BOOTLEG FILES 838: “Bailey’s Comets” (1973-74 animated television series).
LAST SEEN: On YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: No perceived reissue value.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Nope.
The other week, I saw a posting in a Facebook group devoted to old-time television about a Saturday morning cartoon series called “Bailey’s Comets.” I knew that I watched that program when it was first aired in the 1973-74 season, and while I sort of recalled part of the show’s bouncy theme song I could not remember anything remarkable about the series itself.
With a pang of nostalgia for my TV-obsessed youth, I tracked down the available episodes from “Bailey’s Comets” that are available on YouTube in unauthorized postings. I am glad that I could reconnect with this half-forgotten program from a half-century ago, but I can fully appreciate why the show mostly slipped from my memory.
Quite frankly, “Bailey’s Comets” was a second-rate rip-off of an earlier and much better series called “Wacky Races,” which was produced by Hanna-Barbera and which aired 1968-69. “Wacky Races” focused on a cross-country auto race where the participants were a group of eccentric drivers in bizarre cars. In concept, the show was somewhat unwieldy with 23 characters (both humans and animals) racing in 11 vehicles. Incredibly, it worked – the writing was very amusing, the characters were endearingly drawn and wonderfully voice acted, and the endeavor was so popular that it produced two spinoffs – “The Adventures of Penelope Pitstop” and “Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines.”
“Bailey’s Comets” was produced by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, the animation studio behind the Pink Panther and the Ant and the Aardvark cartoon series. Rather than have a cross-country auto race, “Bailey’s Comets” focused on an around-the-world race by roller derby teams – and except for the eponymous squad, all the other teams were more than a little peculiar.
The Bailey’s Comet team were either teens or in their early twenties – just how young they are supposed to be is not clear. Barnaby Bailey is the team leaders – he is the best-looking man and is always the one to perform rescue missions when things go awry. The other men on the team are Wheelie, a bespectacled engineer who can quickly reconfigure roller skates in unlikely ways, and Pudge, a short and fat guy who mostly serves as the comic relief. The team also has three women: Candy, the blonde who might be Barnaby’s girlfriend; Sarge, the gravel-voiced tough gal; and Bunny, the giggly dimwit.
You could tell this was a 1970s cartoon because the men and women are competing together as equals on the team – as opposed to today, when biological men are competing in women’s sports. (Too soon?) But the problem with the six-person team is that no one has any genuine dimension – they are all flat stereotypes except for Candy and Sarge, who lack personality and have almost nothing to do with any of the stories.
Even worse are the other teams, which all play on a single quirk. These include the Texas Black Hats (cowboys riding horses that wear roller skates), the Jekyll-Hydes (four Dr. Jekylls who keep turning into Mr. Hydes), the Broomer Girls (a gaggle of witches riding brooms that have roller skates) and the Yo Ho-Ho’s (pirates led by a captain resembling Charles Laughton’s Bligh). There are 10 other teams in this race, which is tracked by a pair of broadcasters riding above the fray in a helicopter – one named Gabby vaguely sounds like Howard Cosell and other is Dooter Roo, who wears a cowboy hat and might be mistaken as a Don Meredith soundalike. This series might carry the distinction for having the largest number of characters – but none of them stand out as being unique or invigorating. And things become more complicated when one-shot characters designed for a specific episode are added.
In each episode, the teams are traveling through a far-flung country in search of a clue for where the race is supposed to take them next – and the goal of this odyssey is a million-dollar prize. This seems like a forerunner of “The Amazing Race” reality television show, except in this series Bailey’s Comets are the only good guys and all the other teams are trying to thwart them. Naturally, their villainous actions inevitably backfire with slapstick results.
It also did not help that “Bailey’s Comets” has some of the worst animation of this era. While the standards of Saturday morning cartoons in the 1970s were low, “Bailey’s Comet” abused that privilege with flat and repetitive action. As for the voice acting, forget it – while Don Messick and Daws Butler are among the credited actors, the performances are across-the-board dismal.
Sixteen episodes were produced, each consisting of two different stories – and from what I found online, it is difficult to differentiate between the episodes because the character movements and action is nearly the same.
“Bailey’s Comets” debuted on CBS in September 1973. According to animation historian Mark Arnold, the show’s ratings were so poor that the network removed the program from the lucrative Saturday morning line-up after four months and ran it on Sunday mornings, where it was the rare cartoon show amid a slate of religious programming.
As stated earlier, a few episodes can be found online in unauthorized postings. “Bailey’s Comets” has never been commercially released on DVD or Blu-ray – and maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.
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