Have you ever looked at one of your friends through a goldfish bowl? No, of course you haven’t! What kind of idiot would do such a bizarre thing?!?!? But this isn’t about you, or your goldfish, or your friends! No, this is about an old TV show called “Lassie” and an old TV kid called Timmy Martin, so stop being so damn self-centered!
Being an urbane and sophisticated man of culture, I make it my business to acquaint myself with as many fine cultural products as I possibly can. More often than not, what this adds up to is looking through the bargain bins and thrift shops for DVDs of old TV shows. This is how I came to be acquainted with the old “Lassie” TV series, the one that was set on a farm, and which began in the Fifties and ended at about the same time as that war where the US got beaten up by little yellow men. Unlike many once-popular TV shows, some of which have ended up as palatable as a bottle of milk that’s been lying in the sun since the Eisenhower administration, this one has held up nicely and is still rather entertaining, albeit not quite what I expected.
A couple of things strike me as odd about the classic Lassie series. The first is Lassie herself. Sure, she’s a sort of Super Dog who understands everything the humans say, she opens windows and doors all by herself, and does all the family’s accounting, but I can’t help but notice that she also does a lot of whining. In fact, whining seems to be her most common vocalization. This leads me to believe that Lassie is some sort of neurotic worrier who is constantly fretting over the most minor of things and that she could probably use some Valium, or at least a week in the Hamptons. Really, the old girl needs to learn to relax or she’s going to get an ulcer or drop dead of a heart attack – and then who will get Timmy out of trouble?
And that’s the other odd thing – poor Timmy is always finding himself in some sort of trouble, usually rather bizarre trouble. These troubles are too numerous to enumerate, but a few instances seem especially worthy of closer analysis, so here goes nothing – and let’s hope I’m not attacked by the refrigerator while I’m writing this thing.
In “Lassie and the Tiger,” Timmy finds himself trapped inside the house with an escaped tiger. A German tiger, at that, and no doubt some sort of Nazi war criminal just stopping over on his way to Argentina. What happens is that young Timmy goes off to the local fishin’ hole to do some fishin’ and runs into a tiger that’s gone a-swimmin’. Yes, if anyone could do something as unlikely as run into a tiger while fishing, it’s our boy Timmy! Neither Timmy nor Lassie are terribly pleased at this turn of events, but at least Timmy has the good sense to not go chasing after the thing! Not that it does him much good, as the tiger somehow evades Lassie and manages to double back and follow Timmy home. Like a not-so-ancient mariner, Timmy knows that something frightful doth close behind him tread. But he’s too smart to provoke the tiger by making a run for it, so he just keeps walking, albeit with a rather worried look on his face! When they get home, Timmy cleverly closes the door before the tiger can follow him inside, but the tiger is offended at having the door slammed in his face so he climbs in through the kitchen window and now Timmy is trapped in the kitchen with a tiger who can’t cook! Poor Timmy is so freaked out that he starts climbing the furniture! But, luckily, this is a gourmet tiger who prefers pancakes and waffles to little boys, and so he retaliates against his host’s rude behavior by eating the breakfast leftovers! All turns out well, of course, when the tiger is captured by the police and taken off to the hoosegow while ranting about the Jews and the communists.
Then there’s “Timmy Pisses Off the Police,” in which our hero gets several tickets for running red lights and speeding while frantically driving a pregnant Lassie to the dog hospital. Luckily, the cunning little fellow has disguised Lassie in a blonde wig and one of his mother’s old maternity dresses, so the cops think they are dealing with a human pregnancy and end up giving Timmy and the missus an escort to the hospital. Unfortunately, it’s a human hospital so the doctors are all seriously freaked out when “Mrs. Martin” finally drops her six surprise packages! Fearing an epidemic of furry little children, the hospital calls in the Centers for Disease Control, who proceed to blame the whole event on some insidious plot by the communists, probably something to do with fluoridization of the water supply. In the ensuing chaos, Timmy, Lassie, and the kids manage to escape back to the farm by hiding in the laundry hamper and pretending to be some dirty shirts.
