Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: ep 10 "The Interrogation"

 "The Interrogation"
Airdate: November 15, 1974
Written by Richard Collins
Directed by Alf Kjellin
Synopsis: Burke is captured by Urko's soldiers and Zaius allows an ape scientist who has been studying ancient human brainwashing techniques to experiment on him. If she should fail, however, Urko plans to kill the astronaut. Galen and Virdon race against time to save their friend, but to do so requires the help of Galen's estranged parents.

Trey: This episode seems to me the most "1970s" of the episodes we've seen. I don't mean "1970s TV," but something that sort of plays to concerns of the time. "Brainwashing" in this case.

Jason: With cancelation looming, i almost wish they would gone in heavy with other prominent 70s tropes. Might as well throw in UFOs, Bigfoot, and "split personalities" at this point. 

Trey: A bigfoot episode would have been awesome.

Jason: What might have been! 

Trey: Regarding brainwashing, it's a rare strictly comedic moment for this show when Wanda has to explain to an incredulous Urko that brainwashing does not in fact require the removal of the brain from the skull.

Jason: Urko has been reading Gorilla of Fortune magazine instead of keeping up with scientific journals.  Call me an Urko fanboy if you must, but he's always a highlight. My favorite moment came when he intervened in Wanda's enhanced interrogation to gratuitously slap Burke around a bit. "I'm just trying to help!" 

I can't fault him for taking out some of his colossal frustration on one of the humans who has made a fool of him again and again!

The tone of this episode feels like it's skewed into open silliness. The last time I got this sense was when the stock footage shark menaced the spear fishing operation a few episodes back. Speaking of which, I noted the use of net technology in Burke's capture. They've got nets but must lack the imagination to employ them for anything other than human suppression. 

Trey: You are obsessed with those nets! Anyway, in another call back, We also get references to the lobotomy treatment given to Landon in the 1968 film. 

Jason: "Removal of the Front Bump," as the procedure is known amongst the apes. The crude diagram of the human brain they reference lets us know just how far along they are in their understanding. 

Trey: Zaius seems much more cavalier sharing ancient human knowledge in this episode. Before he basically felt like no one should see it, now he's okaying its experimental use.

Jason: It's as if they're all coming a bit unglued as the astronauts whittle away at their cherished beliefs. Urko keeps it real - lobotomize or destroy all as-tro-nauts!

Trey: It's interesting to meet Galen's parents, who must, despite their love, be so disappointed since he threw away a chance to be Zaius' right-hand ape to become a radical and fugitive. Since this is TV, though, they have to support him despite their disagreements.

Jason: The fact that Galen's dad is able to hold on to elected office with a fugitive son running around says something about the state of ape politics, but I don't know what. Galen's garden conversation with his dad was so mature and reasonable it makes a decent case for ape supremacy.

Trey: Could this be TV's first interspecies kiss? (Well, guess technically Star Trek has a bunch of them, but everyone involved looks human.)

Jason: I haven't checked, but Lassie or Rin Tin Tin might hold the record. Maybe that robot in Lost in Space got a friendly peck on his metal cheek? Anyhow, Wanda, our first truly diabolical female ape villain, seemed pretty swept up in the moment. 

This episode is perhaps the zaniest so far, with moments of wild slapstick as in the hospital fight scene (which was dangerously close to Three Stooges territory!), mind-bending torture sequences, and over-the-top villainy from Urko and Wanda. Bonus points awarded for dynamic violence and stunts: when the gorilla apprehends Burke using a double-fisted ape smash, Burke stays clobbered. Also, when Virdon and Galen both fling themselves gracefully through a small window to escape pursuit--a Batman moment...Well, I wasn't bored!

What's your verdict?

Trey: I liked this one. The best way I can describe it is "over the top"--and that's saying something in a show about a future world being run by talking apes! It veers from comedic to some of the grittiest peril we've gotten in the show, but it always keeps the presentation as "lurid."

Friday, June 23, 2023

More Northstars!

 Two new Northstars comics available on Amazon: Yule be Sorry and Little Adventures. Here's the announcement from the artist:

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: ep 9 "The Horse Race"

 "The Horse Race"
Airdate: November 8, 1974
Written by David P. Lewis & Brooker Bradshaw
Directed by Jack Starett
Synopsis: To save a condemned boy, Virdon agrees to ride Prefect Barlow's horse in a race against Urko's best horse. Urko has never lost a race, but of course, as our heroes discover, Urko doesn't play fair. 

