Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: ep 14 "Up Above the World So High"

 "Up Above the World So High"
Airdate: December 20, 1974
Written by Shimon Wincelberg
Directed by John Meredyth Lucas
Synopsis: Virdon, Burke and Galen help an eccentric human inventor, Leuric, to build a hang glider, but things get more complicated when he is captured by the apes and a scheming chimpanzee scientist, Carsia, plans to use the completed glider in a coup against the Ape Council.

Trey: Here we are, the final episode!

Jason: It's all over but the cobbled together TV movie repeats to come.

Trey: This episode comes with a stronger science fiction pedigree than most. It was directed by John Meredyth Lucas who directed 3 episodes of Star Trek among other genre shows and wrote 4 episodes, and its script is by Shimon Wincelberg who wrote 7 episodes of Lost in Space, 2 episodes of Star Trek, 2 of Wild Wild West, and 1 of Logan's Run, among others.

Jason: Well, the pedigree is there, but is it SF? I'll say that there is some speculative content present, mostly by implication and of the "soft science" cultural variety. The ape society gains a new wrinkle or two of complexity. 

Trey: Yes, we see chimpanzee sedition! More on that in a moment, but first, this episode is a kind of humorous note to end the series on. Not that the show has been devoid of humor, but this one plays more toward humor than most--certainly more than the last two. 

Jason: The tongue seems to be slightly in cheek this time around, but only slightly. I think this episode stands as a solid example of what made the network execs pull the plug -- a show with seriously adult themes but written with an all-ages audience in mind, essentially at cross purposes with itself. 

Trey: Well, I'm not sure. I feel like somewhat humorous episodes are a classic TV staple, but I would agree it works against the typical themes of the franchise. It is quite possible fans don't tune in for "lighthearted romps" without strong messages.

Anyway, again the Renaissance nature of the late 20th Century astronaut is in evidence! At least this time the skill they are displaying is aviation related.

Jason: It was no stretch this time, and Virdon seems like the kind of guy to have subscribed to Hang Glider Magazine in the years prior to his ill-fated 1980 space mission. 

Trey: Back to chimp sedition, I'm trying not to think the show has a sexist view of ambitious women, but two out of three of the driven, career-minded female apes we've seen (and female chimpanzees are the only female apes we get in the series!) are kind of sociopaths! And 100% of the ones that seem to have political ambition are.

Jason: I don't want to do the math on all the male apes presented as sociopaths, but they appear plentiful. What we definitely don't have is a representative sample. Galen's mom was cool, but for the most part, female apes are invisible. We never see a single example of a female gorilla or orangutan, so far as I recall. That said, ape society is definitely a highly stratified retrograde patriarchy and this is the first episode to address intra-ape resentments and prejudices. 

Is Carsia the most openly and wildly evil of the many villainous apes we've seen in the series? 

Trey: Well, probably not, but the only other female chimpanzee related to the Ape Council (Wanda in "The Interrogation") is similarly callous and career-minded. Compare them to the more benign chimpanzee Prefects our heroes have run across. For all his credit-hogging the chimp doctor in the "The Cure" is less evil.

For all Carsia's scheming though, she gives up really easily. I mean, the crashed glider was right there in the water. She could have tried to salvage it. At least attempt to reverse engineer it. But nope, time to move on.

Jason: The ape mind is a curious thing -- mercurial even among dedicated apes of science. Is "Monkey see, monkey do" merely a horrible piece of specist hate speech or does it have a grain of truth? Don't make me bring up the "Problem of the Use of Nets!"
Virdon and Burke seem confident enough of such an outcome to slip off unconcerned about any further ramifications.

Trey: For the record, I've never made you bring up nets. Maybe Galen sussed out she had an utter inability to adapt? Otherwise it seems like they should be concerned about all the bombs she has!

Jason: Galen really had to work hard to ignore the many red flags she hoisted during their semi-intimate encounters. He was like putty in her hands right up until the moment he realized the majority of her luggage was composed of cluster bombs.

Trey: Anyway, it was an enjoyable episode enlivened by good performances from the guest cast, though perhaps slightly sillier than most, but only slightly. It might have been better earlier, though. One might have hoped for Urko playing a bigger role in a final episode!

Jason: Urko gets enough screen time to spew his typical "kill 'em all and let the ape gods sort 'em out" attitudes, so as a fan of his over-the-top villainy, I'm at least placated.

