Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Classic TV Holiday Special: Dragnet (1951)

Dragnet (1951 series)
Debut: December 16, 1961
Created by Jack Webb
Starring: Jack Webb, Ben Alexander
Synopsis: Sgt. Joe Friday and his partners follow procedure as they investigate crimes in Los Angeles.

Trey: With the holiday season upon us, it seemed like a good time to dive into the Classic TV tradition of the "Christmas episode." What better place than the venerable, multi-media police procedural franchise, Dragnet. Dragnet got its start on radio in 1949 but moved to TV in 1951. That series ran until 1959. It was revived in new, color series in 1967 and ran until 1971. Films and new series have shown up into the 21st Century.

We watched the episode "The Big Little Jesus" which aired on December 24, 1953. Father Rojas at the Old Mission Plaza Church discovers that the statue of the baby Jesus has been stolen from the Nativity display. The statue isn't worth a lot, but it's of great sentimental value to the parish. Friday and Smith promise to try to get it back before Christmas Day mass--but that means they've got less than 24 hours to do it.

This same story had aired just two days before on the radio show. It would also be remade (as "The Christmas Story"), virtually unchanged, for the 1967 series, airing on December 21, 1967. 

Jason: I vaguely remember watching a few episodes of the 1967 series in syndication in the mid-80s, particularly the infamous LSD episode, as a piece of kitsch illustrating square culture's inability to grasp what the groovy kids were up to. But it had style! The 1953 episode we watched, created at the height of its cultural moment, feels right at home with itself and resists a solely ironic viewing. It is also quite stylish! 

That said, the opening scene jolts the viewer into a bygone culture, as ultra-square bachelor Joe Friday dutifully fills out an impressive stack of Christmas cards. His partner Frank recommends marriage as the pragmatic solution to this burden - his wife takes care of all such matters. Joe muses, seemingly crunching the numbers for a moment, when they are interrupted by news of theft of a statue of the baby Jesus. For the time being, Joe remains all cop.

Their exchange, a machine gun barrage of snappy dialogue presented in quick cuts from close up to close up, demands the viewer's full and complete attention and sets the tone for the rest of the episode. Information is delivered verbally, due at least in part, I'm sure, to Webb's use of the nearly unaltered script for the radio version of Dragnet, as well as time and budgetary limitations. The dialogue comes at breakneck speed, as if fueled by black coffee and an ashtray full of Chesterfields.

One of my favorite moments was when the priest apologized to Joe and Frank for monopolizing their time during the holidays. 

I found this episode fascinating, as a window into the increasingly foreign past and as another example of the hyper-condensed storytelling of its era. 

Trey: I too had seen snippets of the '60s version and I'd seen the 1987 spoof film. Joe Friday doesn't seem quite as square and certainly not as priggish as he would in in the 60s. The 50s is the world he was meant for, though still it's obvious he's a straight-arrow, by-the-book sort.

It's interesting what it says about the view of faith in this era. AVClub did a comparison between this version and the 60s remake that's interesting. All and all, I found my heart suitably warmed with this one. Jason, what about you?

Jason: Most definitely. If Joe Friday can get a little sentimental, there's something there for all of us!

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: Cliffhangers (1979)

Debut: February 27, 1979
Created by Kenneth Johnson
Starring: Susan Anton, Ray Ralston, Michael Swan, Geoffrey Scott, Carlene Watkins, Tiger Willaims, Michael Nouri, Carol Baxter, Stephen Johnson
Synopsis: Three serialized tales of adventure are presented each week: the mystery/adventure of Stop Susan Williams, the Weird Western of The Secret Empire, and the horror of The Curse of Dracula.

Trey: Cliffhangers is an unusual NBC series that aired from February to September 1979. In each installment, you got a chapter of 3 serialized stories, resembling the matinee serials of the past. One of them, The Secret Empire, was based on the old Gene Autry serial, The Phantom Empire, in fact.

On paper, this idea had a lot going for it. You were essentially running three 3 series in one hour, so if one failed to find an audience, it could be switched out for something else. However, running 3 productions meant the cost of 3 productions. It was an expensive show. It also aired opposite the powerhouses of Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. Plus, at the end of the day, it really just isn't that good.

Jason: Well, it was an experience! Nostalgia for the entertainments of yesteryear, in this case the action-oriented serials of the 30's and 40's (and televised for Baby Boomer audiences in the 50's and 60's, was in the air in the 1970's. The Star Wars phenomena that preceded this show and Indiana Jones following a year or so after Cliffhangers bit the dust are both obvious examples of successfully updating serial tropes. 

Conceptually more interesting than entertaining, Cliffhangers was a challenging watch, at least in part due to the dreadful scan available on YouTube, which would have looked much better on a smaller screen that I used. I managed to suppress the urge to change the channel (which, if this show was on in my childhood home, likely occurred), and dutifully stayed the course, buoyed by the hope that the next segment would be better.

Trey: You're right about than YouTube upload. It was like watching through gauze, but perhaps that made the experience more authentic given the vagaries of TV and reception back in the day? Are there positives here we could accentuate?

Jason: Mercifully, it actually did seem to get better from segment to segment. 

The Perils of Pauline-inspired Stop Susan Williams ticked off the genre boxes but felt dreary to me. The only real updating I detected was in Susan Anton's wardrobe. 

The Secret Empire gave us an elevator from the Old West to an alien underground city, which is always welcome. The city itself appeared to have been shot in an abandoned shopping mall. It was difficult to tell if anything interesting would follow in subsequent episodes that Gene Autry hadn't already dealt with in the 30's incarnation. 

Trey: There is precedent for Modern public buildings as futuristic cities. See Logan's Run. In any case, the few episodes I saw of this as a kid (I don't recall how many or if I sat through an hour. I didn't remember Susan Williams at all.) it was The Secret Empire I was most interested in. I had seen some of Phantom Empire on PBS as a kid. Like with Phantom Empire, I was not of an age where it's parsimony with the sci-fi allowed it to hold my interest.

Jason: Of the three stories we watched partially unfold in this episode, my favorite was the disco-age adventures of professional academic Dracula. If only we could have been treated to Dracula's lecture in its entirety instead of pesky Van Helsing intrigue already-in-progress! I'll sign up for Dracula's TED talk any day. 

Trey: Yeah, while not great, that segment works the best here. It eventually got edited into a TV movie. Circling back to the Secret Empire, one more thing I noticed there: the hero breaks out a bullwhip for one scene. You would swear it was a ripoff of Indiana Jones except of course this show predates Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Jason: It's perhaps a shame it wasn't riding those coattails. It might have given them pointers on updating the material for the modern audience.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: Peter Gunn (1958)

Peter Gunn
Debut: September 22, 1958
Created by Blake Edwards
Starring: Craig Stevens, Lola Albright, Herschel Bernardi, Hope Emerson, Byron Kane
Synopsis: Peter Gunn is a suave, well-dressed private investigator with a love of cool jazz and a knack for finding trouble.

