Thursday, March 28, 2024

Classic TV Flashback: Movin' On (1974)

Movin' On
Debut: May 8, 1974
Created by: Philip D'Antoni and Barry J. Weitz
Starring: Claude Akins, Frank Converse
Synopsis: A crusty, veteran trucker teams up with a younger, college-educated co-driver to haul cargo across the country and get into adventures.

Trey: This concept debuted as a made for TV movie In Tandem that aired on NBC in 1974. It was in the style of shows like Route 66 that featured the main characters traveling around and getting involved in the drama of the lives of people they met, and road the growing wave of trucker interest and mystique. Despite a theme long by Merle Haggard and reportedly being President Ford's favorite TV series, Movin' On last only two seasons.

We watched the first episode of the regular series, "The Time of His Life," in which Will and Sonny stop to help a young truck driver (played by Michael Pollard) after he almost runs them off of the road. When they find that he is terminally ill, they determine to show him a good time before he dies on a trip to Portland.

While this could easily have been a setup for an action show, based on this episode, this show seems to be more drama. In this case, lightly humorous drama.

Jason: There was a bit of rough and tumble trucker fisticuffs here and there, but it was not the focus, rather a natural consequence of the mores on display here. The 1970's trucker mystique phenomena puzzled me as a child, but its appeal makes sense in retrospect. America needed an iconic stand-in for the increasingly problematic cowboy and the rambling trucker fit the bill, with a touch of the outlaw thrown in especially due to the cop-thwarting capabilities of citizen's band radio. Speaking of outlaws, Merle Haggard's theme song only helps here, with explicatory lyrics and some tasty finger-picking guitar. 

Trey: Akins and Converse are a good pair in the lead roles, but Pollard's Joe Shannon is the character this episode spends the most time on. Due to his baby face, Pollard played a lot of "kid" rolls in the 60s, including in the Star Trek episode "Miri." He's also good in Bonnie & Clyde.

Jason: Pollard is a talented actor especially suited to misanthropic/outsider roles.  His career reminds me a bit of Jackie Earle Haley (previously noted in our survey of the Planet of the Apes tv show here), often projecting a more than a bit creepy vibe in his portrayals. 

Trey: One thing I found interesting here was the story leaving Shannon's presumed death completely off stage. The way these stories typically go is to make the light-hearted moments bittersweet, by showing their end. Not only does Shannon not die before the credits roll, he isn't even notably sick by the time the episode ends. It's an unusual choice for this sort of plot.

Jason: I too was surprised when the episode came down to its final minutes at the lack of a hospital room sequence (and I may never know if Claude would have conjured up a single, manly tear for the occasion). My biggest surprise was the overall watchability of the gentle, slice of life drama.

Trey: Yeah, it feels very 70s in that way. The stridency of the 60s was past, so no one is getting hassled by the man, and the brashness of the 80s has yet to arrive, so there are no goons working for trucking syndicates to contend with. It's people just living life and getting by.

Jason: Moving on, if you will!

Past as a Foreign Country Dept., exhibit A: While demonstrating dating techniques to Pollard, middle-aged Akins approaches a young woman at the arcade shooting range and wraps her in an unsolicited embrace to ostensibly provide shooting tips. This actually goes quite well. 

Trey: Don't try this at home, guys! For those of you wishing to learn more about this series, here's an interview with one of the creators about it.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Classic TV Flashback: Inhumanoids (1986)


Debut: June 29, 1986
Starring: Michael Bell, William Callaway, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Neil Ross,
Richard Sanders Susan Silo
Synopsis: Earth Corps, a team of scientists/explorers and their nonhuman allies are the surface's only defense against ancient, evil monsters from beneath the Earth.

Trey: Inhumanoids was a Hasbro toy concept developed initially by Marvel's Tom DeFalco, then further refined by Flint Dille. As was common in the 80s, there was an associated animated series to sell the toys by Sunbow. The cartoon began as a series of seven-minute segments on the Super Sunday anthology series, running to 15 installments that were later combined into a movie, which was then in turn split back into five half-hours and coupled with eight brand-new shows to form a complete season of thirteen half-hour episodes. 

The toys sold well, but not as well as Hasbro wanted using the success of G.I. Joe and Transformers as a metric, so it was cancelled. This had the effect of giving the writers of the cartoon a relatively freehand to go in a more horrific direction and more serial rather than episodic in its storytelling. According to Wikipedia: "Visually, the show was distinctive for its application of heavy shadow, use of split screens, and sometimes brow-raising for its graphic content, such as monstrous amputations or writhing deaths by toxic waste, which would be hard-pressed to sneak their way into contemporary 'children's hour' programming."

We watched the first two half-hour episodes.

Jason: I was a teenager when Inhumanoids hit the then-smaller screen, but I still cared about animation (and SF&F subject matter) enough to peek at new things here and there, if only to end up sneering. I peeked at Inhumanoids and sneered contemptuously.  

