Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Herbie The Love Bug

Television gets bit by the Love Bug

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic… Isn't a motion picture at all! Instead, I'm opting to be a completionist and we're going to take a brief look at the short-lived television show, "Herbie the Love Bug" (Disney and Columbia Broadcasting System, 1982). Yes: There was a "Herbie" TV series! Spanning five hour-long time slots in 1982, this situational comedy follows the adventures of Jim Douglas (reprised by Dean Jones) and his 1963 Volkswagen Beetle, Herbie after their racing career is ended.

Except for when it hasn't.

"I'm going to reprise this role forever!"

Jim now teaches driver's education at the local high school while also being the owner-operator of his own (financially failing) driving school along with his partner Bo Phillips (Richard Paul).
Not Buddy Hackett, not Don Knotts, and (sadly) not as funny as either.

One day, the duo spot a bank robbery taking place with the robbers taking a woman hostage during the getaway. Herbie immediately springs into action, saving the woman, Susan MacLane (Patricia Harty).
"I almost died! Can you tutor my daughter?"

Susan immediately recognizes Jim as her daughter's driver's ed teacher, and asks him if he can give the girl some additional tutoring. Jim meets Susan's three children, Julie (a young Claudia Wells), Matthew (Nicky Katt), and Robbie (Douglas Emerson) and Susan's overbearing rich fiancée, Randy Bigelow (Larry Linville).
Darwinism in action.

After Randy (rightly) accuses Jim of trying to steal Susan from him, Herbie begins a campaign of terror and intimidation to break up Susan and Randy (although it's done in such a cute way to make Randy seem like the villain).
"Badman away! To the Boatmobile!"

Randy retaliates by tricking Jim into racing again much to the chagrin of Susan, but at the last minute before the big race Herbie races with Jim to stop Susan's wedding to Randy.

Prepare for pablum

And that's the first episode. Every subsequent episode is a series of comical misunderstandings of the most rote and uncreative sitcom clichés as has ever seen the light of day. Episode 2: A very special episode as the boys run away. Episode 3: A misunderstanding with an old flame causes jealousy between Jim and Susan. Episode 4: Jim, Susan, and Herbie prepare for the wedding while Randy schemes to stop it as payback for ruining his wedding (this episode guest stars Disney veteran Richard Bakalyan as a dirty private eye). Episode 5: A very special episode as Herbie is mistakenly towed to an impound lot and little Robbie comes down with an illness.

Pictured: Herbie's greatest villain ever. STAIRS.

Never seen or heard from again.

This show follows the continuity of the "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo" (1977) timeline, although it appears to ignore the events of "Herbie Goes Bananas," (1980) as there's no mention of Paco or the rest of the characters from that film. The "Monte Carlo" character of race car driver Diane Darcy makes an appearance in episode 3, although she is now played by actress Andrea Howard instead of original actress Julie Sommars. Oddly, even though "Herbie Goes Bananas" is ignored, the props and puppet cars from that movie are used liberally (especially the articulated antenna prop).

Hey, if you have the prop, might as well use it.

Hey, if you have the prop, might as well use it. Again.

There are some clips of the original "The Love Bug" used at times, but to the show's credit only as film-within-the-film and not as a way of injecting the movie footage into the show as a cheap special effects. A remarkable thing about this show is that it has an actual continuing story rather than a more episodic nature, which is genuinely unusual for the time. I can't find a lot of notes about its production or airing, so I don't know if it was a weekly broadcast or if it was aired as a miniseries, which would explain the "surprise continuity."

Better than I expected, but still not great.

There are some standout moments, and believe it or not there are some car racing stunts sprinkled sporadically throughout which at first don't seem overly impressive until you realize that they shot them on a television budget and there weren't CGI effects at the time.

The stunts can seem to be a bit "obligatory" however. 

There are quite a few familiar faces from both the small and silver screen of the time, so people of my age are almost guaranteed to see actors that they recognize in some capacity. I honestly had a few genuine laughs while watching, but really only at the lines delivered by Douglas Emerson's Robbie MacLane character, while the 80s bowl-cut blonde kid's naiveté is the setup for some truly funny jokes (sadly after the first two episodes his role is greatly diminished).
Pictured: The greatest comedian of our time

The show has a *truly terrible* theme song that is actually sung by Dean Jones. Oddly, the show was directed by "Incredible Hulk" star Bill Bixby.

Approved for all audiences

The 1980s broadcast television standard of this program means that there's no swearing, no sex (not really even any innuendo), no real violence, and the only thing I noticed that could even remotely considered objectional is the fact that no one wears seatbelts and there are multiple incidents of teenagers riding unsecured on top of the seats of convertible vehicles. It seems perfectly presentable to young children if they can't get enough Herbie.

The most intense scene involving kids is when they get stuck in an old house. I mean, it's not even haunted or anything.

Where can you watch it?

While it had subsequent airings on the Disney Channel, the series was never released on VHS, DVD, or streamed officially on any service that I could find, which means that if you want to see it, you need to find it any way you can (say for example, a video service that rhymes with "MooCube").

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