This show about the deep, dark times before any real recorded history was aired in the dead, dark times of Saturday morning television, full of non-ironic weirdness and delights, the early 1970s. This was my era of kids’ shows, and the one thing that fasciantes me more than the shows I did watch and enjoy are the ones that I chose to not watch, but might have enjoyed if I could.
For years, Korg 70,000 BC was unavailable in any form, other than memory, of which I had none. Didn’t watch it. I watched the other prehistoric-related shows of the time — the brilliant Land of the Lost and the standard Valley of the Dinosaurs — but Korg is a different animal from those, and I feel I really missed something.
Remember Walking With Cavemen? Korg is like a 1970s, Saturday morning version of that, with less goofiness than that implies, though only sort of, and it is available as a two-DVD set now.
The plots revolve around a family of Neanderthals and their day to day plights. Korg (Jim Malinda) is the dad and leader. Korg has a brother, Bok (Bill Ewing), a wife (Naomi Pollack) two sons — older Tane (Christopher Man) and younger Tor (Charles Morteo) — and one daughter, Ree (Janelle Pransky). Any given episode might deal with the family having a particularly difficult hunt or encountering an earthquake or a draught that requires them to travel around or, always the best ones, encountering other Neanderthal families, particularly the Hill People.
Each episode is narrated by Burgess Meredith, to give it a documentary feel. Yes, the Neanderthals do speak English. No, this doesn’t bother me in the slightest, as I loved the first Doctor Who serial ever, what I thought was a pretty tense caveman political drama.
The end credits list several scientific consultants at the end, including one from the American Museum of Natural History and another from the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, plus several more. The thing is, our understanding of Neanderthal life has improved dramatically since 1974, and that’s really just the first problem here. I’m really inclined to forgive the show any scientific problems, though, because it seems so sincere, and if you know enough about Saturday morning television at the time, you know they could be commended for trying something a little different.
And it had some real names working on it. It’s a Hanna Barbera production, for one. Series creator and writer Fred Frieberger worked on Star Trek and Space: 1999, among other shows. Frequent episode director Christian Nyby is best known for 1951’s The Thing From Another World, as well as tons of TV shows, though I can’t claim any of his work on Korg is anywhere near the level of that movie.
The problem is that despite the apparent sincerety, Korg’s world is one filled with puppet spiders and floppy deer carcasses and a particularly energetic guy in a bear suit. It’s filled with lethargic lions and boulders that are easy to lift over your head. Korg’s world is one with surfer dude Neanderthals.
Really, surfer dude Neanderthals.
That’s a particularly thrilling episode, when the Korg family makes their way to the ocean — they don’t like it because it moves and you can’t drink it and they are convinced it is a living thing. Each Neanderthal character is suited with appropriate prosthetics on the forehead and teeth, but the surfer dude Neanderthal, who gets out on the ocean with a flotation device apparently fashioned out of seaweed, has gleaming, white, perfect surfer dude teeth, and a toned body with hardly any hair on it.
Not that all of the Neanderthals are hairy in this. Actually the most hairy ones are the old guys who play guest roles, and seem like they were either grabbed off skid row or pulled from the Old Actor’s Rest Home.
It’s hard for me to recommend Korg to anyone but the most curious. It might function as something to chuckle at for a few episodes, but it’s hard to imagine someone sticking with it through all 16 episodes just for that. And the curious might find themselves sitting for one episode, just for historical observence or something.
I liked Korg 70,000. It entertained me. I was glad I sat through all the episodes. I liked it’s cheesiness mixed with the lovely ’70s gentleness that preached understanding and sustainability and warned against allowing supernatural superstitions — that is, religion — take precedence in your life over logic. So maybe it speaks to the nine-year-old in me that still sits in front of the 1973 Saturday morning TV line-up, pretty excited. As I said, it’s the relic of another era, and not the one the show highlights, and that’s good enough for me.