Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: ep 7 "The Surgeon"

 "The Surgeon"
Airdate: October 25, 1974
Written by Barry Orringer
Directed by Arnold Laven
Synopsis: When Virdon is shot, his friends make a desperate game and contact Galen's old girlfriend, Kira, who is now a talented surgeon. So that she can operate, Galen and Burke must steal a forbidden book on human anatomy from the very home of Dr. Zaius.

Trey: Apparently, our fugitive heroes are relatively close to Ape City again, as they get to the hospital on its outskirts fairly quickly. It's odd that they never get far from their given the dangers it poses. Perhaps (though it's never mentioned) they want to stay close to the ruins of the biggest cities as they stand the best chance of finding more old tech there? Not much for them in the ruins of Bakersfield, I guess.

Jason: They've got the map right there on the wall, but distance measurements must be one of those black boxes impenetrable to ape minds. Objects are closer than they appear.  Another instance where the assumption must have been "no one will care about continuity - they are lucky to be getting apes at all."

Trey: This episode was originally intended to reunite McDowell with Kim Hunter who had played his character's wife, Zira, in the feature films. Hunter was not up for the makeup ordeal, apparently, so the role of Kira went to Jacqueline Scott.

Jason: Scott's performance was a highlight of the episode. To my surprise, the whole ensemble seemed to step up their games for this episode. Maybe the script was better than average?

Trey: I think so. We've also got David McNaughton as Dr. Stole. He's the brother to James McNaughton, the actor playing Burke.

Jason: Dr. "Stole Your Girlfriend," I think you mean! (Sorry, I can't leave the obvious stuff alone in these ape reports!) Anyway, another refreshingly, um, human performance this episode. 

Trey: Well, Stole seems pretty cool with this strange doctor Kira brings in. He's got questions sure, but he doesn't get in a contest of egos with him. That--or jealousy--would have been an easy angle for them to go in.

Jason: Stole knows what he's bringing to the game and his supremely secure ego isn't threatened by the likes of Galen! A frequently irritating trait, it's one I don't mind so much in my surgeon!

Trey: Well, I wouldn't advise having this ape as your surgeon for reasons the episode makes clear! This is yet another episode with the astronauts bringing knowledge the apes don't have.

Jason: It's now officially the most handy plot device in the series.

Trey: In this case, though, it's more reasonable as it's about human physiology. Burke gets some of the facts he asserts about blood groupings wrong, though, but hey, he's going off stuff he learned in college, probably.

Jason: Burke is suspiciously well-versed in (fictional) blood typing for a wise-cracking astronaut, but that's exactly the kind of broad-spectrum, renaissance-person training a candidate for interplanetary exploration should have.  

Trey: I like that the B plot regarding Arna, the shunned girl, ties backs into the theme of ignorance, but also directly to blood types. A little contrived perhaps, but it works.

Jason: The genuine performances sell it. The seemingly arbitrary nature of human (and ape) ignorance is certainly convenient for the screenwriters, but Arna's redemption was as close to moving as anyone can reasonably expect from POTA series.

Trey: It's become a pattern than Urko and sometimes Zaius just show up pretty much to remind us that their menace is out there!

Jason: And I'm glad they do! An episode without Urko's maniacal devotion to Ape Cultural Security and his hateful dialogue would be a shame. There's also that Urko is still having trouble pronouncing "as-tro-nauts!" I love that. 

Trey: I like that Kira and Stole, when given irrefutable evidence that some of their beliefs are wrong, accept it pretty quickly as primates of science.

Jason: As any Urko worth his jackboots can tell you, that's why you have to round up the brainy apes first if you want to keep that oppressive fascist regime operating smoothly. 

Trey: The theme of ignorance is carried through nicely with the trick played on Urko to afford our heroes an escape.

Jason: Indeed, yes! I know I keep carrying on about that map on Urko's wall, but I couldn't help notice the resemblance between the portentous skulls and X's on that map and the symbols on the door to the hospital's precisely named "Room of Death!"

Despite the protestations of my inner 12 year old, who would complain about the lack of ape action in the episode, I found this to be one of my favorites. Good performances, some interesting world building (appreciated even as it increasingly seems unlikely to skew towards a coherent vision), a foolproof hospital drama, and some very mature handling of ape romance, this one has a lot going for it. What's your verdict, Trey?

Trey: I agree with both adult you and your inner 12 year-old. Not much action, but good classc TV drama.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: ep 6 "Tomorrow's Tide"

 "Tomorrow's Tide"
Airdate: October 18, 1974
Written by Robert W. Lenski
Directed by Don MacDougall
Synopsis: Virdon and Burke rescue a man lashed to a raft from the ocean. When the man, Gahto, refuses to give them information but continues to insist he is dead, the astronauts investigate a nearby fishing village, where they are captured by soldiers. Hurton, the chimpanzee administrator, presses Virdon and Burke into service after they pass a test by swimming under flames. Galen tries to rescue while also trying to keep Gahto from drowning himself. Things get worse when Hurton's superior, Bandor, comes on an inspection tour, and only quick thinking and some novel fishing techniques can keep our heroes from being fishermen permanently.

Trey: We're out of the desert and down by the seaside. I'd like to think these human fisherfolk are the descendants of laid-back California surfers.

Jason: I'm grateful for the change of scenery! Those fisherfolk are certainly laid back and obedient, listlessly poking around with their wickedly barbed spears. Was there ever a time when those spears were employed against their ape overlords? These dudes are too laid back!

Trey: This is Lenski's second episode (his first was "The Good Seeds") and this has some of the same elements: the astronauts bringing some lost knowledge to the inhabitants of the future, an ape that warms to our protagonists a bit when they prove useful, and word-building regarding the culture and belief of this age. 

Jason: The "astronauts bringing knowledge" theme suggests that perhaps Lenski had thumbed through Chariots of the Gods as part of his no-doubt extensive research for this gig.

