Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: Barbary Coast (1975)

Barbary Coast
Debut: May 4, 1975
Created by Douglas Heyes
Starring: William Shatner, Richard Kiel, Dave Turner, Doug McClure
Synopsis: 19th-century government agent and master of disguise Jeff Cable fights crime with the reluctant aide of San Francisco owner and gambler, Cash Conover. 

Trey: Barbary Coast is a 1975-1976 Western series that aired on ABC. It was William Shatner's first live action starring TV role since Star Trek and featured 70s B-movie staple, Doug McClure, as his sidekick.  The show is named for its primary setting, San Francisco's infamous red light district in the latter half of the 19th century.

The series didn't get a great reception and only lasted one season. We watched the final episode "The Dawson Marker," which aired January 8, 1976. In it, Cable (Shatner) is on the trail of gold stolen by Confederate raiders that's about to be claimed by the heirs of the original thieves, each of whom has a marker that together will unlock the secret location of the treasure. I suspect as typical with this show this involves some disguise, con artistry, and a modicum of fisticuffs, generally handled humorously.

I think the setting and set-up is a good one. It clearly takes some inspiration from The Wild Wild West but removes some of the 60s spy-fi eccentricity and settles the action in San Francisco full-time. The more humorous direction is borrowed from Maverick (certainly the gambling focus is), and maybe Alias Smith and Jones which also featured two leads.

Jason: The premise is one with potential. I could see a modern HBO remake with the debauchery turned up to 11 working. 

Trey: Shatner acquits himself well, doing a better job than audiences of the era might have expected with the humorous material.

Jason: Shatner, whose character appears in disguise as one of the would-be heirs throughout the episode, pulls it off with panache to spare, but it's not enough!

Trey: It is not. McClure is a bit flat, to me, and may be miscast.

Jason: McClure, who I know chiefly from his 70s Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations, seems more at home fighting animatronic plesiosaurs. 

Trey: The script for this episode is serviceable, but not great. Uninspired, might be the word. 

Jason: Serviceable is the right word. The plot works on paper! But, by the end of the episode I thought to myself "Well, so long Barbary Coast, you were a serviceable hour of lukewarm entertainment.

Trey: The guest stars seem unwilling or incapable of enlivening it. It was funny to see Spencer Milligan--Land of the Lost's Rick Marshall--as a bad guy.

Jason: It was, but only for a moment. I think we are in full agreement here. Sometimes you look back at the nearly forgotten past and uncover hidden gems like Mr. Lucky. Other times are like this. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: Gigantor (1964)

Debut: U.S. syndication 1964? 1966?
Created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama, Peter Fernandez
Starring (English dub): Billie Lou Watt, Ray Owens, Gilbert Mack, Sonia Owens
Synopsis: When terrorists, criminals, and aliens threaten, the virtually indestructible robot, Gigantor, is there to combat them, under the control (for some reason) of 12 year-old Jimmy Sparks.

Trey: According to Wikipedia, Gigantor is the English translation of a 1963 anime adaptation of Tetsujin 28-go, a 1956 manga by Mitsuteru Yokoyama. It debuted on US television in January 1966 in syndication (Interestingly, IMDB disagrees and says it debuted in 1964). A direct translation of its Japanese name would be “Iron Man No. 28” but since Marvel had recently come out with a character named Iron Man, No. 28 became Gigantor.

The series did not exactly receive glowing reviews. Again according to Wikipedia, It was playing at 7:00 p.m. on New York's WPIX-TV when a review in Variety called it a "loud, violent, tasteless and cheerless cartoon" which was "strictly in the...babysitter class." The reviewer at least noted that it was popular; "Ratings so far are reportedly good, but strictly pity the tikes and their misguided folks."

Like Speed Racer and other anime, the names and places were changed for the English dub and the violence was toned down.

We watched Seasons 2, episodes 1 & 2 on Freevee on Amazon Prime. The first concerns the wealthy baddie whose name I can’t recall funding the evil Dr. Envee’s work to create a duplicate Gigantor under their control. The second is about that same bad guy trying to get the nation of Keenymeanie to produce an army of budget Gigantors from the plans from last episode in their war with the nation of Snork.

