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Characters / The Electric Company (1971)

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J. Arthur Crank

Fargo North, Decoder

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Jennifer of the Jungle

Easy Reader

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Valerie the Librarian

Doctor Doolats

  • Shout-Out: Luis Avalos patterned his character after Groucho Marx and Dr. Doolittle.

Otto the Director

  • Ambiguous Gender: Otto is a male name, but Moreno doesn't pitch her voice any lower than usual, so there's nothing particularly "mannish" about her performance. She comes across as more androgynous than anything else.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Otto has seen it all in her time, and is more and more frustrated with each blown take.
  • Exhausted Eyebags: Each segment begins with a hilariously absurd take number (often in the 50s or 60s), and all on simple lines.
  • From Bad to Worse: Each take becomes progressively worse, where inept actors flub simple lines worse than the previous take.

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Paul the Gorilla

  • Killer Gorilla: Although he really was harmless, several skits had other characters faint or flee upon sight of Paul.

Pandora the Brat

  • Adults Are Useless: In-universe, Pandora believed this, and thought she was smarter than any grown-up she came across. Unfortunately, she was very rarely right.
  • Aesop Amnesia: Played for laughs—Pandora never learned her lesson. In "Sneak a Snack," she goes to great lengths to try to steal a cookie before dinner, eventually using a fishing pole to try to snag one. Her mother catches and scolds her, so Pandora promises never to do it again...that is, until she gets a longer rope.
  • Alpha Bitch: Pandora always tried to get her way.
  • Spoiled Brat: To a fault.

Letterman

  • Absentee Character: Letterman is absent from one episode: "A Friend in Need" (which centers around Spellbinder escaping from prison).
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Several times, although victory was very temporary. Examples:
    • Once, Spellbinder managed to get one-up on his foe, once turning "Letterman" into a "Wetterman" (switching out the first letter and causing him to fall into a deep swimming pool). Letterman avoided drowning by finding a "b" and turning himself into a "betterman" (a better man than he was before).
    • In "Small Talk" (probably the best known episode), Spellbinder broke into Letterman's home, hid in the attic and — as Letterman was packing a trunk for a vacation, Spellbinder turned the "trunk" into "junk," then the "junk" into "shrunk." Eventually, the tiny superhero showed resolve and removed the "s" and "r" to turn himself back into a "hunk." Letterman then bends Spellbinder's wand, rendering it useless and causing him to break down in tears.
    • Yet another time, Letterman declares he feels "good". Spellbinder changes the "g" to a "w" for "wood", turning Letterman into a talking tree. Spellbinder then proceeds to get a drill to try to drill holes in Letterman. Before Spellbinder returns, Letterman is able to convince a small bird to take a "g" from his front and replace the "w", thereby turning him back into the "feeling-good" Letterman, just in time as Spellbinder attempts to drill into him. The drill breaks and engulfs Spellbinder in the twisted metal.
    • In another, the narrator declares Letterman good as "gold". Spellbinder removes the "g", leaving "old" and turning Letterman into an aged version of himself. Letterman summons what little strength he has and takes a "b" from his sweater to make "bold", restoring him to his youthful condition.
  • Clark Kenting: Although there is no discernible difference between his "normal" persona and — after his introduction — his heroic Letterman persona. Presumably, he is always Letterman.
  • Heroic Build: He was handsome, brave and strong.
  • Just in Time: Letterman often shows up just before the situation becomes too dire, saving everyone's necks and ruining Spellbinder's criminal activities.
  • Not Quite the Right Thing: Sometimes, even Letterman whiffed when trying to restore order and foil Spellbinder. Example: "Sticky Finances," where Spellbinder turns a man's "money" into "honey." To de-liquefy the assets, Letterman only has "bal" available, forcing him to turn the "honey" into "baloney." The annoyed man asks, "What am I going to do with all this baloney?" Letterman sheepishly replies, "Open a delicatessen?"
  • Very Special Episode: Although these were connected to Spellbinder one-upping his foe (see above The Bad Guy Wins entry). Another was an Origin Story detailing Letterman's background and how he became a superhero.