Trey: Peter Gunn is a 1958-1961 series that aired first on NBC and then ABC. It has some similarities to Mr. Lucky, another Blake Edwards series we watched.  Cary Grant was an inspiration for the style of the main character and it has a score by Henry Mancini. In fact, it's theme is probably one of the most recognizable pieces of music of the later half of the 20th Century.

Jason: After this recent re-exposure, that theme song is hounding my mind on a constant involuntary mental replay. Not only is it endlessly catchy, but it has spawned a multitude of derivative offspring in a variety of genres. I love the B-52s take on "Planet Claire," to name one example. 

Trey: Indeed! We watched the second episode, "Streetcar Jones" where a jazz club band leader wants to prove one of his musician friends is innocent of a murder, but the musician's lawyer high-priced lawyer suspiciously doesn't want his assistance. The whole series is available on Freevee.

Peter Gunn has a sort of sophisticated style and hints wry humor of Mr. Lucky. It doesn't quite charm me the way the episodes of that series did. The lack of the sidekick is part of it, but I don't think the character of Gunn (or possibly the portrayal) has quite the charm of the titular Mr. Lucky. Of course, watching only one episode of a series always presents the risk that you don't really have a good sample to judge it by.

Jason: It seemed to me to have an incrementally more "serious" tone than Mr. Lucky, and I agree about the diminished charm. In this episode at least, Craig Stevens' portrayal of Gunn feels icy cold, an utterly unflappable fellow who only turns on the charm at pressing need. He takes a heck of ass-whooping without a single complaint, though his natural beauty remains (stylishly) marred by (dashing) bruises for the rest of the episode. 

I must also agree on Gunn's sidekick-less condition. His Crockett could use a Tubbs.

Trey: Back to Mancini for the moment, his musical cues here are perhaps even better than the ones in Mr. Lucky

Jason: I wonder if the music was tailor-made for this especially Jazz-centric episode?

Trey: Jazz-centric, it was. Hearing the hep jazz cat patter here, I wonder if TV of the late 50s represented the jazz subculture any more accurately that 80s TV would do with rock of its era? I did like Carlo Fiore's almost Zen master portrayal of Streetcar Jones. A decade later, such a loopy character would be portrayed as being on drugs, but here, there's no indication he's high on anything but jazz.

Jason: Great Neal Cassady's ghost! The jailhouse discussion of the distinction between "getting it" and "digging it" was almost hilarious in its earnest examination of the ineffable. I have to think you are correct in your suspicions, and I too imagined fully qualified hepcats of the era cringing at the portrayal of their patois.

I really felt the director's hand in this episode, and he's swinging for the fences. The opening sequence features a transition from the Big Eye club's sign (a big eye) to the business end of a saxophone jamming away inside, letting us know right out of the box that someone cares about making this show look as cool as possible. Again, I am reminded of Miami Vice.

Trey: It's a stylized world in some ways. Half-hour episodes don't leave time to worry about gritty realism.

Jason: My verdict: It didn't knock me out the way Mr. Lucky did, but Blake Edwards is doing fine TV work if this episode is any indication. 

Trey: Just the thing for viewing after dinner at the supper club with a martini in your hand.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: Blake's 7 (1978)

Blake's 7
Debut: January 2, 1978
Created by Terry Nation
Starring: Gareth Thomas, Sally Knyvette, Michael Keating, Steven Pacey, Paul Darrow, David Jackson, Peter Tuddenham, Jan Chappell, Jacqueline Pearce, Stephen Greif, Brian Croucher, Josette Simon, Glynis Barber
Synopsis: A rebel leads a group of convicts and outcasts in a struggle against the totalitarian Terran Federation.

Trey: Blake's 7 ran for four 13 episode "series" on BBC1. It was created by Terry Nation, known for his work on Doctor Who (he was the creator of the Daleks), who also wrote the entire 1st series. We watched the first episode "The Way Back" on YouTube. We're introduced to former resistance leader Roj Blake who had been mindwiped, but after an attempt by old comrades to bring him back to the cause, witnesses a massacre and is subsequently framed for a series of fictional crimes by the totalitarian Federation and sent to a prison colony.

I'd seen this episode before, but it was decades ago on a public TV funding drive. I think it's ripe for a re-imagining a la Battlestar Galactica. It already had the grit so there would be no need to add it! With the re-ascendance of Star Wars and the arrival of Guardians of the Galaxy style bombastic space fantasy, maybe it's time is actually past?

Jason: As I understand, the series makes a pronounced tonal shift into the fantastic following this dark, serious opener. 

Trey: Well, from what I've seen, it definitely goes more space opera, but I think it stays roughly Deep Space Nine level of darkness. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. We should talk about the actual episode! 

Jason: We owe Roj Blake that much.

Trey: Its visuals (both in terms of design and casting) and its music give strong Dr. Who vibes, of course. Its story, though, reminds me more of dystopian science fiction films of the 70s, things like Soylent Green, THX-1138, or Logan's Run. It also made me think a lot about the recent Andor.

Jason: As regards the visuals, one must go in with an understanding of the BBC's standards of the day. The budget is as austere as the world depicted and TV technology is limited. The subject matter of this premiere episode is well-suited to these limitations. 

I agree that this episode was very much in this pre-Star Wars mold, with a dash of Nineteen Eighty-Four and a pinch of Phillip K. Dick. We are not really given much of a clue as to what's to follow in the narrative, but this grim bummer of a tale works well. The heaps of bodies piling up throughout its narrative arc make the stakes seem real. 

Trey: Gareth Thomas doesn't seem to have to look for an American lead (maybe the closest American equivalent would be Elliott Gould who did get leading roles in the 70s, though) but he seems believable in this position.

Jason: He's no Don Johnson or Phillip Michael Thomas (see last week's post)! And the drab concrete-and-steel world he inhabits under the influence of stultifying mind-control drugs is about as far from dreamy, cocaine-fueled 80s Miami as one can get. I've only seen him in this, so far as I recall, but his performance is very good. The rest of the cast deliver solid performances and do well with the material. I'd say this is the most intentionally mature work I've seen from screenwriter Nation, lacking any and all of the whimsy and slight goofiness of his Dr. Who work. 
Trey: I like the very 70s, post-Watergate subplot of the idealistic public defender and his partner whose idealism leads them to be crushed by the system. It's not the sort of thing most space opera-ish shows give you!

