Tuesday, January 23, 2007

welcome to space academy

To anyone who was a member of the Saturday Morning Cartoon generation, Filmation is surely a brand name that can flip a couple cans. Filmation founders Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott were responsible for the most recognizable cartoon and live action children’s hits like The Groovie Goolies, Isis, Fat Albert, He-Man, and Archie. Not only were these shows popular on weekend television, but many of the show’s characters crossed over to become celebrated Top 40 hit-makers.

Thank the Gods of TV that many of these funtime programs are resurfacing on DVD.

I have to admit that I was not a regular fan of Space Academy when it originally aired (Saturdays mornings from 1977 to 1979). Frankly, by the time this show came on I was starting High School and had other, more pressing, matters on my mind (girls just don’t dig a guy who sits at home watching cartoons). The fact that the show starred perennial 70s kid actress Pamelyn Ferdin didn’t make it any more appealing to me. You may remember her as Felix Unger’s whinny little daughter, or the whinny girl on Lassie, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, Sealab 2020, or a thousand other TV shows and movies. Now, in nostalgic reflection, I kinda dig her – maybe that change of heart came about when she played a whinny victim in the first Toolbox Murders.

Other notable actors on Space Academy are Brian Tochi, who played the Asin dude in Revenge of the Nerds and the Police Academy flicks. And, of course, there was Jonathan Harris, who is best remembered as Dr. Smith from Lost in Space. For fans of the flamboyant and dastardly Dr. Smith, Harris’ turn as the more sedate Commander Isaac Gampu must have surely been a disappointment, for this role as the Academy leader lacked the twitchy charm of dubious doctor.

This Saturday morning treat was sort of like Star Trek for the junior set. The racially mixed teenaged cadets of the academy were culled from the most brilliant and talented of the young Earthlings of the 33rd Century. Under the tutelage of Commander Gampu and his robot Peepo (voiced by Lou Scheimer’s daughter Erika), telekinetic siblings Laura (Ferdin) and Chris (Ric Carrott) join forces with, Tee Gar (Tochi), a martial arts expert, Paul (Ty Henderson) the doubting Thomas of the group, and Loki (Eric Greene) a playful alien orphan who can turn invisible, to explore the Universe. And just as Kirk and his crew did, the youngsters constantly happen upon a planet or space ship where the inhabitants force the cadets to mull over some very complicated ethical and moral conundrums.

And just as Jonathan Harris traversed many a planet where the vegetation was always sparse and usually shoulder height, so to the young cadets journeyed. For me, this is the beauty of shows like this – the simplicity. Even though the show was decked out by the same special effects team from Star Wars (which premiered the same year as SA debuted), it still maintained a low-budget, staged personality – which, for my moneys worth, is what makes these make believe shows seem oddly more believable.

BCI Eclipse, for the past couple of years, has been releasing the Filmation catalog for all of us hungry PopCereal eaters. Look for Space Academy at their website, or your local video mall.

And while you're at it, check out these handy sites for more on SA.

70s Live Action Kid Vid

Welcome to Space Academy

Pamelyn Ferdin's Official Website

Released by BCI Eclipse / Ink & Paint
In Stores January 16, 2007.

SPACE ACADEMY: The Complete Series includes special features produced by Andy Mangels:

• Four discs, all 15 episodes

Bonus material includes:

* 35 minute Documentary, "Back to School with Space Academy"
* Audio Commentary tracks for two episodes
("Phantom Planet, "Countdown")
with Lou Scheimer - Executive Producer,
stars Ric Carrot, Brian Tochi, and Eric Greene,
and Special Effects Supervisor Chuck Comisky,
hosted by Andy Mangels
* Behind-the Scenes photo gallery
* Cast Reunion photo gallery with interview clips
* Memorabilia photo gallery with interview clips
* Promotional photo gallery
* Booklet with Episode Guide and Trivia
* All 15 Scripts (DVD-ROM)
* Series Bible (DVD-ROM)
* Easter Eggs
* Trailers - Ink & Paint Previews

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