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The Feathered Serpent: Complete Series


Bizarre, but interesting

Rod Lott May 5th, 2011

When I was a kid — the 1970s, for you historians and my eventual biographer — British shows airing on PBS creeped me out.

featheredserpent

Something about their video-shot look felt alien; I even found that damned Thames logo animation unnerving. This may explain my lifelong allergy to Benny Hill.

But there's no explaining "The Feathered Serpent," a 1976 series that was over and done with in a dozen half hours. Whether you saw it then or are experiencing it for the first time, it'll likely strike you as one of the most bizarro shows to hit the airwaves (everything from Japan excepted).

First of all, I'm surprised fans online refer to this as a kids' program. Its tone is dark; its plotting is dense; its modus operandi is exposition; and there are enough elements of the fantastic to be scary. Plus, I just don't see children jonesing for historical dramas set in Aztec-era Mexico.

On the other hand, the storylines are rife with secret passages within temple walls, realistic duels between wigged he-men, bursts of violence (or at least what passed for such on yesteryear’s tube), and a freaky witch who looks like Linda Blair did when possessed by the demon Pazuzu. That lil' devil's statue looks not unlike the titular deity here, named Quala, better known today — and I'm assuming here — as Quetzalcoatl. (You've seen Larry Cohen's 1982 film "Q: The Winged Serpent"? No? Fix that.)

With so many political machinations and shenanigans at play, the show is tough to summarize, but oddly engaging to watch, and more so than just the novelty value longtime "Doctor Who" fans will get out of seeing Patrick Troughton not only evil, but evil while wearing eye makeup and King Tut gear. Stranger is this child character of Tozo (Richard Willis), whose gender I couldn't quite figure out at first. He — pretty sure on that, despite vocal evidence to the contrary — hangs out with a kindly old man who's blind.

For something that looks fairly limited in budget — dig the painted backgrounds of Mexico — the sets and costumes are pretty impressive, in a theatrical-production manner. To that end, the actors deliver their lines in a manner worthy of Shakespeare. That's about as far from "Sesame Street" as one could get for youth-oriented programming.

Had I happened upon this then, the opening credits alone would've sent me scurrying to the next room. Nowadays, that's an asset. —Rod Lott

 
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