Michael Gray and Jackson Bostwick in the 1974 CBS series, Shazam.
How is it that, during my childhood of the 1970's, the Japanese could keep me completely enthralled with cheap, rubber monster suits on shows like Ultraman and Space Giants, yet here in America, "the greatest country in the world"TM, Saturday Morning entertainment was like watching paint dry after a shot of Nyquil? Case in point, the 1974 - 77 Shazam series. The set-up sounds pretty exciting to a kid: Young Billy Batson and his elder companion, known simply as The Mentor (this was pre-NAMBLA, remember), traveled around in a big camper van*, getting into all sorts of dangerous predicaments that required Billy to magically transform into Captain Marvel, super hero extraordinare. Man, this oughtta be good!
Oughtta be, but ain't. Low budget effects and bad acting you can forgive. But the preaching. The eternal, Seventies brand of "after school special" preaching about tolerance, fair play and good dental hygenine (which stunk up almost every effort to entertain children back then), clogged up scripts that should have been full of super powered fistfights. Instead of clobbering radioactive dragon men, Captain Marvel stood around with his hands on his hips, lecturing kids about telling the truth. Since the "action" usually revolved around older teens, the effort seemed a thinly-veiled attempt to keep the nation's hippie youth from joining The Weathermen. After all, Captain Marvel says it's wrong for groovy guys and chicks to shoplift, much less blow up banks and office buildings to shake up The Establishment.
With all this mamby-pamby, parent-approved pabulum being forced on children starved for action and adventure, is it any wonder America was so excited about the unregulated Reagan '80s? Finally, tolerance and respect were out the window, and the Bad Guys were irreversibly evil with vaguely foreign accents again. Rambo didn't give advice to young people, he blew them up. The Thundercats had swords, the GI Joe gang had guns. GUNS! Try to find a weapon of any kind on Saturday Mornings of the 1970s. The Super Friends couldn't even snap anyone with a wet towel.
Listen, I'm the biggest liberal, anti-violence pussyboy on the planet, but everyone knows the super hero genre has one, primary theme: Beat People Up. Kick giant monsters in the face, burn mad scientists with lasers and destroy their secret laboratories.
And no talking!!
*Oddly, many kiddie programs of the '70s involved traveling around in camper vans in search of adventure. I guess in those days, it defined the American Dream.