Jason: The public defender subplot was one of the few outright surprises of the episode, and perhaps worth not spoiling* for any readers who have not seen this episode! 

My verdict: a well-done and appropriately grim take on the dystopian hell-world of tomorrow that remains watchable and tense throughout its run.

Trey: I agree. I wish this was a series available on physical media. I would pick it up.

*SPOILER ALERT! Seeing the crumpled bodies of the public defender and his associate came as a bit of a shock! Against any reasonable hope, I expected them to be ongoing characters!

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: Miami Vice (1984)

Miami Vice

Debut: September 16, 1984
Created by Anthony Yerkovich
Starring: Don Johnson, Philip Michael Thomas, Saundra Santiago, Michael Talbott, John Diehl, Olivia Brown, Gregory Sierra
Synopsis: Two undercover detectives and their team fight crime on the mean yet colorful streets of Miami.

Trey: Miami Vice aired on NBC from September 1984, to January 1990. We watched the pilot episode, "Brother's Keeper" on Freevee. It gives the origin story of the partnership between Floridan, good ol' boy detective Sonny Crockett and New York City street cop Rico Tubbs when both of them want to bring down a Colombian drug dealer who killed someone close to them (Tubbs' brother and Crockett's old partner).

Jason: I'll come clean right now: In my early teen years, I had made up my mind that cop shows were boring as Hell, ubiquitous, repetitive, and I had zero interest in seeing them. Hill Street Blues, a staple in my home, was the exception. As a result, I came to "Brother's Keeper" and Miami Vice a clean slate. I was always suspicious that Vice would present a particularly dumb approach to cop drama, given its reputation for visual splendor, bikinis, and beautiful people, and I was having none of it. Now, decades later I must publicly admit (yet again!) how spectacularly wrong I was!

The opening sequence set in New York, where we receive important set up information and a good chunk of Tubbs' origin story, put me in mind of The Wizard of Oz, the familiar, perhaps overused cop show setting seemed almost black and white like Dorothy's Kansas, and about to make a stark, pastel-and-neon tonal shift as the story sweeps Tubbs off to Miami.

This pilot episode does its job, setting up the series' characters, situations, and style for its run while successfully standing on its own. The story itself is suitably adult and entertaining, but we're not here for complexity or literary quality. 

Trey: I saw the pilot when it aired in 1984. Today, after years of TV shows and even films that borrowed from its style, it's the 80s TV cop show chassis that is most apparent to me. I mostly see how it is like all the Equalizers, Matt Houstons, and Hunters rather than its differences. But my memories of certain scenes in it are vivid from my childhood, and I still recall how much more dramatic and cinematic they seemed at the time than anything else. I have to think about it in pre-prestige TV terms.

The elevator pitch was "MTV cops," and I certainly think we get that, but it's interesting how much that feel is used to create moments of moody, neon noir, rather than the hyperkinetic, quick cuts we associate with the style today.  The story and the characters aren't really completely there yet to support it, but the idea was a solid one. Wikipedia says that TV critics Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz ranked Miami Vice the 51st greatest American television series of all time. While such rankings are always iffy, I think that feels about right in terms of importance.

Johnson and Thomas do a good job with the material. Honestly, Johnson seems to have pretty much one character in slightly different moods across his roles, but it's an entertaining one. 

Jason: They are both conspicuously and extravagantly handsome dudes for vice duty, but in a world where a young Jimmy Smits is expendable, it works.

Trey: I had forgotten Gregory Sierra was in this. I only remembered his replacement, Edward James Olmos. It amuses me to think Sierra is really playing the same guy he played on Barney Miller, just transferred to Miami.

Jason: He never imagined the strange fate in store for him when he put in for the transfer!

I thought the cast delivered admirably, while the most effective and affecting scenes were primarily visual and driven by their musical accompaniments. The iconic scene featuring "In the Air Tonight" is iconic for a damn good reason, as it happens. I'd rather watch dreamy Miami zoom by, reflected in the paint job of a speeding hot rod while listening to Jan Hammer's highly effective theme music (it helped that i hadn't heard it in decades) than be enriched by character development. 

Trey: Weirdly, Hammer's theme is missing the iconic solo in this episode. This is the version I remember: 

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: Blackstar (1981)


Debut: September 19, 1981
Starring:  George DiCenzo. Linda Gary, Alan Oppenheimer, Patrick Pinney, Frank Welker
Synopsis: An astronaut, swept through a black hole, is stranded on a primitive planet in another universe, and joins the fight against the tyrannical Overlord.

Trey: Blackstar was a Saturday morning, animated, fantasy series produced by Lou Schiemer and Norm Prescott for Filmation. It's original run only lasted from September to December 1981, but it was revived again in 1983. We watched Episode 13, "The Zombie Masters" on YouTube. It was written by Marc Scott Zicree and Michael Reaves (the writers responsible for most of the series) and originally aired on December 5, 1981. It was the final episode. In it, Blackstar and friends are trying to convince the leaders of Gandar to join their fight against the Overlord when the city is attacked by Marakand, the flying city of zombies. Soon Princess Luwena, Mara and Poulo are under the spell of Shaldemar the Zombie Master.

In many ways, Blackstar was a "trial run" for Filmation's He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. They are both science fantasies and both feature magical swords that have been split in half. Blackstar is a bit more "Planetary Romance," however, and not as superheroic as He-Man. You could say it kind of bridges Filmation's adaptations of older characters like Flash Gordon and Tarzan and the later He-Man.

Jason: I'm not all that conversant with He-Man, but Blackstar feels like its aiming for a slightly more sophisticated audience, while still abiding by the rigid standards for children's entertainment in play in those days. This makes for a frustrating mix of relatively complex fantasy concepts and characters amidst kiddie comic relief (in the unfortunate form of Trobbits) and awesome swords that can only be used defensively (deflecting incoming magic blasts for instance) or to inflict property damage.  The problem of Chekhov's Awesome Sword would have plagued my mind as a kid. 

This episode could have sold young me had Blackstar been able to hack and slash his way through the packs of zombies* infesting the flying city rather than all the skulking around. And don't get my inner 11-year-old started on the Trobbits!

If this show had been made in the more relaxed standards of say, the Jonny Quest 1960s, it might have been a more satisfying action adventure that I would have loved in syndication while complaining that cartoons just aren't as cool as they used to be.

Trey: An interesting note on the protagonist. Original Blackstar was conceived of as Black. His ethnicity was made indeterminant (perhaps Native American like the later Bravestarr) before production, however.

