Thinking back, maybe I should have kicked off 2020 with this week’s entry– ‘Sealab 2020’, a cartoon that debuted– and ended– in 1972, but speculated on what life would be like in the far-flung future…. of, like now. Unlike a lot of movies and TV shows that pondered the future, this series did not look to the stars, but beneath the waves.
Here is the show’s opening narration:
This is the year 2020. The place is the Challenger Sea Mount – the top of an underwater mountain, a complex beneath the sea. Two hundred and fifty men, women and children live here, each of them a scientist pioneer. For this is our last frontier – a hostile environment which may hold the key to tomorrow. Each day, these oceanauts meet new challenges as they build their city beneath the sea … This is Sealab 2020.
Check out the title sequence:
The 250 individuals dwelling in Challenger Sea Mount are dedicated to protecting sea life and studying this mysterious environment in hopes of helping the surface world. It’s an adorably naïve viewpoint and there isn’t a single six-pack ring or plastic shopping bag in sight.
‘Sealab 2020’ was produced by Hanna Barbera and premiered on NBC Saturday morning, September 9, 1972. And despite its exotic location, a more boring cartoon you will never find. Two episodes were never even aired. It was so boring that it was canceled before finishing its run! The show’s pilot was also never aired.
What’s particularly unbelievable is that this sludge-fest was designed by the legendary Alex Toth (‘Space Ghost’, ‘Super Friends’). Look at these stunning designs:
These detailed drawings bear no resemblance to the actual show. (Man, these would have made incredible toys!)
As a kid, I had never heard of ‘Sealab 2020’. Not surprisingly, it was not syndicated. It eventually aired in reruns on the Cartoon Network and upon discovering it, I quickly said goodbye to it. I couldn’t sit through it and neither, apparently, could Cartoon Network production assistants, Adam Reed and Matt Thompson, who, during their time at the network, were forced to watch every episode of the show. In order to entertain themselves, they began making up their own comedic dialogue. This was around 1995.
Eventually, they transformed this abysmal footnote into the parody series ‘Sealab 2021’, which aired on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block for four seasons, and a total of 52 episodes. This irreverent ‘toon, helped pave the way for many other animated shows for grown-ups, like FX’s ‘Archer’, which shares a similar sense of humor, and a crazy cast of characters. It also has a lot in common with ‘Space Ghost Coast to Coast’ and ‘Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law’, which also recycled old Hanna Barbera ‘toons for comedic effect.
There appears to be one piece of merchandise made for the original show, this board game. But if you think Monopoly is boring…
All four seasons of ‘Sealab 2021’ are available on DVD. It is also available to stream on Hulu and Sling TV.
‘Sealab 2020’ is available as a DVD-on-demand from Warner Archive, but I cannot for the life of me, imagine anyone spending $30 on it. But if you want it, well… it’s there.