The holes in ape knowledge are slightly comical. Net technology was employed to great effect on Charlton Heston in the first film, but the imaginative leap to also use them for fish is beyond ape reckoning.  

Trey: Well, according to the timeline, the events of that film are several hundred years in the future, so maybe Burke and Virdon inadvertently led to Taylor's capture?

Jason: The irony!

Trey: Another big part of this episode: astronaut beefcake. They must have been trying to up their female viewership.

Jason: The beefcake is strong! The fact that it was unaccompanied by cheesecake is a little puzzling. The POTA films were not shy in this regard. The humans of the TV series, astronauts aside, have been a decidedly unsexy rabble! 

Trey: Yeah, and that's seems off-brand for 70s TV.

Jason: It serves to underscore the dystopian nature of this future!

Trey: Two interesting guest stars this episode: Roscoe Lee Browne who was the voice of Box in Logan's Run as Hurton, and perennial unctuous baddie, Jay Robinson as Bandor.

Jason: Roscoe Lee Browne and Jay Robinson both turn in fine performances. Too bad this is their only appearances in the series. And too bad the script criminally underuses their talents.

Trey: We should talk about the shark. The stock footage shark. 

Jason: Don't forget that handy dorsal fin prop! While no sharks were literally jumped in this episode, events and circumstances depicted do seem to veer wildly into the absurd.

Trey: I've been resisting the urge to make a "shark jump" joke, I'm glad you were less demure. Anyway, I'm not quite clear whether the apes believe in the "shark god" or simply the humans.

Jason: The apes use the inherent religiosity of human beings to enforce ape supremacy and cynically employ the tenets of this faith against each other! But do they believe? I can only speculate, but there seems to be at least a level of social courtesy regarding gods and spiritual practices, like sophisticated ancient Romans or Greeks. Galen doesn't seem inclined to challenge whatever beliefs are practiced in the regions the fugitives visit.

Trey: Overall, this one is interesting because of the way it expands the ape universe into new territory, but I think it's probably not as accomplished as "The Good Seeds" in the writing department (and that was already an episode with some silliness), and perhaps is let down more by the constraints of television.

Jason: "It's a madhouse! A MADHOUSE!" I thought as this episode unfolded. Packed with speculative scenarios, glistening Astronaut torsos, and underwater thrills, it could have been a standout episode (and maybe it will rank high in the final assessment, depending on how dire subsequent episodes turn out to be). As it stands, it will definitely rank as one of the most peculiar. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: ep5 "The Legacy"

 "The Legacy"
Airdate: October 11, 1974
Written by Robert Hamner
Directed by Bernard McEveety
Synopsis: In the ruins of Oakland, Burke and Virdon discover a holographic message from scientists from their own time, which might help them return to the past. First, though, they must escape Urko and a cunning trap set by Zaius, baited with a young scavenger and his mother.

Trey: This one was interesting mostly due to the fact a writer finally thinks to give us a hook to drive the plot of future episodes: there are apparently caches of ancient tech scattered about. Maybe these can help the astronauts return home? 

Jason: Return to your home, Astronauts, but only, repeat only, do so after we've squeezed the last drop of juice from this series! 

Trey: Or maybe, you know, they could use the info to help rebuild the world? Anyway, I shouldn't say a writer finally thinks of that. There was the metal disk with the information on it that was important in the first two episodes, but spoiler...that disk never gets mentioned again.

Jason: I shall delete that disk and the plot coupons it represented from my expectations. I do wonder how much of the script survived contact with the shooting schedule.

I'll mention the director here as well, as I was immediately impressed by a marked change in aesthetic in this episode. The cameras are on the move this episode, tracking, panning, dollying, zooming all over the place, or at least that was my impression. I felt a definite change in energy. Am I crazy? 

Trey: No, I think you're right. We shouldn't over sell it. It's still pretty standard TV stuff, but more dynamic than what we've seen before.

This episode has as a guest star a young Jackie Earle Haley as Kraik. I used to the think of as "the kid from the Bad News Bears" but now I guess he's "Rorschach from Watchmen."

Jason: He's one of those character actors from the era that was immediately recognizable but seems always relegated to supporting parts. I don't think I ever learned his name until Watchmen. He's great at projecting a sinister vibe, even as a young kid, and never really escaped this type casting, so far as I know. He was great in Spielberg's Lincoln, but again, sinister. As soon as I recognized him, I was tipped off to the treachery that would soon be afoot.

Trey: Indeed! I feel like his character is the first time we've got a real "collaborator" sort of human character. I mean, we've had humans loyal to apes before, but mostly because of their upbringing and the fact they had never considered things might be different. They tend to wise up as the story progresses. But young Kraik is a wheeler dealer looking out for number one--and willing to sell out other humans to get by.

Jason: That boy is pure evil! Haley's performance is good, right down to the hollow insincerity of his "redemptive" weeping at the end! 

While he isn't as smart as he thinks in the end, Zaius proves himself the more deadly adversary to the humans than Urko. His psy-op here giving Virdon a surrogate family so he'll but his guard down and start revealing things is way more sophisticated than anything the gorilla's ever attempted.

Of course, his shallow understanding of human psychology is his undoing. While the ready-made family is working on Virdon, Virdon is working on the family.

Jason: Hopefully Zaius will get the picture and stop underestimating his opponents. Virdon is only human but made of stuff stern enough to resist the charms of a single-mom Wilma Flintstone and her villainous boy.

The scenes featuring Virdon's irrepressible urge to offer fatherly council to this almost-feral kid help solidify his stated motivation - to get home to his family. He is not a particularly colorful man, but holy moly is he resourceful and decent. 

Perhaps weirdly, Virdon's surrogate wife blithely allows the "man from the past" to tell her son what she must regard as all manner of bullshit stories, and she has no concerns about spending time incarcerated with a guy suffering from grandiose delusions.