Jason, how did you find Gigantor?

Jason: I watched the first episode early Saturday morning, hoping to coax myself into a mindset receptive to an early 60's animated series for small children. I stopped short of pouring myself a bowl of mid-century breakfast cereal, which may have been a mistake, as the sugar rush could have helped sustain my interest and attention. As it happened, any initial goodwill eroded rapidly!

I thought the first episode was aggressively dull, boiling down to a contest of remote-control skills in the battle of the twin Gigantors. Distinguished only by their paint jobs (not ideal for black and white television!), their conflict looked like a visual representation of the battle between the writers and their creative powers. Or perhaps between the original creators and the translators. In either case, there were no winners.

The second episode, "The Ten Thousand Gigantors," promised more of the same (ten thousand times more!), but to my surprise, was much more engaging. It seemed like much more effort went into every aspect of this production. The animation seemed livelier, character designs more consistent, and more of them. The war between Snork and the Keenymeanies actually seemed to have stakes! Your thoughts?

Trey: I agree regarding the dullness of the first episode. I think it's mostly the tension and excitement free chase that takes up about half its allotted time that does it in, though. I was actually amused by the battle between the two Gigantors as their potbellies made me think of two sumo wrestlers going at it, and one's with humorously stove-pipe arms and legs, at that. There's a Tick Tock of Oz quality to the Gigantor design that gives it a bit of charm.

The second episode was better, but the whole enterprise is brought down by the really limited animation and character designs. The designs just aren't stylized, they seem amateurish at times. Much more dynamic and interesting is the American series I had mused might have been inspired by this (and this article at CBR suggests it was): Frankenstein Jr

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Classic TV Flashback: Mr. Lucky (1959)

Mr. Lucky
Debut: October 24, 1959
Created by Blake Edwards
Starring:  John Vivyan, Ross Martin, Pippa Scott, and Tom Brown
Synopsis: Adventure, like guests, seem to come to Mr. Lucky. He's a professional gambler who runs a swank, floating casino, the Fortuna II, beyond the three-mile limit, with the help of his friend Andamo. 

Trey: Mr. Lucky is a 1959-1960 series that aired on CBS. It was cancelled after only one season, even though it did pretty well in the ratings, due to loss of its sponsor. It ran 34 half-hour episodes. Created by Blake Edwards, it was loosely based on the 1943 Cary Grant film of the same name written by Milton Holmes. It stars John Vivyan in the title role and Ross Martin as his sidekick. Martin will be known to followers of this blog as Artemus Gordon from Wild Wild West. Mr. Lucky also has a score by Henry Mancini. 

We were able to watch this on Freevee on Amazon Prime. It's also on Youtube.

Jason: Mr. Lucky, the titular character this two-fisted, pulp dramedy, has a singular super-power -- extraordinarily good luck, at least where matters of gambling are concerned. Outside of high stakes bets, his fortunes appear to fall into the not-so-hot range. 

The first two episodes, taken together, constitute an origin story, setting up the circumstances that would become the show's formula. 

Blake Edwards makes damn sure we know he's in charge, stating so emphatically in the credits sequences, and his sensibilities are all over these episodes. I'm not an admirer of his work, aside from favorable memories of his collaborations with Peter Sellers, but he shines here. 

Trey: This is sort of a continuation of his stylistic approach with Peter Gunn, I think, but with a bit more humor.

Jason: So, how badly has it aged? I'm inclined to think network standards and practices may have saved Mr. Lucky from Edwards' more objectionable mid-century proclivities. 

Trey: Well, there wouldn't be so much smoking on modern TV! Martin is playing a Latino role and isn't (so far as I know) Latino, but I don't think we see anything really offensive here.

Jason: The first episode, written by Edwards, hums along smoothly, delivering more plot and juicy one-liners in a half-hour format than many shows manage in an hour.

Trey: It really does, and it's a great introduction. Very quickly. it establishes the characters and the stakes in an interesting way. I like the setting and situation a lot: it's a Latin American "banana republic" where Mr. Lucky and Andamo have been navigating politics to get rich (and Andamo also working with the rebels!), but then everything goes out the window and they have to flee. It reminds me other such tales of ne'er-do well adventurers in volatile Central and South American countries. It's a classic setup.

