Face it. No serial has ever become more than an 11 year-old boy's greatest fantasy. From buried treasures, to evil cloaked villains, men on Mars, Emperor Ming on the planet Mongo, or an empire beneath the earth's surface, serials engaged pre-teen boys with endless Saturday afternoon escapist fare.
When viewed today, production standards of most serials are ludicrous. And in general, the actors are just as ridiculous and rather painful to listen to. In short, serials are corny, unbelievable, and very very cheap.
But when I saw Gene Autry's 15-episode Phantom Empire in 1949 every Saturday following my swimming session at the Plainfield New Jersey YMCA while eating an egg salad sandwich that crumbled down my shirt, I was transported into another world that has never left me. The sheer idea of a huge city deep under the earth's surface, the beautiful Queen Tika lording over Murania as her evil counselors wreak havoc among the earthlings, Frankie Darro and his Thunder Riders (pail bucket on their heads and all), and hero Gene Autry singing through it all with his wonderful bouncy Oklahoma cowboy singing style, was a feast for my unformed mind and heart.
Each week for 15 weeks I breathlessly waited for another chapter in the unfolding epic. And when the final (so tragic to me then) episode ended it all, I floated home in a reverie that no amount of play could reproduce.
The only other serials that came close were the Flash Gordon series with Buster Crabbe, FG Conquers the Universe being the best. Others included Don Winslow of the Navy, the Bat Man series (Dr. Daka and his hungy crocodile in the Tunnel of Love), Tom Mix, and Rocket Man. There were so many.
I can't make anyone like these things, especially if you are already grown up and missed the serial excitement back in the pre 1950's days, But if you have a great sense of fun, and a wide imagination that can spare the corn from your skeptical overview, this is the one to start with. Glorious fun.