The Spellbinder

  • Arch-Enemy: Of Letterman.
  • Child Hater: It seems his ultra-sadistic side is reserved for children, as many of his antics seem to be target situations involving children, putting them in extreme danger. See Would Hurt a Child.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Cracks a lot of these one-liners.
  • Evil Laugh: After he changes a key letter to create mayhem and mischief. Often of the rolling-on-the-floor-laughing variety.
  • A Friend in Need: Literally, the name of one of the shorts, and the only one in which Letterman himself does not appear. It centers around Spellbinder escaping from prison ... with the help of a "friend." Created when Spellbinder uses his bent wand as a lower-case r, and turns "fiend" into "friend."
  • Harmless Villain and Poke the Poodle: Much of Spellbinder's mischief was, in reality, harmless mischief — some uncomfortable situations resulted but not too dangerous, and were done for Spellbinder's own amusement. However, there were times where this was dangerously averted, such as turning a school bus into an octopus (and the annoyed octopus squeezes the children hard), or his most despicable stunts: turning a plane (full of children and other passengers) into a plant and causing it to plummet toward the earth, and nearly causing a passenger train (again, full of children) to plummet into a deep ravine.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: Spellbinder's plant/plane stunt. See Hilarity Ensues entry.
  • Hilarity Ensues: In circa 1975, the year the plane/plant Letterman short was released — despite the potentially deadly situation faced by the passengers and crew of the plane — Spellbinder's fun might be seen as quite humorous. (Indeed, Spellbinder thought the possibility of nearly 100 children, their parents, chaperones, teachers, principal and the flight crew dying in a plane crash ... and the thought of their families plunging into a catatonic state of grief, was quite funny.) However, this became much Harsher in Hindsight after the 9/11 attacks (which, ironically enough, were instigated by Middle Easterners) ... and today, Spellbinder might be shot on sight or swiftly and surely sentenced to death in a federal court. note 
    • A similar situation, in a segment titled "Broken Bridge," involved the destruction of a railroad bridge (by Spellbinder removing the "b" from "bridge"). Again, in a pre-9/11 world, this might have gotten a few laughs from those who didn't know better, particularly in the 1974-1976 era. Today and in the real world (since the situation involves removal of infrastructure by non-natural means and a potentially deadly situation), Spellbinder would be arrested immediately and left to rot in prison. note 
  • It Amused Me: How Spellbinder might view his activities — harmless fun and nobody gets hurt; just wanted a laugh. Nevermind the fact that he might cause mass death and destruction and throw entire communities into deep mourning ... watching the people wince in pain or take fatal bumps, maulings, squeezings, etc., is loads of fun in the Spellbinder's eyes!
    • Letterman once turned the tables on him, however, in a much more harmless manner (natch), by sending a feather toward him to tickle him relentlessly and forcing Spellbinder to laugh uncontrollably, shortly after Spellbinder reveled in watching a condiment factory CEO be forced to laugh out of control when he was being tortured by the feather. However, this was quickly averted as Letterman, seeing the situation under control, bids the CEO well and leaves.
  • Kryptonite Factor: Spellbinder, by changing a letter in a word to affect Letterman's situation, temporarily rendering Letterman helpless. (See The Bad Guy Wins entry under Letterman for details.)
  • Obviously Evil: He's an Arab, this is the mid-1970s (when tensions between the United States and Middle Eastern countries hit a new low) ... he's the perfect way to depict the series' antagonist.
  • Oh, Crap!: When he tried to shrink Letterman to six inches tall, but Letterman found a way to turn himself back into the muscular hunk he always was, Spellbinder decides it's time to flee ... but doesn't make it. (His wand pays the price.)
  • Perspective Magic: Spellbinder literally grabs the sun in "A Rolling Bun Gathers No Seeds" — after turning it into a "bun," of course — and hurls it toward the earth and a beach wherein he had earlier been banned.
  • Prison Episode: "A Friend in Need," which ends with Spellbinder's escape.
  • Terrorists Without a Cause: In today's post-9/11 world, several of Spellbinder's actions could easily be classified as terrorism, as they involved potential mass death and destruction of infrastructure and aircraft. He worked alone, and his only goal was to amuse himself.
  • Tickle Torture: Spellbinder tried to put this onto the CEO of a pickle factory (turning "pickle" into "tickle"). Once Letterman restores order, the superhero turns the tables on Spellbinder by sending the feather onto the very ticklish villain. As the narrator enjoys her pickle, an exhausted Spellbinder — having apparently gotten away from the feather after hours of being tickled non-stop — finally concedes defeat ... this time.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Not only does Spellbinder have no reservations about putting children in life-threatening situations, he revels in it, finding it to be cute and funny. (And in the real world would have him arrested on sight.) Examples include:
    • The plane/plant situation (see Hilarity Ensues).
    • School bus/octopus/platypus (turns a bus into an octopus).
    • "The Roar of Rage," involving cage/rage, wherein a lion, irate at being caged and now glad to be free, is about to pounce on a group of second graders.
    • "Broken Bridge," involving bridge/ridge. After removing the "b" to create "ridge," a bridge over a deep ridge is removed from a rail line ... far too late for a train loaded with schoolchildren to stop. Letterman shows up in time and restores the bridge.

Spider-Man

  • Heroic Mime: Danny Seagren played this portrayal of Spider-Man to a fault this way.
  • The Voiceless: His communiation was via speech balloons, which his friends, adversaries — and most importantly, the audience at home — would read.
  • Suddenly Voiced: In the album version, he talks and is voiced by Jim Boyd (who plays Arthur J. Crank on the show).
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