Saturday, 9 July 2016

The Jetsons – Test Pilot

George Jetson wore the same clothes almost all the time, so it would seem odd that two episodes of The Jetsons are based around clothing, specifically, technologically-advanced clothing. In one cartoon, we had a flying suit. In this one, we have a suit that’s indestructible (except when it’s placed in the washer).

The comedy in this cartoon comes mainly from three sources—wisecracks after each check of Jetson’s innards, wisecracks by Jetson after each test of the suit, and the bidding war between Spacely and Cogswell over Jetson’s employment. Naturally, the corporate status symbols of the 1960s are included in the latter—a vice presidency and a key to the executive washroom. Cosmo Spacely’s cheapness and shallowness are shown up nicely during the sequence. Spacely opens up a safe that obviously hasn’t been touched in years and pulls out a wad of bills. “That money hasn’t seen the light of day in ages,” says Cogswell. “Look!” The camera cuts to a scene of George Washington (on the $100 bill!?) rubbing his eyes because he’s seeing light.

Harvey Bullock and Ray Allen’s story also incorporates that grand old sitcom staple—the misunderstanding. In this case, you have to get caught up in their plot and not question its holes. George Jetson goes through with life-threatening tests on the suit because he’s been told by a doctor he’s going to die. He’s told he’s going to die because an electronic medical probe that had been swirling around Jetson’s body pops out his ear and embeds itself in a mummy. Even if you accept a medical doctor would be conducting research with a mummy, Jetson felt the probe leave his head. Why didn’t he say something? And wouldn’t the doctor wonder where his probe is after the exam is over and then realise his misdiagnosis? He’d want it back, wouldn’t he? Or maybe the probe is supposed to work its way through the digestive system and...well, let’s move on to something else.

In 1962, the futuristic gizmos themselves were gags. In this day and age, we have the added interest of seeing if the writers accurately predicted stuff we have today. The cartoon starts off with an extension of the early ‘60s concept of dehydrated food for astronauts—a machine that comes up with a food pill, created after you dial the ingredients. Yes, it has a rotary dial, just like a ‘60s telephone. Jane then talks about a big sale at “Steers Roebuck”—and she’s reading about it on a piece of paper. Maybe her tablet is broken. And we learn that Judy wants some “stereophonic music tapes.” Tapes? Perhaps it’s like vinyl is today and it’s some kind of retro thing of the future.

In the next sequence, we see that Spacely has a robot secretary to do his typing. Apparently the auto correct function doesn’t exist in the future (too many mistakenly-changed words put it out of consumer favour?) as there’s a funny gag about an eraser that pops out of the computer and rubs out the mistake on the screen.

Spacely also has a shaving contraption (with a striped barber pole) that comes out of his ceiling.

The story goes that lone scientists at both Spacely Sprockets and Cogswell Cogs, in what appears to be an attempt at corporate diversification, have both invented indestructible jacket. They both need someone to test the suit. Meanwhile, George Jetson has gone to Doctor Radius who tells him “it’s just a matter of time...then...poof! Pift!” Jetson’s going to die thanks to the probe we mentioned earlier. There are medical probes today that televise what’s happening inside someone’s body but none of them have Mel Blanc’s voice nor make jokes as they circle various organs (one involves a groaner of an Adam’s Apple pun). It might be more fun if they did.

Since Jetson thinks he’s going to die, he accepts Spacely’s proposal to go through tests that could kill him. “What’s mine is yours. I’ll give you everything you need. Help yourself. Anything in the place” says Spacely. Jetson puts Spacely’s pen in his pocket. Spacely grabs it back. The first act of the cartoon is over.

The bulk of the second half is taken up with the tests, which are televised live. There’s a fun bit of dialogue to start the sequence:

Announcer: Oh, Mr. Jetson, I guess you’re quite concerned about these tests.
Jetson: Well, I...
Spacely (walks toward the TV camera and fills the frame) I certainly am. Sure hope nothing happens to that life jacket.
Announcer: Oh, uh, Mr. Spacely, um, your every thought must be with the courageous man who’s risking his life for you.
Spacely: Huh? Who’s that?
There’s a “hydro-resistance” test, a “force-factor” test (involving a huge rock), the “Verticle-horizontal wearage test” (Jetson is crushed into a little square), a buzz-saw test, a “thermo-electric resistance test” (Jetson roasts a hot dog while he’s zapped) and finally, a test where two rockets are fired at him in mid-air. Some frames...

Meanwhile, word of Jetson’s (and the jacket’s) feats have made news around the world. I don’t know who handled layouts and backgrounds in this cartoon, but I like the scene of London to the right. It’s so rare anything on ground-level was portrayed on the show. And the layout man came up with an interesting futuristic ship plying the waters of the Thames. This portion of the cartoon gives us stereotypes. There’s the Frenchman who woos women, as demonstrated by the news announcer kissing some woman on his lap. And there’s the stereotypic Soviet newsman (with a big, bald head like Krushchev) who claims “we invented it first.” At least, we’re left to assume it’s the Soviet Union by the background drawing feature Kremlin-esque cupola towered buildings.

