There is an entire generation of cultural consumers out there whose first introduction to Spider-Man was through a series of shorts that ran on a children's television show that aired on PBS from 1971-1977 called 'The Electric Company.' ('The Electric Company,' most notable for starring a young Morgan Freeman, was shown in reruns on PBS until 1985.) By the time I read my first Spider-Man comic book -- or watched my first Spider-Man cartoon (which was 'Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends') -- I was honestly shocked that Spider-Man had such a normal, pleasant alter-ego named Peter Parker because I was previously informed that nobodyknew who he was! At least, this was according to 'The Electric Company' Spider-Man theme song. Also: The Spider-Man I knew did not speak. And he threw black nets over people, as opposed to shooting webs.
Anyway, with the release of 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' this weekend, I thought it would be fun to revisit as many of these old Spider-Man shorts I could find ... it was not that fun. I mean, sure, it's fun to listen to that theme song again! And it was fun to see Morgan Freeman pop up and help and or fight Spider-Man. And it was fun to watch Spider-Man relaxing at a Mets game, then battle a villain called The Wall. But, these tend to get a little redundant, which makes sense because they were made for a six-year-old living in the mid-1970s. It was either this or stare at a wall -- which, maybe, is where the idea for Spider-Man's foe The Wall came from.
Regardless, I watched and ranked all of the Spider-Man shorts I could find (15 in all) from least enjoyable to most enjoyable. (Sadly, not all of them are online.)
Spider-Man wanders onto a Broadway set and gets invited to dinner by the cast. While at dinner (even though Spider-Man doesn't get a chance to eat), the production is robbed of its set pieces. This seems more like a job for the insurance company and the local authorities than it does Spider-Man, but, regardless, Spider-Man uses his powers to stop a woman with no powers whatsoever who took off with the items from the production. As it turns out, the thief used to be a child star and this just turns out to be more sad than anything else.
Spidey Meets the Blowhard
Morgan Freeman is throwing a surprise birthday party for his famous friend, Fargo North. There are balloons! The Blowhard shows up (also known as The Evil Windbag) dressed like a magician, but we are told his main inspiration came from Three Little Pigs. The Blowhard orders a lot hamburgers, then, before paying, blows them all the way -- which makes him more "The Asshole," then a blowhard. Spider-Man doesn't show up until about halfway through and really doesn't have a lot to do here. There's also a gorilla named Paul.
"Where Spider-Man finds himself up against one of the strangest enemies of his career," we are told in the introduction. Which is saying something for these shorts, considering Spider-Man once fought a Wall at a Mets game. And, yeah, it's pretty much just a guy in a sack. Which, sure, I know they were working on a limited budget, but it's just a guy in a sack. Related: I kind of hope The Sack shows up in 'The Amazing Spider-Man 3.' Also: Morgan Freeman plays a cop. Spoiler alert: The Sack actually gets away, proving to children everywhere that crime can pay.
This is actually legitimately frightening, as this joker goes around giving people the measles. And, even more terrible, Spider-Man gets the measles at the end and doesn't even defeat Mr. Measles. Horrible. (Sadly, only the audio is available online. But, as a treat, we actually get to hear Spider-Man's voice.)
Spidey Meets the Birthday Bandit
The Birthday Bandit does seem truly awful -- I mean, he steals birthday presents from children. So, Spider-Man creates a fake cake (which actually seems more difficult to construct than a regular cake) as a trap for the Birthday Bandit.
Spider-Man battles an evil television repair man and I think the folks at 'The Electric Company' were officially out of ideas at this point. The story starts in 1951, when a rock 'n' roll singer can't remember his lines, so he starts humming -- which goes over well at first! But, people grew tired of this and he became a television repairman. Spider-Man is washing windows (times were tough in the '70s) and thinks this guy is up to no good. Anyway, it turns out this guy has been cheating his customers by humming, which makes it seem like their radio and televisions are faulty. Anyway, Spider-Man basically tells the guy to stop.
Spidey Meets the Prankster
Spider-Man visits a local school, and while he's there, someone puts some of those jumping "snakes" in a book. Later, in home economics, the chocolate is replaced by mud. Poor Morgan Freeman is eating mud! Also, it should be pointed out that at this school, there is a class on the proper way to pick up a phone. Anyway, spoiler alert, the principal is the Prankster, and he admits he's only been pranking people because the kids have been pranking him. Which, honestly, sounds like a pretty fun school! In the end, it's agreed upon that no one will will pull any more pranks, but the students betray him, because kids are awful.
Spider-Man is on vacation, in the jungle for some reason. In that jungle, a mad scientist is creating poisoned bananas that will put a gorilla under his control. By the way, the gorilla is Paul, the same gorilla that Spider-Man befriends in 'Spidey Meets the Blowhard.' Also of note: This is the last of 'The Electric Company' Spider-Man shorts, which ends with a voiceover asking "Will Spider-Man get a chance to unwind and enjoy?" before telling us to tune in next time. There never was a next time.
I was hoping this was about East Coast residents users who live-tweet 'Game of Thrones,' but, alas, it's about spoiled food -- which, yes, does seem a lot more dangerous. This was the first of 'The Electric Company' Spider-Man shorts and warning children about the dangers of spoiled food certainly seems noble -- even though the episode ends on a cliffhanger that's never resolved.
Admittedly, Queen Bee seems to have the highest aspirations of any of these criminals. While someone like The Spoiler just wants to spoil food, Queen Bee wants "the world." Spider-Man shows up and, well, things get odd. The Queen Bee's henchmen sting Spider-Man ... at least that's what I think is happening here as they ram their butts into him. This is confirmed when we see Spider-Man full of holes. This is by far the most disturbing of these segments.
The Thumper disguises himself as Napoleon, then "thumps" people. How does one thump another person? It's done by knocking someone over the head with a boxing glove. Eventually, Spider-Man gets thumped. Thankfully, Spider-Man defeats The Thumper with his web and refuses his bribe of a yellow pony.
A Yeti steels a woman's ice cream cone, as Yetis are wont to do, and Spider-Man is on the case. We soon learn that the Yeti isn't really craving refreshments, he just likes to ruin other people's enjoyment of nice things. We learn this when the Yeti sits on a man's birthday cake. You see, this is a mystery, and Spider-Man must figure out why the Yeti would do these things. It turns out, the Yeti just like cold things, because he's a Yeti. And it's explained that he's a dumb Yeti and just assumed cakes are cold. You see, he thought icing was made out of ice. Also: it's at this point that I realize I've watched way too many of these Spider-Man segments.
As we are told in the voiceover, Silly Willy isn't like other criminals, "He surprised his victims by acting silly." Oh, boy, sounds like we are in for a treat! Silly Willy steals a woman's purse by distracting her by hitting himself in the head with a shoe. I have to admit, I kind of like Silly Willy. My favorite part of this is when Morgan Freeman laughs at Silly Willy's antics and it proves why Freeman won an Oscar. Though, Spider-Man does not think Silly Willy is that funny.
First of all, Morgan Freeman plays Dracula, which puts this near the top of the list regardless. This story starts with a nice-looking couple who are attending a Spider-Man movie, as things are yelled at the screen like, "Come on, Spider-Man, don't let the Green Glob get you!" Sadly, we never see this so called Green Glob.
In his spare time, Spider-Man attends Mets games, just sitting in the stands, while wearing his full costume and a Mets hat. Then he fights a villain who looks like a wall (due to a blunder in an high school chemistry experiment). Morgan Freeman plays the umpire. No Spider-Man movie will ever be better than this.