Trey: Look, dating options are limited for single mothers of teenage delinquent kids, even in the post-apocalypse!

A continuity note here: Virdon says he's "forgotten what a city looks like" so this episode must take place prior to "The Trap" where they visit the ruins of San Francisco. The only oddity there is that they sort of seem surprised in that episode that there's a city nearby, which if they had already knew they were in the Bay Area, why would they be? 

Jason: Yes, the Bay Area. I had almost forgotten what a matte painting looked like, but this episode managed to get in a juicy one of the ruins of future-Oakland.

Trey: In any case, it's an argument perhaps that the internal chronology of the episodes isn't airing order but perhaps production order. This episode was 4th and "The Trap" 5th.

Jason: This kind of stuff is particularly jarring after a couple of decades worth of continuity-minded TV. 

Trey: Speaking of relics of TV past--and it happens a lot in plots like this in shows: why don't they make any effort to hide the computer before racing off to the cache? I realize it wasn't the most important thing, but why make it easy for the apes to find? 

Jason: Things got pretty choppy towards the end of the episode. I got the feeling they shot too much, and it was a brutal edit to make the target length. "Is it 43 minutes yet? I don't care if it makes perfect sense!"

Trey: Once again, the concepts and tropes on display here are hardly unique, but we do get a bit of actually sci-fi at last, and it's a pretty effective episode dramatically. It's only marred by the fact that I'm fairly certain the interesting plot development here will go nowhere.

Jason: They were definitely on the right track with this one, for my tastes. The result was far from perfect, but dammit, it was fun. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: ep 4 "The Good Seeds"

 "The Good Seeds"
Airdate: October 4, 1974
Written by Robert W. Lenski
Directed by Don Wies
Synopsis: When Galen hurts his leg and can't travel, Virdon and Burke seek refuge on a farm so he can recover. The tenant farmer and his family are mistrustful of humans but agrees to let them stay so long as the humans' work. Most of the family warms to our heroes as their knowledge proves useful around the farm, Anto, the eldest son, resents the strangers, fearing they will hex his cow that is about to give birth, and ruin his change to start a farm of his own. When Virdon helps deliver not one but two bull calves, Anto is won over and names the calves after the astronauts.

Trey: This episode should be subtitled "or how astronauts from a technologically advanced society know way more about farming that mutli-generation ape farmers." 

Jason: It's my 2nd favorite episode of Little House on the Planet of the Apes, just behind the one with  guest star Johnny Cash! 

Trey: Don't give our readers false hope.

Jason: But yeah, it seems like Virdon has forgotten more about farming than these apes will ever know.

Trey: We're given a preview of this theme in the obligatory "heroes on the run" bit in the beginning: We're told apes don't know anything about the compass and can only tell direction at night by the stars. They can make firearms and snazzy uniforms, but not a compass.

Jason: Priorities! If you're going to run an ape-centric fascist society you're gonna need guns and jackboots. Advanced farming strategies can wait. 

Galen's first reaction when shown Virdon's hand-crafted compass is to ask "Is it witchcraft?"-- statement heavy with implications, none of which will be explored here. Give me ape witches, please!  

Trey: I think this may also be the first references to ape superstition/religion in the series! There is certainly much more talk of spirits here than in previous episodes.

Jason: Yes, and it's nice to be thrown a little world-building here and there in this otherwise standard pastoral tale. No details, but it makes my ears perk up when such hints are dropped about the setting. Speaking of which, we also get another glimpse of that wall map of North America, including additional X's and skulls, presumably to indicate areas still too irradiated for habitation, but we are given no clues. Give me Journey Into the Forbidden Zone on the Planet of the Apes! Okay, I'll stop making unreasonable demands now. 

Trey: Well, don't stop on my account! Anyway, the tenant farmer family is a mix of Old West and Medieval. Polar and his wife are like Western homesteaders. Remus could be the kid from Shane or similar. Anto on the other hand, acts like the superstitious villager from a time travel story.

Jason: The whole production skews toward the Western. I expect most of the actors and stuntmen portraying gorilla thugs on horseback were wearing cowboy hats and menacing Hoss and the boys at the Ponderosa not too long before. 

Trey: The scenic Fox Movie Ranch adds to that effect. So, the tenant farmers status adds another aspect to ape society we haven't before. IMDB says the script originally called for them to be gorillas. That would have been interesting, because we don't really get any "good" gorillas (or orangutans) in the series. On the other hand, having them be chimpanzees and disparage poor farmers breaks up the species caste system.

Jason: Low-status chimps..Or perhaps part of some back-to-nature movement?

Trey: Surely not chimp hippies! Though there is precedent with the anti-war protestors in Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

Amusing that these poor farmers even have a strong idea of what is "human work" vs. "ape work."

Jason: The social commentary in this episode, as progressive as mid-70s TV productions got, of course, is definitely in the forefront. Uncomfortably so at times! One not-so-hilarious remark from Burke in particular sticks out like a sore thumb.  

Trey: I know the one you mean! But I like that the writers are thinking of the implications of ape vegetarianism and their society. The fact that they believe humans are dangerous to cows or could never keep them because they would just eat them is funny.

Jason: I enjoyed this as well. One of the few reminders that this program is ostensibly science fiction instead of a fantastic parable. It's nice to see something speculative once in a while.

Trey: The best part of the episode for me, though, is Anto's human impression. I feel like that ape should give up farming and move to the big city and become a comic on the simian equivalent of Vaudeville.

Jason: Oh yeah? I say ape humor has advanced about as much as their farming techniques. Keep trying, apes!

Trey: This episode was lower on the action/adventure aspect but took more time with the characters and worldbuilding (in a way) than previous episodes. The story, I suppose, is as formulaic as what came before, just in different ways, but the script perhaps made better use of that formula.

Jason: Formulaic, to be sure, but I agree that this episode worked better than it had the right to. It was my favorite so far. Sci-Fi action it was not, but it gave us some fun insights into ape culture as it ticked off the boxes. What's next, I wonder?