Jason: An opportunity wasted while simultaneously sparing the world another Black hero with "Black" in his name. 

Trey: In summary, Blackstar has the flaws of the Filmation cost-conscience method as we discussed with Flash Gordon. Compared to modern cartoons in a similar vein, it is neither as action packed nor does it feature as much story in its run time. What it excels at though is worldbuilding or perhaps implication of worldbuilding. There is so much for the 8 year-old mind (the age I was when this aired) to latch on to. 

Jason: I agree on all points! A couple of years make a lot of difference in that age category, so it wasn't in the cards for me - I was busy with early adolescent rejection of childish things at the same time. I already loved Dungeons & Dragons, so I'm a little surprised I almost completely ignored this show, which based on this episode, might be the most D&D of the Saturday morning age including the D&D cartoon (with the possible exception of Thundarr). This episode features a veritable monster manual of fantasy species, rampant use of magic missiles and the like, soul-harvesting magic items, and an actual dungeon exploration sequence. 

And yes, the animation is weak sauce, but the character designs and background paintings do a lot of heavy lifting in the worldbuilding department and are very nice. 

My verdict, adjusted for the children's entertainment of this vintage: 3 dead Trobbits out of 5, but the unfulfilled potential is painful to contemplate. It could have been great!

*Spoiler! As it turns out, its a damn good think Blackstar didn't slay his way through the city, as each and every enslaved soul would be reunited with it's body at the end, right down to the gargoyles and other monstrous city dwellers that looked so prime for gratuitous sword-fodder earlier on.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: Yancy Derringer (1958)

Yancy Derringer

Debut: October 2, 1958
Created by Mary Loos and Richard Sale
Starring: Jock Mahoney; X Brands
Synopsis: An adventurer gambler, and dapper Southern gentleman works as a secret government agent in post-Civil War New Orleans.

Trey: Yancy Derringer ran on CBS from October 2, 1958, to September 24, 1959. According to Wikipedia, Sale and Loos based the series on "The Devil Made a Derringer", a short story by Sale that appeared in All-American Fiction in 1938.  Sale was apparently a very successful pulp writer in the 1930s. The the original short story was about a destitute aristocrat who returns to New Orleans three years after the Civil War. In the story, Derringer is given no first name; "Yancy" was added for the series.

We watched episode 15, "The Fair Freebooter," on Amazon Prime. It originally aired on January 15, 1959. In it, the pretty river pirate Coco LaSalle threatens to cause an international incident after she robs Derringer's riverboat, stealing a jeweled necklace, once belonging to Empress Carlota, that is to be returned to the Mexican government. Yancy just wants to get his new shirts he bought from St. Louis back and sets a plan in motion to get both while escorting LaSalle to the Comus Ball.

Jason: I snapped to attention when Yancy declared his passionate intention to retrieve his damn shirts. He'd been waiting for three months already! If he can help smooth over international relations in so doing, fine, but he's got to look good!

Trey: Clothes maketh the man. Anyway, I'd seen the first episode of this series before, but that was all setup really, I imagine this one is more like most episodes. I think this is sort of similar to Barbary Coast with the same sort of spy-type doings and the touch of humor. I think it works better here than there, though. Maybe it's the 30 minute timeframe?

Jason: It definitely works better here! The 30 minute run length for this kind of material is starting to feel revelatory, despite the obvious limitations. At no point are we allowed to be bored as the story goes through its paces. Unlike M Squad, which felt ruthless in its devotion to delivering the plot with absolutely no fat, this episode's scenes almost feel leisurely in pace, allowing us to infer whatever we can about the characters through their dialogue and behavior. No info dumps here. 

Trey: No indeed! It's interesting to me how none of this historical background is explained. No brief exposition on Emperor Maximilian. No dialogue illuminating why an "administrator" is in charge of New Orleans. Either they expected the average viewer to know more history in 1959, or they expected audiences to just roll with it!

Jason: There's just no time for any of that! Here again, I think it works in the show's favor. The dialogue, always in service of the plot, still feels naturalistic enough that it carries us along, leaving any filling in of context to the audience. Kind of refreshing! 

Trey: Another interesting thing: mutiny appears to be stirring among Coco's men, but this doesn't really come to anything in the episode despite a fair amount of setup.

Jason: That's true, and maybe is vestigial evidence of editing for time. That said, this undercurrent of perhaps imminent revolt does lend some extra peril to the scenes in the pirate camp and communicates the treacherousness of this pack of weasels. 

I was further impressed by the seeming lavishness of the sets and costumes. Production values are strong for the era and the setting. 

My verdict: It was pretty good, leading me to wonder if further investigation of 1959 might reveal it be the peak of some kind of golden age of television. 

Trey: It does seem a particularly fertile era. I liked this one as well. It would be interesting to see where this episode fits in the "scale of quality" of the series.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All (1982)

Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All

Debut: August 21, 1982
Written by  Samuel A. Peeples, Alex Raymond
Starring: Robert Ridgely, Diane Pershing, Bob Holt, Vic Perrin
Synopsis: Flash Gordon, Dale Arden and Dr. Hans Zarkov travel to the planet Mongo and wind up fighting the tyrannical rule of Emperor Ming the Merciless.

Trey: Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All is animated television movie that aired on NBC in 1982. The project was begun in 1979 following the success of Star Wars, but lead to a Saturday morning TV series, which actually aired before the movie.

This film has never been released on home video in the U.S., so far as I know, but it's available on YouTube.

Jason: I grew up on Filmation as my primary supplier of action/adventure Saturday morning cartoons. Foremost in my memories are the Tarzan and Batman series from the 70s-80s, but I also have some dim recollection of the Flash Gordon series. My memories are occluded by pre-teen rejection of "greasy kid stuff". As a result, I mostly remember viciously lampooning the reused animation elements that resulted in Batman, Tarzan, and Flash jogging identically down and to the left or down and to the right. These rotoscoped sequences looked cool, and were typically the most fluid and impressive bits of animation in the shows.  But as a kid, I bristled at what could only be regarded as Filmation's repeated and unrepentant insults to my intelligence. Do they think I can't tell that when Tarzan swings on a vine he does so in precisely the same manner as when Batman does a Bat-swing on the Bat-rope?

Though many of those sequences were trotted out for Flash, I was pleasantly surprised by this production, which not only looks very good and includes many novel bits of animation previously unseen, but also embraced an ambitious agenda of visual storytelling.

Trey: I think in this era of overseas outsourcing of animation and heavy use of computers, it's easy to be derisive of the shortcuts and failings of animation with less than a feature film budget in the 80s. Filmation here shows the failings of their economical style, but also brings in some techniques borrowed from Japanese animation and even, I believe, some early computer use in addition to some accomplished rotoscoping.

