It’s impossible not to love Underdog. Like Superman, he’s an Average Joe, “Shoeshine” by day. At least, that is, until trouble comes along. But he doesn’t just morph into a superhero, equipped with requisite cool uniform and super powers. He’s also a cute little dog who spoke in rhymes. Now Superman, or any other superhero for that matter, cannot make that claim!
The program’s animation is a lot like Rocky & Bullwinkle. But while that show also had a layer of adult-directed humor, The Underdog Show was completely innocent. If you recall, Underdog, voiced meekly by Wally Cox, was always coming to Sweet Polly Purebread’s rescue. His nemesis was usually Simon Bar-Sinister or Riff-Raff, and both of these bad guys featured the voice talent of Allen Swift. All throughout, George S. Irving provided narration. Iriving gave these episodes a special voicing; he spoke in a troubled tone that made him come off as one of us, rooting for Underdog.
This single disc compilation includes two episodes and one bonus program. The first one is called “The Big Dipper”, where Simon Bar-Sinister devises a machine called The Big Dipper with which to dry up all the water in the world. The second episode is titled “The Gold Bricks”. This one involves the transfer of valuable gold bricks, where Underdog is chosen to drive the armored car. He’s the right one for the job because, remember, “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here.” In this program, Riff-Raff attempts to steal this gold. But, of course, he fails.
The bonus episode is titled “Fearo”. In it, a TV executive puts Sweet Polly Purebread in grave danger by asking her to star in a TV show with a monster named Fearo. Can you guess who comes to save her?
Along with Underdog’s adventures, which are always broken into four parts, this show also interspersed cartoons with other characters. One segment, The Go Go Gophers, doesn’t stand up particularly well today. It followed the crazy antics of two stereotyped Indians. But instead of treating Native Americans with the dignity they deserve, this cartoon played upon clichéd speech patterns and behaviors.
A better Underdog cartoon mate is Tennessee Tuxedo. Tennessee, voiced wonderfully by Don Adams, is assisted by the dopy Chumley, played by Bradley Bolke. In one story, called “Wish Wash”, Tennessee steals the wood intended for a new tool shed and builds a washing machine for his budding laundry business, instead. He learns how to build this contraption by consulting with scientist Mr. Whoopie. Whoopie advises them to construct a windmill, which provides the device’s power.
Another added series is “The World of Commander McBragg”, a regular segment where an older man tells of his amazing, albeit unbelievable, youthful adventures. On this disc he recalls his Indianapolis Speedway experiences. There’s also Klondike Kat, who in an episode titled “Gravy Train” must keep a mouse named Savoir Faire from stealing the roast beef he is transporting. But he quickly learns that this mouse’s slogan always holds true. “Savoir Faire is everywhere.”
This particular disc also includes a few special features. One is an interview with co-creator, Joe Harris. But if you really like Underdog, please skip the Harris interview. He’s just so dull! He talks in a monotone voice and sounds bored, rather than excited, about his creation. The other bonus feature lists the show’s family of characters.
In addition to its other memorable characteristics, let’s not forget Underdog’s great theme song. With those fighting words, “Speed of lightning, roar of thunder,” each program kicked off with a bang. Also in the opening intro, Irving introduced Underdog by saying, “Starring that champion of champions,” which gave me goose bumps as a child. I still get a little excited now, even though I’m well aware this is just a cartoon.
But of course, it wasn’t “just a cartoon.” This was a special program that had all the adventure of a superhero program, without the kind of violent action that would scare a young child. It’s always reassuring to hear Underdog announce, “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here.” Even today.