Forty years later and still arguably the best theme song in the history of PBS. From a strange era in between glam rock and disco. In between men wearing short shorts and women wearing short shorts. When a man could be solving crimes with fellow teenagers and then try to get back home to Coney Island. Across the decades comes the hit science show, 3-2-1 Contact!
Most if not all of the series is easily available on YouTube. I randomly chose episode 102, “Noisy and Quiet”. As soon as the theme song hit then an overly exaggerated use of the words NOISY and quiet my six-year-old son came over next to me. This was unexpected. He made it nearly the entire half-hour, and this is a kid who refuses to watch such things at home. “That’s an at school show.”: Yet generations later the crew behind 3-2-1 Contact made science fun and accessible to kids. Science, like shown in these episodes, is always true, and never changing. Sure, there’s science that has been updated – how the T-Rex moves for example. But how sound travels to our ears, how light enters a prism and refracts a rainbow. Well, that’s timeless knowledge a child of the ’80s and an actual child can always enjoy.
The show was conceived as a way to teach science concepts to children in a way they would accept. Instead of a stuffy old scientist, lectures were given by cool college kids. No books required, examples are given in video that makes more sense than text. This also greatly helps when the teacher has a hangover and wheels the infamous cart into the room at Contact time (eastern and pacific). How can a kid read loud or quiet? How can a child flip the page to really grasp ROY G BIV? Special cameras that can show ultraviolet or infrared light don’t have a printable cousin. My child was wide-eyed and actively learning. I was getting a refresher course in science that has long left my brain to make room for wrestling title histories.
After the first episode, I was hooked once again. What treasures, what classic episodes were waiting for me to rediscover? Which episode could possibly be the best? Well, you wanted the best, you got the best. Guest-starring on children’s programming comes the hottest band in the land – KISS.
Episode 138, part of a series of episodes on Light/Dark featured a behind the scenes set up of KISS’s stage. No interviews with the band, but the crew show off some amazing feats. Between setting up the venue in record time to the microsecond timing of lights.
Speaking of timing, just when I thought the episode was over and I knew all there was to know about Light and Dark, a different theme song came on. Whenever there’s trouble. They’re there on the double. The long-forgotten but much beloved Bloodhound Gang is here. A lot darker than I remember. In this short segment, all three members of the gang are shoved into the back of a box truck and driven out of the city for an execution. I really wish I was exaggerating, but other than those words not being used – because, kids show – that is exactly what happens. Luckily for us, and lucky for me that the next episode was also available, the Gang uses some cool science to make it out safe.
And hey, did you know not one but two members of the cast appeared in the great cult movie, The Warriors? That’s right, Trini was in the background as “Candy Store Girl”. More memorably, Marcelino Sánchez who played Rembrandt in the movie was a member of the Bloodhound Gang.
In the last few years, Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood have been put on an iconic pedestal. Rightfully so. But the crew at 3-2-1 Contact needs to be a part of this conversation as well. I’m ready to rewatch the entire series for both educational and entertainment reasons.