Jason: I found the battling dinosaurs to be remarkable for American animation of the era. 

The Beast Men's Temple of Ming sequence sold me. I was amazed at the minimal dialogue and long, entirely visual sequences. Danger felt real! Violence felt consequential!

The script by Peebles hummed along at a steady pace and seemed unusually adult, again for American animation of this vintage. And when I say adult, I mean stand by for 1930's norms visited upon impressionable children of the 80's. Eugenics comes into play, retrograde depictions of female characters (Dale Arden, in peril of a horrible marriage to Ming, disappears for a lengthy portion of the movie), and, astonishingly, Hitler! Yes, Hitler! Sorry for the spoiler, folks. Trey, help me understand!

Trey: Yes, Peeple's (who wrote the second pilot for Star Trek as well) provides a script clearly for primetime, not Saturday morning. Note the use of firearms in the fight with the dinosaurs and the flaming sword in the final duel. Overall, not only does it move along pretty well, it's fairly faithful to Raymond's original comic strip, though not as faithful as the more extended Saturday morning cartoon version. The Hitler connection is original to Peeples, so far as I know.

I enjoyed hearing Ted Cassidy as Thun. He doesn't voice him in the series. Several of the other voices are different as well: Vultan, Barin, and Ming. No disrespect to Vic Perrin here, but I miss Alan "Skeletor" Oppenheimer's villainous cackle for Ming.

Jason: My verdict: Overall, this incarnation Flash Gordon delivered constant (adequate) thrills, solid animation, well-imagined vistas, and was, against all odds, pretty entertaining. 

Trey: I love the animated series from my youth, so it's hard for me to judge with objective eyes. This is only the second time I've seen the TV movie, though, so I was pretty fresh on it. I enjoyed it for the reasons you say, but I miss the more expansive storyline of the series.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: Space:1999 (1975)

Space: 1999

Debut: September 4, 1975 (UK)
Created by Gerry Anderson, Sylvia Anderson
Starring: Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Nick Tate, Zienia Merton, Catherine Schell
Synopsis: In the year 1999, the crew of Moonbase Alpha must struggle to survive when a nuclear explosion throws the Moon from orbit into deep space.

Trey: Space: 1999 was a British series that ran for two seasons on ITV from 1975 to 1977. Attempts to sell the series to a U.S. network failed, so it aired in syndication starting in 1975. It was the last production by the partnership of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and was the most expensive series produced for British television up to that time.

In a series of events that will be familiar to Star Trek fans, the series was almost cancelled at the end of season (or series) one in part due to the fact no American network had picked it up. Fred Freiberger (known from season 3 of Star Trek and part of season 1 of Wild Wild West) was brought on board and the show was remolded into a bit more of a--well, Star Trek direction.

In the end, this didn't save it, and season 2 was to be the last.

Jason: In an interview Gerry Anderson made explicit mention of the tensions between the UK and American members of the production partnership, and was (unsurprisingly) put out by Freiberger's attempts to make the show more palatable for US audiences. The differences between season 1 and 2 of the series are stark. Right from the jump, the killer theme music from season one credits sequence is jettisoned in favor of an anemic re-imagining. 

Trey: Well, we watched season 2 episode 1, "The Metamorph" on Freevee. The Moonbase Alpha crew comes upon a planet that has the titanium they need to make repairs to their systems. The apparently lone inhabitant of the planet Psychon, Mentor, offers to make an exchange with them, but secretly plans to trap them and use their mental energy to restore the matter-transforming computer that can repair his world.

 So, I'll come clean: I chose this episode for us to watch due to the presence of Brian Blessed as Mentor.

Jason: I'm glad you did! It's a restrained performance for Blessed in this instance. He could've gone way bigger, given the outrageous events at play. He looks great, with his spray-painted faux hawk and dashing take on the traditional wizard's robes and high collar cape. Like a lot of other elements in this episode (and perhaps the series in general), the considerable visual appeal is the best thing going here. 

Trey: Is it just me or is this episode (like Forbidden Planet and the Star Trek episode "Requiem for Methuselah") another loose riff on The Tempest?

Jason: I'd say that was a bullseye. Who's Caliban? Koenig?

Trey: Mentor's goons that dress like MOTU's Zodac by way of the iPod aesthetic!

But speaking of Koenig, how did you find Landau as the intrepid commander? He's a great actor, of course, but I thought he was a bit miscast here. At the very least, I feel like it would have been better to have a "Riker" to his "Picard."

Jason: Yeah, I feel the same way. It's a bummer because Landau is great as you say, but it just doesn't seem to work. His Koenig seems like a leader prone to sudden rages who would be quite a polarizing figure among his crew, by which I mean I could see a mutiny down the road.

Trey: The show definitely looks expensive. I found myself wishing Star Trek had included extensive use of models. It definitely is a "transitional form" between Lost in Space and Star Trek in the 60s and Star Wars.

Jason: It sure does look great. As a visual feast of model-making, set design, and planet-scapes, Space: 1999 delivers. Again, the disparity between seasons is notable here. While the first season is very much inspired by the austere and realistic aesthetic of Kubrick's 2001, this second season is more colorful and outlandish in design.   

Trey: Other than the model-based sets and ships, though, I have to say the show seems inferior to Star Trek in just about every other way.

Jason: I think that's true, but I also think Space: 1999 is a very different animal. It is more impressionistic, less naturalistic, and despite attempts to make the characters a greater part of the show's appeal, not that interested in the characters. To me it feels pulpy in a particularly British way but with a non-rational, liminal quality perhaps only available in the post-psychedelia 1970s. It's clearly not Science Fiction in any real sense, but more an attempt at psychological fantasy with SF trappings, at least in the first season. By the second season, it's a bit more action-oriented but, if this first episode is any indication, also more bananas.  

I've always admired Gerry Anderson's contributions to fantastic media, but from afar. His shows, all featuring marionettes until UFO, Space: 1999's immediate predecessor, impress with their toyetic designs and devotion of screen time to effects sequences, but I haven't yet been able to get into the Uncanny Valleys they occupy. The addition of actual human actors to the equation, unfortunately, takes this show into a weirdly Unpleasant Valley. 

Trey: I believe those are super-marionettes with powers and abilities far beyond those of regular marionettes. 

Jason: Yes, well, they still reside in the same Uncanny Valley. A side note: I'm curious to have a look at writer Johnny Byrne's short story contributions to the UK SF magazine Science Fantasy.  

Trey: That could prove interesting. We should hunt it up!

