Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"Galactica 1980"

-created by glen a. larson
Okay, don't get stressed. YES, there are some creations so profoundly, encompassingly wrong that one shouldn't even dignify their existence by mentioning them. Yes, this one's as wretched as you remember, or as bad as you've heard. Except...maybe, just maybe, not that second part. Maybe, just maybe it's only cataclysmically horrible if you watch it after experiencing all the charm of the parent show. Maybe viewed a few decades down the road, you might be able to appreciate a "so bad it's good" quality. Or maybe, even just maybe, there was a genuine attempt to make some kind of lemonade out of smoldering, beautiful lemon shards. Or not. That it ought have been killed in utero, i'm not denying. Nor was this a case of "elvis has left the building", as creator glen larson is still at the helm (was this demon seed an intentional nose-thumbing to the studio, for jerking him around?). Yet maybe just maybe, with the right frame of mind, it might be one of the most hysterical things you'll ever see. The classic cast? GONE. So the creators jump thirty years ahead, to when the fleet finally finds Earth. Fair enough. But wait...the cast isn't all gone. One of our heroes is still alive. Is it apollo or sheba or boxey, leading the fleet home? Well, no. It's...adama. Adama? As in MOST likely to be long dead? Okay, he's the george burns of space (it's not hard to figure out why - i'm sure lorne greene had the heftiest contract, which the studio was loathe to swallow). And...they also bring back boomer (herbert jefferson jr. - BLACK GUNN, APOLLO 13) for a thankless supporting role. Plus...boxey! Or the grown-up version of him (kent mccord - ADAM-12, AIRPLANE II: THE SEQUEL), now senior fleet pilot. Toss in barry van dyke (THE HARVEY KORMAN SHOW, DIAGNOSIS MURDER) as his wingmate, a dollar-store beard for adama, and we're ready to turbo! Or not. Realizing that 20th-century Earth is too primitive to resist the cylons, a convoluted plan to seed advanced technology on Earth is concocted by adolescent savant dr. zee. Yes, the writing often struggles to rise above infantile. But they try, they really do! And you might be bowled over by "that guy"/ guest star juiciness. Add a reluctant Earth reporter (robyn douglass - BREAKING AWAY, THE LONELY GUY) who tosses her lot in with our heroes. All three leads are rather wooden, but let's give the benefit of the doubt and blame the writing.
-Galactica Discovers Earth
A (simulated) cylon attack on Earth! Flying motorcycles! Right out of the gate, robbie rist (THE BRADY BUNCH, THE BIONIC WOMAN) is so annoying as dr. zee, he'll be replaced by the fourth episode. And why didn't PLANET OF THE APES issue an injunction against his name? The classic cast is invoked in recycled credits images, and during some cringe-worthy exposition. We're off to Earth in this three-parter, as boxey (call me troy, please) and dillon make contact with a nuclear physicist (robert reed - THE BRADY BUNCH, ROOTS), to goose his research. Stow that smirk, reed's actually spot-on and well-written. If they were hoping to make it all feel more familiar by using guest actors who did classic sci fi turns, it works. Richard lynch, back from "Gun on Ice Planet Zero", is the ruthless commander xavier, who goes renegade (and back in time) to help create nazi superweapons. Pamela susan shoop (BUCK ROGERS "Vegas in Space", also featuring lynch), michael strong (STAR TREK "What are Little Girls made of?"), and sharon acker (STAR TREK "The Mark of Gideon") are also tantalizingly familiar. Our three heroes follow xavier. Look - an adorable jewish moppet running from a boxcar! They talk about a temporal prime directive...then say screw it. Part 3 meanders (devolves?) into a set-up for the following episode, wherein xavier has traveled to 18th-century america. But that plotline will be completely ignored, in favor of...