Trey: You asked for it and you got it: John Hoyt is back as Prefect Barlow. And he's still an ape with very little concern for the value of human life. More than your average gorilla, true, but not much.

Jason: Did I? In any case, Hoyt delivers! His Barlow is a likeable jerk, willing to go pretty far into morally nebulous territory if it further his own ends. I feel like Hoyt's characterization hits just the right note - he knows deep down that humans are just as sentient as apes, but it serves his aims to continue to dominate them, so he kids himself. 

Trey: The blacksmith, Martin, here is played by craggy-faced character actor Morgan Woodward who is probably most iconically the mirrorshade-wearing symbol of oppression in Cool Hand Luke, but also is also in two episodes of Star Trek, mostly memorably as the antagonist in "The Omega Glory."

Jason: I remember him well and he gives a decent performance here. The script requires him to make a rather abrupt turn, but that's not Woodward's fault. 

Trey: Yes, he seems a bit too trusting in ape benevolence given he's a man that spent his life under their thumb, but I guess he's desperate to save his son.

This episode also shows a dishonest side of Urko we haven't seen before. It's not a break with his previous character necessarily, but it's a new facet.

Jason: Urko is a jackbooted authoritarian speciest, sure, but yeah, this episode seems to erode ape integrity at every turn. Urko gets in some great one-liners and death threats out of it. Mark Lenard's delivery of the line "I love racing!" is a classic moment of ape absurdity. 

Trey: I like this one. It's straight forward but moves along well and has a lot of good action. Urko is beginning to get a bit of a Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane vibe with them Astronaut boys always just one step ahead!

Jason: Burke and Virdon are the original Beau and Luke? I enjoyed it as well. Just as I finally begin to acclimate to this version of the eponymous Planet, we're starting to run out of episodes!

Trey: True, but we've still got a few to go. And the next one sees Burke renditioned and put through some harsh interrogation techniques!

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: Episodes That Never Were

This week, Jason and I are taking a break from our reviews to present to you our pitches for further episodes of this series: our speculation as to what might have been if it had gone into multiple seasons...

"No Place Like Home": Burke wakes up in a futuristic house he shares with a woman claiming to be his girlfriend --with no memory of how he got there. Could he really be home? The truth is, while he and his friends were exploring an ancient city, he fell into a model "home of the future" run by a still-functioning computer. A computer desperate for company!

"Urko's Struggle": After an attempt at capturing the astronauts goes awry, Urko is taken hostage. Suffering from a head injury, he goes in and out of consciousness, and we are treated to a series of flashbacks to pivotal points in his early life: an abusive father, limited economic opportunity, and the he-ape toxicity in gorilla culture. Urko's mutterings on these topics provokes Virdon to confront the Security Chief in a fiery, climactic speech: "Don't you see, Urko? Your hate is fueled by trauma after trauma! Inside you're just a scared little gorilla, lashing out at human beings in place of your own failure!" Urko seems moved-- perhaps changed, but it is a ruse, and he escapes, vowing eternal vengeance.

"The Legend": In a Halloween episode, Burke, Virdon, and Galen introduce the Headless Horseman to a rural district to help a young chimpanzee sympathetic to humans prove his courage and win back the post of Prefect.

"Into The Forbidden Zone": Burke, Virdon, and Galen meet a chimpanzee trader returning from an expedition into the forbidden southern regions, his wagon loaded with technological items harvested from a city of the ancients. Grateful for their knowledge the trader invites them to join him. En route, the group are stalked by a giant, mutant gila monster. Trapped in the ruins of a military base, they have no choice but to detonate the surviving munitions in a desperate bid to kill the creature, destroying all they hoped to gain in the process. 

"The Romantic": Burke and Galen are forced to play Cyrano for a lovelorn, young chimpanzee to get his help in freeing Virdon from the gorilla soldiers before Urko arrives.

"We The People": Inspired by the discovery of an ancient book on the founding of the nation, Burke becomes an obsessed evangelist. He seeds a human village with revolutionary dogmas quickly radicalized local humans. Virdon and Galen, fearing for Burke's mental health and terrible consequences, attempt to intervene, but it is too late, the villagers have captured a gorilla wagon full of arms. They escape with Burke after Urko exacts a brutal crackdown on the village in a bloody battle, and can do nothing more than watch as the forces now unleashed play out.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: ep 8 "The Deception"

 "The Deception"
Airdate: November 1, 1974
Written by Anthony Lawrence
Directed by Don McDougall
Synopsis: Galen, Virdon and Burke befriend a chimpanzee named Fauna, the blind daughter of an ape supposedly killed by humans. Unaware that Burke is human, Fauna falls in love with him, as Galen and Virdon hunt down the masked Dragoons, a band of anti-human vigilantes on a campaign of intimidation, only to discover that Fauna's uncle is one of them.

