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FOL-DE-ROL (1972).

Sid and Marty Krofft have been responsible for some seriously warped Saturday morning television -- H.R. PUFNSTUF, SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS, THE BUGALOOS, LIDSVILLE -- but the siblings shifted their attention to prime-time for this astoundingly ill-conceived, hour-long, musical-comedy-fantasy mishmash, produced by LAUGH-IN writer Digby Wolfe and broadcast on February 28, 1972. But unlike their coolest TV projects, it's far more pathetic than bizarre, opening with an insipid theme song and a mime (Robert Shields, who met future partner/wife Lorene Yarnell on this gig) leaping about as a rickety Renaissance Faire appears, complete with dancers, acrobats, ugly puppets, and little people in mangy animal costumes. Then it's onto a bunch of loosely-connected vignettes featuring a peculiar array of befuddled guest stars, often in multiple roles... In this cut-rate kingdom, the Queen (Ann Sothern, Tisha Sterling's mom) appears before her subjects, the Baron (Guy Marks) schemes, knights in armor dance, the Crusades and the Marquis de Sade are namedropped, and Krofft's cheap-ass puppets crack limp jokes. In terms of starpower, wandering minstrel Ricky Nelson serenades us with a sappy tune about making the most out of life; Mickey Rooney is a sadistic torturer whose nerdy, bespectacled son (Danny Goldman) instead wants to become a "social worker" by joining Robin Hood; and "Storyteller" Howard Cosell arrives in period garb to announce a stage performance of Noah's Ark, with Rooney gluing on a Biblical beard and delivering zingers like "Have you ever smelled a wet wombat?" None of this nonsense is even remotely funny. Plus-size comedienne Totie Fields does triple-duty as an easily-tempted Mother Superior, Mrs. Noah and a warty witch who concocts a love potion; stand-up comic Milt Kamen is a Town Crier; Lynne Thigpen (BLANKMAN's grandma) is spotted in a group of singing witches; and Billy Barty shows up as a villager -- only to later join Angelo Rossitto and Felix Silla as "Krofft Puppeteers" (i.e. sweating their asses off inside animal suits). Plus the cast occasionally breaks into song, with covers of "Joy To the World," "My Sweet Lord" and this whole steaming pile concluding with "Walk Him Up the Stairs," from the Broadway musical PURLIE (idiotically changing the song's context from a funeral to a wedding). Too awful to be totally dull, too abrasive to endure without several stiff drinks beforehand, and saddled with an oppressive laugh track, FOL-DE-ROL is at its best when going totally bonkers, like its surreal "caterpillar transforms into a butterfly" sequence with Cyd Charisse still sexily strutting her stuff at age 50, accompanied by an inspired mash-up of four-octave Peruvian vocalist Yma Súmac's Incan chant "Taita Inty" and Mason Williams' "Classical Gas." Amazing! Or Ricky Nelson singing The Hollies' depressing hit "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," while mimes act out the song! Ouch! Choreographer-turned-director Tony Charmoli also helmed TV-specials for Liberace, John Davidson and Mitzi Gaynor, while those kooky Kroffts originally planned to turn this nonsensical grab bag into a weekly series!

© 2013 by Steven Puchalski.