By: Addison Wylie
I usually stick to reviewing movies or anything related to cinema. But, every once in a while, I bend the rules pending on what gets zipped to me through my inbox. Recently, the DVD release of the short lived television series Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp was that exception.
The series lasted from September 1970 to the cusp of January 1971, and the cast was made up by chimpanzees. It featured the title character and his female assistant Mata Hairi solving crime and tracking down the baddies of C.H.U.M.P. (or the Criminal Headquarters of the Underworld’s Master Plan).
Apart from the spy serials, the show also pitched itself as a variety show offering psychedelic musical numbers from Lancelot Link and the Evolution Revolution as well as short absurdist segments titled Chimpies.
I watched the trailer for the DVD release, and was hooked. I’ve never known what the process is like behind a show like Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp, but I imagine it’s pretty gruelling. All you can do is hope the animals are being cared for and are accepting of their tasks in front of the lens.
As I watched a few episodes, I was fairly impressed with what the show’s director and producers were able to stage with the chimps. Everything looks insane and it’s hard to convince yourself you’re actually watching chimps dance and “talk”, but this crew was able to materialize and stabilize a plot while making everything on screen take on a natural state.
However, I found the spy stories to be terribly boring. The show is trying to stick to a specific outline and follow similar beats to its inspirational big brother, Get Smart. The show is not really spoofing the spy series, but rather putting a new spin on it.
The scripts play each story too straight-laced, sucking any sort of fun or camp out of an episode. The only wacky things going on in these stories is that they’re being acted by spastic chimps reenacting dated stereotypes. Remove the chimps and you have clunky plots with pages and pages of exposition.
The musical numbers and Chimpies ended up stealing the spotlight in each episode. These brief portions “got” what made Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp enticing and what made audiences morbidly and giddily interested with the show.
The songs performed by a confused but carefree band of chimps are catchy and very poppy. You’ll be tapping your toes while you watch each animal try and handle their artificial instruments.
Chimpies is even weirder, but much funnier. The show asks us to laugh at the oddest of visuals – like, cutaways featuring chimps wearing “wacky” costumes and telling eye-roller jokes. These nutty moments are quick enough to get away with whatever ludicrous sights and sounds it throws our way.
But, the energy rapidly drops as soon as the main spy story enters the picture again. This show has the right amount of silliness and the exact dosage of fortitude, but can’t let its hair down when its delivering the primary goods. It’s alright for a show to treat its premise with respect, but I at least expect something this crazy to keep my attention.
Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp may have been good for its time, but it’s a droopy disappointment today.
Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp is now available on a 3-disc DVD set featuring all 17 episodes from original ABC masters and never-before-seen extras.