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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