issue of stories similar to those of The Flintstones raises its head here, since that series’ first season also included a show in which Fred and Barney led a scout group. Granted, “Scouts” takes something of a different approach, especially since it puts the gang on the Moon. Since the Flintstones take wasn’t a very good episode, at least “Scouts” doesn’t have to live up to a high standard. Mr. Spacely’s obnoxious son Arthur adds some amusing moments, but otherwise this seems like a pretty pedestrian piece.
The Flying Suit: “Spacely's competitor Cogswell (dshkadhsa) invents a flying suit. Elroy thinks he's invented pills that make one fly. Accidentally a normal suit and the flying suit get mixed up at the cleaners. George Jetson gets the flying suit and is convinced Elroy's pills actually work. Both Spacely and his competitor do anything to introduce the first flying device.”
While I don’t expect The Jetsons to feature great continuity, sometimes it – and The Flintstones - play a little too fast and loose with logic and it undermines the show. That happens here, as the series penchant for gags related to futuristic impatience makes this story illogical. George has to pick up his suit from the dry cleaners that only takes 30 seconds – why would anyone go to the time and trouble to leave and come back later? It makes no sense, and the show suffers for it. Otherwise, this seems like a decent but not great episode.
Rosey’s Boyfriend: “Judy and Rosey find boyfriends. The problem with love is that you're either up or down, and the animated junk pile being Henry's assistant gets a little confused.”
Here we find the second – and final – appearance of Rosey during the series’ original run. It seems odd they used the character so sparsely, as she’s a good one. “Boyfriend” showcases her well, and Mac the robot is also a funny character; his repetitive vocal noises should become annoying, but instead they’re simply amusing. “Boyfriend” proves to be a solid show.
Elroy’s TV Show: “The future TV producers got bored with cowboy and doctor programs, so they want Elroy as ‘Space Boy Zoom and His Dog Astro’. Of course Spacely wants his son and dog on TV instead.”
Like many episodes of The Jetsons, this one bears a strong resemblance to those of The Flintstones. Here the series echoes the classic “Frogmouth” bit on the earlier series, especially when George starts to badger the TV producer. “Show” makes some zippy points about TV but seems pretty average overall.
Uniblab: “Spacely buys a new robot called ‘Uniblab’. This means George actually has to work the full three-hour workday. Or so it seems, until George's janitor finds a solution.”
Why do robots on The Jetsons always say everything twice? That’s one of the mysteries of the universe, I suppose, and “Uniblab” presents more logic flaws than usual. Still, it’s hard to dislike a show with a robotic supervisor who doubles as a slot machine.
A Visit from Grandpa: “George's father visits. On his way he fixes a lady's vehicle and they exchange addresses. Because of some miscommunication, the Jetson family thinks they got involved while in reality grandpa just babysits for someone else.”
Lots of Jetsons shows skimp on plot, but “Grandpa” seems especially light on story. Mostly it just offers Grandpa’s antics, and it then tries to attempt a mistaken identity tale that fizzles. This doesn’t offer a very good episode.
Astro’s Top Secret: “At the Moon Side country club Spacely and
Cogswell tell each other that they will put the other out of business. Spacely's top secret to put Cogswell out of business is Astro. Astro ate a toy plane and can fly. Cogswell thinks Astro can do this by himself.”
What is it with the series’ obsession with flying? Everyone has anti-gravity units that essentially allow them to fly, so what’s with the focus on other methods of flight? Despite the recycled story, this one offers some fun due to the focus on Astro, who remains the series’ best character.
Elroy’s Pal: “Elroy wins a contest to meet his big hero, TV star Nimbus the Great. Unfortunately the actor becomes very ill and cannot come. George stands up for Elroy and visits Nimbus to prevent a disappointment for Elroy. The only solution is to have George wear a Nimbus suit and visit Elroy.”
After an episode that focuses on the show’s most fun personality, we concentrate on eternal drip Elroy. This creates a flat side to the program it can’t quite overcome. A few good points pop up in TV and merchandizing satire, but otherwise this show seems bland.
Test Pilot: “Spacely wants to test a new ‘everything-proof’ jacket. By mistake George's doctor tells him he has only a couple of days left to live. Now who would be a better victim to test the jacket than George?”
“Pilot” begs the question: why do companies that specialize in sprockets and cogs spend so much time trying to invent clothing items? And why does a futuristic doctor need a mummy for research? And how does the indestructible jacket protect the uncovered parts of George? And do I spend too much time worrying about bizarre moments like this? Yeah, probably. Actually, in the case of “Pilot”, the absurdity becomes so over the top that it works for the show and makes this one of the more ludicrously amusing episodes.
Millionaire Astro: “Astro turns out to be the long-lost dog of a millionaire. The Jetsons have to let Astro go. Now Astro has everything a dog can wish for, except the love of the Jetson family.”
If Astro used to be Mr. Gottrockets, why does his life of luxury seem like such a surprise to him? Boy, I need to give it up - if I quibble with every Jetsons plot flaw, I’ll go nuts. Given its emphasis on Astro, “Millionaire” offers a surprisingly ordinary program. He gives us a few laughs but not much more.