-The Super Scouts
It's tempting to make a joke about a shark-jumped franchise clearing a second shark, but let's not overstate the watchability of the first three episodes. This two-part affront to plausibility however, may be where your clearest memories of the show's awfulness reside - in the image of Galactica children posing as boy scouts, while being able to leap twenty feet because of planetside gravity differential. It all actually starts rather excitingly, with a cylon attack on a stray fleet ship (a sequence, however, that begs the question of where the line is between stock footage and clip show). Boomer gets in a viper! Troy and dillon manage to rescue twelve kids, but they can't make it back to the fleet, so they land on Earth and three of them get sick from polluted water, so they take on a chemical plant in an environmental crusade. Along the way, they're chased by two motorcycle CHiPies (including an uncredited james daughton - ANIMAL HOUSE, SPIES LIKE US). Dr. zee is now played by patrick stuart (EXIT TO EDEN, ANDY RICHTER CONTROLS THE UNIVERSE), who gets to use his own voice but quickly proves that the problem wasn't the actor. We've got a fumbling sheriff, a conscienceless colonel, and a slimy industrialist (mike kellin - THE WACKIEST SHIP IN THE ARMY, THE JAZZ SINGER) who has an ebeneezer scrooge moment with adama inside a UFO, and gets to show some delightful comedic chops. The more ominous the moment, the greater you may laugh - that has to count for something, right?
Please, please, PLEASE tell me this is the low point of the series, or lordisa help me i'm getting the razor. It's no longer bad in a good way. Xavier is back...but richard lynch is not (it's not hard to imagine what happened - as the series villain, he asked for more money than the producers wanted to give). His new appearance is explained by evil cosmetic surgery (he's also five inches taller and has a british accent, so he MUST be evil!). He strands troy and dillon in a decaying orbit; throughout the episode, they cut back to them and the "drifting" effect is done by showing a still photo (yup). Taking care of the kids and trying to keep a low profile, jamie gets them into, um, a televised baseball game. Do they use their super-gravity powers to win the game? Go on, guess. Perhaps two year-olds might fall for this one, but any self-respecting three year-old would respond, "Is this a joke?" Given how hip three year-olds can be, you might even get the nigel tufnel accent.
-The Night the Cylons Landed
Why does whale music play whenever dr. zee appears? In the ONLY good space scouts scene ever (due to an incidental MST treatment years later), they watch a screening of THIS ISLAND EARTH. Then they're dispensed of and replaced by cylons, returning this entire two-part episode to the "so silly and wrong it's hysterical" groove. Troy and dillon go to NY where a ship is about to crash...but it's not colonial, it's a highly advanced cylon craft with a new breed inside - human replicas (during the BSG re-boot years later, one forgets that "human" cylons actually started here - isn't repressed memory a funny thing?). A humanoid and a centurion survive the crash, and set off for a radio station to send a signal back to the Empire. Coincidentally it's Halloween, and a couple (including william daniels - THE GRADUATE, KNIGHT RIDER) who work at a radio station pick them up, thinking they're in party attire. And it looks like another actor asked for a raise, as there's a new air force colonel on their tail, played by peter mark richman (THREE'S COMPANY, THE NAKED GUN 2 1/2). Part 2 descends (elevates?) into the most LSD-inspired galactica ever. Scooby doo dancing to "Zip a Dee Doo Dah". Cylons kidnapping wolfman jack. A centurion taken down by a microwave. Troy and dillon in white tuxes with tails, dancing to "The Good Ship Lollipop". Central Park toughs trying to mug cylons. What, you're waiting for me to tell you i made one of those up? Val bisoglio (M*A*S*H, QUINCY M.E.) joins the trip.
-Space Croppers
A ripping cylon attack destroys two agroships! We see the imperious leader for the only time this season...i beg you, turn the sound off while he's speaking. Desperate for food, Galactica sends troy and dillon to start a farm colony on Earth. They team up with an oppressed farmer (ned romero - SHANE, ROSWELL), and the episode turns into a parable about a greedy fatcat (dana elcar - THE STING, MACGYVER) trying to rub out all the little guys, with a dash of racism for good measure. Ana alicia (FALCON CREST, HALLOWEEN II), formerly starbuck-bedeviling aurora, is back as a randy farmer's daughter. We've also got five seconds of dennis haysbert (MAJOR LEAGUE 1-3, 24) as a viper pilot and walking apology to patrick macnee. When they change robyn douglass out of her frumpy reporter attire into dungarees, your hormones may go on point. For a generic 1980 network social drama, "Space Croppers" isn't awful. But it has nothing to do with a show once known as BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. The moment that may subconsciously traumatize you more than any scene in the series (and i can't really explain why), is when our heroes use their amazing leaping ability to...plant seeds. Hopping over the fields they go.
