Wednesday, August 31, 2016

"Man from Atlantis"

-created by mayo simon and herbert f. solow
1977-1978
One of the most imaginative underwater adventure series ever produced, yet canceled in the middle of its first season, so that it never quite solidified its identity. Was it a children's show? Pretty much, but by the end was morphing into something more. Adventurous yet peaceful, silly yet thoughtful, one wonders how much healthier our cultural landscape might have been had star patrick duffy (STEP BY STEP, WALK HARD) been part of a long run of this series, instead of contributing to the decade-plus dominance of the dismal DALLAS. Patrick plays mark harris, a water-breather who washes ashore with no memories. Nursed back to health by marine biologist elizabeth merrill (belinda montgomery - DOOGIE HOWSER M.D., TRON: LEGACY), mark refuses to be a pawn for the military, but agrees to work with an oceanic institute until he discovers who he really is. They go on adventures in the deep-sea submarine Cetacean, which is a series of diving bells strung together - brilliant. There were STAR TREK veterans behind the scenes (solow, bob justman, john black). Amazingly for a show from the 70s (or any decade), there's far more beefcake than cheesecake. And more amazingly yet, you can actually kind of sort of pretty much let the kids view it.
(BOLD PRINT = greatest episodes)
-Man from Atlantis
I wish that you could see this pilot telemovie through the eyes of a child (or a moviegoer from 100 years ago). I'm not saying that sophistication doesn't have its advantages, but we also learn to take far too much for granted. And the fact that a group of people came together and created this moving picture, is truly an amazement. Mark returns to the sea and dives to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, where he stops the brilliant mr. schubert (victor buono - BATMAN, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES) from destroying humanity with its own weapons, then starting over with a small population of scientists. Schubert has created a stunning underwater lair, filled with the world's art treasures. Duffy and montgomery elicit the perfect sympathies, and buono's performance is a hypnotizing masterpiece of over-the-top subtlety.
-The Death Scouts
This otherwise interesting tale about two aliens who inhabit human bodies (and mutate them to have webbed hands and electrical powers), and claim to be from mark's world, is painfully sunk by hackneyed writing.
-The Killer Spores
A space probe returns to Earth, carrying a colony of invisible creatures who inhabit human hosts. Fine potential wasted in hopeless meandering - an unfortunate metaphor distressingly suggests itself, as half an hour is spent literally lost in the desert.
-The Disappearances
A twisted genius is kidnapping scientists to a deserted island, where they enter a brainwashing hot tub which compels them to happily help build a rocket that will transport them all to another solar system, to start humanity over. Elizabeth is taken, and the Cetacean tracks them down. Mark and scientist miller simon (kenneth tigar - LETHAL WEAPON 2-3, DALLAS) are captured, but mark is immune to the brainwashing hot tub. The genius fails to persuade mark to be her adam, and leaves in the rocket alone. What makes this episode genius is that the genius is played by a woman (darleen carr - BRET MAVERICK, THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO) who makes her strapping male underlings go about shirtless. We call that power feminism, baby. The genius's reluctant sister (pamela peters solow - ROOM 222, OMEGA COP) has a palpably poignant flirtation with mark. And...a brainwashing hot tub?? If any other decade tried that, it would be hopelessly cheesy - thank you, 70s. Plus a little naked, non-speaking minion ernie hudson! (GHOSTBUSTERS 1-2, OZ).
-Melt Down
Global water levels are rising - our old friend schubert has industrial microwaves situated near the ice caps. The first regular-season episode finds spiffy new uniforms on the Cetacean, and mark is now somehow captain (it's a stretch, but go with it). Schubert promises to halt the destruction if mark submits to genetic testing. The action is rather dumbed down - in fact, victor should just get his old king tut outfit, as this episode resembles nothing so much as a classic BATMAN. Cute, but not right for this show.
-The Mudworm
Schubert loses control of a deep-sea mining probe, which has incredible powers and has achieved some kind of sentience. An inoffensive offering, notable only for darling touches of o'brien/harryhausen-style animation.
