Shazam!: The Complete Live Action Series DVD Review: Well Intentioned but Poorly Produced

Now available from the Warner Archive Collection, Shazam!: The Complete Live Action Series collects all 28 episodes of the Filmation program, which originally ran from 1974 to 1976. It first aired under its own title, and after the first season was paired with The Secrets of Isis to create The Shazam!/Isis Hour. There are three crossover episodes with Isis (Joanna Cameron): “The Odd Couple,” “Finders Keepers,” and “Out of Focus.” Her program can be heard mentioned in Shazam!‘s closing credits.

Shazam! features teenager Billy Batson (Michael Gray) and his superhero alter ego Captain Marvel (played by Jackson Bostwick for the first season and two episodes into the second, and then John Davey took over the role). Captain Marvel is basically Superman (as a lawsuit established) but his powers are comprised of the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus (though what that means is not clear), the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. The first initial of those characters, a group known here as “The Elders,” form the word “Shazam,” which Billy must utter to transform into Captain Marvel, which usually takes place about two-thirds into each episode.

However, rather than fight against super villains like the characters did in the comics, Shazam! finds Billy riding around in an RV with an older, badly combed-over gentleman, who has been given the unimaginative name of Mentor (Les Tremayne). Together, they help out people, children mostly, at the request of The Elders, in what are essentially after-school specials. For example, in “The Joyriders” a young man has to decide if he is going to stand up to his friends when they decide to steal cars. “The Doom Buggy” warns against dropping out of school. “Debbie” learns that her parents were right when they told her not to hang out with Tom, but only after he steals beer from a gas station and almost gets them hit by a truck.

The episodes originally concluded with “moral sequences” where Captain Marvel or Billy explain the lesson for those who didn’t understand what they just saw. For some reason, they can only be accessed as a bonus feature, and the trouble with that is it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. So to see the moral sequence on the last episode of a disc, you have to fast forward or skip chapters after it’s engaged. It can’t be selected off the menu. Also, the video quality of these sequences is poorer than the rest of the episode, so they must have been cut after the initial run to squeeze in more commercials and weren’t properly stored.

Shazam! is dated, corny, and badly put together as a production, but Lou Scheimer and the gang had their heart in the right spot in creating educational programming for children on Saturday mornings. Modern kids will likely be easily bored by it. Adults who revisit the show are more likely to be entertained from unintended laughs, as nostalgia alone can’t compensate for its flaws.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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