Saturday 16 September 2017

Jetson’s Night Out

Everyone, I think, has cartoon memories. Here’s one of mine. On the Jetsons, there was an episode where a button was pressed and a whole apartment building rose out of a rainstorm into the clear sky. I remember watching this and wondering “When does the building go back down again? What if someone didn’t want the building to go up?”

55 years later, I still don’t know the answers. But the building going up was the best part of the show.

Maybe if the Jetsons didn’t rely on tired old sitcom premises it might have stayed on the air. You’ve seen this one before. Jane makes plans that interfere with George’s plans. So he engages in trickery to get out of it but gets caught. Even the Flintstones pulled that one in its premiere. So let’s skip past the plot and look at the futuristic and anachronistic things in Jetson’s Night Out, the fifth episode to air, on October 21, 1962.

First, the Skypad Apartments rise, courtesy of a button pressed by Henry the janitor (the nasty clouds are on a cel overlay).

Elroy feels like a banana with his spray-on raincoat.

Newspapers? Who needs them? All you need is an internet connection to read the headlines or see news video. You couldn’t in 1962. But today? The only thing different is a “newspaper” comes in a little square disc. Maybe that unencrypts something on-line to get around a newspaper firewall.

Siri, what time is it? Yes, the Jetsons have that, too. Except Siri sounds like Senor Weñces.

Ruh, roh! Some very un 21st Century humour coming up:

Judy: Aren’t you going to finish your coffee, dad?
George: Nope. Came out too strong this morning. But don’t throw it out. Some pygmies from Africa may show up and want to dip their spears in it. Ha, ha, ha!

George, don’t you know that’s racist in the future? Follow Stan Freberg’s advice. Do jokes about the Swiss. No one gets offended.

Dish disposal is easy. The dishes are crunched into pieces and swept away. Perhaps they’re reformed into plates and cups by some machine in the kitchen.

Someone tell all those people pumping money into electric car research not to bother. We learn from the Jetsons that cars run on fuel pellets. And cheap! George gasses up for $2. When was the last time you could do that, 1962? George pays using his card and facial recognition technology to thwart identity theft.

These days, corporations make employees wear cards where they swipe in and out when come and go, with the information stored in a computer at headquarters. You can’t make a gag out of that, so Harvey Bullock and Ray Allen (and with Tony Benedict’s help, I suspect) used a time-clock gag, with a flying security camera capturing late workers on a .gif file and zooming it to the boss. Jetson to Spacely: “I don’t photograph too well, do I, sir?” Spacely to Jetson: “You don’t work very well, either.”

Robotic secretaries still use reel-to-reel tape.

The Visiphone. Now you don’t see it. Now you do.

Back to the plot. George wants to watch the football game on TV. Jane has committed them to go to a PTA meeting. Cosmo Spacely wants to go to the football game. Mrs. Spacely has committed them to a Phil Sputnik (Phil Spitalny) concert. So Spacely concocts a scheme where he tells his wife he has to be by Jetson’s bedside because of a terminal illness (nuclear dyanomitis); that way he and George can go to the game. The two of them race to the Jetsons’ bedroom. George still hasn’t got a clue what Spacely’s plot is, though when Mrs. Spacely arrives to comfort him, their miscommunication leaves her thinking he’s just about dead.

Mrs. S.: Now, don’t you worry. You will be here for a long time.
George: Aw, no. I’ll be leavin’ any minute.
Mrs. S.: Oh, don’t even think of that!
George: Aw, but it’s true. Kick off is at 8:30.
Mrs. S.: Kick off? You mean... but how do you know the time?
George: Well, it says so on the ticket.
Mrs. S.: Ticket?
George: Aw, you’ve got to have a reservation?
Mrs. S.: Reservation!? Oh, dear!
George: Aw, I wouldn’t go without the boss’s okay.
Mrs. S.: And they say dogs are loyal!

George bribes Elroy with 40 cents (that won’t go very far, will it?) to keep quiet about seeing him, then he and Spacely take off for the game. End of Part 1.

Part 2 starts with the Jetsons almost inventing the domed stadium; the Astrodome was under construction at the same time the series aired, though it obviously wasn’t a bubble dome floating in space. There’s even a scanner to ensure all tickets are genuine.

A good portion of the next few minutes is taken up with robotic football player gags. As technology stories today talk about robot care givers and robot comfort-pet and robot, robot football players, I suppose, are not out of the realm of possibility. Naturally, there’s a collision gag leaving one all busted to bolts (“He should be as good as new by half-time, so don’t worry, mother,” says the game announcer, emulating Dennis James on the wrestling matches on the DuMont network years earlier). We get a “Statue of Liberty” play gag and one about a veteran coming in to save the game (“he’s one of the old, manually-operated players”; the robot has to be wound up).

