REVIEW: THE SECRETS OF ISIS

 MAIN CAST

Joanna Cameron (B.S. I Love You)
Brian Cutler (The Incredible Hulk 70s)
Joanna Pang (The Patchwork Family)
Ronaldo Douglas (The New Odd Couple)
Albert Reed (Good Times)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Charles Cyphers (Halloween)
Laurette Spang (Battlestar Galactica)
John Davey (Shazam)

Oh my Queen!” said the royal sorcerer to Hatshepsup, “With this amulet, you and your decedents are endowed by the goddess Isis with the powers of the animals and the elements. You will soar as the falcon soars. Run with the speed of gazelles. And command the elements of sky and earth!”. 3,000 years later, a young science teacher dug up this lost treasure and found she was heir to: The Secrets of Isis. And so, unknown to even her closest friends Rick Mason and Cindy Lee, she became a dual person: Andrea Thomas, teacher, and Isis, dedicated foe of evil, defender of the weak, champion of truth and justice.

Flat-out one of the most beloved Saturday morning TV shows ever produced, no kid who grew up during the mid-seventies/eighties ever forgot Joanna Cameron as the lithe, confident, serene super-heroine Isis. Introduced along with the already popular Shazam! live-action series, Filmation Studios teamed up Captain Marvel with Isis in 1975 for The Shazam!/Isis Hour on CBS, and the ratings went through the roof. Week after week, each episode of Isis opened with the same prologue (that’s the dialogue quoted above), setting the backstory of the series. On an archaeological dig in Egypt, high school science teacher Andrea Thomas unearthed a small box that contained an amulet that when worn, gave her powers delivered by the spirit of the goddess Isis. When her powers were needed, Joanna simply exposed the amulet, put out her arms in supplication (sometime held up, sometimes down) and calmly called, “Oh Mighty Isis!”. Instantly transformed into a cross between Nefertiti and a tennis pro, Joanna became Isis, holder of super powers that enabled her to fly (“Oh zephyr winds which blow on high, lift me now so I can fly!”), perform telekinesis, see into the future, and possess super strength and speed.isis3With these powers, Isis could figuratively crush the world like a tin can, but instead, she chose to help teens (usually students of hers) who got into trouble with the law, see the errors of their ways. Most episodes of Isis found a student reluctantly falling in with mobsters or gangsters or evil businessmen or scientists, aiding their plans to defraud or steal from someone. Just prior to Isis’ arrival, the young adult would start to have second thoughts about their deeds, and as Isis moved in for the collar, they would start spilling their guts and singing like canaries, gently guided by Isis’ requests to look inside themselves, to see if they were acting the way they should act. In keeping with a society that hadn’t yet solidified the “I’m okay, you’re okay” mentality that rewards so-called “honesty” by doling out clemency, the students didn’t get off scott-free here for just owning up to their mistakes – they still expected to be punished, and for the most part, they were punished. But Isis smiled, because she knew that deep down, they had learned a valuable lesson; one they that they wouldn’t likely repeat.

When there were no 24-hour cable networks devoted solely to kids programming. The Big Three’s Saturday morning kids line-up was the only significant block of hours aimed at us. So when a show like The Secrets of Isis  came on the scene, kids took notice. Playing like mini-movies every week, these fantasy-based, limited budget, live-action morality plays really connected with kids.

And while most kids couldn’t have cared less about learning a “lesson” while watching these shows, the deeply moralistic nature of Isis didn’t seem to grate on us – perhaps because they were delivered in a cool, direct manner by the unnaturally gorgeous Joanna Cameron. Within each storyline of the Isis episodes, issues of honesty, integrity and personal responsibility were relentlessly explored, and to further hammer home the point, Cameron, still in her Isis outfit, looked directly into the camera, with that disarming suggestion of a smile at her lips, and restated what we the viewers were supposed to have just learned from the stories (criminally, these famous “morals” were eliminated from the film masters in the 1990s — not a good time for morals, I guess; a few have been gathered together for this DVD).

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But The Secrets of Isis wasn’t just about lecturing kids; it had plenty of action, albeit rather laid-back, California-styled action, that served the point of the story, and not the other way around. Watching Isis today, it’s easy to laugh at the chintzy blue-screen flying sequences and goof on the dopes who bought this stuff decades ago, but don’t feel too superior; we knew they looked cheap and unconvincing, too. We just didn’t care about that stuff as much as technologically-savvy kids do today. We didn’t care if Isis looked like she was hanging from wires, or that they never showed her except from the waist up when she lifted off to fly. It just wasn’t that important an issue. We knew it was a goof, so we just got on with it and didn’t worry about mattes and blue screens and process shots. Besides, who really was paying attention to all of that when Cameron was either walking around in her polyester-only outfits or her sexy tennis dress tunic?

It’s amazing to go back and watch these shows and see how relatively calm and sedate they appear. And despite the budget limitations, the series maintained a professional tone due to the solid TV directors who worked on it, including those old pros Hollingsworth Morse, Earl Bellamy, Arnold Laven, and Arthur H. Nadel. Isis also benefits from a well-chosen supporting cast, with Brian Cutler just fine as the second banana to Cameron’s Isis. Joanna Pang, cute and spunky as Cindy Lee, gets the “gee whiz” tone of her character just right; it’s too bad she didn’t come back for the second season (although Ronalda Douglas is good as student Renee Carroll).

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