The Little Man: “Without the decompression mechanism working George is reduced to a mere six inches. The only way to fix the decompression system is by replacing parts manufactured by Spacely’s big competitor: Cogswell Cogs.”
Didn’t The Flintstones already do this story when Frank shrank? It was funnier then. I hate to continually compare the series, but it’s difficult not to do, especially since The Flintstones is so much stronger in almost every way, and particularly so when the later series so often replicates what we already saw.
Las Venus: “George and Jane visit Las Venus for gambling and entertainment. The trip is paid by Spacely because George has to try to sell some sprockets to a female client. Now George has to please his wife and the client.”
Although “Venus” also feels like another episode that borrows a story from The Flintstones, it manages some entertainment, mainly due to its setting. The show gently lampoons Las Vegas in a reasonably amusing manner. It doesn’t prosper, but it stands as a decent show.
Jane’s Driving Lesson: “Jane gets fed up with public transportation and decides to take driving lessons. After all, Elroy can get a learner's permit when he's 8 years old, so Jane should be able to get driving lessons, shouldn't she? Her talents scare the teacher so much that he goes back to hunting wild lions again. Accidentally Jane thinks she's got a new instructor while that person turns out to be a crook on the run.”
A woman came up with this story? That’s what the credits say, and I suppose that’s a testament to the different tone of the era in which this show was produced. Its so absurdly sexist that it seems tough to believe folks accepted it in its day, but it doesn’t come across as a tongue in cheek poke at the period’s attitudes. George’s barbershop scene almost redeems this one, though.
GI Jetson: “Private Jetson is drafted, and since George is a family man he gets a full two minutes to report for duty. They're all given an aptitude test, and one not-so-bright recruit jams a square
peg into a round hole, whereupon the automated grading program determines that his ‘original thinking shows leadership potential’ and makes him a general. Spacely turns out to be the commanding officer and the site is a full 10 minutes away. Cleaning, mashing potato pills, inspection and of course Martian black-jack fill the time.”
I don’t know think “GI” was a terribly good show, but I like it for one reason: it actually attempted to explain a society that drafted a 40-year-old family man. (George is in the reserves, and they call him up for a refresher course.) Given the series’ general lack of logic, that’s good enough for me; on its own, it makes “GI” notable.
Miss Solar System: “George and his boss arrange a beauty contest and decide to be the judges. Jane finds out and enters the contest without George knowing about it.”
You gotta be kidding me. Flintstones rip-offs abound during this year of The Jetsons, but this trend rises to a higher level here, as the show clearly borrows heavily from the classic episode in which Fred and Barney go to Frantic City. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as funny and lacks much zest.
TV or Not TV: “George and Astro accidentally see a robbery. That is, they think they witness a robbery. It turns out they were in a movie set. To prevent a lawsuit, the producer does everything to buy them out, while George and Astro do everything possible to avoid being caught by the ‘robbers’.”
Maybe the problem with The Jetsons isn’t the thin plots, as The Flintstones got away with even weaker stories. I can’t put my finger on the series’ blandness, but “TV” demonstrates its weaknesses. The show never seems bad, but it doesn’t engage either. (And what’s with the character design for Nimbly? He looks an awful lot like Cogswell. Couldn’t they try a little harder?)
Private Property: “A new building is built next to Spacely's company. The owner of the new plant turns out to be Cogswell and George finds out the new building is six inches over Spacely's property. Spacely makes Cogswell walk on his hands and knees and Jetson is promoted until it turns out Spacely's existing building is actually six inches over Cogswell's ground.”
The rivalry between Cogswell and Spacely gets old after a while, but at least “Property” manages a couple of new twists. Or maybe not - didn’t The Flintstones have a show in which Fred and Barney argued about their property line? Yes, they did, and that was yet another superior Stone Age show when compared to the mediocre Space Age piece and its predictable conclusion.
Dude Planet: “Jane badly needs some rest and goes to ‘Dude Planet’ with a friend. The rest of the family stays at home and tries to run the household.”
Saddled with a title that sounds like it came from gay porn, “Planet” slightly stands out from the pack with an emphasis on Jane. However, I don’t know how many more gags about “overworked” Space Age folks I can take; the show beats the same joke into the floor. And since when did the Jetsons have a cat?
Elroy’s Mob: “A miserable student exchanges his report tape with Elroy's. Elroy gets home and George and Jane play the tape, which is filled with failing grades. Elroy cannot convince them there's a mix
up, so he and Astro device to run away.”
The Jetsons finishes its run with a pretty decent show. It gets awfully silly at times, but it offers some of the cleverness that sparked the series’ first couple of episodes and manages to overcomes the usual pitfalls. It’s not great, but it’s enjoyable.
Unfortunately, it had too little company along the way. Maybe my expectations were too high. On its own, The Jetsons offers a pleasant enough comedy show. However, when we compare it to its predecessor, The Flintstones remains infinitely more amusing and winning. I guess the folks at Hanna-Barbera spent themselves with the Stone Age family and had little creativity left for their futuristic folks.