Sunday, January 28, 2024

Classic TV Flashback: Star Cops (1987)

Star Cops
Debut: July 6, 1987
Created by: Chris Boucher
Starring:  David Calder, Erick Ray Evans, Trevor Cooper, Linda Newton, Jonathan Adams, Sayo Inaba
Synopsis: In 2027, British career cop Nathan Springer leads the International Space Police Force, nicknamed the "Star Cops," as they try to keep the "High Frontier" safe.

Trey: Star Cops was the creation of Chris Boucher, the writer of several episodes of Doctor Who and script editor for the entire run of Blakes 7.  It ran for only 9 episodes on BBC2, having never found an audience. Wikipedia opines it has since undergone a reappraisal and is praised for its fairly realistic approach to near future science fiction. We watched the first episode on YouTube.

Jason: It is fondly remembered by its fan base (it might be fair to say "cult following") as one of the rare TV shows to embrace hard science fiction, sacrificing the fantastic for scientific plausibility in its presentation of the near future. Very near, in fact, as the show is set in 2027. Other than failing to predict the dissolution of the USSR, how'd they do, Trey?

Trey: It's tough to say, in that, I feel it's not so much unrealistic as unconvincing. The technical details we are given that, in the abstract, seem accurate, but how it's realized in terms of set dressing and the like might as well be the fantasy of Dr. Who. Springs digital (AI?) assistant did seem well done though.

Jason: It certainly also embraces the mundane, sacrificing action and dynamic pacing for character exploration and the nuances of life in the near future. That said, by the end of the episode, we know a lot about Nathan Spring, the setting and the rest of the cast is introduced, he effectively solves two murder mysteries (one each on Earth and in orbit) while the climactic action sequence occurs entirely off camera.  

Trey: I think that's true. The script seems definitely interested in his character. I don't think it gives Calder enough support in turns of scenes or dialogue to really make a lot from that. His given the chance at some acerbic comments that seem very British.

Jason: Well, Boucher's script is notable, among other things, for its refusal to hold the viewer's hand. While the characters must spew exposition, it is often handled entertainingly, I thought. The Robert Altman-esque overlapping dialogue I found hard to parse, occasionally, but I appreciated the intent, which I take as an element of the relentless grounding in realism attempted here. 

Trey: Sometimes it seems the realism of a community theater production...

Jason: Like most BBC efforts of the era, the effects budget is minimal, and it shows. The unfortunate need to depict freefall so often hurts it. I did enjoy Spring's frequent episodes of space nausea, a realist touch used to humorous effect.

The miniatures and designs of space stations and shuttles are well done and ring true enough, especially for 1987, but it's all shot on videotape which just looks terrible, especially on big ol' 21st century TVs. It's a barrier to entry! 

Trey: Agreed on both counts. It desperately needed some cinematic lightning like Miami Vice. Speaking of which, did you notice the oversized suits on a couple of the Brit cops?

Jason: I did, and I'm tempted to contrast Star Cops with its relative contemporary (previously reviewed here) in other ways. With alarming frequency, SC zigs where the MV zags! Spring and Theroux are the Bizzaro World Crockett and Tubbs! MV is above all a visual spectacle and mood, while SC has sharp dialogue delivered by actors dangling from crotch-harnesses!

Trey: That says it all really.

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