No, it's not a poorly conceived sex-education cartoon.
Imagine reading this in TV Guide: Fred and Barney Meet The Thing. You'd think, Kick ass! Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble are teaming up with The Thing to fight evil in Bedrock. And then one Saturday morning while enjoying your second bowl of Count Chocula (part of this nutritious breakfast), you see what the show actually is.
Despite the title, Fred and Barney do not meet The Thing. They appear sorta-kinda-almost together during the opening credits and bumpers, but that's about it. Instead, their animated segments are separate. And if that's not disappointing enough, wait till you see The Thing.
OK, so in the comics (and the other cartoon versions), Ben Grimm, aka, The Thing, is a charter member of Marvel's first family of accidental irradiation, the Fantastic Four. He's the big, strong, rocky-looking guy. Part of Grimm's torment is his inability to become human again (most of the time, anyway).
In this cartoon, wimpy-looking teen Benjy Grimm changes into the rocky powerhouse when danger strikes by touching the magic rings on his fists together and saying, "Thing Ring, do your thing!" When he does this, bajillions of orange rocks fly out of nowhere to ostensibly cover him in a sort of armor. Instead of fighting cosmic villains such as Dr. Doom or Galactus, he pals around with some other kids and tries to thwart the evil forces of snotty rich kids.
Even as a kid in 1979, this made no sense to me. Oh, no, Benjy is trapped in a locked bank vault! No worries, he changes into The Thing and busts his way out. OK, so where precisely did the rocks come from, huh?
I think this is the show that prompted the invention of the phrase "OMGWTFBBQ!"
Even now, I'm still trying to figure it out. DePatie-Freleng Enterprises had just done a new Fantastic Four cartoon the previous year--the one that replaced Human Torch with H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot, so I can understand why Hanna-Barbera wouldn't or couldn't do another FF cartoon. So how did they end up with just The Thing? And why was he changed so drastically?
That's like making a cartoon about a famous comedy basketball team, only they're superheroes, and one of them turns into a giant basketball. (Ed. note: Um, dude...)
Oh, wait. Lemme try again.
That's like making a Three Stooges cartoon, but they're also robot superheroes. (Ed.: Sorry.)
That's like making a cartoon about Abraham Lincoln where in addition to being president, he teams up with Twinkie the Kid and Kool-Aid Man to fight Skeletor and Megatron. Oh, and he turns into a rocket-powered unicorn that poops lollipops.
(Ed.: I've got nothing. Go for it.)
I mean, when you distill it--young boy becomes super-powered adult via magic--isn't that more Captain Marvel? This cartoon seems to be an amalgam of other Hanna-Barbera cartoons when I think about it:
- Magic rings that need to be touched together--used in Shazzan! And no, not the Wonder Twins from The Superfriends. Trust me on this.
- The theme song. It segues from a riff on the original Flintstones theme to an ersatz Superfriends theme.
- Group of teenagers a la Scooby-Doo or Goober and the Ghost-Chasers or The Funky Phantom, etc. Yeah, I know, target demographic, but still.
After a few months, the hour-long show expanded to 90 minutes and added a segment
bastardizing featuring Al Capp's amorphous white creature, the Shmoo. The show was retitled Fred and Barney Meet the Shmoo. And no, Fred and Barney didn't meet him, either. Can't trust anyone. Sheesh.