-The Hawk of Mu
Schubert tries to get his hands on an ancient hawk statue in a sea cave that possesses staggering power (the statue, not the cave). Not much logic or follow-through, but delightful images and the bouncy juliette schubert (victoria huxtable - FISH, SERIAL), whom mark rescues and follows home without realizing whose daughter she is. She's a gawky post-adolescent, but sees through ol' pops, and helps mark escape.
-Giant
I'm speechless (almost). A serious contender for the all-time TV top-ten wildest guest casting, as atlantean and jesus take on kareem abdul-jabbar! Or atlantean and abdul-jabbar vs. jesus! Either way, welcome to the rabbit hole, which is actually what this episode is about. The Earth's water is draining away through a hole in the ocean floor. Is it going to the center of the Earth? Or some alternate domain? Who knows? In this wildly tame desert land, water is invisible and kareem is the only inhabitant we meet. He's using the water to mine for gold. Gambler/scamp jack muldoon (ted neeley - JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, DJANGO UNCHAINED) takes mark to the domain. The plot is patchwork, and kareem (AIRPLANE!, FLETCH) impersonates his coach john wooden, but mark gets into his first bar fight, and has surreal scene after scene with his two co-stars. Just...wild.
-Man O'War
Schubert creates a monster jellyfish, and threatens to attack a global swim meet unless he's given a million dollars. A middling effort notable only for clever (or offensive?) skirting of the non-blackface law, plus the appearance of LAUGH-IN's announcer gary owens.
-Shoot-Out at Land's End
Yes, an undersea adventure found a way to have...an old west episode. Sigh. Despite the lame premise, it somehow works, as mark discovers an unknown brother who has adapted fully to life on land, doesn't know his origins either, and is a sleazy gun-for-hire. Is this time travel, or a lost world? We don't know, and neither does the show. The split-screen/body double work is worth the price of admission though...they could have just mailed it in, but they really do a bang-up job. And patrick gets to let loose as his amoral, sneaky alter-ego.
-Crystal Water, Sudden Death
Schubert is hot on the trail of super-powered crystals on the ocean bottom. As it turns out, they're energizing a force bubble that keeps the ocean from collapsing on an air-breathing society of bipeds who look like the blue man group, but white. They also walk like storks, and have a click-based language. Mark reaches them first, then they put him on trial, then schubert conquers them all with two flashlights (presumably, one flashlight mightn't have been sufficient). Do NOT let it be said that the producers aren't trying to keep us entertained. A serviceable guest turn by rene auberjonois (STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, M*A*S*H) as a head henchling who has had enough. Victor buono's MFA swan song.
-The Naked Montague
Mark falls into yet another hole in the ocean's floor and ends up in...land-locked fourteenth-century Italy! That in itself is exceedingly strange, but sit tight, we're just getting warmed up. It's not real Verona, but the fictional Verona of...romeo and juliet! Mark becomes embroiled in the story, finds a mysterious grotto that gets him back to his own time/space/reality, then returns to make sure juliet (lisa eilbacher - BEVERLY HILLS COP, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN) and romeo have...a happy ending! Yup. The most head-scratching thing is that it kind of works. Including this in a marathon of all the cinematic ROMEO AND JULIETs would be...somehow, the right thing to do.
-C.W. Hyde
Steadfast supporting actor alan fudge (THE NATURAL, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS), as liaison bureaucrat c.w., finally gets a moment in the sun as he accidentally ingests an unknown oceanic compound, and finds himself aggressive, amoral, suave, and hairy (if it sounds familiar, just go with it). He gets involved with a mob moll and her unsavory boss. Mark and elizabeth return from sea in time to alleviate an infestation of goons at the institute. It's funny, it's sexy, it's adventurous...
-Scavenger Hunt
Too wildly weird for words...and ted neeley is back! If you watch just the pre-show previews, you won't believe what you're seeing, as mark takes on a man in a rubber two-headed seahorse costume with legs but no arms. What, you need a plot too? Muldoon has set himself up on an island as the controller of a monster god, who demands pearls from the natives and virgin sacrifices (not the male kind). He keeps the virgins alive (and happy) in his underground lair. What, THAT's not enough? How about ted cassidy (THE ADDAMS FAMILY, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID) as the island chief? Ted and ted, together at last. The amazement is that it all somehow works, and while you never quite believe the reality of the rubber suit, you can't help buying the reality of the show.
