“The Krofft Superstar Hour” (1978)

Once upon a time, back in the mid-1970s, America discovered that Scotland existed, thanks to a modestly talented pop group called The Bay City Rollers. One of many, many bands that would be marketed as “the new Beatles,” only to immediately fade into obscurity thereafter, the Rollers, capitalizing on the exoticism of being from a different part of the U.K., had exactly one genuinely good song (“Saturday Night,” not coincidentally their biggest hit), one passable cover of a Dusty Springfield song (“I Only Want to Be With You”), and several albums worth of bland, unremarkable pop-rock.

“Rollermania” in the U.S. lasted all of about a year and a half, and was already petering out by the time Krofft Productions retooled a struggling Saturday morning variety show around them. Renamed The Krofft Superstar Hour, it was a hodge podge of music, comedy, and pre-recorded sketches, and managed to be both dull and frenetic. Like all variety shows, there’s a cheerful desperation to it, like watching a party clown make the same misshapen balloon animal over and over.

This episode opens with the Rollers performing a song that is not “Saturday Night,” so who cares. They then have some painfully stiff banter with comedian/impressionist Louise DuArt, playing gossip columnist “Mona Jarrett” (a parody of Rona Barrett, someone I’m not sure the typical Saturday morning television viewer would have even heard of). None of them are natural comedians, and all seem cowed in the presence of DuArt, who serves up more ham than a delicatessen clerk.

Each of the Rollers have names, which I immediately forgot after the opening credits. Never has a band had members less distinguishable from one another, the primary difference being one of them has blonde hair. Other than that, they all look alike, dress alike, have matching shag haircuts, and even sound like each other, all speaking in Scottish accents as thick as a slab of shortbread dough.krofftsuperstar2

After they pretend to do wacky things like move furniture and get chased around by rabid fans, the Rollers introduce the first pre-recorded sketch, “Horror Hotel,” which features Witchiepoo from H.R. Pufnstuf. Essentially a live-action Scooby Doo episode, complete with a hallway chase scene (not to mention a “walk this way” joke), it goes on for more than ten very long minutes. Whoever was in charge of controlling the laugh track was evidently drunk with power, as there’s not only canned audience guffawing after punchlines, but also before punchlines, and when there aren’t any punchlines.

“Mona Jarrett” shows up again for a scene set up solely for a “Scottish people are cheap” joke, followed by a montage of the Rollers being just regular fellas, going on roller coasters, jogging, riding in a stagecoach, and pretending to pan for gold. After that, we’re treated to a performance by Kaptain Kool and the Kongs, the Kroffts’ bizarre attempt at introducing glam rock to kids, minus the drugs and homoeroticism. The original version of the show was intended to be a vehicle for them, but when it struggled for ratings they were shoved aside for the five lads from Edinburgh, which is a bit like a bowl of plain vanilla ice cream being turned down in favor of “vanilla frozen dessert” instead. To add insult to injury, they don’t even get to finish their song.

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In another signature Krofft moment of putting disturbingly sexualized puppets in their shows (see the semi-clad showgirls in The NBC Saturday Morning Preview Revue), the Rollers flirt with and ask a minidress wearing lady marionette which one of them she would take with her on a desert island. Speaking in a breathy French accent she eventually decides “I’ll take all of you!” Before we’re threatened any further with the suggestion of a Bay City Rollers-puppet gangbang, we go to the next pre-recorded sketch, “Lost Island.” Here’s where we finally get a taste of what the Kroffts do best–weird, random shit that looks like the collaborative writing effort of a six year-old and the local weed guy.

Positing that H.R. Pufnstuf, Sigmund from Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, the Sleestaks from Land of the Lost, and various other characters from earlier Krofft shows are all just hanging out together on an island somewhere, the sketch involves island spirits, magical stones, stop-motion dinosaurs (which are repeatedly referred to as “dragons”), a villain named Dr. Deathray, and his henchman, played by Billy Barty. Though no effort was expended in creating a plot that makes sense, “Lost Island” never reaches the balls-out druggy incoherence that we’ve all come to love and expect from a Sid and Marty Krofft production. Like the Bay City Rollers’ career, it’s a lot of potential ending in crashing disappointment.

After that, one of the Rollers attempts to flirt with a hot pants and tank top wearing blonde, who is described as being “Stu’s girl” (and who, frankly, comes off as though she might be a hooker). We have no idea who “Stu” is, other than a surfboard toting thug who threatens to beat up said Roller. To save their bandmate, the other Rollers invoke a horrifying, obese puppet named Mr Munchie, who takes a bite out of Stu’s surfboard and chases him off the stage. Finally, they close the show with a medley of songs, all of which mention the phrase “rock ‘n roll” in the chorus, none of which are “Saturday Night,” so again, who cares?

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As is usually the issue with variety shows, and why the vast majority of them fail, it’s not clear for whom The Krofft Superstar Hour was made. The studio audience consists largely of teenage girls, presumably both Bay City Rollers fans and the original audience for H.R. Pufnstuf nearly a decade earlier, but probably not watching too much Saturday morning television by that point. Boys and younger audiences weren’t likely tuning in to watch anything involving the latest teenybopper idol, and no one under 18 was likely to be getting jokes about gossip columnists and the legendary thriftiness of Scottish people.

Even all that aside, by the time the show aired in 1978, the Rollers were already fast on the decline, with an album released that same year not even cracking the top 100 chart (their next five–yes, five!–albums didn’t chart at all, anywhere). It’s unclear who needed who more here, but what they ended up with was a plodding, charmless mess. Once it was realized that no one was watching it, the show was cut down to a half hour (“Lost Island” was removed, eliminating the only interesting, albeit incomprehensible segment) and renamed The Bay City Rollers Show. That met with even less successful results, however, and the whole thing was scrapped a month later. The Bay City Rollers went on to remodel themselves as a new wave band, while the Kroffts went on to produce Pink Lady and Jeff, and whoever ended up embarrassing themselves more is a debate for the ages.

 

 

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