Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sealab 2020 The Complete Series now on DVD

"This is the year two thousand and twenty. The place is the Challenger Sea Mount, the top of an underwater mountain, a complex beneath the sea. Two hundred and fifty men, women and children live here. Each of them, a scientist pioneer. For this is our last frontier, a hostile environment which may hold the key to tomorrow. Each day, these oceanauts meet new challenges as they build their city beneath the sea. This is Sealab 2020."

This is the voice over that opens every episode of Warner Brother's 1972 animated series, Sealab 2020. Not to be confused with Adult Swim's Sealab 2021, which uses the same animation, but is drastically different, Sealab 2020 is an educational adventure set in and around an underwater community with a classic Hanna Barbera feel. The DVD set has extremely clear picture and decent sound, collecting all thirteen episodes together for the first time.

Many things can go wrong when living deep below the ocean's surface, and all of them seem to in a mere baker's dozen episodes. Radiation leaks near the base, people get lost, a crewman comes down with Green Fever (a psychosis caused by missing land), sharks circle, a giant squid messes with equipment, and much more! To make matters worse, as we're frequently reminded, the residents can't just swim for the surface to safety, as they would get the bends.

What's odd is that, despite these crazy, exciting dangers, the series actually comes across a bit boring. Perhaps it's because there's a lot more talk than action. Or maybe it's the flat personalities, that never show too much emotion, even in the face of the worst crisis. Sealab 2020 fails to convey a sense of dread or threat in any one of these situations.

Now, that could be a good thing. After all, the show is made for kids, and is completely family appropriate. However, even taking the young audience into consideration, there is a lack of enthusiasm that just doesn't make for very entertaining programming.

There are positives, too. Sealab 2020 is educational. Along with the weekly "adventures," a number of facts and scientific principals are explored. There is always time during an emergency to discuss what is going on, and the safety tips the crew needs to remember. Plus, kids will learn a lot about undersea life, studying it along with the scientists.

Especially in the first few episodes, the children on the series take center stage. Captain Murphy's grandson, Bobby (Josh Albee), is frequently involved in the plot. He is a relatable kid, great for the target audience. He may not always think through his actions ahead of time, but he's guided by strong morals, compassion, and he's also pretty smart. Bobby is usually more of a help than a hindrance.

Sealab 2020 does its job in promoting diversity by including characters of different ethnicities working side by side as equals. There is definitely a balance. Yes, the characters are all a bit white-washed, with no individual personalities or traits. But that's true for the white people as well as the minorities, so it seems fair enough.

What's sad is the show's treatment of women. Sally (Pamelyn Ferdin) is little more than a sidekick for Bobby. Gail (Ann Jillian) is a scientist, but she doesn't demonstrate the same level of professionalism as her peers. For instance, in one episode the men laugh off her claims to have seen something in the depths of the ocean. In another, she falls in love with a dolphin, fawning over it like a mother, and neglecting her responsibilities to take care of it. It's really disappointing to see such a negative stereotype, considering how advanced the stories are in other areas.

Also a regret is the lack of bonus features. There are none on the DVD. It's a shame that no one tells the story that happened behind the scenes, or includes the unaired episodes that Wikipedia mentions.

Overall, Sealab 2020, while not groundbreaking, is a family-friendly, educational series that is set in a spectacular world under the sea. It will make you wish the place was real! Sealab 2020 The Complete Series is on sale now.

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