-Imp
Okay, you're still not convinced that MFA was willing to let it all hang out? Then how about pat morita (HAPPY DAYS, KARATE KID 1-4) as a mischievous water sprite who turns humans into playful children with his touch? That, boys and girls, is what we call a concept. And it's pretty darn hysterical, as he goes on a landside spree, unaware that people without boundaries can hurt themselves. Dick gautier (GET SMART, WHEN THINGS WERE ROTTEN) is along for the ride, and elizabeth finally gets some serious screen time.
-The Siren
Submarine pirates have captured a siren, and use her for sonic attacks. It turns out mark has a mystical singing voice too. But oh sadness...elizabeth has left the building (er, sub)! Done. Gone. Wiped off the credits. Belinda montgomery, due to "illness", has been replaced by some generic actress. She never got her moments in the sun, never got that atlantean romance...sigh. But at least we've got a little laurette spang (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, AIRPORT 1975).
-Deadly Carnival
A series finale that presumable doesn't know it's the finale...but it's a lovely farewell, as mark gets embroiled in an undercover carnival caper. He becomes an attraction - the "man from atlantis"! The criminals are anthony james (NAKED GUN 2 1/2, UNFORGIVEN) and the legendary billy barty (SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS, WILLOW). And more wonderfully, mark finally dives into romance, with a tender kiss (and actual innuendo implying more) with the carnival boss (sharon farrell - HAWAII FIVE-O, CAN'T BUY ME LOVE).

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"The Bionic Woman"

-created by kenneth johnson
1976-1978
Plot holes, getcher plot holes here!
I'm starting with criticism just as a buffer against overgushing later on. Yes, ridiculous holes in the very premise - a high-level tennis pro (it's implied that she had a memorable run in at least one grand slam tournament) reunites with her childhood love, who is (unbeknownst to her) a government cyborg. She has a horrific skydiving accident, and the cyborg convinces his superiors to make her a cyborg too. She retires from tennis, takes a job as a school teacher, and does government missions on the side. Oy, where do we start? A government invest 5 mil and being content getting a part-time agent living in Bumblefuck, CA? A government making an internationally-recognizable athlete a covert agent? To send on military-level missions with almost NO training? She'd be fishbait by the end of the first episode.
Quibbles aside...
THE BIONIC WOMAN is quite the delight, while also being a contender for the most feminist-positive big time television show ever. In some ways, jaime even tops wonder woman, and that's due to star lindsay wagner, who probably exerted more influence over a series than any unknown actor has, before or since. When she debuted the character on SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, her studio contract was lapsing, and they didn't think to re-up it for what was supposed to be a one-off. When they realized a bionic spin-off would be an instant hit, they threw buckets of bucks at her, but she held out for creative control. She then kept pushing a humanist/feminist agenda. This set BW apart from the parent series - as charming as 6MDM was, it was usually distressingly male in its worldview (good buy bops bad guy on head, everyone goes home). Lindsay made jaime much more human. It's funny to watch the show, thinking about the ongoing compromises between her and creator kenny johnson - for every fembot or sasquatch episode, there was usually one less violent and simplistic. All those children who grew up in the 70s (this writer included), were subconsciously molded by the quieter episodes...and the world is a far better place for it.
The show was also progressive sexually - jaime was romantically active, happily unmarried, and not even hung up on monogamy. You never saw more than one love interest at a time, but the occasional comment indicated that she wasn't averse to it. Even when they gave her a steady beau, she was still having other one-episode romances. Yay!
There was of course some action violence every episode, but she never wanted to hurt anyone. And the way those sequences were shot, rendered them more silly than heavy.
