TV women battling evil: three series

In 1968, CBS introduced Wacky Races, a Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon about a group of oddball drivers competing in cross-country races. In 1969, they spun off a couple of the racers into THE PERILS OF PENELOPE PITSTOP, a take off on old silent cliffhangers such as The Perils of Pauline.

The premise: Penelope Pitstop (voiced by Janet Waldo), “heiress to a vast fortune” (it includes the Pitstop Department Store chain), is in constant peril from her trusted attorney, Sylvester Sneakly (Paul Lynde) in his secret identity as the Hooded Claw. As Penelope travels around the world, she finds herself in one elaborate deathtrap after another. Fortunately she has help from another Wacky Races competitor, the pint-sized gangsters of the Anthill Mob in their sentient car Chug-a-Boom.

As I wrote after watching Lost in Limehouse, I know the cliches of this kind of melodrama almost entirely from parodies like this. It’s cheerfully absurd and quite different from most of Hanna-Barbera’s output. And despite the damsel-in-distress aspect, Penelope saves herself at least as often as the Anthill Mob does. It was a pleasure to rewatch this. “Look on the bright side Pitstop — you’re the only person to die of a watery doom … in the desert!”

The sixth and final season of Supergirl has Kara and the Super-Friends coping with the Phantom Zone, Luthor’s latest scheme and Mxyzptlk’s vengeful sister (the siblings attempted to overthrow their father; he was proud of Mxy but condemned Nxy to the Zone for unfeminine behavior). While I give them credit for tackling a lot of social justice questions, they never manage to do it without being heavy-handed and the adventure side of things never came off as well as it should. However I did enjoy the huge list of cameos for the final episode, and that Kara’s happy ending doesn’t involve a relationship (not that I object to her having one, it’s just nice to see them suggest she can be happy without one). “Just because bad things happen to someone doesn’t mean they’re only destined for bad things.”

The second season of the CW’s KUNG FU worked much better for me. Nicky (Olivia Liang) and her friends are at war with ruthless businessman Russell Tan (Kee Chan) who’s gathering the components for some kind of destructive mystic ritual.  Nicky also has to deal with the realization part of her amazing skills comes from her mystic bloodline rather than training (I won’t detail the show’s mythology here) and meeting her cousin Mia (Vanessa Yao) who as the product of two bloodlines is even greater at martial arts (undercutting Nicky’s seeming status as a Chosen One). This was a really fun season; given the CW is purging a lot of series (Warner Brothers cutting costs before possibly selling the network off) I’m glad it’ll be back for S3. “Don’t feel bad — how many people can brag they’ve been shot by an evil billionaire?”

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