The TV shows Marty Krofft, now 80, made with his brother Sid, now 88, were the high point of my illicit Shabbat morning television-watching. Sigmund and the Sea Monsters! H.R. Pufnstuf! The Land of the Lost! The Krofft Supershow with Dr. Shrinker, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, and Kaptain Kool and the Kongs! There was an evening entry, too–the spangly, glittery, purple-focused toothy wholesomeness that was Donny & Marie, which aired on Erev Shabbat, hence more illicitness.
The Saturday AM shows shared an eye-popping, bubbly, psychedelic sensibility; a gleefully low-rent air; over-the-top acting; delicious villains; and unnerving foam-latex full-body puppet costumes, (Sadly, I do not recall what was by all accounts the trippiest show of all, Lidsville–perhaps it was not in syndication by my late ‘70s childhood?)
Krofft is now promoting a brand-new Sigmund, which became available on Amazon Prime on October 13, with a new theme song by The Roots. I was excited to ask Krofft about how his Jewishness informed his work. I imagined him telling me about Jewish humor’s penchant for the absurd, for exaggeration and slyness, for its outsider’s perspective on contemporary society and culture. After the two of us shared brief memories of our respective childhoods in Providence, RI, I asked what his Jewish background was.
“Zero!” he replied gleefully. “I’m Greek and Hungarian. But everyone thinks I’m Jewish, and in Los Angeles, that never hurts.” As I stammered (the names Sid and Marty! I just assumed! I made an ass out of u and me!), Krofft took pity on me. “Almost everyone I work with is Jewish,” he offered. “I just did a pilot with Mayim Bialik. My head writer and co-producer on Sigmund are Jewish. The composer is Jewish. Want me to go down the list?”
Not necessary, I replied, desperately trying to figure out how to salvage the interview for a Jewish magazine.
Uh, so I’d read lots of interviews in which the first question was “Were you on drugs?” And I wondered whether Krofft found that irksome. The assumption that he and his brother were in a perpetual altered state seemed dismissive and minimizing of the actual work that must have gone into making over a dozen mega-hits. “Look, if we were on the amount of drugs everyone thought we were on, we’d be in Forest Lawn right now,” Krofft confirmed.
If not the appeal to potheads and acid freaks, what’s behind the lasting fascination with his work? “I don’t know what we did, but whatever it was, it was right, because I go down the street and all the 45-year-olds can sing all the theme songs to me.” (I internally congratulated myself for refraining from burbling “Dr. Shrinker! Dr. Shrinker! He’s a madman with an evil mind! He’s as crazy as you’ll ever find!” as soon as Krofft answered the phone.) He paused. “But you know, I do say our villains have always been the stars of our shows. The new Sigmund stars my great pal David Arquette as the villain, Captain Barnabas.”
I asked Krofft what he thought of today’s “stoner TV”–kids’ shows that appeal to toking twentysomethings–such as Steven Universe and Adventure Time. “My brother and me, in our whole careers, we never watched other TV,” he told me. “We created our shows out of our nightmares and whatever else. We never said, ‘Oh, let’s do a show like The Beverly Hillbillies!’ I think that’s why our shows live on. They’re originals. They’ve survived this long; they’ll survive another 100 years.” He said, “We’re also probably the only independents who never sold out. We always owned everything. It’s always been the elephant and the flea. The elephant is Disney; we were the flea. But you can’t do that anymore. If you want to keep working, the rules change. Who knows what the technology will become? Today if I want to be back in TV, streaming is the big new thing, so we’re on Amazon. In ten years, you’ll probably be watching on your ring.”
Why reboot Sigmund at all? “Because I’m alive!” Krofft retorted. “I’ve done five pilots in the last two years and got three series on the air. Sigmund was one of our most popular shows–Pufnstuf, Land of the Lost, and Sigmund. Amazon approached us, and I said yes, as long as we have enough money to do it well. And it’s a great show. We found two great kids. We got a great head writer–Bradley Zweig worked on The Big Bang Theory, Yo Gabba Gabba. The guy doing the music wrote “Killing me Softly.” (Also Barry Manilow’s “Ready to Take a Chance Again,” and the theme music for Wonder Woman, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley and The Love Boat.)
The plot’s the same as it was in the ‘70s. (They even cast a kid with red curly hair like vintage Johnny Whitaker’s!) You recall youthful beachcombers Johnny and Scotty, who find Sigmund, a sea monster, in a net. The trio become buds. The brothers hide Sigmund from monster hunter Captain Barnabas while also contending with Sigmund’s people-loathing fam, the Abbott-and-Costellian duo Blurp and Slurp. One change: The new version is less of a sausagefest, adding the boys’ cousin Robyn to the mix. All seven episodes are available for download now. And friends, friends, friends, you can watch the preview here.