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.

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