Trey: Well, from "good seeds" to a bad seed--or at least a kid in need of a good father figure. He's played by Jackie Earle Haley!

Jason: Onward!

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Back to the Planet of Apes: ep 3 "The Trap"

 "The Trap"
Airdate: September 27, 1974
Written by Edward J Lasko
Directed by Arnold Laven
Synopsis: The gorillas pursue our heroes to the ruins of San Francisco. When they are buried underground in an ancient subway station during an earthquake, Burke and Urko are forced to work together. Above ground, Galen and Virdon try to figure out a way to help Burke, with the reluctant assistance of several gorilla soldiers.

Trey: This episode was written by Edward Lasko who wrote a lot of TV back in the day, including episodes of Six Million Dollar Man, Mannix, The Mod Squad, 4 episodes of Wild Wild West, and one bad episode of Star Trek, "And the Children Shall Lead." How does he do here?

Jason: Well, it ain't Shakespeare! This episode had some of the clunkiest dialogue yet in the series, perhaps due to sloppy editing and time pressures in the production schedule. 

Trey: We're only two episodes in!

Jason: Three! Anyway, I'm not familiar with much of Lasko's work, but I get the feeling the old pro blasted this one out in one sitting, turned it in, congratulated himself on another job done, cashed his check and never looked back. All that said, I must admit that fun and amusement could still be harvested for those sympathetic to the franchise or 70s TV in general. 

Trey: Our perpetually on the run protagonists hide out with the Millers, a family of humans refreshingly at least passively resistant to ape hegemony.

Jason: Urko and Galen both know the town in question has a reputation for harboring fugitives, which suggests some kind of human resistance or at least non-compliance. Unless Astronauts intrude from the past in even greater numbers than the apes would care to admit!

Trey: Some bits and pieces of old wiring from a nearby ruined city give Virdon the hope there might be some near functioning technology left there.

Jason: Wires mean hope to Virdon, but Burke remains, perhaps sensibly, totally unconvinced.

Trey: I get that Burke is supposed to be more of the pessimist/realist about the prospects of returning home but given that his buddy has a wife and family he wants to get home to, he seems kind of dismissive and flippant at times! Show some sensitivity, guy!
Jason: We all cope in our own way! At least Burke is willing to go along with Virdon's plans, because what the hell else are you going to do on the POTA? I suppose he could settle down and begin a new life in a human village, but the company seems pretty lackluster thus far. 

Trey: The ruined streets of San Francisco are obviously a city street set on a studio backlot, but they dress it up nicely post-apocalyptically.  It does seem awfully well preserved for a nuclear holocaust, though.

Jason: It looked surprisingly good, I thought, though as the episode wore on it was clear they shot a handful of streets and alleys from every conceivable angle. I felt a twinge of sympathy for the studio workers who had to clean up all the apocalyptic mess after shooting. 

Trey: The ancient subway station and train, on the other hand, needed a bit of work. It looks like the small tram for a studio tour.

Jason: I didn't think of that, but now that you mention it, yeah, last stop, tour over.

Trey: Pretty good action sequences this episode.

Jason: Urko brought some appreciable gorilla-strength to his struggles with Burke, tossing him around effortlessly, which was the first hint of a disparity that I've detected in the series. 

The epic mano a mano brawl between Urko and Burke was an especially fun flavor of cheese. Between flying kicks and Judo chops, Burke and Urko engage in a verbal struggle straight out of a Marvel comics fight scene! Burke attempting to pummel the denial out of Urko, whose mind was blown by a poster advertising a rather barbaric-looking zoo that featured a gorilla behind bars. 

Trey: That poster and all the posters in the subway station demonstrate that printing technology suffered in the future!

Jason: Again, here I empathized with the beleaguered art department temp that had to crank these out before lunch. They were indeed crappy. 

Trey: Irritable Urko is amusing. He's constantly "fed up with this shit!" He's like the lieutenant tired of the cops that don't play by the rules.

Jason: Mark Lenard's back pain may be the inspiration! Roddy McDowell's ape-gait looks more sustainable...

Trey: Zako, Urko's lieutenant, gets to shine a bit this episode. I wonder if we'll ever get a payoff on his discovery of the truth about the past?

Jason: It would be nice! Zako's climactic choice is a dramatic highlight of the episode, indicating that gorillas are more than jack-booted thugs and that perhaps Urko is just an exceptionally grumpy ass.

So, what's your verdict on this one?

Trey: Overall, this is at its base a pretty cliched basic plot: enemies have to work together. I think it comes together pretty satisfyingly, though, and I like the way Burke maneuvers Urko. This also increases the stakes for Urko. These humans are not just a threat, they're a threat to his worldview. You?

Jason: My bottom line: I'm still entertained. Onward to Episode 4!

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: ep2 "The Gladiators"

 "The Gladiators"
Airdate: September 20, 1974
Written by Art Wallace
Directed by Don McDougall
Synopsis: Burke and Virdon are faced with having to fight to the death when they are captured, and the Ape Prefect amuses himself by staging gladiator-style fights between the humans in his village.

Jason: In the opening of this episode, Urko briefly recaps the current situation to one of his soldiers, and we're shown a wall-sized painted map of the western USA which I enjoyed seeing. What horrors lie on the other side of the very clearly marked line of X's and series of skulls south of that? 

Trey: I liked that too, but I couldn't help but noticing the scale seemed rather fanciful.

Jason: Urko's orders to his minion: tell the prefects in all the nearby settlements to arrest all strangers on sight, taken alive unless they try to escape."And I expect them to try. Understood?"

What a villain! I think Mark Lenard is getting slightly more comfortable in his ape makeup.

From there we cut to the wilderness where the fugitive trio eat fruit from the future and debate their plans.

Trey: Our heroes show their heroic nature by intervening with a couple of random dudes fighting in the wilderness.