The monster designs appalled me, and their voice-acted shrieks repelled me before I could even begin to perceive the distinctive qualities that set it apart from other adventure-oriented animated series of its day. Which isn't to say what I witnessed in watching the first two episodes was necessarily good! 

The animation itself was limited, as TV animation almost always was, but the speed of the editing mitigated this a bit. The images were well executed, matters of taste and design aside. I will however never get over the ludicrous design of D'Compose, and his name isn't helping a tiny bit either. Those Barn Doors of Forlorn Encystment on D's chest and his Godzilla skull with glowing fangs and teeth are all toyetic as anything, but the whole exquisite corpse-style of design was in this case the magic bullet that assassinated my suspension of disbelief. 

Trey: I will grant the silliness of D'Compose as name. As to the design, I'm going to disagree--a bit. The simplicities of the animation does it no favors, for sure, and I can't deny its fundamental tokusatsu "monster of the episode" character, but I think there is a mythological undercurrent to D that the other two (being pure pulp monster riffs) lack. In his skull I see echoes of Mari Lwyd and in his snapping rib cage, Tezcatlipoca.

I think it's fair to say a mythological monster in such a pulp/kaiju world is a dissonant choice, certainly.

Jason: Point taken! As you mentioned, Inhumanoids had no qualms about (making an attempt at) scaring little kids to death! In general, tv cartoons of the era, when they tried to be scary, swiftly reassured audiences that there are no such things as monsters and order is always restored by the end of the episode. Not so in the world of Inhumanoids, a series designed to sell a line of toys to small children.

The storytelling in this show was unusual in its speedy pace, due at least in part to the original short format used for the Super Sunday compilations. As a result, the cuts were quick from shot to shot and scene to scene, somewhat jarringly so I thought. This condensed format had the effect of creating a firehose of narrative that advanced the plot visually and kept the dialogue minimal, to the point of confusion at times. If the story was to be understood by kids, their full attention would be required, which is actually a plus in my book. 

Trey: Yeah, there's very much a movie serial style rush from one peril to the next.

Jason: By the end of episode two, though, an impressive amount of world building has unfolded. It's unlikely but not impossible that if I sat still long enough to take this material in as a teenager, I might have found myself at least somewhat intrigued. Alas!

Trey: If there was ever a property that could benefit from an adult, film or TV series reboot, I think this one could bear the conceptual load.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Classic TV Flashback: The Champions (1968)

The Champions
Debut: September 25, 1968
Created by Dennis Spooner and Monty Berman
Starring: Stuart Damon, Alexandra Bastedo, William Gaunt, Anthony Nicholls
Synopsis: Three agents for the UN law enforcement division Nemesis get superhuman abilities after being rescued from a plane crash by a secret civilization in the Himalayas, and then use their abilities to take on threats to world peace.

Trey: The Champions is a British series broadcast in the UK on ITV during 1968–1969 and in the U.S. on NBC, starting in the summer of 1968. Dennis Spooner created the series, working with producer Monty Berman. The two would also be responsible for the later series Department S and Jason King. They would use writers on this series that had previously worked on The Avengers and Danger Man.

We watched the first episode, "The Beginning," on YouTube. It introduces the three Nemesis agents, Sharron MacReady, Craig Stirling and Richard Barrett, who crash in the Himalayas after an escape from a bioweapon facility in China. They awaken to find their injuries mysteriously healed. Soon, they learn they have had new abilities bestowed on them by their rescuers, the people from a hidden, ancient civilization. The evade capture by the Chinese military and return to Europe having completed their mission.

First thing, I was struck by a few parallels with the Challengers of the Unknown who debuted in 1957. A plane crash is the pivotal event that changes the course of their lives, and the Challengers' refrain that they are "living on borrowed time" is voiced by one of the Champions just after the crash. Then there's then names they are just similar but seem to fit together: the challenger takes on the champion, after all.

Jason: I noticed those similarities and perhaps a wee bit of the original Doom Patrol, if only in the manicured beard of their agency commander. Speaking of the names, I thought the three starring actors had better names for the genre than the characters!

For a spy-fi show with a touch of plain-clothes superheroes thrown in, I found it quite effective, despite budgetary limitations. 

The plane crash sequence was suspenseful despite the use of miniatures and a foregone conclusion. The fight scenes worked well despite the small soundstage and put me in mind of a less expensive Star Trek. 

Trey: I enjoyed the show quite a bit, too. It had the standard sort of groovy Brit style of the era and an intriguing concept. I'd be interested to see what more episodes are like. 

Jason: I especially like its successful threading the needle of earnest adventure story with its tongue positioned in precisely the right part of the cheek. 

Trey: My only quibbles might be there didn't seem to be enough of it! I think it would have been better served by a two-hour pilot, and maybe a central villain of the episode.

Jason: The production staff may have shared your concerns and sought to correct in future episodes. Perusing an online episode guide alerted me to the fact that episode 2's special guest antagonist was none other than Peter Wyngarde!


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