Strictly speaking, the Jetsons was a show before my time, but that hasn’t stopped me from watching shows before. I spent at least one summer watching shows on TV Land to get a sense of TV history (hey, I have to rationalize the wasted time somehow). When I was young, however, there wasn’t quite the abundance of syndicated cartoons to just haphazardly air when a network ran out of original programming. For the most part it was classic Disney, Warner Brothers and Hanna Barbera shorts, but key shows like the Flintstones and The Jetsons also made a fair showing back in the day.

 

For a while now I’ve been able to appreciate shows in a different, at least somewhat more sophisticated way than I could when I was younger. In this more recent history, wherein I am a student of various television genres and the origins of various stereotypes and tropes frequently used throughout visual mediums such as television and film, I have had interest in revisiting The Jetsons to learn just how much it has colored our notions of what “the future” might hold, as well as determining exactly how well the series holds up.

This is what a return to the past looks like, by the way, I don't think I've posted a picture before.

See what I did there? You Code Lyoko fans know what I’m talking about.

 

Luckily for me Cartoon Network has started running a block of the Flintstones and the Jetsons each day, meaning that with the help of my TiVo I can marathon a few episodes and give you some of my impressions. I’ve already shared a few of my musings on the subject via Twitter, and I hope to incorporate more expressions of this type as time goes on, but for now let’s return to the past!

 

Episode Title: The Space Car

 

TiVo Logline: A bank robber hides his car in the Jetsons’ garage.

 

Thoughts:

 

I don’t know exactly what to make of this sequence where Jane does a frightening job driving with her learner’s permit. Whatever idea they’re trying to play for humor seems either dated, sexist or both. There’s something I enjoy about the police officer pulling them over “to the nearest roof”, though, the Jetsons has a lot of nice touches like that, which build the world.

 

Wow, now here’s a truly inspired vision of the future! The police officer pulls up a screen on his hovercycle, which immediately contacts a judge to rule on the traffic violation. Well not quite immediately, first “it’s time for the commercial”, and the judge plugs a spot removing product. I’d say that’s fair. I am however concerned by the officer’s follow-up: “You’re lucky, the judge is a lot easier now that he got a sponsor”. I hope that’s not a sign of rampant bribery to come.

I'll just be happy if I can reach a point where I never have to parallel park again.

Sure the Compact-Tansforming Car is more practical for the same purpose, but it's not nearly as satisfying or destructive.

 

Oh excellent! This episode contains the future car dealership, which was one of the few Jetsons ideas I readily remembered. After a brief presentation explaining how cars of the future are made from recycled materials, George and Judy see a slideshow of new cars: one with a (laser) solution to limited parking space, one with a separate pod for unwanted passengers (mother-in-law) and a compact car that converts itself into an actual woman’s compact.

 

 

Episode Title: The Coming of Astro

 

TiVo Logline: Elroy finds a puppy; George prefers electronic dogs.

 

Thoughts:

 

I can’t wrap my head around this. Elroy brings home Astro, a dog at least twice his size, and in an effort to endear him to his mother, Elroy gets Astro to say “Ri Rom”. Jane’s reaction isn’t “Holy crap! A talking dog!” or “Yawn, another talking dog” but the peculiar middle ground of “’Ri Rom’? What kind of talk is that?”

 

George, having an aversion to dogs, upsets his family when he tells them they can’t keep the dog, but he does what any sensible person would do: repurposes a supercomputer at his office to solve his personal problem. Imagine what you’d be doing at work if Facebook could start solving your problems. Of course the computer comes up with a science-fictional solution: a (nuclear powered) robotic dog.

Seriously, I'm four episodes in and the Jetsons have encountered criminals twice. What's up with the future?

The electronic pet shop owner demonstrates how Lectronimo deals with burglars. “I’ll just put on this burglar mask, he HATES burglar masks," he explains, getting that pesky exposition out of the way.

 

This episode obviously boils down to an old fashioned mutt versus machine battle of the dogs to see which is fit to stay. Lectronimo wins the fastest fetch, finding a hidden bone, and standard pet tricks. Ultimately the notorious cat burglar breaks in (after delivering a soliloquy about how much he hates dogs) and exploits Lectronimo’s only weakness, transferring his burglar mask to someone who is not a burglar. Astro accidentally apprehends the cat burglar in a terrified fit and secures his place in the family.