Jason: Virdon jumps right in, as if it was any of his business! Burke seems less enthusiastic at first, but before you know it he's right in there with the full menu of Astronaut Judo at his disposal. It's a no-holds-barred tag team match. 

Trey: They definitely deliver some moves worthy of James Kirk. Clearly that unorthodox fighting style was already being taught in the alternative 1980 they rocketed from.

Jason: In the frenzy of battle, I couldn't tell if stunt doubles were involved. 

Trey: The sparrers they interrupted are Tolar and Dalton played respectively by frequent 70s-80s TV heavy William Smith (I last saw him in the Buck Rogers episode "The Trebor") and a young Marc (Beastmaster) Singer.

Jason: Smith, mildly surprisingly for a man so obviously devoted to the development of his triceps, turns in a solid performance as Dalton's gladiator father. The role requires Tolar to be the living embodiment of toxic masculinity. He repeatedly beats the crap out of his son - a gladiator in training - the only way to ensure Dalton's grim future on the Planet of Apes!

Anyway. the melee is broken up by the arrival of an ape on horseback, forcing our heroes to flee. To their horror, the ape immediately finds the flight data disk Burke dropped during the fight. Burke's convinced that the information encoded on the disk might somehow provide a means to return to the past and will risk anything to retrieve it, despite the protests of Galen and Virdon. Plot device detected!

Trey: Yes, well, said device is in the hands of Prefect Barlow now. He's an interesting character to me. I suspect he read more positively in 1974 than in 2023. Clearly, he's meant to be "one of the good ones." He treats the humans rather benignly, and rather paternalistically. And in the end, he can change for the better!  But he's still an uncritical participant in the system of ape supremacy--and he forces or at the very least strongly encourages and facilitates death sports as a means of social control over the human population. Compared to Urko he's a good guy, but it's really only his means that vary, not his ends.

Jason: Death sports as a means of keeping human aggression at bay seem to be working for his village like a charm. He's slowly cracking the code on human nature, and it's not good news! His pronouncements to Galen on the subject are enjoyably bleak. 

Trey: I think part of his charm is his portrayal by John Hoyt. Hoyt's been in a lot of stuff, but I remember him most as "Bones" Boyce, the doctor and bartender on the Enterprise in the original Star Trek pilot, "The Cage." 

Jason: It is a charming performance. He gets most of the interesting lines, almost all of them dissing humans directly or damning with faint praise. 

Trey: It certainly for most the episode! So, my verdict on Episode 2: This is a very cliched episode from a classic genre tv standpoints. How many gladiatorial arenas have we seen? How many times have we heard killing isn't the answer? Still, the classics work, I guess.

Jason: They get the job done, at least.

Trey: Unlike Urko's minions! But what elevate this a bit, I think, is the need to deal with the fact that the world is the way it is because of human violence. In the face of that truth, Dalton's pacifist turn seems perhaps more necessary, and more believable.

Also, I liked the honesty of Virdon's reply when Barlow asks him if the ancient world was better. Also he can say, with a resigned expression on his face is: "it was different."

Jason: Differently horrible! I agree that they trotted out one seen-it-before situation after another, but hey, this time we're seeing it with apes. For all of its faults, I'm still enjoying the show. Maybe not so much as an immersive work of speculative fiction, but rather as an artifact of another time's mass media entertainment, far enough removed from today to provide many meta layers of interest. Hopefully enough to sustain me for twelve more episodes!

Trey: We'll just have to find out!

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

DC Comics in the 80s: July 1981 (part 2)

Over on my blog, I've been reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! In this installment, I looked at some of the comics at newsstands around April 23, 1981. 

Detective Comics #504: Conway and Newton present "The Joker's Rumpus Room Revenge." The Joker has escaped from prison and has gotten a number of deadly toys from a toymaker to set a trap for Batman. The Dark Knight predictably, overcomes the Joker's machinations. 

The backup is a Tales of Gotham City story by Kupperberg and Delbo/Giella where Gordon finds out the son of an old friend is actually a dirty cop. I like that this story goes against the mold, because a stern talking to by Gordon doesn't turn the kid around, instead he tries to run out on Gordon and dies of his own incompetence.

New Adventures of Superboy #19: Bates and Schaffenberger reveal that, before adopting Kal-El, the Kents took in a juvenile delinquent, Cory Renwald, and attempted to reformed him into a model citizen. They never knew if they succeeded, but years later, Renwald and 2 Soviet agents cross paths with Clark and Jonathan on a camping trip--and Renwald shoots them both with a poison dart. All is not as it seems, of course, as Cory is revealed to be a U.S. agent in deep cover pretending to work for the Russians. He switched out the darts so Jonathan was only sleeping. Superboy nabs the spies. The Kents find out they did right with the kid in the end. The Rozakis/Calnan Superbaby backup is Easter themed and features young Clark naively thwarting jewel thieves at a Easter egg hunt.

Sgt. Rock #354: Kanigher and Redondo give the first Sgt. Rock story I've read with a hint of the supernatural. Something is stalking both U.S. and German troops as both sides try to get to a noble in an isolated castle. Was he a werewolf? We never find out. The next story is a grotty, post-apocalyptic yarn by Tim Truman where the last human is killed by a mutant sniper leaving the earth to the robot soldiers and the mutants. 

There's an uncredited short about the introduction of the flamethrower, then Kanigher and Mandrake serve up a short about the merciless tick of the watch and death in the trenches of World War I. In another uncredited story, a G.I. in Vietnam loses his life and his Stones tape to the VC as he writes a letter to his mother. The "Men of Easy" feature has Tag-A-Long Thomas learning the value of sticking close to Rock.

Super Friends #46: The team the Justice League up with the Global Guardians to free villains captured by the mysterious Conqueror continues. When that's done they confront the Conqueror himself and defeat him with the help of Dr. Mist.

