Although it’s frequently mistaken for a Jay Ward production, the hilarious and sometimes surreal cartoon series Roger Ramjet wasn’t made by the man responsible for The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. It was produced and directed by Fred Crippen, and written by Gene Moss and Jim Thurman, who would go on to pen classic episodes of The Bob Newhart Show and The Muppet Show. But Roger Ramjet and Rocky and Bullwinkle did share a very similar comic sensibility, and when Roger debuted in 1965, it must have seemed to some viewers that it picked up right where Rocky and Bullwinkle—canceled the previous year—left off.
Still, we’re talking about a cartoon that went off the air almost fifty years ago. Here's why you should you watch it now:
1. It’s incredibly funny.
What more reason do you need? Even after all this time, Roger Ramjet’s absurd blend of slapstick, character comedy, pop culture references, and downright bizarre situations still holds up amazingly well. Some of the references have gone a bit stale—hey, who doesn’t like a good Beatle wig joke?—but it’s amazing how fresh most of the gags play in 2010. Some gimmicks, like the (mostly improvised) mutterings of Noodles Romanoff’s gang, are downright post-modern.
2. It’s better as an adult than as a kid.
One obvious way that Crippen, Moss, and Thurman followed the example set by Jay Ward’s Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons was by making sure Roger worked as more than just a Saturday morning kiddie show. While kids today can still pick up on the slapstick, lots of the wordplay and situations are way above their heads, and follow Ward’s command to his writers: “Make it funny for five-year-olds, funnier for fifteen-year-olds, and funniest for 25-year-olds.” From the show’s very premise—that all-American hero Roger gets his super-powers from taking “Protein Energy Pills,” a.k.a. pep pills, a.k.a. speed—to the way he’s constantly endangering his young charges, Roger Ramjet is more grown up than it looks.
3. There’s a lot of talent involved.
Co-writer Jim Thurman went on to become a sought-after sitcom writer in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but he’s not the only talented member of the Roger Ramjet crew. The title character was voiced by Gary Owens, a ubiquitous voice-over artist who also lent his voice to the original Space Ghost. Dick Beals was the voice of Gumby, and Joan Gerber was one of the most prolific female voice-over performers of her time. Ivan Ditmars provided music that was practically avant-garde for a kid’s cartoon. All together, the show featured a cast and crew as smart as its hero was dumb.
4. It’s a treasure trove of running gags.
The Simpsons eventually perfected the adult-oriented cartoon tradition of the well-placed running gag, but Roger Ramjet helped start it. The creators, who hailed from Lompoc, California, loved to drop obscure references to their hometown into the show; Roger’s romantic rival Lance Crossfire always ends his appearances with a dismayed “Oh, Roger, shut up.” Every appearance of the Solenoid robots confounds viewers with their distorted mechanical voices, and Roger Ramjet loved to break the fourth wall (characters sometimes consult the script to figure out what they’re supposed to do next). It wasn’t just the use of cheap catchphrases, but clever callbacks well before their time, that made the show memorable.
5. That theme song.
By watching here on TV.com, you only have to hear the show’s insanely catchy but migraine-inducing theme song (a riff on “Yankee Doodle”) once per episode. You’re welcome.