Unlike that other yellow-haired trouble magnet, Bart Simpson, Timmy never wound up trapped down a well — but he did wind up trapped up a cliff! This unlikely event befalls him in “The Rescue,” an episode in which, like some stupid cat, Timmy climbs halfway up a cliff face before realizing that he can neither continue upwards nor go back down! And now the cliff is starting to crumble! And there’s a scorpion in his shoe! And he needs his insulin! But luckily there is a man flying a helicopter nearby and he throws a lifejacket down to Timmy, proving once again that pilots are idiots! Now Timmy’s mom comes along and lights a fire to attract another, hopefully more intelligent, helicopter pilot. But the fire turns out to be a very smoky one, so now on top of everything else Timmy has smoke in his eyes and can’t see squat! And then things get even worse! The fire spreads! Now the whole countryside is on fire! And Timmy is still stuck up the cliff and waiting for his insulin! And Lassie is just sitting around looking like she doesn’t give a crap! But now a second helicopter pilot arrives. He lands and asks Timmy’s mother how the hell the kid got up there, to which Timmy’s mom earnestly replies that her son is a congenital idiot. Then the pilot gets back in the copter and lowers a rope. But he does so before taking off, and so it doesn’t work! Now he’s up in the air, and gets the rope to Timmy, and Timmy is finally off the cliff and back on the ground! But now there’s still the fire to be put out! Then Lassie, finally leaping into action, takes advantage of the pilot being distracted by putting out the fire to steal the man’s helicopter, no doubt for some nefarious purpose of her own.
In “Peace Patrol” everything starts out well — if you can call taking part in a program aimed at getting kids to give Richard Nixon their money “starting out well.” It would appear that back in the Fifties Uncle Sam had a government savings bond program for children, the idea being to con little kids into lending the government their pocket money by getting the Lone Ranger to spout some jingoistic claptrap. Timmy, being a typically naïve American, decides to take part in the program and starts saving up his pennies so he can help the Peace Patrol fight those damn dirty commies! Soon, however, the box containing all the Peace Patrol money goes missing and Timmy ends up being accused of being a communist himself and brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee. As per the usual formula, all turns out well after Lassie sneaks into the hearings cunningly disguised as a guy selling peanuts and tears out Joe McCarthy’s throat. Of course, as any amateur historian knows, McCarthy didn’t actually carry out the HUAC hearings, but on that particular day he was there just to gloat and his grisly death provided Lassie and Timmy with the distraction they needed to make a clean getaway…
In “Little Boy Lost,” Timmy somehow ends up trapped in the brand new refrigerator, which seems to be some sort of gateway to another dimension. While trapped in this other dimension Timmy can’t be seen, but he can be heard constantly pleading for some DDT as the place is crawling with more bugs than a Mexican burrito. Weary of his constant complaints, mom and dad tie a rope around Lassie’s waist and send her in to retrieve him. Finding the boy, Lassie takes his head in her mouth and drags him back to our dimension. But, Timmy being Timmy, right after escaping from the refrigerator he is attacked by a barrel and ends up spending six weeks in a coma!
Then there’s “The Space Traveler,” in which the poor little fellow becomes radioactive! I kid you not – he goes out playing in the woods and bumps into a NASA capsule that has dropped from space. Problem is, it was sent up into a radiation belt or some such thing and so just by handling it poor Timmy has become radioactive! You can tell he’s radioactive because when they run the Geiger counter over him the thing goes nuts! To make matters worse, there’s a guinea pig inside the capsule and Timmy accidentally sets it loose! So now he’s radioactive and being sued by the U.S government for stealing a highly trained, genetically modified guinea pig who, it was hoped, would one day run for the U.S senate! Once again all ends well when Lassie finds the escaped guinea pig down at the bank trying to cash in his Lone Ranger savings bonds so he can flee the country and Timmy is taken to the local army base to be de-contaminated.
