Robots, Muppets, John en Marsha, and Other TV Shows of our Childhood: He Said, She Said
Sarge Lacuesta: My childhood TV revolved around two shows: Three’s Company (with Joyce DeWitt, Suzanne Somers, and the late John Ritter) and Iskul Bukol (with Tito, Vic, and Joey). So: a then-implausible setup with a man and two women living under one roof enjoying a platonic relationship, and three brothers in one school trying to do as much damage as they can. Both comedies featuring hijinks and laugh tracks. And then there was T.O.D.A.S.—"Television’s Outrageously Delightful All-Star Show”—starring, again, Joey de Leon, along with Maribeth Bichara, Freida Fonda, and Jimmy Santos, which pretty much captured everything television was to all of us in those days: it needed to premised on something outrageous, it needed to be delightful, and it needed to have a bunch of stars artfully blocked in front of a three-sided set.
Speaking of which, perhaps the most famous—and wholesome—three-sided set was the humble abode of John en Marsha, a show that lasted almost two decades—from 1973 to 1990. But that was what television was, too: a one-way window into a three-sided room where flat characters mirrored our lives and, for better or for worse, the values of our times.
What kind of TV shows did you grow up on?
Yvette Fernandez: In the late 70s, we all loved those robot shows! My sister and I really, really wanted a Voltes V toy like the ones our boy cousins had, but Lola (born in 1915) said robots were for boys, and not girls. So we bullied our boy cousins and played with their toys. We were extremely fascinated with how those five spaceships interlocked to make one giant robot that would save the earth. The battle of good vs. evil, as always.
SL: In the thick of Marcos times—how apt. And aptly so, Marcos banned all those Japanese robot cartoons soon enough. “Too much violence,” apparently.
YF: My, how we were all so hearbroken when the government banned the networks from airing them. I still remember the lyrics to the English version of the theme song. “Someday the sons of light shall fill all the earth. The morning of justice shall have come to its birth.”
SL: “…soldiers boldly unite, fight, fight for peace, hand in hand like eagles through the breeze!” Only a poet could have written those lyrics (or a subversive), though it’s kind of hard to picture eagles flying “hand in hand.”
YF: My favorite robot show though was Daimos, because I’ve always been a sappy romantic. “Riiiiiicharrdddd! Eriiiika!” Till today, whenever I’m with friends my age, and someone says, “Richard!” Everyone around replies, “Erika!” I think it was somehow a good thing that our generation grew up with just five channels of television because we all have shared childhood memories because of it. What do you think?
SL: Weirdly, that thought warms the heart. Like we all lived in the same house and had the same childhood—born to the same images, if you will.
YF: Would you believe my earliest childhood memory is watching Neil Armstong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon? It was a month before I turned two, and my parents were watching the moon landing on our black-and-white TV at home. Another memory was when Daddy came home with our first color TV that I thought was truly magical because, wow, everything was in color! We weren’t allowed to watch TV much, except for cartoons, but I remember begging our parents to let my sister and me watch Charlie’s Angels because all our classmates were watching it. It was at 9 pm on a school night so Daddy didn’t let us watch regularly. But when we did, we were entranced with these beautiful, smart, strong women. We had Charlie’s Angels dolls, books, even bubble gum cards. We cut out TV Times covers and made poster collages. Even our pretend play had us playing Charlie’s Angels. My sister was Jill (Farrah Fawcett Majors), my cousin was Kelly (Jaclyn Smith), and I was Sabrina (Kate Jackson). Looking back now, it’s creepy how the three did the dirty work for someone they had never met, a disembodied voice named Charlie who just lazed around at some pool all day, surrounded by bikini-clad women.
SL: TV Times! Of course, hardly anyone remembers that anymore—just as they’ll soon forget what TV was. But what people do seem to remember is the overt sexism all those 70s shows flaunted—and the entire generation of young people it imprinted itself upon. Is it any wonder all of this has reared its ugly head and spread its creepy shadow over us today? I mean, bikini-clad women on bubble gum cards for elementary-school kids! And a disembodied male voice just begging for (male) viewers to see themselves on the other end of that line, literally commanding these “angels” to do his bidding!
YF: Now that I think about it, my sister and I were drawn to TV series with female leads. Every Saturday night, Daddy allowed us to watch Little House on the Prairie. In our heads, I was Mary, and Jackie was Laura. I think till today I love the scent of Lemon Verbena cologne because that was the scent Laura loved most. I first became a fan of Jodie Foster in her Disney films that were shown on TV, Candle Shoe and Freaky Friday. I thought she was cool and smart and decided that pants and T-shirts were much cooler than dresses. Later, in fourth grade, we loved Pamela Sue Anderson (take note, NOT Pamela Anderson of Baywatch) who was on screen every week as Nancy Drew. I had read every single Nancy Drew book they had available at National Book Store and Bookmark and loved that fact that a smart, strong teenage girl was solving mysteries that baffled even the cops. Were you specifically drawn to shows that had men as their main characters?
SL: Glad you made that distinction between the two Pamelas—for a moment I couldn’t get an image out of my head. But blame that, as well, on how television changed our brains and (mis)informed our minds. Interestingly, it seems that as you and I grew up and matured, so did the content we fed on. I do remember there was a Nancy Drew TV show. And also those afternoon shows—local and American—that were taped before a live audience. I remember avidly watching The Racquel Welch Show on endless repeat, and each time more avidly than the last. But if there was anything I remember from that show, it was Welch singing the (dubiously) feminist “I Am Woman.” I can’t find that particular clip right now, but here she is singing it on The Muppet Show:
YF: Wow, I just listened to the lyrics of that song and realized that if it were sung in this day and age, there would be lots of angry women hollering. But, let’s not go there right now. Let’s go back to the time of Miss Piggy and Kermit. I feel bad for kids of today who are not growing up with Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. As a kid, my dream was to be one of the kids on Sesame Street. Or to be one of the adults on Sesame Street when I grew up. I think I got used to different races all being friends because of Bob and Mr. Hooper, Susan and Gordon, and later, Luis and Maria, all living together on the same street.
I must say I was filled with envy recently when I saw your photos with your son Lucas on Sesame Street. Can you please, please tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?
SL: Sigh. I look at my kid now, playing Fortnite on his tablet, chatting and trashtalking with his friends, and totally ignoring the big, black—and now perennially silent—TV that used to be the hearth and heart of our household that used to teach us things and sing us songs.
YF: I still remember the words to many of those songs.
“The Ladybug Picnic.” “It’s a Lovely Eleven Morning.” “The Alligator King.” The orange singing “Habanera” from Carmen.
Do you remember Ernie and Bert singing—
Here in the middle of imagination
Right in the middle of my head,
I close my eyes and my home isn't home,
And my bed isn't really my bed.
I look inside and discover things,
That are sometimes strange and new,
And the most remarkable thoughts I think,
Have a way of being true.
SL: I think we all need to find our way back to Sesame Street again. Or even John en Marsha. I hope one day we can.