Monday, February 1, 2010

Television Review: THE LETTER PEOPLE, EPISODE 2- MEET MR. T (1974, Thomas McDonough)


Well, a tenacious reader reminded me a few days ago that at one point in time, I had promised to eventually review each episode of the Letter People series. Being as the first and last installment of that series premiered over one year ago, I've decided that it's time to continue. It's important for me to show the world that Sean Gill is not a liar, particularly when said lies involve defunct 1970's low-budge' puppet theater of the absurd. You can read the review of Episode 1 and an introduction to the series itself HERE. So, without, further ado, I present to you now– THE LETTER PEOPLE: EPISODE 2- MEET MR. T:

Episode 2: Meet Mr. T.
Stars: 3.5 of 5.
Running Time: 15 minutes.


(sung)
"Tall--my teeth are so tall
Terrifically tall,
The tallest you'll see;
I'm called Mr. T.

(spoken word)
Mr. T--that's me - TALL TEETH.
Why, my tall teeth are so tall,
That it takes my toothbrush 222 turns
To take a trip
From the top of the tip,
To the tip of the top
Of each tooth,
And that's the tall truth!

And talk about toothpaste
From Tuesday to Tuesday,
I'll use 2,222 tubes of tasty toothpaste,
For each tremendous tooth,
And that's the tall truth, too!

(sung)
Tall -- my teeth are so tall,
Terrifically tall,
The tallest you'll see;
I'm called Mr. T."


Simply poetry. Yes...Mr. T. The lilting, singsongy voice. The delicate, almost melancholy demeanor. He's just a sweet 'ole cowpoke. The kind of father figure who you want tellin' you bedtime stories or feedin' ya beef jerky. A tall-tale-tellin' Texan who gallivants about while riding an adorable horse on a stick. All of this is is quite deliberate. A carefully concocted charade, painstakingly fashioned to cover up the simple fact that

HE IS

FUCKING

TERRIFYING.

Yeah, he's somehow the missing link between Gary Busey and a box of Wheaties, I suppose. Perhaps his Southwestern persona was inspired by the Boetticher Western THE TALL T, the Tag-line of which ("Taut! Torrid! Tremendous! T Is for Terror!") could easily be dialogue in this episode? Annnyway. So he sings this little ditty and proceeds to ride off into the sunset, but the perspective is contradictory and quite ambiguous. Some of the scenery floats back and forth as if it is meant to represent clouds, yet the foreground and background coloration of the cardboard setpieces remains identical, thus making it exceptionally difficult to tell what the hell we are looking at exactly. So allow me to revise my observation- Mr. T rides off behind the sunset at the song's conclusion.

Mr. M then pops up from below like the he mouth-breathing, toupee-wearing, skulking, oily perv that he is to make the glib remark

"Ohhhh, that was marvelous music, Mr. T...I'm MR. M."



The rest of this episode is a mixed bag. Clearly the makers were unsure of which direction to take the series, so we get a few irregularities (like some live-action children, which I'll get to in just a minute). Anyway, Mr. T imparts a tall tale about a fracas with Terrible Tough Tony that ends with Tony having the shit scared out of him

and a punchline involving Teflon Taffy that doesn'T sTick to his Tall Teeth, which is oh so very clever, except that it encourages kids to combine junk food with polytetrafluoroethylene. Ultimately, this is one of the reasons that I like this show so much. THE LETTER PEOPLE is not for pussies. (At least it wasn't in the 1970's, before, for example, the STD-infused Miss I with her "Itchy Itch" was reimagined as the positive role model, "Incredible Inventor!") It's not going to kowtow to the least common denominator. So we're gonna talk about eating Teflon? So what. You can figure out which chemicals you can eat on your own time. Cause right now, we're here to watch a bunch of whacky puppets tell us some slightly relevant shit about phonics.

Anyway, then there's a weird live action segment, and a bunch of kids (wearing T-shirts cheaply adorned with the letter 'T') present a series of musical instruments, all beginning with the letter 'T' (i.e., tuba, trumpet, trombone, tom-tom drum, tamborine, etc., etc.) and form a terrible makeshift orchestra.



The resulting Tonal, Tremulating Timbre of the music is so egregiously Tone-deaf that the Tree from EVIL DEAD grimaces and escapes the scene, and I'm not quite sure what he was doing there anyway.


This is the only time that THE LETTER PEOPLE flirted with genuine live-action, and the resulting absurdity makes me wish that they'd given it another shot.

Then Mr. T goes to the dentist and engages in a lengthy, boring interaction with his DDS which is notable for one reason– the dentist's voice is a clear velvet-tongued impersonation of one Vincent Price.

This is one of many celebrity references which will occur on THE LETTER PEOPLE- entire episodes will later center on a Bogart-esque private eye named 'Nardo. Clearly, a lot of love, thought, and attention to detail were put into these. Apparently the same attention to detail did not go into the sets.

We end with a really bizarre cartoon where the singer isn't in synch with the music, and it's chock full of uncanny, freakish images like this one.

Yeah... I don't think I like this.

A fairly solid second episode- but there are some pretty mind-blowing ones to come. Three and a half stars.

-Sean Gill

7 comments:

Jason said...

AHHHHHHHHH! SCARY!

elkaye said...

Of all the letter people, Mr. T was one of my least favorites. Not only was he scary looking with those long teeth, but I'm sure he would spit on people when he speaks.

And lol @ the comment about Mr. T being a cross between Gary Busey and a box of cereal.

About that live action bit, it was refreshing that the tree had no problem telling those kids that they sucked. Nowadays if someone were to do that it would probably be considered as emotionally abusing children. God I hate politically correctness...


Anyhow, glad you decided to continue with the Letter People Reviews. Can't wait for the next installment. :D

Sean Gill said...

Glad you enjoyed it. I'll probably continue out of order with the Letter People with whom I had a morbid fascination– like Mr. G. He's so scary, he makes Mr. T look like a piker!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic- I remember this show, and now that I think about it, it WAS really scary!!!

Laura said...

Sixty episodes, at one episode per year? Wow. Here's hoping we all live long enough! ;)

Sean Gill said...

Heh- we'll be getting to more of these soon: note the blog's current theme of the week...

Jason said...

Mr. S! MR. S!