Trey: There is a lot I like about this episode but also some things that I am less fond of.

Jason: We start out in total agreement! 

Trey: The central story with the Dragoons and various factions of apes being shown is interesting. We've got pro-human apes, violent anti-human apes, and by-the-book apes who are quite prejudiced against humans, but also by the book. It's all very metaphorical for the U.S. and race relations of the era, or perhaps a decade before. 

Jason: Ham-fisted stuff, but its heart is in the right place. Does this kind of allegorical treatment of such serious subject matter stand the test of time? Was it even up to speed with its own times? 

Trey: I do like how it sort of mocks the Klan stand-in Dragoons when Galen infiltrates them, but portraying them kind of as wannabe apes of resolve, that are to a degree kind of cosplaying a militia. Not that it isn't serious enough for the humans getting harassed, but their main power isn't so much in their actions, but the fact that they have societal support and cover.

Jason: It's hard to tell just how intentional some of these elements were, but yes, those hateful apes come across as a ludicrous, if still lethal, force. My impression was that POTA apes, despite sincere efforts made, simply can't match human beings when it comes to cruelty. While an ape might not think twice about shooting of a human being for any reason, they treat each other better than humans do. As odious as human oppression is as depicted in the series, the conditions beat the treatment of apes in our world (especially at the time) by a country mile.

Tangentially, I couldn't help but think of the cast and extras - I hope they got to skip ape makeup on Dragoon shooting days. 

Trey: We can hope! Fauna's story is a bit of classic TV stock, but I think it's made a bit more interesting in this story of prejudice, because her disability suggests a degree o3f disenfranchisement that ought to make her a natural ally of humans, but in a refreshingly realistic turn, she isn't.

Jason: Fauna's vengeful anti-human bias rang true, as you say. The Little House on the Planet of the Apes vibes returned with a vengeance in this subplot. The fact that human voices are indistinguishable from those of apes sent me reeling for a moment until I regained my senses and remembered this is less science fiction than parable. 

Trey: A point you made while watching the episode: Virdon's fight with the soldier is one of the grittiest we've gotten. 

Jason: t was brutal! The stunt work in this show has been pretty solid. Like Burke's one-on-one match with Orko in episode 3, superior ape-strength comes into play, which I appreciate for no good reason. Virdon had to work hard and sustain plenty of damage to survive the encounter. Outside of anti-human hate crimes, this was the only action sequence this episode, and it was fun watching Virdon pursue and assault his quarry in full action hero mode for a change. 

Roddy McDowell delivers a fine bit of espionage himself, all accomplished with his wit and charm. His Galen impersonates an unenlightened supremacist a little too well!

Trey: To circle back to your question about its success as an allegory of serious social issues a bit, what I didn't like was that it resolves too easily as all the blame is on "a few bad apples." In fact, the bad apples repent their ways when it seems like they may be siding with a guy that hurt other apes.

Jason: Apes are just better people! When their folly is made plain, they repent, or at least change course. No defensive doubling down or retreat into denial! All that wishful thinking aside, as depicted, this reversal was both abrupt and artless!

Trey: But if apes are just better people, well, we're perhaps in the arena of vaguely utopian (!) science fiction, and not allegory?

Jason: Seems like we're dancing haphazardly around both camps. TV entertainment is the prime directive.

Trey: Also, given the general level of ape-human relations we've seen, I don't think apes acting like the Dragoons would need to hide their identities. Rather, it seems the army would do it.

Jason: Maybe it's just no fun to form a secret society of evil without all the ceremonial pomp and circumstance? Or maybe it was convenient to forget about all that to drive the point home with no ambiguity (or subtlety) whatsoever!
Trey: Still, these sort of criticisms are a given for classic TV really.

Jason: That's right. You tune in for an hour in the evening ..,

Trey: And it just washes over you?

Jason: Well, yes. For my part, I remain pleasantly surprised at the watchability of this show. At times ridiculous, at others genuinely effective, this episode (and the series thus far) is a mixed bag that manages to hold my interest.


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