Saturday, October 9, 2010

Gilligan and the Globetrotters

A few months ago I wrote about basketball on television. Fake basketball. The type played by the Fresh Prince, the guys from Porky's, and the gang from One Tree Hill.

Somehow I missed Gilligan.

Long before the Lost crew became lost, then found, then returned, then finally disappeared from the airwaves, the passengers aboard the doomed S.S. Minnow became stranded on an uncharted island. If it's been awhile since you've watched tapes from your Gilligan's library - do you file yours chronologically or thematically? - the poor souls eventually escaped the island, only to return in made-for-TV specials that did little but damage the Gilligan brand.

One of those shows was called, basically enough, The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island.

The plot: The island's now a resort. A corporate raider wants to take over the island (yes, Gilligan's Island foreshadowed our current times, when businessmen are routinely portrayed as villains). The Globetrotters land on the island. They play a basketball game against a team the corporate guy has assembled. A team of robots called The New Invincibles. Those are the basics and, really, has anyone ever done an advanced breakdown of a Gilligan's plot?

That is a different actress playing Ginger. And the Howells now have a son, even though during the run of the show they were childless. Perhaps they adopted someone during their time off the island. David Ruprecht - who later became famous to shut-ins and bargain-lovers worldwide as the handsome and overly energetic host of Supermarket Sweep - played the son.

To the game. Accustomed to beating up on the Washington Generals, the Globetrotters struggled early against The New Invincibles, who dominate action with their advanced strategy and great length. It seems like the Invincibles would be weak against the running game, but the Trotters make the mistake of trying to attack too much in the halfcourt.

The Lakers' legendary announcer Chick Hearn broadcast the game. Chick actually had a decent film career. Much better than Johnny Most's, anyway. Chick appeared in everything from Hardcastle and McCormick to Matlock. Most famously, he appeared with Chevy Chase in Fletch - 6-5, with an afro, 6-9. In real life, Chick dominated the airwaves during Lakers game. His analysts - Pat Riley was once one - rarely had a chance to say much beyond "That's right, Chick." His bearded analyst for the Globetrotters-Invincibles game doesn't even get to say that.

For those who always dreamed of seeing Mary Ann and Ginger in cheerleader's outfits, this show is for you. And for those who always feared seeing Mrs. Howell in a cheerleader's outfit, this show is not for you.

Remarkably, given that the special effects budget for this episode was probably in the mid-three figures, the court looks halfway decent, much different than the average TV show basketball court, which is often about 20 feet long and five feet wide. It's got a nice hoop, glass backboard, solid net. I'm sure the tropical heat and wind gusts affected everyone's game, but the professor and the grounds crew did the best they could.

The Globetrotters trail at halftime 95-3. Read it again. 95-3.

The professor eventually figures out the Trotters have to use their tricks and chicanery to confuse the robots. They've learned every possible basketball play in existence so are prepared for any offense, except a wacky one that may or may not involve throwing a bucket of water on a referee. The Globetrotters go on a 96-3 run to take their first lead of the game, 99-98. Martin Landau - or someone who stole Martin Landau's identity and look and agreed to appear in the film as the leader of the New Invincibles - apparently didn't believe in calling timeouts to stem the other team's momentum. I'd like to think even Phil Jackson would burn through his 20-second timeouts if an opponent outscored the Lakers by 93 points in less than two quarters.

Eventually, several Globetrotter players foul out, forcing Gilligan and the Skipper to enter the game. A pair of free throws give the Invincibles a lead in the closing seconds. As the clock ticks down on the game and the show, Gilligan finds himself standing with the ball, scared, shocked, frozen. It's a familiar plot, the worst player on the court saving the game in the final seconds. It was also used in the Porky's movies when Pee Wee won a state title by throwing in a shot backward. Later, Hoosiers used a similar twist with Ollie, minus the robots and backward shot. Here, a pair of Globetrotters pick up Gilligan and fire him through the net for the winning basket. It counts, even though it seems likely this would be considered offensive goaltending. If a player can't touch the ball while it's on the rim, can he really fall through the rim for a field goal? Perhaps the teams played under international rules.

The lesson? Never bet against the Globetrotters, no matter the deficit. Also? TV has come a long way since 1981.

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