I liked the episode as well, despite some of the TV clunkiness one must expect from fare of this kind. The final shot of our heroes floating off to extremely temporary freedom almost feels like a kind of ending to the series.  

Trey: All right, well, I'll give you a week to collect your thoughts and mull it over, and we'll deliver our final thoughts on the series.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: ep 13 "The Liberator"

 "The Tyrant"
Airdate: December 6, 1974
Written by Howard Dimmsdale
Directed by Arnold Laven
Synopsis: Helping a human being pursued by apes, leads to Virdon, Burke, and Galen being captured by a fatalistic, religious human community that provides human slaves to work in the apes' mines. Virdon and Burke's survival is dependent on convincing their captors to rebel against the apes.

Jason: At last, I dared hope, in this penultimate episode we'd see some human beings with self-respect, rising up to reclaim their freedom from the oppressor ape! What I got was a lot weirder and darker than that. That darkness, or at least the themes most uncomfortably close to real world troubles of the time, likely prevented "The Liberator" from airing in most or all markets during the original run. 

Trey: Yes, it's interesting, at time it was seen perhaps as referencing the Vietnam war. Certainly, it has "peace above all" message. It's also perhaps naive in its anti-war message, but then that would be par for the course of TV in the era.

Jason: Still, there's a lot to love! The cynical use of religion as a means of control is in play. We see blind obedience to the law from both humans and apes - rule of law is great as long as the laws don't suck!

Also, Weapons of mass destruction fall into the hands of a Scooby-Doo villain!

Trey: I would disagree with that a bit. I think we see true believers with regard to religion. True, Brun true goals are not revealed to his flock in the village, so I guess in that sense its cynical, but he still thinks he's doing the same god's plan. As an aside, this is really the first time with see the humans actively aiding ape oppression, but it's all a means to an end for Brun and his ancestors.

 His execution of his revenge against the apes...well, yes, that's a bit half-baked, no argument.

Jason: Once again human beings make the case for the ape supremacists! Given the option, human leaders are inclined to press the big red button and destroy everything. There is hope of redemption at the end, unless the Meadow people have something else in mind. 

Also, more so than in previous episodes, these people are depicted as deeply credulous boneheads. Their dialogue was more stilted and simplistic than ever, especially poor Talia, who seems like she can barely string together 3 or 4 words at a time. 

Trey: Yeah, they are definitely heavily indoctrinated, more so than even the fisher folk in "Tomorrow's Tide." It is almost sort of a dramatization of "religion is the opiate of the masses."

Jason: I picked up some heavy Star Trek vibes this time out, with the astronauts unconstrained by any kind of Prime Directive. Sufficiently motivated, these Burke and Virdon will act decisively to dismantle your culture before excusing themselves and hitting the road, never to return!

Trey: There's definitely that! At first blush it seems more in service of the needs of the mass medium and serial programming that Burke and Virdon are unwilling to take this new weapon and lead a race war against their ape oppressors. On the other hand, I think it can be explained from a character perspective. These astronauts have discovered that warfare destroyed their civilization. They also have come from a time (being young adults in 1980) where they had seen a lot of rapid advancement in civil rights after a hard-fought but mostly nonviolent movement. It's plausible that they would feel violence isn't the answer. Well, apparently only large-scale violence with weapons of mass destruction, as they still encourage the villagers to resist. I don't think the plot arose from examination of their characters, but I do think you can explain it that way.

Jason: Well, I'm prepared to render my verdict: One of the better episodes, only disappointing in that it had the potential to be a great one. 

Trey: Agreed.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: ep 12 "The Cure"

 "The Tyrant"
Airdate: November 22, 1974
Written by Walter Black
Directed by Ralph Senensky
Synopsis: When a human village is quarantined due to a malaria outbreak, a disease ape science doesn't understand, Virdon and Burke race to concoct a cure and convince a skeptical ape doctor to use it. If they don't succeed, Urko will implement his own version of infection control by burning the village to the ground with everyone in it.

Jason: Well, this episode bummed me out. I don't think it was particularly bad, especially in the context of the series as a whole, but after what we both thought was a particularly good episode, "The Cure" seemed to me perhaps worse than it actually was.