The Seraph backup by Oksner has the Israeli hero taking on the ghost of a Roman soldier at the site of Masada.

Superman Family #208: Harris gives the title a shake-up by having Linda quit the New Athens Experimental School after getting insulted by her boss and head of to New York City to become a soap opera actress. Supergirl precedes her to New York to establish her presence so as not to have them both arriving at the same time. She foils an Middle Eastern coded terrorist. Bridwell and Schaffenberger have Clark and Lois on a plane to Europe that gets hijacked to Zrfff by the Mr. Mxyztplk of Earth-Two. The imp lets it slip he can't stand anything that reminds him of Superman, so Supes causes images of himself to appear everywhere and drive Mxyztplk crazy until he sends everyone home.

In the Private Life of Clark Kent story, we find out Edge is a big fan of a 50s sci-fi show and was a collector of memorabilia as a kid (and also that he anglicized his name and is probably Jewish). Edge tries to by a branded clock he never got in his childhood, but an old childhood friend (and rival) tries to steal it. In a another somewhat humorous Lois Lane story by Conway and Oksner, Lois stumbles upon what she thinks is "another Abscam" but it turns out to be an FBI sting against some Middle Eastern types, that Lois almost spoils. Conway and Tuska have Jimmy stumbling unto an actual story when he tries to impress Edge's niece and her college friends after she denigrates his skills as a reporter.

Unexpected #211: Barr and von Eedon/Breeding start a new Johnny Peril storyline where Johnny returns to his office and finds a mysterious woman going through his mail, who pretty much disappears before his eyes. He's hired to guard a necklace called The Angel's Smile--and he sees a painting of a 19th century actress that's the spitting image of the woman he saw earlier. That night thieves with a knockout gas try to steal the necklace, but Johnny is ready. What he isn't ready for his the reappearance of the woman, who steals the necklace and his gun, shoots the guy who hired him, then disappears.

The other stories this issue are less interesting. Wessler and Sparling/Colletta have a Southern fried crime boss failing to keep a promise to Death to not kill anyone. Drake and Mortimer/DeMulder have a son run afoul of a real stickler of a funeral home owner who refuses to bury the man's parents side by side because his mother committed suicide, so the father rises from the grave to get revenge. Finally, Kashdan and Nicholas/Colletta give us the well worn trope of a spaceship crew being used as lab rats by advanced aliens.

Green Lantern #142: Wolfman's and Staton's Omega Men introduction continues. Jordan and Ferris are captured by the Omega Men, which gives Kalista time to provide the secret origin of the Omega Men. Their escape from the Citadel was secured by the sacrifice of Lambien, a god-like energy being. They made it to Earth with the Citadel on their heels. Jordan convinces them to let him help, just as the Citadel attacks.

In the Adam Strange backup by Sutton and Rodriquez, Strange escapes his ice cage in the city of Kryys and saves Alanna. When he once again refuses to unite with Alva Xar, the dictator from the past turns Alanna into crystal and shatters her, then sends and enraged Strange back to Earth with an Anti-Zeta-Beam. It's a shame these backups have never been collected, so as I know.

Warlord #47:  Read more about it here. The OMAC backup has our hero saving the city of Marseille from a runaway giant protozoa. I'm not even completely sure why that's happening to be honest, and I think this arc his finished, so I have no desire to refresh myself on earlier installments.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Back to The Planet of the Apes: ep1 "Escape from Tomorrow"

 "Escape from Tomorrow"
Airdate: September 13, 1974
Written by Art Wallace
Directed by Don Weis
Synopsis: Two astronauts survive a crash-landing on a planet where intelligent apes rule over humans. They find that their very existence challenges the ape orthodoxy and puts their lives in danger. 

Jason: So, I read the original pilot script was by Rod Serling. Was it deemed too dark and challenging for TV? Was his treatment anathema for those hopeful of product tie-ins, like toy lines and lunchboxes?

Trey: They did bring in Ruby and Spears, so your theory may have some merit. But to first episode we got: First off, I really like the opening credits sequence, particularly the theme music composed by Lalo Schifrin.

Jason: I enjoyed the theme music especially.  The creepy, disruptive violins in the first seconds set a tone of horror and confusion entirely appropriate to the franchise. It's no Mission Impossible theme (one of Schifrin's greatest hits) but it evokes mood and braces the viewer for surreal weirdness to come. Can this episode live up to its opening montage?

Trey: It would be hard! And so, here's character actor Royal Dano looking like an aging hippie. He's perhaps best known as the voice of animatronic Lincoln in the "Hall of Presidents" at DisneyWorld. Dano, his voice, and style of dress and the terrain really give this a Western vibe--much more than the original films had.

Jason: Dano looks like an aging hippie living in an ancient fallout shelter who still finds time in his off-camera moments to maintain a meticulously close shave throughout his appearances. Hygiene practices on the POTA will be on my mind from this point forward! 

Trey: That sounds like a threat!

Jason: We'll see. The Western vibe you mentioned, and the relentless earth tones keep things grounded, maybe too grounded! At least they had a nice full size prop of the crashed spaceship to remind us of the far-future setting. 

Trey: Same one from Beneath the Planet of the Apes, I think. It looks a bit small for an interstellar craft here, but we'll chalk that up to advanced technology. 

We get a nice establishing shot of the ape city and find that Central City (in what was apparently once California) has a Dr. Zaius just like Ape City on the East Coast of the first film. Maybe it's just a common name?

Jason: Possibly! Certainly not just to keep things simple for the presumed audience...

Trey: I guess that might also be the reason for casting Roddy McDowell. He was in all the ape films, and he's here as a new character, Galen.

Jason: He turns in a fine performance, as expected. I also thought the astronaut leads, who I will refrain from calling Starsky and Hutch, handled their roles creditably. 

Trey: Ha! I thought about the Starksy and Hutch resemblance as well. Same types. But you know, this show predates Starsky & Hutch!

