ABC struck unexpected ratings gold with the first prime time cartoon series, The Flintstones, which against all odds became one of the biggest success stories of the 1960-61 television season. Of course, nothing succeeds like success, so it probably didn't take a rocket scientist at Hanna-Barbera, Fred and Wilma's producing studio, to figure out if stone age animated antics were a hit, space age antics certainly should be, too. Unfortunately, despite arguably being the stronger, funnier series, The Jetsons survived only one prime time season, 1962-63, whose DVD set was released some time ago. The Jetsons went on to syndication immortality, however, influencing a whole range of creative types in various idioms (is there anyone who doubts Hoyt Curtin's infectious theme is the major inspiration for Danny Elfman's Simpsons opening music?). Ultimately a new daily animated series started up in the mid-80s, and this "Season Two" is the first half of that enterprise. Luckily a lot of the same behind the scenes team, including many of the original voice artists, came back to The Jetsons for this "second chance." If the show seemed a bit less inventive in 1985 than it did in 1962, it still provides some fun, especially for younger kids.
Though The Flintstones was obviously modeled on The Honeymooners, The Jetsons was never really that strongly linked to a "live" television forebearer. That said, despite its 21st century setting, the Jetson family certainly would have felt at home amongst the other early 60s sitcom families like the Stones or the Cleavers. We have relatively hard working dad George, ensconced at his job at Spacely Sprockets, and more than occasionally being baffled by the goings on at home. Then there's lovely wife Jane, sometimes sweetly plotting behind her husband's back to achieve her goals. Teenage daughter Judy is boy crazy and concerned with appearances, and young son Elroy is kind of a futuristic Dennis the Menace, although probably a bit less malevolent. Along for the ride are a bevy of supporting characters, including Rosie the robotic maid, and in this "new, improved" version, Orbitty, a fuzzy little alien creature that Elroy picks up on an expedition thinking it's a rock, only to find out he's actually gotten an egg that hatches into something looking vaguely like the title characters in Gremlins.
This 1980s version relies a bit less on futuristic gadgets that seemed so inventive in 1962, though it is still full of little doors that open up to reveal robotic arms that will comb hair and the like. There's a penchant toward slightly more outrageous plots in this iteration, with everything from the Jetsons feuding with the Spacelys, with the help of a little computer cheating, to Rosie going all HAL and becoming a kleptomaniac. (It should be noted that this three-fer of 21 episodes plus a bonus featurette does not seem to be in original broadcast order, at least any order I could find on the fount of all early 21st century knowledge, the internet).
There's gentle humor here in abundance, if at times an overly obvious focus on "the moral." Judy thinks no one has remembered her birthday in one episode only to find out that caring strangers can mean more to her than her special day. The series is no great shakes in hilarity, but it delivers some quietly effective moments, at least for an animated series, while anchoring everything in easily recognized types-as-characters. The strength of the show is its cohesive family unit, even when technology is running amok, and that probably is more prescient for today's families than it was in the early 1960s when the show first aired.
The style of the show hasn't been reconfigured much at all for this second version. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to really notice much of a change from the original cut and paste Hanna-Barbera style that formed such an important part of the childhoods of people my age. There is to be sure a little more effort spent on backgrounds than in the original series, but the unique opening credits sequence is still the same, still a harbinger of the Space Age and everything "modern" that was introduced at the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle. I personally miss the original closing credits sequence, with George madly walking Astro the dog on the outside treadmill, which of course malfunctions. That sequence included one of the famous Hanna-Barbera library sound cues--the mad bongo sound, and I am happy to report that a lot of those classic sound cues are still used throughout the series, which may bring back some happy, albeit subliminal, memories for grown up kids of a certain age.
The Jetsons ultimately will be either a piece of nostalgia for those of us who remember the original, or a passably entertaining animated show for the younger set. Teens may admire it for camp value, if nothing else. It's fun to see the future catching up with the show, as it were. As we madly race into our own sprocket-filled times to come, The Jetsons reminds us that it's family that anchors us and keeps us sane, even when the fershlugganah TeleViewer doesn't work.