Friday 23 September 2022

What the Jetsons Means Today

The Jetsons turns 60 today, a 20th Century show set in the 21st Century that we now watch in the 21st Century.

In 1962, there was still general optimism for the future, that technology would make life simpler and more docile. Today, does anyone look forward to the future? Isn’t mass media filled with future scenes of dystopia, darkness and hopelessness, a feeling that we’re spiralling out of control because humanity has screwed up everything?

The future, at one time, was a huge sales pitch. Exhibitions and world fairs were full of “tomorrow,” generally consisting of improvements in 1950s gadgets that, naturally, you could buy from big American corporations. When corporate America lost its edge in the world market, there was suddenly a lot less talk about the future.

The Jetsons, for viewers today, is a trip back, not a trip forward. A trip to a time of positivity, that our lives would improve. Flying cars to save us time. Food-a-rack-a-cycles to save effort making meals. Three day work-weeks to reduce stress.

Any disasters on The Jetsons were not a prediction of an inevitably hopeless future ahead for humanity. They were gags. Like the Supersonic Dress-o-matic that takes George Jetson out of his pyjamas and into women’s clothes.

I generally like the series (I’m referring to the original 24 episodes, not the Orbitty Show of the ‘80s). The background art and other settings are great; especially buildings that look like the Space Needle. The writers went through science and technology magazines to get ideas of futuristic gadgets and some are things we use today. Hoyt Curtin and keyboardist Jack Cookerly came up some neat electronic music. Perhaps disappointing are some of tired old sitcom cliches the writers used (including “Honey, the boss is coming home for dinner” and the “suspicion of infidelity” bit), and the fairly lacklustre animation. There was no exaggeration; characters stood and talked and talked, with animators employing their individual style of head and mouth movement.

Here are backgrounds from the first episode that aired. They’re by Art Lozzi. The colour is excellent; some ABC affiliates actually aired the series in colour.

This throwaway background gag reminds of something you might see on The Simpsons 25 years later.

The gag above is from one of my favourite episodes— the debut of Uniblab. Computers took up whole rooms in the early ‘60s, so Uniblab has a huge head. For those who don’t know, the “uni” comes from the Univac, a Remington Rand division which made computers for corporations and the military that operated on punch cards or thick tape. The “blab” part came from the spying computer blabbing information and gossip to boss Spacely. I didn’t need to know about corporate suck-ups at age six; I knew George Jetson was getting screwed around and waited for the plot to play itself out with Univac being the victim of karma.

People like quoting from cartoons, and Barry Blitzer’s script gives viewers a chance. “Spacely’s a stupe,” exclaims Uniblab, which George repeats for the computer’s microphone, as the two play Five Card Satellite.

“Jupiter Gin! Planet Poker!” slurs the brain after getting drunk of Henry’s spiked oil.

I haven’t tried adding up all his scenes, but Carlo Vinci seems to have been responsible for much of the animation in this episode. He had unique mouth and leg shapes and angles. By this time, he was teamed with Disney veteran Hugh Fraser on the half-hour series.

One scene in the cartoon bothers me, and it shows you the limits of limited animation. Uniblab shoots hot coffee over the “board of directors” (presumably from Spacely Sprockets’ parent corporation). They just stand there. There’s no reaction to the liquid, let alone it being hot liquid. It’s completely unrealistic. The studio couldn’t even spend the time making a four-drawing yelling cycle.

Because it is The Jetsons, here is an obligatory shot of a flying car. I hope the exhaust doesn’t kill the ozone layer. Maybe it’s water vapour.

There really isn’t more I can say about the series that what’s been posted on the blog. Each cartoon has been reviewed. We wrote a bunch of posts when the series turned 50. Find one with music HERE. There's a post where Joe Barbera talks about the Space Needle and another about futuristic inventions.


  1. Happy 60th Jetsons! Still a cartoon favorite of many.

  2. It's amazing how much mileage those 24 original episodes had, being rerun endlessly for more than twenty years on Saturday morning and syndication. It got to the point where viewers instinctively knew every line of dialogue, music cue and 'laff' from the 'audience'. Obviously someone thought enough of the property to create all new episodes for syndication in the mid-1980s. The revival has its detractors of course, but it was impressive that the entire original cast reprised their roles and some of the writers of the 'Classic 24' contributed scripts. And thank you for NOT making that tiresome parallel of with the Blondie franchise, a trope that persists on the Internet. (Seeing variations of "THE JETSONS are based on Blondie" over and over is not only annoying, but wrong.) Yes, Penny Singleton was a primary player in both. Yes, there was a grouchy boss and a lazy/browbeaten subordinate. Grouchy bosses and lazy/browbeaten subordinates go back to silent movies.

  3. I think the argument that THE JETSONS was just a rip-off of BLONDIE is made primarily by people who aren't that familiar with BLONDIE. The BLONDIE movies/radio series/TV show all operate on endless variations of the idea that Dagwood is a bungling nitwit and it's up to Blondie to set everything to rights and save the day. George Jetson may have been many things, but he wasn't an idiot who depended on his wife to fix his messes by the end of every story.

    One thing about THE JETSONS I'm much more aware of as an adult is that the show may have been set in the 21st century, but its scripts are pure 1950s sitcom.

  4. Quite true, Randy. The characters are all standard issue comedy fare. Even the "future family" was explored in "Your Safety First," a 1956 John Sutherland cartoon where the husband sounds like George Jetson (it's Marvin Miller).
    If Joe Barbera had kept Pat Carroll as the voice of Jane, the comparisons wouldn't exist.

  5. Perhaps the comparison is spurious, but Dagwood and Blondie also had a teen son and slightly younger daughter (reversed for THE JETSONS). So forgive the people who saw the parallel construction, added in Hanna-Barbera's peoclivity for "adapting" existing shows to parody/swipe, and Singleton's participation (which I know came after the fact, but still might not have been entirely coincidental) and concluded that BLONDIE fit the bill as far as a source goes. And while the movie and TV series may have been exactly as Randy describes, the comic strip isn't as cut-and-dried, Dagwood is more often a victim of circumstance than he is stupid. Fred Flintstone was a loud mouth, but nowhere near the Jonah character Ralph Kramden is. And the parallels between the Scooby cast and DOBIE GILLIS are also pretty surface, but I'm sure it served Barbera well to sell his series to CBS by describing it as "an animated version of ------ with a scene-stealing dog." That Joe Barbera never copped to lifting the basic family structure of THE JETSONS from a specific series is a negative inference that disproves nothing. We'll never know for certain, and it really doesn't matter in the end, but as long as it's given as a qualified theory and not a corroborated fact, I don't have any problem with it. (The only thing that doesn't absolutely nail it Is that DC Comics didnt adapt BLONDIE for comic books, like it did for HONEYMOONERS, BILKO and DOBIE!) And I'm perfectly okay with considering an alternate inspiration for THE JETSONS if someone can come up with another that's as close as BLONDIE, because it doesn't make sense to me that Joe would change his spots since he had found success with that exact sales technique with ABC's execs both before and after. (JONNY QUEST ultimately departed from it by necessity, but ABC bought it as a variation on JACK ARMSTRONG.)