DVD Review: Sealab 2020 (The Complete Series)

The sad truth is that Sealab 2020 became a quickly forgotten series in the 20th Century. It lasted only one season when it ran on Saturday mornings in 1972. It wasn’t rerun numerous times like Josie and the Pussycats or Speed Buggy. The kids on the playground didn’t demand new episodes like they did Scooby-Doo. It wasn’t even bar trivia for college drinking games like Danger Island on The Banana Splits. It had sunk to the bottom of Obscurity Ocean. Sealab 2020‘s underwater semi-drama broke with Hanna-Barbera’s hit formula of a group of kids, a cute pet and a funky vehicle that solved mysteries and performed bubblegum pop. Sealab 2020 dared to be more adult. Nobody ended up running around an endless room to a reworking of a song previously featured on Amazing Chan. The mysteries didn’t always turn out to be old men in rubber masks. This was almost an educational exploration at what life would be like inside a futuristic deep sea station. This approach didn’t work well for a bunch of elementary school kids getting a sugar rush from Boo Berry.

Why is Sealab finally cool? Blame it on Adult Swim. The channel updated the series into Sealab 2021. The scientific lessons were replaced with absurdist humor. The serious crew became clueless dorks with selfish intentions. They chopped up the cartoons, altered animation and created new weirdness with familiar faces to make a cult hit. This adaptation proves to be a slight problem when watching Sealab 2020: The Complete Series. There’s a constant expectation that the straight laced show is going to go overboard with weirdness. How come Erik Estrada’s voice isn’t coming from the character that would become Marco? That’s not to say the original didn’t have their own famous voices. Dr. Paul Williams is Ross Marton of The Wild Wild West. Child superstar of the ’70s Pamelyn Ferdin appears as Sally Murphy. She returned in the flesh to Saturday Mornings on Space Academy in 1977.

Sealab 2020 takes place at the Challenger Seamount. The underwater complex is run by Dr. Williams. His crew conducts experiments to benefit mankind. The show isn’t merely scientific. There’s plenty of adventures involving the dangers of working in an aquatic environment. “Deep Threat” puts the lab in jeopardy after seaquakes expose a toxic waste dump near the site. The radioactive material is drifting toward the facility. A ship’s anchor tears into the lab during “Green Fever.” Will the mission be scrapped when Seamount floods? “The Singing Whale” features the clash between a whale researcher and a whale hunter. What’s ironic is that today’s whale hunters pose as whale researchers. “The Shark Lover” is not an episode of Sealab 2021. The place is overwhelmed with the maneaters. A professional arrives to find out what’s the cause. “The Deepest Dive” drops the crew further below the surface in a revolutionary diving bell. “The Arctic Crew” puts the crew on a sub to rescue a lost team. This episode was twisted into Sealab 2021 joke about cannibalism.

Wikipedia claims that 16 episodes were produced, but only 13 aired. From what I’ve read, NBC didn’t pull the show so why would they not air the three episodes? Many of the other shows such as The Roman Holidays and The Barkleys only had 13 episodes. The rumored unaired 3 episodes appear to be not real episodes. “The Pilot” is the original cut of what became “The Deep Threat.” To someone describing them on TV.com, the other two episodes were partially done in hopes that the show would get a second season. So ultimately there are no unaired episodes. Don’t hold out thinking there’s going to be a Sealab: The Ultimate Complete Series set. These are the lucky thirteen episodes predicting life beneath the waves.

The best reason to buy Sealab 2020 is so you can create Sealab 2022. For those not capable of video manipulation, the boxset makes a great drinking game. Spot the scenes and animation the Adult Swim crew snipped for Sealab 2021 and everyone else has to take a sip. There’s a lot of fun that can be found in the semi-serious show. While Sealab 2020 might not have been a hit back in 1972, it’s much more entertaining than The Roman Holidays. Hanna-Barbera were attempting to be a little bit more original than their normal shows. Sealab 2020 was a noble experiment.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers look good since the series wasn’t run to death. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. Even with the underwater effects, they sound mix doesn’t get too fancy.

No bonus features.

Sealab 2020: The Complete Collection brings together all the episodes of a series that was nearly forgotten on the bottom of the ocean. The series is a bit more serious than the normal Saturday morning cartoons. It nearly borders on being educational. But they do have a little bit of action mixed in with the message that the ocean has solutions for mankind. The boxset is a MOD DVD-R so there might be an issue playing the discs on your computer DVD player. Although there were no issues when playing on my laptop.

Warner Archive presents Sealab 2020: The Complete Series. Starring: Ross Martin, Pamelyn Ferdin, Jerry Dexter and Ann Jillian. Boxset contents: 13 episodes on 2 DVD-Rs. Released: June 21, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.

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