Jason: Alright. Verdict time: I enjoyed watching this episode and am curious to dip my toe further into the series' two very distinct seasons. Will I? I don't know when!

Trey: I thought it was interesting, but I feel like it would take a lot to make me love it. Even perhaps the mild affection for the eccentric relative as I feel for Lost in Space.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: The Renegades (1983)

The Renegades

Debut: March 4, 1983
Created by Steven E. de Souza, Rick Husky
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Randy Brooks, Paul Mones, Tracy Scoggins, Robert Thaler, Brian Tochi, Fausto Bara, Kurtwood Smith, James Luisi
Synopsis: An urban street gang operates as undercover agents for the police.

Trey: The Renegades was an attempt to cash in on the success of The Warriors by bringing the youth gang concept to TV--with the confines of the well-established TV genre of the cop show. The creators looked to Patrick Swayze as the star who had established is credibility in show rolls with another failed TV effort  Return of the Rebels and the film The Outsiders. ABC picked it up and the pilot movie aired on August 11, 1982, with the series to follow in March of 1983. Due to low ratings, ABC pulled the plug after 6 episodes. He watched the last one on YouTube. It's a VHS rip (complete with commercials!), presumably from the broadcast on April 8, 1983. The episode is titled "Target: Marciano" and involves an escaped murder (former drug dealer and record producer) who is out for revenge against the cop that sent him away: Lt. Marciano, who's in charge of the Renegades, It involves part of the team going undercover and taking part in a battle of the bands!

So, to start with, I'm going to say the opening of this show must be seen (it's also on Youtube) for a jolt of pure 80s directly to the brain. If you feel the urge to wear parachute pants, don't blame this blog!

Jason: A jolt is putting it mildly! It grabs you by the lapels and rubs your face in a distillation of 80s tropes so potent you'll come away reeking of its heavily applied Drakkar Noir. It could alm6st pass for a SNL parody. But it is all too real! 

Trey: I know Swayze was meant to be the draw here, and he and Scoggins are the standouts among the Renegades, but they are really just a brighter shade of unmemorable. Their parts are sort of thin. 

The real "stars" of this episode to me are the supporting cast and the guest stars. Kurtwood Smith plays a pretty similar character in everything but he was born a hardass police captain. He embodies this role fully. Likewise, James Luisi as Marciano, who has played cops on other shows,  is like the apotheosis of vaguely ethnic veteran police detectives. 

Jason: The Renegades are semi-reformed street gangsters of the fantasyland Warriors variety composed of one-dimensional stereotypes (80's token diversity in full effect) with names like Bandit, Eagle, Dancer, Dragon, and.... Tracy. Their hair is always perfect. Only the lack of masks and capes separates this crew from D-list superhero characters. 

If this episode show could be saved, Smith and Luisi would be its saving grace(s)! Smith's police captain is perpetually unimpressed with Marciano's experimental team. He quickly became my personal viewpoint character. 

Trey: You make a good point regarding superheroes. I've often thought the cheesy dialogue and thin, but distinct characterization of 80s action shows is very much like 80s superhero comics. A lot getting to imagine whatever line delivery you need to make it work helps comics, though. That an an unlimited budget.

Anyway, I also want to note Thom Christopher as the villainous Tony Gunn. Christopher was the badass warrior alien, Hawk, in the second season of Buck Rogers--that season's only salvation, really. Here he plays Gunn, a character more Charlie Manson than Phil Spector, with an intensity that could make Pacino's Scarface say, "you know, this guy maybe should get psychiatric help?"

Jason: Christopher is indeed suitably creepy as the ludicrous psychopath record producer/rifle lover. His character is a hair's breadth away from being a D-list Batman villain. 

Trey: Like comics once again!

The band bits here really illustrate something I've long thought about the portrayal of rock/pop musicians in 80s movies and TV, namely: the production and creative staff just don't seem to get it. We're typically shown a band whose look is a mismatch of punk/New Wave, glam metal, and maybe a bit of disco, and then their songs are like bar rock or the most indistinct pop rock. The band here is no exception.

Jason: Agreed. This disconnect was quite palpable in The Renegades. I'll guess this particular show was made by people just old enough to be unaware of how out of touch they were . No actual New York City hipsters of the day were consulted. 

The climactic sequence was set in an abandoned roller derby arena the villain uses to stage a spectacular show trial/execution/musical performance. What could have been a zany Batman action set piece was instead a dire and bizarre sequence, seemingly intended to replicate the imagery of then-novel music videos (years before something similar would be attempted by the similarly ill-fated Cop Rock). It was an ambitious plan that failed aggressively. 

My verdict: There was potential in this show's premise, but it just didn't come together. Trey, I must admit I looked forward to the commercials. My wife, a confirmed Swayze supporter, passed out after 20 dreary minutes. Therefore it is my unpleasant duty to sentence this show to be swiftly returned to the obscurity from which it came. With the high pressure firehose of entertainment available 24/7 in today's modern world, don't waste a minute on this one. But watch that trailer! 

Trey: I'm not going to praise The Renegades. There are too many options in the modern TV landscape to think about "so bad it's good."  will, however, give it the benefit of contextualizing it for the modern reader, too young to remember the 80s, who might have a smartphone mishap and accidentally arrive at this blog. The network tv action show of 80s was built to deliver reliable and unchallenging entertainment to a lowest common denominator swathe of America. Compared with other shows of that kind, well, I don't think The Renegades fares too badly, though it would be far from top of the heap. Why was it so unsuccessful then even in its era? Well, I think its writing and characters (aside from some adult themes) place it more inline with more kid-appealing action shows like The A-Team. Unfortunately, it had a 9 pm timeslot, perhaps due to those adult themes, making kids unable to see it. If this episode is representative, it lacks some of the drama and more importantly sex appeal needed to succeed with the purely adult viewership.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: Riverboat (1959)


Debut: September 13, 1959
Starring: Darren McGavin; Burt Reynolds
Synopsis: These are the voyages of the riverboat Enterprise. Captain Grey Holden and his pilot, Ben Frazier, guide the stern-wheeler along the Mississippi River in the 1840's.

Trey: Riverboat ran from 1959 to 1961 on NBC. Wikipedia dubs it a Western, and I suppose at times it engaged in Western themes and stock elements, but it's set within mostly settled areas of pre-Civil War along the major rivers of the Midwest. I became aware of Riverboat thanks to discussions with this blog's founder, Jim, and this post he wrote in 2014 suggesting it had an influence on Star Trek.

