“There’s no need to fear. Underdog is here!”
Indeed, Underdog was the champion of many a child’s fantasies in the 1960’s when it first reached the airwaves. The show would become the most famous title from the team at Total Television Productions who also brought us the likes of Tennessee Tuxedo and his many friend.
“When criminals in this world appear and break the laws that they should fear and frighten all who see or hear the cry goes up both far and near for Underdog! Speed of lightning, roar of thunder fighting all who rob or plunder, Underdog.”
Total Television was formed by a team of advertisement men who believed they could bring their unique talents to the creation and production of children’s cartoons. Saturday morning was big business for the genre in those days, and the makers of cereal and toys were quick to see the money to be made from the mesmerized masses of young children who spent their weekend mornings literally glued to the television set. That’s when General Mills, known for their cereal brands, hired the guys at Total Television to come up with a new “super” character to take advantage of the Superman craze. The result was Underdog.
“When in this world the headlines read of those whose hearts are filled with greed who rob and steal from those who need to right this wrong with blinding speed goes Underdog!”
Shoeshine Boy was a mild-mannered shoeshine boy, until he heard the cry of people in danger. He would enter a nearby telephone booth and become the invincible Underdog. He was particularly fond of television reporter Sweet Polly Purebred. When she was in trouble she’d sing out: “O where O where has my Underdog gone…” and in an instant the flying canine would come to the rescue. He always spoke in rhyme and often left quite a bit of damage in his wake after a rescue. We’re talking a ton of holes in buildings and roofs. Still, he saved the day and was loved by all.
Like the comic superheroes that inspired him, Underdog also had a couple of arch-villains that would reappear from time to time. There was Simon Bar Sinister, voiced by Allen Swift, and Riff Raff, based on the old George Raft gangster characters, and he was voiced by Swift as well. Wally Cox provided the poetic voice of Underdog and Norma MacMillan. Each episode featured two parts of what was usually a four-part story. Along with the two Underdog segments were other regularly-appearing cartoons. In seasons one and two those segments were made up of Go Go Gophers, a story of two gopher Indians who were the foil of Colonel Coyote of the local Army fort and The World Of Commander McBragg, which was a very short segment about a boastful old man who tells tall tales of his daring accomplishments. In season three the segments switched to Klondike Kat and Tooter Turtle. All of these extra segments are included here, and the episodes are reproduced very much as they originally appeared.
Underdog became a wonderful success and led to one of the largest marketing properties of the time. There were Underdog products from PJ’s to soap. The Underdog balloon was one of the longest-running and most popular balloons in the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It ran for twenty years. The show also spawned a rather lame film which severely changed the entire theme of the show.
The series did not come without its share of controversy. In several episodes Underdog would get into a serious jam and need a little “boost” to get him out. He had a special energized vitamin pill hidden in a secret compartment of his ring. When he popped the pill, he became supercharged. The networks had trouble with what they considered implied drug usage, and these scenes were cut by the time the series reached syndication. They are returned to their complete condition here.
Each episode appears in its original full frame aspect ratio. There is certainly a mixed bag here. For the most part, there is a wonderful job of remastering on display here. Colors are often bright, and the picture reveals minimum artifact issues and dirt. Of course, age is still evident and even worse on occasion. Some episodes show markedly worse image, particularly the McBragg episodes. It’s good enough to enjoy the nostalgic value here.
The audio’s pretty simple here, folks. It’s 1960’s TV cartoon fare, and that should tell you what to expect. We’re talking mono. There is a bit of high-end distortion.
There’s No Need To Fear. Underdog Is Here: (29:16) This is a nice little history of the show.
Storyboard Narration by co-creator Joe Harris: The original creator reads a never-before-heard Underdog story.
Shout Factory does a wonderful job of bringing the show back to life with this complete collection. This was one of those sweet memories from my own childhood, so I was particularly looking forward to seeing it again. While the show doesn’t quite hold up anymore, there is still enough nostalgia to bring a smile from time to time. It’s worth having just for that effect alone. “So, it’s hip hip hip and away we go.”