Jason: So Starsky and Hutch are really Virdon and Burke types.

Trey: Sounds like the name of a law firm. But anyway, let's talk about our antagonist. The astronauts' Javert, General Urko. He's played by Mark "Sarek" Lenard. Apparently, the character's name was originally going to be "Ursus" like the similarly garbed military leader in BtPotA, but it has changed to "Urso" by the time of Lenard's audition. Lenard had trouble saying the name through the makeup so it became "Urko."

Jason: It feels like his portrayal here is still a work in progress. Urko's staccato speech is only rarely less than a commanding shout, but I have faith in Lenard's professionalism to bring some subtlety to the role as the series wears on.   

Trey: We are told "more than 10 years ago, another such ship landed." Interesting that astronauts keep landing in the future. 

Jason: A disturbing trend, for sure! 

Trey: I don't know how ANSA keeps their funding, losing so many astronauts. Surely there were Congressional hearings.

Also, time for a series continuity nitpick: The image in the book of a city (New York, maybe) is "2503" violates the timeline of the series as established in the films where a nuclear war destroyed it in the early 21st century.

Jason: Viewers like me, many of whom have only seen the first movie in a pre-VCR age, can't have been overly concerned with ape continuity. 

Trey: I'm glad we live in a more enlightened age! Anyway, there's a lot more business that goes on, but my verdict on this episode...

Jason: Yes, let's have it!

Trey: My verdict: It's hard to put oneself in the mindset of seeing this on TV in 1974, but from my 2023 vantage, it's a middling start, at best. The characters (both protagonists and antagonists) get well introduced, and Galen's journey to rebel is credible, but there's just too much classic TV capture, sneak, run. It feels like a few "mini-episodes" jammed together. Still, good cast and production design.

Jason: I think I liked it more than you. I enjoyed the episode, and thought it was successful in resetting the scenario of the first film for a fresh start...but yeah, it's 70's TV. My expectations were set so low, they would have had to work hard to undershoot them. I had fun! Were I not constrained by the format of this blog series, I would have binged on--at least for another episode. 

Trey: That's the right attitude! Like Burke and Virdon, we've got to keep searching just over the next horizon!

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes

When Jim and I finished our rewatch of the Wild, Wild West, we discussed doing a rewatch of another series and possibly bringing on another commentor. We never got around to doing that, but I've decided to move ahead with Jim's suggestion, The Planet of the Apes, and adding the other commentor we had discussed, Jason Sholtis, rpg-writer and one of the four cohosts of our Bronze Age Book Club podcast.

After the success of the first three Apes films on TV, CBS greenlit a series. It was to be developed by writers Art Wallace and Anthony Wilson, but they were aided by story consultants Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, who I'm sure you've heard of.

The writers opted for a move away from the pessimism and social commentary of the films in favor of action and drama, with harried heroes and a problem of the week like The Fugitive or the later Incredible Hulk series. 

CBS ordered 14 episodes of Planet of the Apes to be produced. The series was filmed for the most part on location at the 20th Century Fox Movie Ranch (what is now Malibu Creek State Park) where the original film had been shot as well as the M*A*S*H TV show, with a budget of about $250,000 for each episode.

The series aired in the U.S. from September 13 to December 20, 1974. It was canceled after half a season due to poor ratings, at least in part attributable to it being placed up against NBC's Sanford and Son and Chico and the Man

In 1980, ten episodes of the series were edited into five made-for-television movies for syndication. I saw some of these a few years later when they were aired on WGN. They would periodically have an "Ape Week" and air some of the films and some of these tv movies.

Trey: Jason, when did you first encounter the series?

Jason: I was a very young kid when the show aired, so I think it's most likely I saw one of the 1980 TV movies during my early adolescence. I think! It's a hazy memory.

I do recall that my impression of it at the time was far from favorable, possibly because it was on the local monster movie show in lieu of Godzilla vs. King Kong (the media ape of my preference) or some other, more spectacular, SciFi classic. 

Trey: That's a disappointment I can understand! Well, what insights do you hope to glean from this watching?

Jason: I'm going into this with an open mind, my interest in the series piqued by a recent viewing of a documentary called Making Apes, an appreciation of the special makeup artists who created the practical effects for the films and TV show, which I found unexpectedly fascinating. I'm curious as to what degree the dark, apocalyptic tone of the films was altered to suit television audiences of the 1970s. Will it be a kid's show about the end of the world?

What about you, Trey? I gather this isn't your first viewing of the series. Anything you will be looking out for on a re-watch?

Trey: I haven't seen the entire series ever, I don't think. Though I do own it on DVD, so I have no excuse. I'm sort of interested in how they develop this world. What will the films tell us about ape and human society that might add to or be different from the films? Also, how "classic TV" formulaic is it going to be? It was interesting with WWW picking out the episode "types" we had seen in numerous action/adventure shows of the era.

And so, we're off the episode one!

Jason: Tune in next week.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

DC Comics in the 80s: July 1981

Over on my blog, I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! I figured it might appeal to Jim's audience as well.  In this installment, I looked at some of the comics at newsstands on the week of April 9, 1981. 

Batman #337: Conway/Thomas and Garcia-Lopez/Mitchell present a new version of that classic tale: A scientist exploring the Himalayans is rescued by a gallant, if hirsute Yeti. Himalayan nights are cold, well, nine months, later, a sort of abominable snowman is born. That's really the villain's origin in this issue. He's is a thief with ice and cold powers, stealing to support his need to travel to really cold climes much of the year to support his weird biology. Did I say Conway was better on Batman? Perhaps I spoke too soon! I will say this story reads better than it thumbnails due to the great art by Garcia-Lopez. 

The backup is a Robin solo story where he visits the clown he last saw in the DC Comics Presents story a few months back (continuity!). Deadman's brother Cleveland Brand also works here (more continuity!). Anyway, Robin gets a job in the circus, and it appears his clown friend has committed a murder.