We watched episode 3 of the first season "About Roger Mowbray" from September 27, 1959. It was from a story by Star Trek alum Gene L. Coon! In it, a young man (Robert Vaughn) has his marriage and his father's wealth-seeking schemes endangered when a spurned ex-fiancée (Madlyn Rhue) claims that he married his new wife for money and threatens to reveal his deceptions!

Jason: Jim's idea of a strong influence feels right, having viewed two episodes, both with stories penned by Gene Coon. The other episode I watched (mislabeled by whoever posted it to YouTube as episode 3), also with a screenplay by Coon, had a pronounced ST vibe, or at least a strong Gene L. Coon voice.

A brief moment in this episode made me laugh out loud, when, while rushing to seek medical help for one of the passengers, the captain orders his crew to crank the Enterprise up to full speed. We then cut briefly to the engine room, where Dick Wessel as engineer Carney Kohler shrieks out to his frenzied crew to give the engines everything they've got!

Trey: The harried engineer. It's a staple. This episode was very much in the Wagon Train mode, where the story primarily revolves around the drama of passengers on the riverboat. Our stars, the captain and crew, only play incidental roles in that. I wonder if this was the standard for the series?

Jason: This pretty much holds true for that other episode I watched, though the personal involvement of the captain was a bit more central to the plot.   

Trey: Let's talk about that Captain! McGavin's Captain Holden is set up as a heroic man of principle in the episode, but throughout most of the episode he's sort of passive and refuses to head off developing trouble--though at times he takes actions that seem ill-advised and possibly make it worse! In many ways, he's more the catalyst here than the protagonist.

Jason: What kind of screwball would allow a spurned ex-lover to retain their recently brandished Derringer after (barely) talking them out of murder? How about letting an actual (attempted) murderer remain at large after displaying clear signs of derangement?

To get us acquainted, this episode presents a moment early on when, apropos of nothing, a mule breaks through a stable wall into the street as Holden strolls by. The mule's owner strikes the animal viciously while trying to rein it in. Holden, appalled at this cruelty, immediately unleashes a fusillade of knuckle sandwiches followed by an impassioned speech to the dazed and prone animal abuser. This man is a knee-jerk, two-fisted moral enforcer! He is not shy when triggered by abuse of any kind, is strongly anti-murder, and also seems to be a rather staunch supporter of the second amendment. 

Holden is a fun character made delightful by McGavin's performance, but is perhaps more quirky than the late fifties audiences were up for given the show's relatively short run and middling ratings. To my eye, McGavin brings a singular kind of light ironic detachment to many of his roles. Here as the captain, he sometimes seems poised to break the fourth wall and address the audience directly in his exasperation with the chicanery of his various passengers. 

Holden's super-power -- he seems to round the corner with uncanny timing, forever interrupting plot-centric conversations or coming across unsavory scenes that incite his previously mentioned moral outrage.

Trey: Yeah, he's got an almost supernatural ability to also turn up just at the end of the dramatic scene. Of course, the whole episode shows a bit of the soap opera trope of "I was happening by and just couldn't help but hear the last of that.." to seamlessly transition to another scene.

In the rest of the cast we have Robert Vaughn as the titular Mowbray who will of course go on to play Napoleon Solo in the Man from U.N.C.L.E. series and a haunted and hunted killer in both The Magnificent Seven (1960) and Battle Beyond the Stars. His jilted ex, Cassie, is played by Madlyn Rhue who also played Khan's love interest in the Star Trek episode "Space Seed." Mowbray's wife, the heiress Jeanette Mowbray, is played by Vera Miles who was also in The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance--as well as being Miss Kansas 1948.

Jason: Vaughn delivers an ace performance here, somehow remaining sympathetic despite highly questionable behavior. Likewise with Rhue, Cassie also behaves terribly, but remains redeemable due to her charisma and talent for melodrama. 

Then there's Burt Reynolds, who plays the helmsman of the Enterprise. He doesn't have much to do in this episode, but when does get a moment of screen time keeps 85% of his charm tied behind his back. Maybe he's better in other episodes, the other one I've seen was after his departure from the show.  

My verdict: I'm finding these decades-old tv shows fascinating from a cultural standpoint and Jim's Star Trek theory added another layer of interest I probably wouldn't have otherwise. That said, this was an entertaining show, a well acted, well crafted, and well written piece of melodrama. 

Trey: I agree. It was exactly what I expected, but works, and I can see why it appealed to Jim.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: M Squad (1957)

M Squad

Debut: September 20, 1957
Starring:  Lee Marvin, Paul Newlan
Synopsis: The hard-boiled adventures of Lieutenant Frank Ballinger, a member of the Chicago Police Department's M Squad, an elite crime-busting unit.

Trey: M Squad ran from September 1957 to June 1960 on NBC. It starred Lee Marvin (in his debut as a lead) as the tough-as-nails Frank Ballinger. In the 2nd and 3rd season, it had a theme music composed by Count Basie. 

We found several episodes on YouTube and watched episode 37 in season 2 from June 12, 1959. It's called "Decoy in White" and has M Squad investigating the murder the owner of a chemical company ties in to a mob money laundering scheme. Bellinger has to protect a young woman who was an unwitting accomplice to the lethal ambush and who grabbed a double sawbuck from the scene that could expose the whole criminal enterprise.

An interesting note, The show's main sponsor was Pall Mall cigarettes who Marvin did promotional spots for. 

Jason: The past is a foreign country! Back to that Bassie theme, it really sets the tone for this debauched noir-adjacent world of men's men, smooth swindlers, stone cold killers, and platinum blondes. Notably, a young John Williams also contributed jazzy musical cues to M Squad over the course of its run.

Trey: Interesting! I think Marvin is great in this episode. He's already got the screen presence he;s going to take into his tough guy movie roles. And that "menacing purr" (as I read one reviewer described it) of his line delivery.

Jason: I totally agree. That trademark presence is fully developed and deployed to excellent effect. His speedily delivered, information-packed voiceover narration is a vital element of the condensed storytelling, but still manly as hell. 

Trey: Admittedly, there isn't a lot to it here. The story seems a bit simple maybe to those of us weaned on hour long dramas. But you know, I'm sort of sorry this format didn't hang around. It gets to the point and doesn't skimp on the action!

Jason: The plot is king here - we've only got 25 minutes to cram in all the beats required to get us to the climactic (and spectacular) beat-down. There is no time for character development or delving into the various characters' lives. The cast must deliver lines almost entirely devoted to advancing the plot, injecting whatever personality they can manage with scant moments of screentime. It's a bit jarring, but I have to agree that it works!

Trey: The platinum blonde, Judy Bamber, plays the young woman, Kitty Osborne. IMDB describes her as a "lovely, buxom, and shapely blonde bombshell" which is perhaps a bit repetitive, but I can't fault its accuracy! I recall her from Corman's A Bucket of Blood (1959).