Yes, vinyl-heads, you’re favourite format for music still exists in the Jetsons’ time. George has hooked up a record of him to play when the Visiphone rings, telling Jane (he just knew she was going to call) he’s working overtime. A tacky cardphone picture is set up for the Visiphone to see. Unfortunately, the big drawback of vinyl hasn’t been fixed. The record skips. Jane realises she’s been BS’d by her husband. And Mrs. Spacely has arrived so the two are able to piece together what happened, especially after seeing the two men on the huge screen TV in the Jetsons’ apartment. Yes, something else you saw first in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

Oh, here comes the other un-PC part. George is the stadium’s 1,000,000th fan so he wins a prize—a mink coat. To placate the angry wives, George takes a pair of scissors and cuts it into a mink jacket and a mink stole—a gift for each wife. Both of them ADORE their minks. Imagine if a cartoon did this today. PETA would throw a fit. Animal lovers would clack away on social media about it. There’d be calls to cancel The Jetsons over it. Newspapers, web sites, TV stations would all pick up on the chatter and endlessly editorialise about it. Then there’d be a counter-protest on-line demanding no censorship on old animation, that we mustn’t bury the attitudes of the past (add a “such things were wrong then and wrong now” disclaimer, they’d cry). The world would be gripped with Holier-than-thou-itis. Until the next thing came along a few days later.

Anyway, the women decide they need to spend, spend, spend on new accessories to match their furs—including a new car. Spacely is outraged and fires Jetson yet again to end the cartoon.

The four regulars plus Mel Blanc, Don Messick and Jean Vander Pyl provide voices. I think Walt Clinton laid out at least part of the cartoon and George Nicholas may have animated some of it, though there aren’t many of his real fun expressions. The inventions are the most enjoyable thing and I can’t help but wonder if this cartoon brought about the invention a couple of years later of Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots by a company known to sponsor Hanna-Barbera cartoon shows, Marx.


  1. One thing that shocked me about this episode was that the football robots all have Polish-sounding 'last names'. Obviously that's an old football fiction staple, but would sure ruffle feathers today.

    George Nicholas animates the beginning and closing scenes. His touch is most prominent at the beginning when he's telling Elroy that "school is fun-fun-fun!" At the very end, he gives George his trademark cringe when Spacely fires him. "Can anyone use an unemployed vice-president?"

    Nicholas' frequent partner Bill Keil did most of the office and football scenes; their other JETSON collaborator George Goepper the brief gas station scene that was cut from the 1980s syndicated revival print; Ed Aardal the bribery scene between George and Elroy; Ken Muse (in his only JETSON scene without collaborator Jerry Hathcock) the scene of George and Spacely returning to the apartment and Mrs. Spacely coming to 'help'.

    1. I recall a Porky Pig cartoon that had football players with names like Smellovitch and Stinkovitch.

  2. I like how the robot secretary's reel-to-reel tape location suggests breasts ("My screen is up here!").

    1. Me,too..if only the watch had a female voice..:) Judy Jetson looks cute in her "maid" outfit..this is where Mrs.Spacely does a la "Porky and Teabiscit" (1939, the "eoither" self-correction on pronuniciaiton to suit her normal dialect..I wonder where that gag originated....:)SC

  3. One advantage of robot football players: They won't protest the national anthem.

    1. You can't "take a knee" if you don't have one.

    2. On the other hand, no one's killing unarmed robots, either, so there's that...

  4. I always liked the sound effect of the rain on cement when George gets his space car from the garage, before Henry raises the building above the clouds.

    And I agree with Howard above, the football robot's Polish names always stood out for me.

    1. Not only that, but the red-haired coach's name is O'Brien, with no space-age pun/embellishment. Apparently through much of pop culture through the 1960s, football players were all Polish/Slavic and coaches were all Irish.

  5. This episode has a moment that stood out to me too(And I believe I've mentioned it before, because I was trying to figure out which episode it happened in) but I always found it surprising they had Judy drinking coffee in this one. When I first saw this as a kid, in either the 80's or 90's, far less teens drank coffee then they do now, so I would imagine the same would have gone for the 1960's when this was written. Maybe her drinking coffee wouldn't have stood out to me as much if it weren't for the fact that she asks about George's two seconds later (setting up the knee-slapper pygmy joke) Anyway, it's funny the weird specific things we remember about certain episodes.

  6. If robots were sentient, they should be treated like humans, like the 2017 version of Rosie the robot.

  7. Hans Christian Brando3 October 2017 at 08:12

    Only in a mid-century future do women wear fur.

  8. Back in 1962, did professional football have the national anthem?

  9. A lot of the scenes mentioned at the top of the article, (the news video, gas pellets, robot secretary, etc) were cut in reruns. It wasn't until Cartoon Network restored these episodes in 2000 that I finally got to see these funny scenes. It looked like George was watching YouTube!