DVD Review – Underdog: The Complete Series
Released By: Shout! Factory
Release Date: February 21, 2012
Number of Discs: 9
Approximate Running Time: 1260 Minutes
Special Features: Audio Commentaries, Interviews, Featurette
Suggested Price: $69.97
The Source: After years of waiting and multiple false starts (most notably Classic Media’s 2007 Underdog: The Ultimate Collection DVD series), Underdog fans can finally own the entire three season run of their favorite canine superhero in one box set.
The Fanboy Factor: Underdog is one of the most beloved and resilient of all the cartoon characters created for television but also one of the most poorly represented on home video. Premiering on September 27, 1964 as part of the NBC Saturday morning lineup, Underdog would bounce between NBC and CBS for three seasons until the final new episode was aired in earl 1967. The show would continue off and on the networks in repeats until 1973 when it was finally relinquished entirely into national syndication for another decade of airings. While each new season brought some retooling to the show, the basic format always remained the same with supporting character cartoon segments sandwiched between two chapters of a four part Underdog story comprising one half hour show. The original supporting characters included The Hunter, Tooter Turtle, The Go-Go Gophers, Klondike Kat, and The World of Commander McBragg.
Less than a year after its debut, The Underdog Show was also sold into syndication as part of a package call Cartoon Cut-Ups which included almost every character created by its production company, Total Television. This lead to the first of many rehashings of the program that mixed and matched the Underdog cartoons with segments from other shows like Tennessee Tuxedo and Bullwinkle. By the time the show was finally removed from syndication in the 80’s, it was almost impossible to remember what the original version looked like. This lead to much confusion when selected episodes were released on home video in versions that came from multiple runs depending on what masters could be obtained.
Revisions aside, the core story of a super powered pooch who often ended up causing more damage than he prevented was a solid hit with both adults and children. Underdog was plagued by a colorful revolving gallery of villains that included the gangster wolf Riff Raff, the evil scientist Simon Bar Sinister, and the high voltage charged Electric Eel. By the third season, the stories were becoming repetitive and when sponsor General Mills decided to get out of the Saturday morning cartoon game, The Underdog Show was one of the casualties.
Like many of his Saturday morning siblings, Underdog found new life in national syndication where a whole new generation of kids was turned on to his animated adventures by their local television stations. In the mid 70’s, the show came under fire from parent’s advocacy groups who claimed that his reliance on “super energy pills” for his powers was a pro drug use message to children. The shows would undergo one final change when the references to these pills were sloppily edited out of the stories.
The Product: After years of spotty home video releases on both VHS and DVD, Shout Factory has finally given this dog his day. For this release they have painstakingly reassembled the shows in their original formats for the first time in over forty years. Unfortunately master prints did not exist for all of the footage so some of it had to be culled from less than pristine sources. Most of the substandard scenes are limited to openings for the supporting segments that were trimmed for syndication and the occasional episode title card that seems to have disappeared over the years. Aside from this, the shows are in excellent condition with only minor surface wear popping up occasionally. The sound quality is strong and vibrant. All references to Underdog’s pill popping have also been restored. The extras include informative commentaries on several of the episodes as well as a making of featurette titled There’s No Need to Fear, Underdog is Here that interviews most of the surviving production personnel from the show.
The Bottom Line: Underdog: The Complete Series is the one fans have been waiting for. It is highly unlikely that additional masters for this series will surface so this set will probably stand as the most accurate representation of the show available. For everyone who has been waiting, now is the time the break out your wallets and order the DVDs and for anyone who purchased one of the earlier offerings in desperation – it’s time for an upgrade!