Like most kids, when I was growing up, my favorite part of the newspaper was the comics page. Being from the greater Boston area, we’d get the local paper and The Boston Globe, which meant twice as many comics every day. Some were just dull (I’m looking at you, Apartment 3-G). Some leaned way too much on the politics (ahem… Doonesbury…). And some were just…. well…. how would you classify Zippy the Pinhead?
For some reason, B.C. fell right into my sweet spot. There were a handful of these cartoons (Beetle Bailey, Hagar the Horrible, Broom Hilda) that were rarely super funny and not offensive. They were just enough for an 8 year old to understand and laugh at. Besides, the characters bonked each other over the heads with clubs on occasion, so that’s always entertaining.
For those who don’t know or don’t remember, B.C. told the story of a group of cavemen and women. Obviously, they lived in a world long before any modern essentials (although they had a phone stuck inside a single tree for some reason.) Most of the strips relied on basic puns and wordplay, but occasionally they would move into the “gag a day” style that was popular at the time.
If I had to guess, I don’t think I’ve seen a B.C. comic since the late 80’s, but while researching this, I dug up some old ones and they had the same effect. But the thing I had forgotten about was just how misogynistic they were. Aside from the aforementioned clubbing, this is a strip whose main female characters were named “Fat Broad” & “Cute Chick”.
But I’m not doing a deep dive into the strip today. In honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I thought I’d take a look at one of their two holiday specials:
B.C. The First Thanksgiving originally aired on NBC on November 19, 1973. On paper, this had to have been a home run. The comic was a big success. Johnny Hart (the strip’s creator) was writing the screenplay. And they had two of the biggest voice actors in the business.
Daws Butler was a gold standard at the time, providing voices for Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw & the majority of the Hanna Barbera line up. Don Messick handled most of the others from the time period, bringing life to Scooby-Doo, Boo Boo, Muttley, Papa Smurf along with many others. (Between the two of them, their IMDB pages list 630 credits.)
As I mentioned, with all of this talent involved, it had to be a sure thing, right? Well, I just watched it and I can assure you, that was the longest twenty-four minutes I have spent in a long time. It fails in absolutely every aspect.
For starters, the premise is a bit strange for a Thanksgiving show. The main characters live in the middle of a desert and eat rocks and soup. (Fun fact – a 2012 strip gave coordinates to a nearby location which map out to Dublin, Ireland. Obviously, long before it became the “Emerald” Isle.)
The basic premise involves Fat Broad sending the guys on a hunt to find a turkey for dinner, not realizing they have no idea what a turkey looks like. From a story perspective, that has potential. However, that only accounts for four of the twenty-four minutes.
The show is basically a series of vignettes that are dragged out waaaaaaaay too far. There is a scene of each character waking up and walking down to the river that takes up over three and a half minutes. That’s nearly fifteen percent of the show! And they do it again and again.
The opening gag features our “hero”, B.C. discovering fire. First of all, I totally forgot that the main character was named B.C. I always thought it was just named for the time period. But B.C. sees a tree trunk on fire, accidentally touches it and then tries to get rid of it. That’s a simple act. Yet, it continues on for the first five minutes. That’s drawn out even by Family Guy standards
We’re eleven minutes into the show before the turkey hunt is even mentioned. Fat Broad gathers up all of the men and tells them they need to find a turkey to add to the soup. Like a good general, she winds them up and sends them off.
After a minute of running, the men stop and the following exchange occurs:
Peter: “Wiley, ya got a minute?”
Peter: “What the heck is a turkey?”
Wiley: “You don’t know what at tur…”
Peter: “SHH! They’ll hear us!” (indicates the rest of the cavemen)
Wiley: (whispering) “You don’t know what a turkey is?”
(Peter shakes his head)
Wiley: “Well, she’s got a big nose like this… and a lonnng neck like this… with skinny legs, an’ a beautiful tail feather.”
Peter: “You sure that’s a turkey?”
Wiley: “It ain’t Barbara Streisand!”
And that, folks, is the level of humor you’re gonna get.
But wait… there’s more!! Since they had two of the biggest voice actors in Hollywood, they apparently felt they needed to use every voice they had in their repertoire. How else to explain everyone’s voice changing from scene to scene? One minute, Peter sounds like Humphrey Bogart and the next he’s Edward G. Robinson. B.C. speaks as Jack Benny sometimes and Wally Gator moments later.
Keeping all of this in mind, you would think this show crashed and burned in a horrible fashion. But it didn’t. In fact, it won an award. Actually, one of the top awards of the time. It was named Best Animated Feature by the National Cartoonist Society. I’ve scoured the internet trying to find out what it beat, but I haven’t been able to find anything. I’d like to think that in some way, it was the only thing nominated, so they had no choice. Otherwise, nothing makes sense.
This entire program has completely bummed me out. I really wanted to like it. Christmas is filled with classic cartoons, but Thanksgiving is often overlooked. I was hoping to find something fun to show my kids, but this is certainly not it.
At least we’ll always have Peanuts… And Garfield.