"The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show:" The Modern Stone-Age "Hannah Montana"
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Flintstones remembers Pebbles Flintstone and Bamm-Bamm Rubble, the two adorable tykes of the Modern Stone Age Family who were added to the cast during the third and fourth seasons of the show. If nothing else, the addition of the children meant the show could establish its own identity as something more than The Honeymooners in the caveman era. The show also deserved some kudos for broaching the topic of infertility and adoption in the story that led to the foundling Bamm-Bamm joining the childless Rubble household. In 1971, several years after the original show was canceled, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm were resurrected for a new Saturday morning cartoon, The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show, which made the tykes into teens, added their own supporting cast of friends and foes, and let the mayhem commence.
Or, at least, it should have. The series lasted for only one season, but was decidedly not one of the studio’s better efforts. The show is now out on a two-disc DVD set containing all 16 episodes of the show, plus 4 bonus episodes that originally aired on The Flintstones Comedy Hour in 1972. Not many people seem to remember this show, and enduring it on these DVDs explains why. The show is a virtual compendium of early TV sitcom clichés, all of which have been done better elsewhere and none of which are any funnier with the addition of cartoon dinosaurs and rock puns. There is a lot of mayhem on screen, but not much energy. It’s as though the entire series was done on auto-pilot, cribbing from the latest fads of the day and every other bad sitcom that had ever been made before it. The canned laughter that appears by around the fourth episode is as pre-fabricated as the humor, and is about as effective at drawing a laugh from the audience.
It doesn’t help much that the lead characters are pretty dull themselves. Pebbles is definitely her father’s daughter, being just as prone to hair-brained schemes and half-baked ideas that are guaranteed to go wrong in the most embarrassing way possible. She’s the one most often saddled with the Idiot Ball, since most of the episodes rely on her misunderstanding something and then finding the worst possible way to fix her mistakes. Sadly, Bamm-Bamm seems to have grown up into a pretty dull kid, losing his destructive streak and being little more than a bland foil to Pebbles, perpetually asking, “How did I ever get talked into this?” as he participates in the lame scheme of the week. The supporting characters are little more than cardboard cutouts, from Pebbles’ nasty and privileged rival Cindy, the walking plot-device generator Moonrock, Pebbles’ abrasive friend Penny and the dingbat Wiggy, and the walking jinx Bad-luck Schleprock. It doesn’t take very long for their canned catch-phrases become incredibly grating, especially Bad-luck Schleprock’s “Wowzy-wow wow.” There’s nothing horribly wrong about this show, other than the fact that it gets so very little right.
Technically, the two-disc set has little to recommend it, either. The show is presented in full-frame with what seems like the original mono soundtrack. The image isn’t particularly good, although it’s unclear whether this is due to poor source materials or over-compression to squeeze the whole show onto two discs. There are no extras to speak of other than a few trailers on disc 1 and the four 10-minute bonus episodes on disc 2. Like many of Warner Home Video’s releases, there are no chapter stops at all within an episode, making it a real chore to skip the opening credits sequence.
To an extent, pointing out the show’s painfully obvious flaws is to miss the point of the exercise. The average teen and pre-teen sitcoms have never really been about quality entertainment or plausibility. Watch any of the latest smash-hits with the pubescent set, from iCarly to High School Musical, and you’ll find most of the same elements as in The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show: truly horrible jokes, implausible scenarios that depend on completely idiotic misunderstandings, copious amounts of public embarrassment, hammed up mugging from the child stars, and the fundamental inability of the parental generation to understand what the fuss is all about. However, it’s not hard to see that the best and most popular of these shows are, in a sense, really guideposts and crutches to help teens work their way through perhaps the most awkward period of their lives. The stars of a teen sitcom serve as audience proxies, fumbling their way through a world that seems to have turned upside down overnight. Soon-to-be teens may only appreciate the inane humor, but the teens themselves can both identify with and feel superior to the characters on-screen.
In this light, the fact that the whole thing is patently artificial and not very good by objective adult standards is irrelevant. The fact that the TV characters are awkward, kind of dense, and more than a little desperate for positive attention is meant to alleviate some of the anxieties of a teenager who secretly (or openly) fears that all those traits define him or her as well. The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show was essentially intended as an animated Hannah Montana or Sabrina the Teenage Witch for the teens of its day. The fact that an adult doesn’t find it interesting isn’t as important as the fact that the teens at the time probably did, even if (or perhaps because) they recognized the show’s implausibilities and idiocies.
This cuts both ways, though, because the teen sitcom is perhaps the most disposable genre in TV entertainment. The good news, such as it is, is that these shows have no staying power almost by design. TV history is littered with teen sensations whose stardom vanished along with their acne as their audience matured, and whose careers turned into little more than fodder for “Where are they now?” specials. The next generation of teens has no use for the previous generation’s teen idols; they want (and get) teen stars of their own, all of whom do the same things and make the same mistakes as their forebears did. The Olsen twins, Melissa Joan Hart, and Hilary Duff may have ruled the airwaves not too long ago, but none of their careers truly survived their audience’s moving into their twenties. Once the audience has moved out of that awkward adolescent phase, the need for these sorts of sitcoms drops to zero as they move on to other entertainments. Nostalgia actively works against teen sitcoms; re-watching them at an older age will simply serve as unwelcome reminders of that awkward time of life.
Or, you know, maybe I’m struggling to find some rationale to justify those 320 minutes I spent watching this show.
In any event, I’m puzzled why Warner Bros. has bothered to release The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show on DVD at all. At this point, it will be of interest only to cultural historians interested in the most obscure crannies of pop culture, or to the hardest of the hard-core Hanna-Barbera collectors. Even then, I find it hard to believe that anybody will be able to endure these shows more than once or twice. The few people who will remember watching this show when they were young will have a nasty nostalgia experience if they do re-watch it now. At best, one might find an audience in an exceptionally receptive child or teenager interested in seeing the Hannah Montana of an earlier era.