Saturday, October 04, 2008

Review Of THE SECRET SATURDAYS "The Hur Stone" By John Rose

Well, our Halloween juggernaut's just getting started (after all, it's only Day 4), but gosh all fishhooks, I've just seen the most inspiring thing, one that fits right in with what we're doing. It's the premiere episode of Cartoon Network's new show The Secret Saturdays, and I never thought I'd say this about anything, but... I'm feeling so chipper.

I found out about this show in one of my ongoing searches for monster culture stuff on the web, and after reading the concept I thought this would be a hoot. Now, after seeing the final product, which will be among the new series CN has on its Friday-night block of programming, I'm completely in love. This show, though it wears its influences on its sleeve with unabashed geeklike pride, has taken the best elements of Jonny Quest, The Herculoids, Challengers Of The Unknown, The Fantastic Four and The X-Files and distilled them into a completely original creation. No derivation of popular franchises here; Saturdays is its own game.

In this first episode, "The Hur Stone," we are introduced to all the
main characters and the ongoing plot for the series. The show's conceit is that various scientists work together in an underground network across the globe to study and research the mysteries of the universe (i.e. monsters, unexplained phenomena, and just plain old weird stuff) in order to protect not only the world from the secrets, but the secrets themselves from anyone who would use them for evil or ill gains. The notion of ill gains has its manifest in the form of crypto-scientist V. V. Argost, who hosts the popular TV show Weird World and comes across like an unholy combination platter of Doctor Doom, Boris Karloff and Snidely Whiplash (if you don't believe this last part, just listen to him do his Evil Sneering Laugh). Argost's main concern in this episode is to gather the pieces of the Hur Stone, which will control all cryptids (or unexplained natural monsters such as Bigfoot and Chupacabra) and put them under his rule, with the goal of controlling the world.

Opposed to this, of course, are the Saturdays, a family of cryptozoologists who, along with two other scientists in their network, have a piece of the Hur Stone. The family consists of Doc Saturday, who prefers hard facts to speculative science, his wife Drew, whose expertise in mysterious artifacts makes her the Mulder to Doc's Scully, and their eleven-year-old son Zak, who has a strange power over cryptids and can control them, and wants to be accepted as a full-fledged member of Team Saturdays. The team is rounded out by the Saturdays' family pets: Komodo, a mutated monitor lizard who can become invisible at will, and Fiskerton, a gentle but clumsy seven-foot-tall "gorilla cat" who serves as an older brother to Zak and led a previous life as the "Fiskerton Phantom" before hooking up with the Saturdays. When the Saturdays learn of Argost's plot to recover the Hur Stone (which is done by Argost simultaneously blowing up the headquarters of the three scientists who have the pieces), Doc and Drew reveal their legacy of the Hur Stone to Zak, and suggest (much to their concern and discomfort) that his cryptid powers may be the key to retrieving it. With Zak in tow, the race is on, and the Saturdays head for a spot deep in the Amazon to recover their hidden piece before Argost can get his hands on it. This also serves as a method of picking up the sixth member of the family, Zon, the last surviving remnant of a prehistoric species of pterodactyl-like creatures, who has her nest unceremoniously destroyed by the Saturdays when their airship crashes after a dogfight with Argost. The subsequent battle and denouement sets the tone for the rest of the series, and shows a glimpse of things to come.

The series has a definite retro tone and feel, all the way down from its simplistic Sixties-ish character design and muted color palette to its percussive and sprightly bongo-jazz score, but it is in the writing and characterization that it truly shines. Doc and Drew, despite their passion for adventures and scientific discoveries, show genuine concern and love for their son, while Zak behaves as precociously as any other boy in a family of adventurer-scientists would. The family dynamic is palpable, and drives the show quite well, deriving much situational humor (when Drew is questioned by her husband about why she threw the TV at a villain ransacking their HQ, her response is, "I'm sorry, I just get in a zone") and creating a real bond between the viewer and the characters. Argost is a great villain with a hilariously slimy upper-crust demeanor (he drops various foreign-language words and phrases continually in his speech) that recalls some of Hanna-Barbera's best Saturday morning villains, and there is a certain not-too-subtle commentary made by Argost's status as a reality-show host. The Herculoids-like menagerie of Fiskerton, Komodo and Zon all provide great support and comic relief, and promise great times ahead (and I want a Fiskerton stuffed doll, if not a full set of Saturdays action figures). There's no doubt about it: this show is going to be a monster, and because it's animated is not an acceptable reason for not watching it. After the cancellation of Teen Titans and Justice League and the subsequent takeover of CN's adventure blocks by incomprehensible anime, this show may well be the redemption of Cartoon Network.

The Secret Saturdays is airing each Friday on Cartoon Network. Catch it and share with friends; it's worth your time.

Check your local listings for proper airtimes for The Secret Saturdays. More information is available at

Creator Jay Stephens hosts the Monsterama blog, which records his fine body of comics and cartoon work as well as his expertise in monster culture. Visit it here and let him know how much you like the show.