Trey: I can see that. I found it merely middling. This episode was written by Edward Lasko who also wrote "The Trap." It's inferior to that episode, I think, but still shows good craft. Malaria creates a credible and genuine danger and it's a logical place for "knowledge of the past" to be legitimately helpful, but it continues the trend mostly of endings just being a bit too pat, and the apes too neatly separated into "good" and "bad." What these sorts of episodes remind me most of are Westerns of the era that want to acknowledge mistreatment of Indians while being very careful to put the blame only on a few bad actors.

But we got to our summations early! Let's get into the details.

Jason: I know, highly irregular, but I had to get that off my chest! Sondra Locke guest stars in this episode, looking her youngest and most innocent. I was hoping against hope her character would escape from the trauma and misery that would become her stock and trade in future collaborations with Clint Eastwood, but alas! 

Trey: Nope. Jilted here by an as-tro-naut after a bout with malaria.

Jason: How about that mosquito SFX?

Trey: Gilligan's Island level! But I guess we can't expect much more from 70s TV.

Jason: It's now established canon that Virdon can do anything. But did this one seem like more of a stretch than usual, or was brewing quinine part of standard ss-tro-naut training? I don't remember seeing this information in the Boy Scout Handbook.

Trey: I've got a theory for that. Obviously astronauts of the future--well, past for us--in this alternate history are given comprehensive training much like the elite scout protagonist, Adam Reith, of Jack Vance's "Planet of Adventure" series. 

But that theory aside, at the very least they could have kept the unexpected skills consistent. Previously, Virdon was the farmboy with animal handling skills and Burke had the medical knowledge.

Jason: I enjoyed getting a bit more of Zaius and the ape council this episode, weighing in on the fate of the unfortunate village. It will come as no surprise that Urko served up some of my favorite lines advocating for a scorched earth approach to the problem. 

Trey: Urko's the kind of leader you can believe in! In a political context one wonders why Zaius doesn't maneuver Urko out. Maybe he feels all the alternatives are worse?

Jason: Maybe! Or maybe it serves Zaius' purposes to let Urko squander his reputation by mishandling everything. I don't know if they have some kind of 'no confidence' provision in the Ape High Council, but it's time to invoke it!

So, in these post-pandemic times, did you find any entertaining parallels in this episode? 

Trey: I can't think of any direct parallels, but I liked the realism of the ape researcher viewing this crisis as an opportunity to increase his prestige. Also, in their only nod toward a systemic view of anti-human prejudice, he seems to bare the astronauts no personal animus, but he's going to turn them over to Zaius because "that's his duty" which really seems to be a cover for "because that's least like to get me in trouble."

Jason: Okay, maybe I dislike it less in retrospect, but I'll say the middling ones are less fun than the spectacularly bad ones (I'm looking straight at you, Stock Footage Shark). 

Trey: In the next episode religion again rears its head, and we finally see a human with a plan of resistance. We'll see how that turns out!

Jason: I've been waiting for this! Human dignity must triumph! Right? Right?

Friday, July 7, 2023

Bob Haney's Marvel Universe, A Comics Counterfactual

Back in 2021, Jim and I were imagining "what if somehow DC had managed to take over Marvel just as the Marvel Age was getting off the ground?" We came up with several ideas, but since several came down to "Bob Haney," I figured that was worth a post in and of itself. This was, of course, idle speculation more concerned with what would have been goal rather than any realistic historical speculation of what would or could have happened.

The Hulk
In this timeline, the "hero and villain in one man!" dynamic that Haney brought to Eclipso (first appearing in May of 1963) will instead get applied to Marvel's Jekyll and Hyde character, the Hulk. The Hulk would retain his more villainous "gray hulk" persona through the entirety of his short run, and Banner would be his antagonist. Just like in the real world, this series doesn't last long, so in Tales to Astonish in 1964, Haney and artist Ramona Fradon bring the camp and whimsy they would have brought to Metamorpho to the Hulk. Bruce Banner becomes stuck in Hulk form, but still tries to woo Betty Ross, while being under the thumb of her father who ostensibly has Banner on a short lease "for his own good," but doesn't hesitate to exploit his abilities.

The X-Men
"Dig this crazy teen scene!" The X-men had a rocky start, so Haney was given title, along with a new artist, Nick Cardy--the original Teen Titans team in our history. Haney made the X-Men "hip" teens and gave them new foes like the Mad Mod, and more than one motorcycle gang. The male X-Men often refer to Marvel Girl as "Marvel-chick" as a term of endearment.

