The episode: “Commando Cody pt. 4,” the first of two shorts before “Robot Monster,” ep. 107
The riff: Observed by Joel as a couple of robbers attempt to escape in their getaway cars and get shot, clutching their backs.
The explanation: Alright, so “the heartbreak of psoriasis” was a phrase that was used in commercials for Tegrin medicated soap and shampoo, starting in the 1960s, to describe the immune system condition that causes skin irritation. The phrase was used in many other places, including a stage show by the drag queen Divine as well as a song of the same name by Root Boy Slim.
Novelty factor: I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Tegrin before, as it doesn’t sound like it is manufactured any more.
The episode: “Junior Rodeo Daredevils,” the short in front of “The Killer Shrews,” ep. 407
The riff: Exclaimed by Joel as a couple of kids fiddle around with an old tin can and one kid puts his hand inside while the other holds it.
The explanation: What a splendid reference to one of my favorite all-time sci-fi novels, Frank Herbert’s “Dune.” In Herbert’s futuristic world, the Gom Jabbar is a test administered by the psychic Bene Gesserit Sisterhood to weed out “human awareness” from those who react instinctively like an animal. To take the test, a poisoned needle is placed against the subject’s throat while the subject’s hand is placed into a box. The box radiates waves of pain, but if the subject pulls his hand out, he will be killed by the poisoned needle. The challenge is thus one of rationality over reaction. Those who survive are deemed “human.”
Novelty factor: Clearly, this one is right up my alley. Speaking of “Dune,” if you want to see the story in a good film adaptation, stay away from the awful David Lynch version. Instead, get a copy of the Sci Fi Channel’s surprisingly good miniseries from 2000 or the even better sequel, “Children of Dune” from 2003. With that said, the Gom Jabbar scene is the one part of Lynch’s film that is actually superior, accurately capturing the dread of the test. Leave it to David Lynch to get that part right.
The episode: “Commando Cody pt. 3,” the short in front of “The Corpse Vanishes,” ep. 105
The riff: Excitedly concluded by Joel as large sheets of molten rock drift and mix together.
The explanation: Wham-O is of course the classic toy company known for hits like the hula hoop, frisbee and slip ‘n slide. The Magic Window, on the other hand, was apparently something sort of similar to an Etch-a-Sketch, where the kid would hold this box with an oval window. Inside two panes of glass were two different colored sands, apparently of different densities. By shifting the box around, constantly shifting shapes would be formed, which could approximate scenic landscapes like mountains or the ocean. The toy doesn’t seem to be made by Wham-O any more, but in 2012 the holders of the original patent apparently made a new, tweaked version.
Novelty factor: Never heard of this toy before in my life. It seems a little on the confusing side, but I fully expect that every one of my older readers will remember this.
The episode: “Undersea Kingdom pt. 1,” the short in front of “Attack of the Giant Leeches,” ep. 406
The riff: Sung by all three guys as a quartet of Navy sailors walks in perfect lock-step with one another.
The explanation: I’m a little embarrassed that I couldn’t immediately place this one, but this is of course an excerpt from the 1974 #1 hit “Rock the Boat” by disco-soul group Hues Corporation. I assume they threw it in just because the characters are boat-going sailors.
Novelty factor: I know this song of course, but looking it up made me realize that I’d never really heard of Hues Corporation as a musical group.
The episode: “Commando Cody pt. 2,” the short in front of “The Mad Monster,” ep. 103
The riff: Mumbled by Tom as a goofy-looking Moon Man fumbles with a ray gun that looks a lot like a hair dryer.
The explanation: Willard Scott was a radio personality, entertainer and weatherman who was best known as the weather personality for “The Today Show” in the 1980s and 1990s. Before this though, he played Bozo the Clown for a stretch on TV and was also the first person to ever play the “hamburger-happy” Ronald McDonald in a televised ad, which I presume is the source for this riff. He claims to have invented the character of Ronald McDonald, something the burger giant unsurprisingly disputes to this day.
Novelty factor: I’ve never even heard of the guy. When they first said the name, Wilford Brimley popped into my head, so that’s how close I was.
The episode: “Appreciating Your Parents,” the second short in front of “The Unearthly,” ep. 320
The riff: Addressed to the screen by Servo as the name of “educational collaborator” Reuben Hill is shown.
The explanation: Tom is referring to a song from the early career of country icon Kenny Rogers, back when he was leading a band called The First Edition. The song, “Reuben James,” is about a black sharecropper who is unfairly targeted for abuse in his small town, and was a modest hit in 1969. Tom actually misquotes the lyrics though, because as written, it’s “walk the furrowed fields of my mind.”
Novelty factor: I’ve never heard the song before now.
The episode: “Posture Pals,” one of two shorts in front of “The Unearthly,” ep. 320
The riff: Exlaimed by Joel as a boy with particularly bad posture stands behind a sheet and exposes his S-shaped spine in shadow form to the assembled class.
The explanation: “Pudd’nhead Wilson” was the name of an 1894 novel by Mark Twain, not one of his more remembered works today. It was about young lawyer named David Wilson who moves to a small Missouri frontier town (likely based on the towns of Twain’s youth) and is dubbed “Pudd’nhead” by the townspeople when a remark he makes is misunderstood. If it’s not clear from the context, it’s meant to mean “dumb.” Eventually, Pudd’nhead turns the tables by solving a murder with the help of his odd hobby, which involves collecting people’s fingerprints.
Novelty factor: I must admit I’d never heard of this Twain novel before, although I’ve heard the term “pudd’nhead” to refer to a nitwit.
His head isn’t composed of pudding at all. I feel misled.