-The Return of Starbuck
I'm going to say something i've never said about any creation - there may not be a human alive qualified to review this. Is it awful? Even appalling, in more ways than one could enumerate? Yes. Is it also...wonderful? Maybe. Or maybe it's a just a balm on the wound that was inflicted on all those adoring fans who were too loyal to walk away from this season of hell. Starbuck, the one and only dirk benedict, is back. The set-up is actually a (gulp) dr. zee origin story. He has a dream in which a warrior is stranded on a barren planet with only the corpses of his enemies for company. He reanimates one of them, and the first cylon-human friendship is born. Seeing his friend's loneliness, cy (gary owens - LAUGH-IN, EUROPEAN VACATION) goes off and returns with a pregnant woman (judith chapman - THE FALL GUY, THE SWEETEST THING). A patchwork ship is built, and starbuck sacrifices his place aboard so that mother and child might survive. Cy sacrifices his own life, to save starbuck from a cylon patrol. The mother is from another dimension, and the baby dr. zee is finally found by the fleet, alone. I promise you, if you tendered that script to any fan in 1979, their response would have been incoherent wailing. And's dirk benedict, dear friends. As starbuck. And some of the scenes with cy actually come across with depth and resonance. Is it awful? Yes. But we may never see its like again.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

"The Newsroom"

-created by aaron sorkin
Sorkin's fourth series, and his first failure. Not in the popular consciousness or ratings presumably, as it garnered a fair amount of respect and lasted three seasons. But NEWSROOM deserved the early axe that befell STUDIO 60 (which is all the more saddening, as STUDIO 60 itself deserved WEST WING acclaim). TV is a fickle mistress, indeed. Why does this show not work? All the elements were there - sorkin's writing, beautiful production values and directing, and a cast that was capable of brilliance. But amazingly, it's the writing that falls short. Despite occasional flashes of greatness, the show never gels. It was forever unbalanced, in search of a formula which would have made things click. You find yourself longing for more attention paid to the personal relationships, yet also more time showing series star jeff daniels in his news anchor chair, exposing the idiocy and hypocrisy of our troubled times. Without those, all that remains is a lot of behind-the scenes newsroom strife. Daniels was primed to give a career performance, as a cranky anchor who starts out more worried about being liked (think leno) than doing his job well. Up shows emily mortimer as a producer with whom he has a rocky past, but is ready to make him live up to his potential.You want desperately to care for all these characters, but the spacing gaps are too wide. It's a shame too, as daniels could have offered the first sorkin conservative to win the hearts (and perhaps some minds) of the audience. The yearning, fumbling relationship between jim gallagher jr. and allison pill was pure potential - criminally shortchanged. The reunited romance between daniels and mortimer was teased well, but once consummated we never see the intimacy that would have made us understand their bond. Sam waterston and dev patel are rocks, playing the only two characters handled appropriately. Olivia munn's nerdy, sexy, ball-busting brilliance was just begging to be shaped into an iconic character. Riley voelkel was quietly, sorely missed in season 3. Jane fonda and marcia gay harden offered all the juice you might want from recurring characters. Part of the problem was the HBO format - with seasons less than half as long as previous sorkin fare, you want to feel that they could have found the right balance, given more time (throw in an abbreviated final season, and you're left with barely more than the time it took WEST WING to get rid of mandy). The show starts out amazingly, with a series teaser that stands with sorkin's (or any television, period) best, as daniels has a meltdown on national TV after being asked in an interview why America is the greatest country in the world. Absolutely classic. But then, into the murk it descends. Sorkin diehards will need to see it all, but otherwise content yourselves to the pilot plus maybe the last two episodes.