Jason: Her performance here is almost as hard-boiled as Marvin's. A moment that raised at least one of my eyebrows: when Kitty produces her birth certificate for Bellinger's examination, fearful that he will declare her unfit to conduct her own life and ship her back to her parents for much-needed supervision. Or something!

Trey: Good thing she kept it handy!

Jason: Though produced in the late 1950s, the shadow of WWII hangs over this hyper-masculine entertainment. Bellinger (and presumably many of the tough guys of a certain age he encounters) is a veteran of the War, specifically the South Pacific Theater, where he learned about karate, which (as presented) was still regarded as novel and exotic. Bellinger calls it "the most vicious form of hand-to-hand combat known to man." 

Trey: Maybe I should take my daughter out of those after school classes?

Jason: Or up the frequency?

Trey: Is it just me or are TV fight scenes just better with a jazzy soundtrack?

Jason: You are not alone! And what a fight scene! Revolvers are emptied, karate chops land with devastating effect, both combatants are staggered, and only old-fashioned, straight ahead American body blows can bring down a convincingly powerful foe like character actor Mike Mazurki. 

For me this show was entertaining on multiple levels. I am left with an urge to find more, especially episodes featuring some of the impressive list of guest stars like DeForest Kelly, Burt Reynolds, and Leonard Nimoy.

Trey: It's well worth a few more action-packed half hours!

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: Raumpatrouille Orion (1966)

Raumpatrouille - Die phantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiffes Orion

Debut: September 17, 1966
Created by Rolf Honold, Hans Gottschalk a.k.a. W.G. Larsen
Starring:  Dietmar Schönherr, Eva Pflug, Wolfgang Völz, Claus Holm, Friedrich G. Beckhaus, Ursula Lillig, Charlotte Kerr, Franz Schafheitlin
Synopsis: Maverick Commander Cliff McLane and the crew of the space cruiser Orion patrol Earth's outposts and colonies in space, averting disasters and protecting them from danger.

Trey: Raumpatrouille – Die phantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiffes Orion (lit. "Space Patrol – The Fantastic Adventures of the Spaceship Orion"), also know as Raumpatrouille Orion, and Space Patrol Orion, was the first German science fiction television series. Its seven episodes were broadcast by ARD from September 19 to December 10, 1966. It's since developed a bit of cult following.

In it's unspecified future, Earth has been united under one government and flying saucer type cruisers patrol Earth colonial space. Orion is one of the fast of these ships. It's commanded by Cliff McLane who gets put on a punishment patrol duty and saddled with a hard-nosed security officer due to his tendency to buck his superiors. Nevertheless, McLane and his crew are depended on in times of crisis. 

We watched episode 5, "Der Kampf um die Sonne" ("The Battle for the Sun") where variations in the sun's energy output threaten the Earth's climate, so the Orion crew investigates and discovers a long forgotten, gynocritic colony is responsible. 

Jason: Still reeling from the sad mediocrity of Barbary Coast, I dutifully queued up episode 5 of Space Patrol Orion. My attention was immediately arrested by the urgent horns of the propulsive theme music. I enjoyed the jazzy musical cues throughout the episode, which supported and enhanced the somewhat pulpy tone. I say somewhat because it seems to straddle the often blurred lines between pulp SF and more serious Golden Age SF. Am I crazy, Trey?

Trey: I wouldn't say you are crazy. I think (and this is likely only the first of comparisons I will make to Star Trek) it is in some ways a "purer" descendant of Star Trek's influences (Voyage of the Space Beagle, Forbidden Planet) than Star Trek is.

Jason: Well yes, the show has been called The German Star Trek for its obvious similarities, but the distinctions are interesting. Where Star Trek is commonly noted for its optimistic take on the future of humanity, Orion's future society is decidedly darker: post-colonial only in that their colonies were beaten into submission after two disastrous "Space Wars," environmental catastrophe on Earth evidently couldn't be avoided, and the Space Patrol is controlled by a panel of trigger-happy generals inclined to listen when the Central Computer recommends an apocalyptic preemptive strike to prevent their unknown adversaries from doing the same thing: "Threats may make them push the button.. And we don't know what buttons they have."

Trey: While being very pulpy and naïve in science aspects (perhaps even more so that Trek!) and simplistic in its character drama (and again, its at least less compelling in this aspect than Trek), it has an hint of realistic politics to its setting that was beyond at least what Roddenberry wanted to see in Primetime American TV.

Jason: An issue with the plot, from that SF stand point you allude to, would indeed be the hand-wavey faux science driving the story along. It was (appropriately) glossed over speedily and without any long-winded jargon-filled explanations. Just swallow it and move on! Trek isn't without this flaw, either.

Trey: True enough, though it's a matter of degrees.

Jason: I found it's dialogue snappy and enjoyable throughout, even with the vagaries of subtitling and possible losses due to translation:

"Are you from Earth?"

"Where else?"

Trey: I would agree with the caveat that the delivery is perhaps not always compelling.

Jason: I don't know. The cast was also pretty great with solid performances all around, most notably to my mind was the portrayal of the matriarch (or at least one of the most important officials, it is a bit unclear) of Chroma by Margot Trooger, whose regal presence and gravitas make her totally believable as a planetary ruler. She gets plenty of juicy lines. 

Trey: She certainly deserves mention. In its specifics, hers is a role American TV of the period wouldn't have offered. Though I don't think that it avoids the cliches Star Trek or Lost in Space would have served heaping spoonfuls of entirely!

Jason: Yes, the scenes between McClane and She are a highlight, but they are marred by McClane's puzzling reaction to the matriarchal government of Chroma. He's got women bosses already that he seems to respect! The reaction was needed I guess as a stand-in for whatever outrage such a notion would have induced in West German audiences, but there is where it falls into typical genre TV tropes. I did like:

"You're a child of the Earth!"

" A child of bad parents must free herself to gain success."

Trey: That was a great riposte on her part!

Jason: Though made on a fraction of Star Trek's budget, I thought the costumes, sets, props, and special effects really worked for the era, aided by the black and white production. Effects were employed tastefully, for story telling purposes, and get the job done. 

Trey: The baggy uniforms on the Space Patrol don't work for me, but overall I think the design is pretty good, even the obvious budget constraints. So, your summation?

Jason: My verdict: My new favorite show! I will be watching all seven episodes. 

Trey: I'm perhaps not as big on it as you, but I think it's good. An American remake in the 70s with a higher budget could have been really great as long as they stuck to the same sort of worldbuilding.


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