The Haney/Cardy team kept the X-Men from going all reprints, though the title wouldn't really catch on until the arrival of the New X-Men, same as in the history we know.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: ep 11 "The Tyrant"

 "The Tyrant"
Airdate: November 22, 1974
Written by Walter Black
Directed by Ralph Senensky
Synopsis: To foil the plans of a tyrannical and corrupt gorilla leader, who is trying to overthrow the chimpanzee prefect and gain control over a human farming district, Galen, Virdon and Burke risk making common cause with Urko.

Trey: I would almost say this is the best episode we've seen so far. 

Jason: We are in full agreement--including the "almost" qualifier.

Trey: It may still be, but the ending winds up being a bit rushed, I think compared to the first half.

Jason: Agreed. The climactic scene (which is also the final scene, our heroes have no time for a denouement and skedaddle abruptly), comes perilously close to descending into farce, a stark contrast to all that preceded it. I thought the episode took the series back to a tone of seriousness, with nary a wink or a nod to be found, and for the most part succeeds.  

Trey: We have, as the guest heavy, Percy Rodriques (known from numerous classic tv shows, including Star Trek and Wild Wild West) as Aboro, a corrupt gorilla commander with ambition. An ambition that allows him to be entrapped into agreeing to kill his old "academy pal" Urko by the wily astronauts and Galen.

Jason: Rodriques stands as one of the few guest stars to not only give a very fine performance, elevating the material with his presence and gravitas, but also to wring the maximum expressiveness out of his gorilla makeup. 

Only McDowall surpasses him in this esoteric category, but Roddy's had a lot of practice.

Trey: I agree. He has a great knowing leer with the prosthetics.

Jason: McDowall rises to the occasion, here, and the script offers him more opportunity to flex his considerable chops. Galen has gone undercover on several previous occasions, but never like this! McDowall's impersonation of Octavio is a master class in visual characterization for makeup-clad ape actors. But the whole ensemble performs at the top of their game. 

Trey: This one has a lot of action--and serious action. Is this the first on-screen murder of a human by apes since the pilot?

Jason: I think you're right. They've definitely served up numerous head wounds and casual threats of death, but rarely delivered on-camera. I kept anticipating the prone farmer would prove to be merely wounded, but not this time. Fights were frantic, brutal, and shot well. Hand-held camera wildness worked well in these moments. 

Trey: Exactly! It could be my imagination but this one seems more cinematically shot than previous episodes. More interesting angles are chosen by the director.

Jason: Every element of this episode seemed to be of higher-than-average quality.

Trey: Also, this is definitely the first time we've seen apes make a bomb!

Jason: That bomb comes perilously close to becoming a prop in a Warner Brothers cartoon. It's still a fun gambit, but rushed, as you say.

Trey: It called to mine mine Adam West's Batman's frantic attempts to get rid of a cartoonish bomb in the 1966 movie. 

We should note that Urko apparently abhors corruption among his officers, but possibly cheated on exams and definitely cheats at horse racing.

Jason: We have a lot of contradictory evidence on the ape concept of integrity. It remains poorly understood! Urko himself is some kind of narcissistic maniac, holding others to standards he never intends to uphold himself. 

I wish we could have seen the promised-but-never-delivered chat between old school chums Urko and Aboro. 

Trey: For 70s mass audience TV consumption, the series really leans into compartmentalizing the ape oppression. So much of it is down to "bad apples." The errors are corrected and/or the villains punished, so humans in a given area are left in a somewhat more benign ape servitude, and Burke and Virdon travel on. Never is the broader issue addressed or revolution as a goal suggested.

Jason: One would hope that the producers might have introduced such elements down the road, had the series persisted. The episodes we've watched so far don't suggest a broad plan, or even a consistent series 'bible'. Episodes vary wildly in tone, approach, and casually contradict each other in matters of worldbuilding. I understand that sequential stories were off the table, with no guarantee of episode order being honored in syndication, but the show seems needlessly incoherent in some pretty basic areas. I've had fun coming to my own conclusions about say, ape psychology, based on evidence presented, but this is far from ideal! That said, I really liked this episode and it's return to  more serious drama. Sadly, it can only hint at what might have been. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Happy Independence Day!


Like any patriotic ape, we're out celebrating the historic day, documented in the Sacred Scrolls, where Aldo spoke a word which had been spoken to him time without number by humans and said, "No!"

A review of episode 10 of the TV series will be up later this week. Stay tuned!


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