 

 

Episode Title: Jetson’s Night Out

 

TiVo Logline: George and Mr. Spacely connive to attend the robot football game.

 

Thoughts:

 

The portrayal of journalism throughout these various episodes is quite interesting. They show quite a few instances of televised news on various video screens, but in this episodes there’s also the “newspaper” which is a disk delivered daily with video headlines. The multimedia concept is somewhere between modern internet and modern newsprint.

 

There are so many methods to avoid walking in the future. In this episode, George’s kitchen chair moves itself to a tube leading him to the garage. Then, a mechanical arm lifts his kitchen chair into his car, where it becomes the driver’s seat.

How's the weather up there? Heh heh, classic.

I'm sure they have a machine that controls the weather, it's just a particularly difficult-to-push button, so it rarely gets used.

 

Here’s an interesting notion. It’s raining at the start of this episode, and when the Jetsons ask their building’s superintendent to do something about the weather, he turns a “weather control knob” which adjusts the height of the building, moving them up into the clouds and over the storm.

 

This one actually elicited a pretty good laugh from me. Jane complains about doing the dishes after breakfast, so Judy volunteers to clean up. She muses to herself “it’s been so long since I’ve done the dishes…let’s see, you press the dish disposal button…” which she does, causing a massive piston to crush the tabletop and everything on it. Then a broom sweeps all dish fragments into a compartment on the wall.

 

Here’s something people don’t often talk about when they mention flying cars of the future: running out of fuel. George does so on his way to work and his car falls out of the sky. He has a parachute, but it doesn’t launch in time. Good thing this is a cartoon!

 

In the future, we’ve replaced athletes with robots. Well, at least football players. Probably to avoid concussions. The coach of either team sends commands to all of the players on his team. It’s almost like watching a full sized game of Madden. I knew Let’s Plays would be appreciated some day.

 

Was there ever actually a point in time when mink coats solved every problem with your wife?

 

 

Overall:

 

One of the truly impressive insights I’ve noticed through the episodes I’ve rewatched so far is the prediction of human nature prevailing in the face of technological advancement. For example in The Space Car, Jane gets a video phone call in the morning and puts on a “morning mask” of her own face, so her friend doesn’t see her before she’s gotten ready in the morning. On a similar note, George sets up a cutout of his face and a generic audio message to trick Jane into thinking he’s at the office in Jetson’s Night Out.

 

In the future where the Jetsons live, fashion, transportation, food and even tasks as simple as getting dressed are fully automatic! In the event of a power outage we’d sit in their bedrooms naked, hungry and confused as to why we couldn’t move between rooms in our houses. More to the point, it puts us in a ripe position to be conquered by artificial intelligence. Maybe this world is the same as the Terminator continuity, for all of his efforts, John Connor has just constantly delayed Skynet to the point that we have flying cars before it takes over.

 

The Jetsons on the whole says a lot about both consumerism and human nature. All of our chores and many of our jobs in the future are reduced to pressing a button or series of buttons, and yet we still have maids and complain about all sorts of tasks. But ultimately the presentation of everything feels like a sales pitch, especially the unusual number of legitimate sales pitches throughout the series. The earliest episodes in particular don’t even feel like a TV series so much as a commercial for a home of the future or something.

At least we have those classic dollar sign burlap sacks to look forward to. They're way classier than wallets.

Fallout from an economic collapse would explain the rampant crime of the future, though that may just be from all of the corrupt, sponsored judges.

 

Interestingly, though, despite the rampant commercialization of everything from Sprockets to Space Cars, I have to assume at some point between now and the Jetsons the economy finally collapses and we rebuilt it from the ground up. In Jetsons’ Night Out George tries to bribe Elroy not to tell Jane about his shenanigans with literally nickels and dimes. In an episode I watched before I began writing this, George bribes the member of a successful pop band to take the night off for $10. Not only does the drummer agree to take the night off, he says something to the effect of “I would take the whole week of for $10”.

 

In a weird way, I think this is the most comforting thing about this infamous vision of the future. We worry so much about the economy, and it surely has caused its share of problems, but in the end it’s likely that we humans will adapt. Adaptation is the skill that got us this far, and I’m sure it will get us flying cars as well!

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