Much stranger things: the oddest TV from the 1980s
If television is going to plunder our 1980s childhoods for inspiration, it should at least go for the weird gold, such as ‘Interbang!?’, writes Jennifer Gannon
Pop culture is eating itself and it loves nothing more than to gnaw on the bones of kid’s telly. These days the space between any show ending and the calls for its return has rapidly reduced. It’s as if for a show to be placed in the pantheon of classic children’s television you only have to recall its title. “Time is a flat circle,” drawled Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle in True Detective; he may or may not have been referring to the decision to revive Full House without the Olsen twins.
There are now listicles pining over plastic Nickelodeon shows that ended in the early noughties – which feels like a fortnight ago to some of us. Who could be truly nostalgic about Lizzie McGuire’s glittery lip-gloss or long for the sight of Drake’s bowl haircut in Drake and Josh? Not only do these shows still exist online, so you can instantly satisfy that hunger, but these were anodyne, shiny-haired, toothy smiles of blankness, amounting to 30 minutes of product placement or, if you were lucky, a holding pen for future troubled popstars.
There is a modern obsession with wanting shows to be remade purely to comfort that ache of sentimental longing in a world where we never want to grow up. There is no need to create a new Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; we only want to watch old episodes that will reignite that carefree feeling we had watching them originally. Nowadays, nothing is gone forever. But if the past must be plundered, film-makers could do worse than investigating the stranger side of the 1980s.
It’s no surprise that a show like Stranger Things, which this week unveiled its season two trailer, takes its cues from 1980s kids’ culture. Its creators, the Duffer brothers, are of that nerdy vintage that revere the oeuvre of the Stephens (King and Spielberg) and films like The Goonies. But there was a rich seam of weirdness and unsettling darkness within this time that leaked into the minds of its captive audience. It was the age of video nasties, milk carton missing children, MK Ultra rumours, Unsolved Mysteries, Flowers in the Attic, Return to Oz, and the unforgettable nightmarish duo of Worzel Gummidge and Paul Daniel’s Wizbit.
It was a time when even seemingly benign cartoons were injected with an off-kilter oddness. There was the heavy melancholy of Dungeons & Dragons, which centred on the fate of a group of lost children that we hoped would never find their way home from the alternate universe and would be forever haunted and tormented by their nemesis Venger, saw poor young Numinor suspended in animation and zombified by a curse.
The Mysterious Cities of Gold may have had a distractingly jaunty panpipe theme tune but was ultimately about an orphan’s search for his lost father with destructive results. Even the glitzy world of Jem and the Holograms was tinged with sadness and weighed down with complex issues with Jerrica (Jem’s alter ego) being an almost substitute mother to 11 foster children in the Starlight House after the death of her father.
These were the shows everyone was familiar with but there were also programmes that appeared on your screen as if from nowhere and disappeared just as quickly – a weird intangible secret with a whiff of something special. In the pre-internet days, it was possible to have lost these shows down the back of the couch of your mind. Now there is the creeping, cold-sweat of self-doubt that perhaps your beloved show never existed. If no one in your peer group could remember it, was it a telly tree falling in a memory forest?
Live actiona dventure
These watery memories created legends and no show is more enigmatic and ripe for reintroduction than Interbang!? This is not a dubious dad magazine from the 1970s but an early 1980s live action adventure series dubbed from Italian and broadcast on satellite station the Children’s Channel.
Created by Paul Casalini, it starred his two sons as teen twins Gianni and Bruno with the floppiest of fringes and the most extravagant of cheekbones, who ended up embroiled in the kidnapping of a professor. To free him, they had to skip across the fanciest destinations around the globe in a bid to locate seven mini Leaning Towers of Pisa that had magical properties. These were inscribed at the bottom with the interrobang symbol “!?”, which flashed up on the screen every so often.
They were “aided” by a drunken academic Mr Williner and a mysterious lady called Stella while also being chased by a villain imaginatively titled The Kill- er, who sometimes wore a cape but mostly looked like a real life Hamburgler. Sandwiched between familiar efforts like Australian pre-teen sitcom Pugwall and crisp obsessed, Butlins-style variety programme The Steve and Danny Show, Interbang!? was a dreamy slice of Euro-weirdness that felt completely unique.
The tone was deeply sardonic with a narrator whose voiceover veered between mock incredulity and resigned apathy. It had the loose, cool irony and sense of anarchy of The Monkees with the double-take surrealism of a Lindsay Anderson production. It also had not one but two ear-worm theme tunes of woozy pop perfection that sounded like Phoenix plinking around after too many yacht-based Bacardis.
This foggy memory could genuinely have vanished forever if it wasn’t for Jean Christoph Casalini (who played Gianni) deciding to eventually upload episodes to You Tube last year. Interbang!? was probably just a genius excuse for Casalini to go on a round-the-world jolly with his family but in turn he managed to create the greatest Wes Anderson film never made – yet.
If TV’s past must be resuscitated and gorged upon in an artistic cannibalistic ritual, then the mystery meat of Interbang!? could be the dish of the day.
This is not a dubious dad magazine from the 1970s but an early 1980s live action adventure series dubbed from Italian and broadcast on satellite station the Children’s Channel
The Mysterious Cities of Gold may have had a distractingly jaunty panpipe theme tune but was ultimately about an orphan’s search for his lost father with destructive results Jaunty but deep