Saturday morning TV: Inch High Private Eye

The titular character of Inch High Private Eye is a miniature detective (literally one inch high), who attained his diminutive stature by way of a secret shrinking potion. Inch often enlists the help of his niece Lori (sometimes written “Laurie”), her muscle-bound friend Gator, and their dog Braveheart to help solve mysteries.[3] Their primary mode of transportation is the Hushmobile, a streamlined car that makes virtually no noise while being driven, making it perfect for following criminals unnoticed.[4] Inch works for The Finkerton Detective Agency (a wordplay lampoon of The Pinkerton Detective Agency), where the boss (Mr. Finkerton) constantly dreams of the day that he will fire him. Unlike most Hanna-Barbera mystery solving cartoons, the characters in this show are not teenagers. (Wikipedia)

While Hanna-Barbera didn’t always hit the mark – for every The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo!, there was The Space Kidettes and Samson & Goliath – the one thing you could accuse the animation house founded by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera in 1957, is a lack of imagination or a willingness to pursue some out-there concepts.

Now you might think that in the world of animated TV shows, especially in the 1960s and 1970s when the weirdest and wackiest ideas manage to make it into production, there wouldn’t be anything that could seen as off-the-wall or strange; after all, animation is a famously elastic medium, lending itself to all kinds of premises that simply wouldn’t make it in a real world production (although, of course, now CGI has largely put paid to that demarcation).

But if you take the example of Inch High, Private Eye, which ran for 13 episodes from September 8, to December 1, 1973 on the NBC network in the United States, you might be given pause to think again.

For here we had a very small detective, with more than whiff about him of Maxwell Smart’s hilarious ineptitude, who spends his time solving crimes in a world where pretty much everything is bigger than him.

Good old Inch High, voiced by Lennie Weinrib, should by any measure be living in a size appropriate diorama somewhere, safely hidden away from careless shoes and wanton sweeps of the hand; but instead, and good on him for not settling for a life lived in the secure shadows, he’s out there making the world safer for people eveyrwhere.

Well, see that’s the thing – he actually isn’t.

He is as bright as he is tall, and while he arrogantly think he is god’s gift to sleuthing and that Poirot and Holmes should making pilgrimages to him for pointers on improving their craft, he actually only ever succeeds through sheer luck and happenstance, and with the help, if it can be called that, of his niece, Lori (Cathy Gori), who is actually the one capable person among the group, his detective protégé Gator (Bob Luttrell) and his dog Braveheart (Don Messick) who is more concerned with sleeping that solving a case.

In that respect, Inch High, Private Eye should be comedy gold, with a protagonist who is willfully unaware of his own shortcomings and delusionally self-assured about the each of his skills and abilities.

But while Maxwell Smart was endearingly sweet and charmingly klutzy and Inspector Gadget was reasonably capable though not always fully across what needed to be done, Inch High is, not to put too fine a point on it, not all that likeable.

Which on one level is okay since there are a slew of shows, animated or otherwise, with protagonists who aren’t very likeable but get the job done and do it with aplomb.

But Inch High, who spends much of his episodic time in a plethora of size-related sight gags – for reasons known only to writers Fred S. Fox and David Harmon, Inch never takes the lift to the Hushmobile car with everyone else but glides down a drainpipe which shoots him through the air until he’s caught by Gator in a baseball mitt – isn’t easy to like and he’s actually pretty bad at what he does.

You can well understand why his boss, Mr. Finkerton (John Stephenson) follows him to all his cases, suspicious that he won’t actually deliver on the brief and might well make an already crime-ridden situation even worse.

Finkerton plays a time-honoured role in Hanna-Barbera cartoons, that of the overly officious superior who doesn’t trust his underlings who are actually quite good at what they do or lovable enough like Yogi Bear or The Hair Bear Bunch that; but in the case of Inch High, Private Eye, Finkerton isn’t so much the villain as pretty much justified in what he does.

After all, if you had an employee like Inch High, would you want to let him go off unsupervised?

You likely wouldn’t so unique to Inch High, Private Eye, your sympathies actually lie with the annoying boss; yes, Lori and Gator and Braveheart are delightfully lovely and weirdly devoted to their inept, arrogant and just plain rude miniature detective overlord but the warm and fuzzies that you get from Yogi besting Ranger Smith or The Hair Bear Bunch getting one over on Mr. Peevly simple aren’t there with Inch High, Private Eye.

It’s mostly got all the right pieces in place, many of them common to a slew of other Hanna-Barbera shows but it’s missing a protagonist you care about and thus the us vs them dynamic that so happily powers so many other cartoons from the prolific production house.

You can understand why it only lasted a few months, a rare misfire from Hanna-Barbera who usually, though not always, got it right more often than they didn’t.

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