Rerun Junkie–All of Your Favorites Are Problematic

One of my favorite episodes of The Monkees is called “Monkees Chow Mein”. The four guys inadvertently intercept a fortune cookie filled with top secret information at a Chinese restaurant. The CIA get involved. BJ Hunnicutt is there. Hijinks ensue.

And Joey Forman plays the head Chinese guy, Dragonman.

If you’re not familiar with Joey Forman let me assure you that he is a very funny man who is definitely not Chinese. His portrayal of Dragonman involved scotch-taped eyes and a stereotyped accent. It’s a somewhat less obnoxious version of yellow face, but there’s no doubt that it’s yellow face.

It’s problematic, to say the very least.

So, how can it be one of my favorite episodes? Two reasons. One, it’s funny and most of the humor in it could have been achieved just as successfully by Joey Forman (and his right hand man, Gene Dynarski) not doing yellow face. The lines and the antics would have been just as funny because it had nothing to do with the stereotype they were portraying.

Yes, I realize there’s a lot of privilege involved that it allows me to approach this episode from that angle.

And two, being a rerun junkie means that I’ve learned to accept that my favorites are going to be problematic.

It’s a simple matter of history, really. These shows are a product of their time, whatever their time is. That’s why you see a lot of racist casting (e.g. white people playing minorities) in the ’50s, ’60s, and even into the ’70s. The stereotypes continued all through the ’80s and beyond.  Misogyny and sexism has run rampant for decades, so it’s always available in reruns. To be fair, the shows can’t help it. And it’s far too late for them to change.

That’s not to say any of it is right, of course. These things might have been common then, but even at the time, folks had problems with it. Pernell Roberts reportedly objected to the racist stereotypes of the minorities on Bonanza. And Van Williams repeatedly tried to get Bruce Lee a bigger role on The Green Hornet, which the producers reportedly refused because they didn’t want to give too much focus to a non-white actor instead of the star.

So, when it comes to reruns, it’s a matter of acknowledging that at the time this was the practice. They’re time capsules of cringe-worthiness, syndicated reminders of our sketchy, shady, seedy TV past.

Even shows that did their best to be socially conscious (for their time) still stumbled. For example, Barney Miller often tackled topical 1970’s issues, some of which are still relevant today. And it largely succeeded in addressing those issues, at least in an illuminating sort of way. But there are some episodes that missed the mark and as a result have aged terribly. The episode “Rape” attempted to address the laws (or lack of laws) pertaining to marital rape. However, done in the confines of a 30-minute comedy…yeah. The tone-deafness only rings clearer as the years go by.

These are the landmines you risk as a rerun junkie. It can make for uncomfortable viewing and in some cases all of the logical rationale can’t save you from the oogy feelings. There are now episodes of my favorite shows that I avoid because I just can’t.

Retaining perspective is the key. It’s a good thing that these issues are noticed and that they cause discomfort. It’s a sign that things have progressed (somewhat) and that the old status quo has long spoiled.

Ideally, I’d like to do in-depth posts about the different issues that crop while rerun-watching.

But for now, I continue to come to terms with my problematic favorites.

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Rerun Junkie– The Green Hornet

First there was Batman. Then…there was…The Green Hornet!

This strikes fear into the heart of many a villain.

This strikes fear into the heart of many a villain.

The Green Hornet aka rich owner of the Daily Sentinel newspaper Britt Reid (Van Williams) along with his assistant Kato (Bruce Lee) are vigilantes, but unlike Batman, they’re not friends of the law; the Green Hornet is a wanted criminal (Britt Reid is a totally cool law abiding citizen, though). The only people who know about Britt and Kato’s double lives are Britt’s secretary, Lenore Case (Wende Williams), and District Attorney Frank Scanlon (Walter Brooke). One of Britt’s reporters, Mike Axford (Lloyd Gough), is determined to one day expose the Green Hornet, not realizing that it’s his boss. He’s pretty much the comedy relief.

The narrator should sound familiar. It was William Dozier, the same guy that did it on Batman.

While Batman amped the camp, the Green Hornet toned it down. Instead of a revolving door of comic book villains, the Green Hornet took on slightly more run of the mill bad guys involved in racketeering, arson, murder, theft, that sort of thing. Some jobs bigger than others. The guys pretending to be aliens to steal a nuclear warhead was one of the biggest. They looked like their clothing was supplied by Jiffy Pop. Tin foil awesome.

The Green Hornet didn’t have a utility belt, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have his share of neato gadgets. His favorite was the Hornet Sting, which emitted ultra sonic waves that were good for popping locks or threatening criminals. He mostly used Kato’s martial arts skills, though.

Like most millionaires, Britt Reid had a fancy garage with a rotating floor so he could hide the Hornet’s ride, Black Beauty.

I have no idea how they saw anything at night with those green headlights.

I have no idea how they saw anything at night with those green headlights.

The Black Beauty was equipped with a phone, a TV for surveillance and casual news watching, and rockets for those pesky car chases.

The show was only on for one season, so the guest stars were pretty thin. But if you watch a lot of reruns and pay attention, then you might recognize Lloyd Bochner, Kelly Jean Peters, Diana Hyland, Gary Owens (Laugh-In), Jack Garner (James Garner’s brother), Barbara Babcock (Dallas, Hillstreet Blues), Chuck Hicks (a stuntman that showed up in uncredited roles on Batman, The Rockford Files, and Starsky and Hutch), and Larry D. Mann (Gunsmoke, Hillstreet Blues).

However, they did do some crossover with Batman. In one episode, Dick Grayson was watching an episode of the show. In a later episode, Green Hornet and Kato popped out of a window during one of the Dynamic Duos Batclimbs.

Finally, they couldn’t fight it any longer, and Green Hornet and Kato came to Gotham City in pursuit of a stamp counterfeiter named Colonel Gumm. Law-upholding Batman and Robin didn’t take too kindly to a couple of vigilantes in their town and things got wacky. Britt and Bruce? Yeah, they were rivals, too, vying for the attention of some woman with extravagant taste. Really, they could have done better.

Even the show was short-lived, it still managed to bring a whole lot of kickass to the table while it was around.

Keep fighting the good fight, fellas.

Keep fighting the good fight, fellas.

 

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