In “The Champ” Timmy falls into an empty, abandoned, swimming pool while trying to rescue a piglet. Not such bad news, really, except that while trying to escape he knocks open some valve or something and now the pool is filling up! With the help of an improvised slingshot Timmy manages to hurl the piglet out of the pool and into the next county, but is himself still trapped. Presumably not having learnt to swim, Timmy realizes that he is about to suffer a biblical fate and needs succor real soon. Luckily this arrives in the form of Timmy’s dad, who has been summoned by the piglet, and who pulls Timmy out of the pool. Where Lassie is in all this, I do not know. Hell, maybe she’s finally spending that week in the Hamptons! This is also one of the few episodes that led to real life trouble for Timmy & Co, as the pig in question was part black and part white. This led Billy Bob Succotash, Grand Wizard of the Alabama chapter of the Klan, to lead a campaign trying to get the show cancelled, complaining that, “That there pig is miscejuh…er…miseguh…er. That there pig had a white momma and a black daddy!”
In “Bows and Arrows,” for some inexplicable reason, Timmy and an older kid with no chin and a really annoying personality are out trying to catch themselves a lynx. While chinless goes off to try to kill the critter with a bow and a stolen arrow, Timmy, being a more compassionate sort, busies himself setting up one of those snares where you bend a small tree, tie a rope to it, then put a noose on the other end, stick it on the ground and hope some idiot comes along and ends up hanging upside down from the tree. In this case the snare works and Timmy gets his wish but, alas, the idiot in question is himself! Yes, in classic cartoon fashion, Timmy somehow ends up snared by his own snare and hanging upside down like a side of pork! And to make matters worse, that lynx has decided to come ‘round and he thinks that pork looks pretty good! So now Timmy is swinging back and forth trying to avoid the cat’s attempts to rip his head off, and everyone is freaking out and in a general panic. But worry not, for Lassie, despite having been accidentally shot in the shoulder by the jerk with no chin, comes to the rescue and beats the ferocious kitty senseless with a baseball bat, and then a man comes along and shoots the bad kitty dead. Timmy is pulled down from the tree and, not wanting to waste the meat, takes the lynx home so he can make him into some lasagna.
Guess what happens in “Timmy Falls Through The Floor”? That’s right, the poor kid ends up lost at sea. No, I’m kidding – he actually falls through the floor. Seems young Timmy and his outsized friend Boomer (played by a young Meat Loaf in one of his earliest acting roles) are out gathering bioluminescent fungus as part of a dastardly plan to gross out some girls, when the two venture into some sort of abandoned cabin, the floor gives way (Master Loaf’s fault, no doubt) and both Timmy and Boomer end up trapped in what appears to be the cellar. To make things worse the place is condemned and due to be demolished – and guess when the bulldozer turns up! That’s right, several months after Timmy and Boomer have escaped! No, I’m kidding again – it’s while they are still trapped inside. Lassie tries to chew her way through the outside cellar door, but the old girl’s teeth just aren’t up to it so instead she just stands around looking pathetic. Luckily, Boomer saves the day by scaring the bulldozers away by belting out a stirring rendition of “Bat Out Of Hell,” an especially impressive feat as it takes place almost twenty years before the song was written!
And those are just the highlights. Don’t get me started on Timmy being attacked by geese, pecked by chickens, hassled by Krishnas, taking too much LSD and hallucinating about figures from Greek mythology, being freaked out by an eclipse, living on the world’s fakest-looking farm, causing army planes to crash, and getting an attack of appendicitis with complications ( the complications being that one of his legs falls off. ) Whoever would have guessed that the world of the Fifties was such a dangerous place for children? Maybe Timmy should have just drawn the curtains and stayed home all day, but with his luck a tiger would probably have broken in…