DC Comics Presents #35: Pasko and Swan deliver the unlikely team-up of Superman and Man-Bat. This one sort of follows up the Brave and Bold story from months back, as Man-Bat is still looking for a cure for his daughter's insomnia. He goes to STAR Labs and stumbles upon a theft of sonic wave device by Atomic Skull and his Skull cronies. Superman's powers get hobbled for much of this issue to give Man-Bat more to do. It turns out Atomic Skull wants to make his love interest permanently human because she's an evolved panther! Anyway, Man-Bat's daughter gets the sonic therapy she needs.

The backup by Teffenbacher and Kane is a charming "Whatever Happened to.." staring Rex the Wonder Dog. Rex teams up with his biggest fan, Detective Chimp, and the two beat some bad guys and accidentally discover the fountain of youth in Florida, so they get stay eternally young.

Flash #290: This picks up from last issue, with the Flash in possession of Shade's cane (which is hiding Shade) and on the case of the weird color leaching effect occurring in Central City. His "dad," meanwhile is still acting creepy and thinking ominously about Flash's death. The Rainbow Raider executes his plan before Flash can stop him, and now is able to shoot color beams from his eyes with various powers, but the with the Shade as his temporary ally, Flash prevails. At the end of the issue, we see a guy wrapped in bandages like a mummy in a hospital who the captions tell us is named "Barry Allen."

The Firestorm backup has Firestorm taking the time to interact with the little guy. In this case, some two-bit criminals that wind up stealing some toxic waste accidentally. The strong placement of this story in New York City through various details seems like Conway was trying to emphasize the realness of this locale versus DC's fictional cities.

Ghosts #102: Gill and DeZuniga present the story of a serial wife murder whose former victims' ghosts get their revenge by causing him to be burned alive in the crematorium with his last victim. O'Flynn and Estrada present ghostly revenge by sports car, as a father-in-law brings a reckoning to his murderous son-in-law. 

The Dr. 13 story by Kupperberg and Bender/Rodriquez has Thirteen's team (which now includes Mad Dog from last issue) busting a ghost in Chicago's Stillman Museum of art. The ghost isn't a ghost of course, but a thief using a fancy alarm to cause pain through high frequency sound.

G.I. Combat #231: Kanigher's first Haunted Tank story here is mildly amusing, which is something I guess. The Tank is supposed to secure a cache of Nazi loot to fund the Maquis so they will take out a Luftwaffe radar tower that endangers an allied attack, but a fight with a German tank ensures most of the money goes up in flames. Stuart manages to save a $10,000 bill, which they proceed to use to try to pay various French townsfolk they encounter. None of them can change it, so Stuart gives them an IOU assuring them the U.S. government is worth it, which none of the townsfolk believe. In the end, the radar tower goes down, and the crew has to burn that 10K bill to warm out their sluggish oil and get the tank moving again. The second story has the crew doing a Trojan Horse gambit when their tank is "salvaged" by some bandits in North Africa. 

The other stories include the typical gritty O.S.S. tale with a brainwashed agent sent to kill Control--only he isn't as brainwashed as he appears. Then there's a story set in Malaysia in WW2 by Newman and Henson where a native charm helps a British agent complete a mission. What stands out about this story to me is how its point should have been that the agent never would have gotten anywhere without the aid of various native peoples he comes across. The last story by Haney and Landgraf/Simmons is about a young soldier who goes soft on a captured German and doesn't execute him, only to have the guy come back with a squad and try to kill him and his friends. A luger he stashed away saves the day.

Jonah Hex #50: Fleisher and Ayers/DeZuniga set this one October (because Jonah's birthday on November 1st) is a plot point, as Jonah plans to go out on a hunting expedition to get his growing family meat for the winter. Things don't go as easy as he planned. He accidentally rescues a young woman who has been captive of an Indian tribe (and who is dressed slightly better than some sort of "sexy Native American costume" but not enough better.) and has to fight a bear while taking her to safety. All that done, he makes it home with bear steaks to celebrate his birthday with his wife.

Friday, January 13, 2023

My Friend Jim

Jim Shelley, the founder and primary writer of this blog, died last Sunday, January 8th. He was a little over a month shy of his 59th birthday. 

He had been battling colon cancer for 8 years. It was enough time for him to publish two Northstars graphic novels he co-wrote with his daughter, to teach that daughter how to drive, and see her get her license. Time enough to play in D&D campaign and assist his wife in publishing a D&D adventure. Time enough to co-host 15 episodes of a Bronze Age comics podcast. Time enough to watch most of the episodes in the 4 seasons of Wild Wild West and blog about it.

Time enough for those things and more. More time than Jim expected to have, really.

But not nearly enough time. Not for his friends and family.

Anyone who has been a follower of this blog knows that Jim was a creative person. What's perhaps less apparent is that Jim had a real fondness for fostering creativity in others. On Facebook, comics writer Chad Bowers noted that he probably wouldn't have had a comics career if Jim hadn't pushed him to take a story to publishers. I know I wouldn't have been blogging for 13 years or have authored 5 rpg books without Jim's encouragement and help. Jim was a creator, sure, but he also just liked to see things get created. 

There were other projects he and I started together that we never got to finish. In the end, there wasn't enough time.

Jim hadn't been blogging much for a while. Some of that was him losing interest in the original concept of the blog, and the rest was his illness. A few weeks before his death, we talked about this blog. I told him I would write a post after he was gone, which he whole-heartedly approved of. I also told him I would try to keep it alive in some way, at least to the extent it had been in recent years. He was happy with that, too.

Back in 2008, Jim wrote a memorial to his older sister Carter who had recently passed. I'm going to echo his closing in that post here: These past few days, I have had a lot of time to think about what having Jim as a friend meant to me and to see others say what he meant to them. A short post can't really express it. But I thought I'd let you know what a great person Jim was.

Thank you.


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