Tune in Tonight: "Partridge Family 2200 A.D."
If writing this column has taught me anything, it’s that cartoons don’t exist just to sell toys. That’s a sour, cynical viewpoint, and I apologize for it. They also sometimes exist to make more money from an already established TV show. Quality doesn’t matter, what matters is how much more juice you can squeeze, how much more space on a network programming schedule you can take up. Selling toys on top of that would be great too.
Though it ended up a huge part of the 70s zeitgeist, The Partridge Family both as a band and a TV show was nearly finished by the end of 1973. Worn down from near constant touring, performing, and recording as both himself and his fictitious counterpart, the show’s biggest star, David Cassidy, wanted out. Knowing that the audience wasn’t likely to stick around for the continuing adventures of Laurie, Danny, Who Cares, and Nobody Remembers Partridge, the producers made the wise (and let’s face it, shocking) decision to cancel the show while it was still relatively popular. Given that it took just six months until an animated spin-off premiered, it would seem they had seen the writing on the wall (or more specifically, the infamous Rolling Stone interview two years earlier in which Cassidy admitted he hated everything about being a teen idol except the fucking groupies part), and already had a contingency plan in mind.
All you really need to know about Partridge Family 2200 A.D. is that it’s a balls out rehash of The Jetsons, right down to the robot dog (voiced by–wait for it–Frank Welker). To be fair, virtually nothing was done to make it seem as though it wasn’t. Hanna-Barbera was looking to revive The Jetsons, while king of 70s television Fred Silverman wanted to keep the Partridge train running, so, after what could not have possibly been more than five minutes of brainstorming, the two were combined for a new cartoon. Even without the participation of the original Partridge Family‘s first through fourth most important cast members, it was full jetpack booster ahead.
There’s no time travel involved here, it’s simply the Partridge Family, in the year 2200, a setting that is mostly arbitrary to the plot. Even the theme song doesn’t promise much, just “the Partridge Family, showin’ us how it’s gonna be,” which consists of robot tennis games, the ubiquitous flying cars, and a pill that turns into a giant sandwich. Though you’d think that music in the 23rd century will either sounds like the Mos Eisley Cantina Band, or whale sounds set to an electronic beat, Shirley and the kids are still playing the same generic teenybopper pop they played in 1971. The most “futuristic” it gets are the hovering space tambourines Little Girl Partridge (come on, do you know her name without having to look it up?) beats on, and some sort of wall mounted keyboard Laurie Partridge plays that looks like the board from Wheel of Fortune.
The episode I watched played right into some thoroughly 20th century stereotypes, when the Partridges’ hillbilly cousin, Sunspot, visits from Tennessee with his pet chicken, Rover. Sunspot wants to perform with the family band, but there’s a problem–he plays no instruments, and can’t carry a tune in a bucket (he also apparently only knows one song, that 23rd century hit “On Top of Old Smokey”). After he shorts out a singing teacher robot with his atonal shrieking, the kids take Sunspot to Mr. Stellar, a Paul Lynde soundalike who’s invented an electronic voice changing machine. It works like a charm, and Sunspot now sings with a deep, rich baritone.
However, there’s a catch: much like The Fly, a horrible accident occurred inside the machine, fusing Sunspot’s genes with those of his pet chicken. Wackiness ensues as Sunspot occasionally turns into a giant chicken, shedding oversized feathers and attempting a garbled rendition of his signature song. Thankfully the episode ends not with Laurie putting him out of his misery with a shotgun blast to the head, but with the effects of the voice changing machine reversed, and Sunspot returned to his normal, tin-eared self. The near constant laugh track, which punctuates virtually every line of dialogue in the entire episode, handily reminds the show’s young audience that it’s supposed to be hilarious.
At the risk of repeating myself, little is done to make Partridge Family 2200 A.D. not look like the cheap cash grab it was intended to be. None of the characters really look or sound much like their live action counterparts, save for Danny Partridge, who was voiced by Danny Bonaduce, one of the few original cast members to participate (given that Bonaduce was just 14 at the time, he probably wasn’t given much of a choice). Though at least some care was taken to create a “futuristic” setting (as pointless as it ends up being), the characters are animated in that classic second-tier Hanna-Barbera style, with blank eyes and dopey grins, and just left to stand around with their hands on their hips until they’re given something to do. So, really, not very “animated” at all, see what I did there?
Without David Cassidy’s dreamy visage and birdlike chest to keep teen fans of the original Partridge Family interested, the cartoon disappeared from the Saturday morning lineup after one season, replaced by another animated spin-off no one asked for, The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show. Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm, now teenagers, form a band that plays the same kind of bland light radio rock the Partridges play in the far future, despite living in the Stone Age. The lesson to be learned here: Hollywood was, is, and shall always remain, a very weird place, particularly when it comes to stuff for kids.
Original airdate: September 28, 1974