Before the final test, Doctor Radium rushes to Jetson and tells him he’s not going to “pift.” Not even “poof.” He’ll live to be 150. Suddenly, George cares that the test could kill him. The best part of this portion of the cartoon when Jetson turns his parachute into a cape and the rocket pretends to be a bull, pawing on the “ground.”

Naturally, Jetson isn’t killed. The final sequence has the plot twist. Jane has washed the jacket. It’s ruined. It can’t be washed. This, somehow has ruined Spacely Sprockets (we have to presume Spacely has manufactured millions of these things now that he has the Good Spacekeeping Seal of Approval) and the cartoon ends with Jetson and Spacely dashing off to seek employment with Cogswell.

Ken Muse animates the majority of the cartoon. You can easily tell by the way George moves his slitted tongue in the very first line of dialogue. Muse takes it at least through to the scene where Cogswell disappears through the floor of Spacely’s office. He picks up the animation against from the BBC announcer through to the end. If I’m wrong, Howard Fein will likely leave a correction in the comment section. I don’t know who the other animator is, but it looks like there are only two on this one (Grrr to the syndicated gang credits glued on these cartoons in the ‘80s). I don’t know how many animators did this, but Muse has characters leave little trails of stars as they rush away.

There’s no shot of the Skypad Apartments in this cartoon. We get the same painting of the Spacely Sprockets building as in “Astro’s Top Secret.” In two scenes, there are overlays of silhouettes of people, anxious to see if Jetson survives the tests. It seems Hanna-Barbera predicted Reality TV as well.


  1. In related - and welcome - news, Boomerang resumed airing Jetsons episodes last week after a long hiatus. They run early on weekend mornings.

  2. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say Jerry Hathcock was the other animator.

    1. Correct. Muse does the first and third acts. Hathcock does the bidding war between Spacely and Cogswell, the hydro-resistance test, the rock, and George crushed between walls. Every JETSON episode with Hathcock animation also has Muse animation, and their styles are jarringly different.

      The concept of an 'indestructible' garment or weapon being undone by dry cleaning, or a loose thread, or something similarly trivial, was also used by Hanna and Barbera in their Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello cartoons. In all three instances, the person wearing the garment still seems to endure a great deal of physical suffering and slapstick cartoon temporary injuries.

  3. Interesting fact: The bald headed russian anchorman may be the only reference to the Cold War in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

    1. Nope. I can think of one other such reference. There is an episode of "The Jetsons" (I can't recall the name of it offhand; I think it might be "Rosey the Robot") in which Elroy tells his mother that at school he'll be going on a field trip to various places around the world. Jane replies, "Be nice to the little Russian boys," or something to that effect.

      So, that makes at least two Cold War references in H-B cartoons. Curiously, they both occur in the same series. I wouldn't be surprised to learn of some other Cold War references as well.

      Your larger point, of course, still stands. In Hanna-Barbera cartoons, Cold War references were very rare.

    2. You're right. It was ''Rosey the Robot'' and there is another reference there, but it's very tongue in cheek. Mrs. Spacely tells her husband that she will be at Martian Embassy holding a sign, which says "Martians Go Home!".

  4. I belive the name of the department store Jane mentions is Steers-Robot, not Roebuck (a real name).

    "We should of put a label in it - DRY CLEAN ONLY!!"

  5. "We Invented it First!" In the early 60's the Soviet Union was spreading a lot of propaganda that their science was superior to the West, not just in space (they WERE first with satellites and putting a man in space), but that they had invented / discovered radio, the light bulb and television first! Now that line makes sense, doesn't it.

  6. Why the hell doesn't someone agitate for legislation against syn gang credits and crap like crediting Mr Kin Platt as the author of the entire run of "Top Cat"?

    Thank God for IMDb, and going by it, Jerry Hathcock is the second animator of

    1. Very good point, DH, and vbery god Jetson episode and review,Yowp...:)S

  7. 7/10/16 Wrote:
    Spacely: ""You Ready, Jetson?"
    Jetson: "Let 'er rip!"
    Spaceley: "DON"T SAY THAT!"
    Leave it to washing that test jacket in a washing machine, though, and then, WHAM! instant disaster to the jacket that made all those other death-defying tests look like sideshow acts. Pure genius on the writer's part.

  8. When watching this one as a kid, I always thought the torture tests were a takeoff on the Timex "Takes a Lickin' Keeps On Ticking" commercials of the day. Hence the presence of a not-really John Cameron Swayze announcer.