Jason: Episode two continues this high standard, and is clever, intense when it needs to be, and genuinely funny. 

Trey: Yeah, I think it points in the direction of the later episodes of series: run-ins with criminal-types in the U.S.

Jason: Both episodes showcase fine performances from the leads and guest stars. 

Trey: Martin is great as always, but John Vyvan is unflappable in that mid-century, smooth, tough guy sort of way. Particularly, in the first episode. 

Jason: I was surprised by the speed, intensity, and fun in the Lucky vs. Mafia muscle fight sequence. Judo chops flew and the casual use of a garbage can lid shield only added to the exciting and convincingly gritty brawl.

Trey: I think Mancini's music adds to the fight sequence--ups the energy. So.. verdict?

Jason: verdict: my new favorite show!

Trey: It really is good. An auspicious beginning to this project.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Classic TV Flashback

Having finished with Planet of the Apes, Jason and I have decided it would be fun to do more watching and commentary but not settle ourselves into a single series. So much "classic" (as defined by age, if not quality) TV turns up on streaming on the less than premium channels, and we plan to swim those depths and see what they offer us.

So, next week, look for the first post in that feature as well discuss the 1959 single-season gem Mr. Lucky we found on Amazon's Freevee.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: The Wrap Up

Well, we've finished our watching of the first and only season of the Planet of the Apes TV show from 1974. I feel like if it had somehow made it into weekday evening or Saturday afternoon syndication in the early '80s, I would have appreciated it as a welcome bit of the fantastic amid episodes of Big Valley, Sanford & Son, or The Andy Griffith Show that would have been on in my home, but not generally of my choice. Its ape designs and makeup, really just carrying for the film designs, are impressive for the small screen, and it's got a fair amount of action.

However, as an adult, viewing it as a science fiction show and as a part of the ape franchise, I feel like it doesn't really succeed. While it does deal with the themes of prejudice and hatred that pervade the films, it does so in a very shallow way--an approach necessitated, perhaps, by the need to give everything episode a pat and fairly upbeat ending. You could have had those things, perhaps, and done something better by giving the astronauts a goal that would make their isolated battles against ape oppression more meaningful and provide direction that might have made the scripts more consistent. Even though they dangled potential threads, they never followed up on them. The astronauts keep moving as if they are looking for something, but the second half of the series gives no indication of what that might be.

Even as is, the approach could have worked better if perhaps the aimless wondering led to dramatic tension among the heroes. We are given a few half-hearted references to Burke and Virdon not being 100% on the same page regarding their goals, but it never becomes a source of dramatic conflict.

Or perhaps the easiest way to make it better would have been to up the fantastic content. That is what the Ape films first went to, and where the comics went, so there's precedent. Some writers who wrote for Star Trek showed up here, and I'm sure they could have gotten more.

Jason: I came to this series fresh, having only seen the original film in its entirety, but forewarned by its early cancellation and the few lukewarm-at-best reviews I had seen, adjusted my expectations to their lowest settings. With this measure in place, I was pleasantly surprised by the watchability of the series. Had I not been involved in this review series, I doubt that I would have made it through all fourteen episodes, but that has as much to do with my own dwindling consumption of episodic television in general as with the overall quality of this show.

I enjoyed many aspects of the production, especially the many fine performances of the cast and guest stars, who managed to wring out the maximum amount of drama possible from the mixed bags of scripts they were provided. The fever-dream allegory of a human oppression in a world of ape supremacy is golden and almost enough to sustain interest in and of itself. 

The tension between a dark, gritty dystopian setting and what the producers hoped would be a show attractive to both children and adults, proved to be a tall order from the various screenwriters who took a crack at the show. This, coupled with the static circumstances of the protagonists meant that the astronaut-led revolution I pined for throughout my viewing experience would never happen. Continuity was out the window after the first episode and you could count on our heroes hiding behind shrubbery at the beginning of most episodes, and fleeing from whatever took place at the end. 

So, ultimately, I must agree with your assessment. It could've been great, but it just wasn't in the cards.


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