Mallory Archer and her ad hoc family on Archer will no longer work for ISIS, thanks to a certain bunch of a-holes who are using the same name to rain death and destruction in the real world. Sad as I am about that, I can’t help but remember that Archer wasn’t the first pop culture use of the name Isis.
I had only the vaguest memory of The Secrets of Isis, and the corresponding Viewmaster slides that I once owned. It’s about a teacher, Andrea Thomas (JoAnna Cameron) who possesses an amulet belonging to the Egyptian goddess Isis. The amulet allows her to channel the goddess and fight for justice. Andrea/Isis also appeared in DC comics in the late 70s but the TV show came first, rounding out the Shazam!/Isis Hour on Saturday mornings on CBS. She’s said to be the first female superhero to star in a live action TV show.
The pilot is not the beginning of Andrea’s story. We’re fed the “how she got her powers” background via voice over at each episode’s opening. It looks like she found the amulet on an archaeological dig, but her that potentially interesting facet of her past isn’t addressed. I found myself wanting to know if she teaches archaeology, or if she still does that type of research in the summers, or what. Another episode could have worked as well — if not better — as S1E1.
The pilot, “The Lights of Mystery Mountain,” centers around a UFO sighting that turns out to be a hoax by a real estate investor. I can suspend my disbelief to watch the main character’s hair and clothes change by magic, but I can’t buy that an ancient goddess would trouble herself with such a Scooby Doo conundrum.
It gets off to a slow start, as Andrea chews thoughtfully on the arm of her glasses while chatting with a student and a colleague about some photos of alleged flying saucers. I guess she’s a college instructor, because the student, Cindy (Joanna Pang), seems on the older side and the vibe between them seems more collegial than that between a high school student and teacher. But the school isn’t named, and she doesn’t seem to have a professor title. A third main character, Rick Mason (Brian Cutler), rounds out the leads. His relationship to Andrea isn’t entirely clear either, whether he’s a peer, mentor, boss, or some combination of the above. (By the way, none of these actors are recognizable for any on-screen work for the past 30 years. Did this kill their careers? Maybe.)
Andrea finally turns into Isis at the start of Act 3. The outfit is pretty cool looking, and avoids the impractically skimpy styles that some female heroes have to fight crime in. She recites various incantations — which rhyme in English for some reason — in order to fly and wield magic. All she really does is scare the poop out of the villain. She doesn’t have weapons or fighting skills that we see. It’s a kids’ show after all, but by today’s standards she’s a pretty blah hero. There’s potential here to develop the idea that she’s super smart, and that’s sexier than other assets, but even that doesn’t come across in the pilot.
Throughout the episode, I actually thought that Andrea’s two compadres knew about her secret identity. It seemed like a refreshing change from the usual trope. This hope came crashing down in a really cheesy scene where Cindy laughs about how Andrea always seems to be absent when Isis appears. For a minute I thought she was saying it with a “wink-wink” and this was sort of a fun, meta joke. That goes to show how we’ve been conditioned by modern pop culture. It’s tough to go back.