You may be endlessly charmed by lindsay's talent. She has a quirky quality that's subtle and unforced - not one actor in a thousand is so blessed. She quietly maimed the mold that kept action stars from being goofy or human. Making her a school teacher helped. Even though classroom shots were rare, they established jaime as a nurturer. You always see her mind spinning, as she struggles through moral dilemmas. Sometimes, she genuinely has no idea what to do...but her vulnerability and decency never abandon her.
The show's co-stars were richard anderson (FORBIDDEN PLANET, PERRY MASON) as oscar goldman, and martin e. brooks (COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT, DALLAS) as dr. rudy wells. Allowed to be less stiff than on 6MDM, they warmly anchor the show. They were also the first actors to play the same characters simultaneously on two different networks.
Creator kenny johnson (THE INCREDIBLE HULK, V) is also a rare creature - a non-actor who can dish up an entertaining commentary track. Maybe he's got a smartphone with him, but the man rattles off bushels of credits for cast and crew alike. He really seems to care. With irrepressible enthusiasm, he even invites viewers to write to him. His lack of artifice is charming.
NOTEWORTHY EPISODES (season)
[boldface = must-see]
-The Bionic Woman (THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, season 2)
A chance meeting reunites steve austin with tennis pro jaime sommers, his unrequited childhood love. Steve has never been so loose and human...a wedding is planned, but a skydiving accident brings her to death's doorstep! Oscar can't turn down steve's plea to save her (bionically). Jamie prepares for an OSI mission, but her body rejects the bionics. She dies. No, really. The screen debut of dana plato (CALIFORNIA SUITE, DIFF'RENT STROKES), and the only time jaime shares the screen with rudy wells #2 of 3 (alan oppenheimer - PRIVATE BENJAMIN, THE NEVERENDING STORY).
-The Return of the Bionic Woman (THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, season 3)
Okay, she's NOT dead! She was just pining for the fjords, perhaps? The scrambled contrivance to un-dead her is worth some laughs - one of rudy's assistants (rick lenz - GREEN ACRES, THE SHOOTIST) rushes in moments after she dies, with a radical cryogenic proposal. And we're off! Except that the resurrection damages her memory, including the part about having known steve (we writers call that the "plot device that allows our hero to fool around with non-bionic men without seeming, y'know, slutty"). As she recovers, she falls in love...with her dashing doctor! Aww (on two levels). The romantic tension works, and steve's willingness to accept the new reality is very alan alda.
-Welcome Home, Jaime (1)
A two-parter that starts with a season 3 episode of SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, as jaime jumps into her own series with a rush of gentle charm. She returns to her childhood home Ojai, where steve's parents (martha scott - BEN-HUR, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, and ford rainey - 3:10 TO YUMA, NED AND STACEY) set her up in their carriage house. She begins her life as a teacher, while a slimy industrialist takes an interest in her strange abilities.
-Angel of Mercy (1)
The first regular series episode is lifted to heights of silliness by one andy griffith (THE NEW ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, RUSTLERS' RHAPSODY). Sheriff andy plays bush pilot jack starkey. The script about a lost ambassador is implausible even by the show's standards...but is too, too charming to resist. One suspects that this was a particularly fun shoot for all involved.
-A Thing of the Past (1)
One of the most touching human connections of the series, between lindsay and guest star donald o'connor (SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, THE DONALD O'CONNOR SHOW). He plays an unassuming bus driver a couple decades her senior...in other words, the last person with whom you might expect the writers to have her flirt. But she does. Sweet and thoroughly charming.
-Bionic Beauty (1)
A beauty pageant episode was seemingly an obligatory (and quease-inducing) rite of passage for all 70s action heroines. But unlike wonder woman's moment in the slime (inarguably that show's nadir), the writers here found a way to make jaime's pageant purgatory palatable. Heck, even silly and standout. It starts with jaime's revulsion at the mere thought, and ends with making the pageant bigwigs the baddies, in some computer circuit caper. And somewhere in between, bert parks (THE FRESHMAN, NIGHT OF 100 STARS II) renders one of the most campily silly fight scenes in Hollywood history. You'll hit the rewind button several times to see his facial expressions in slow motion. Gary crosby (OPERATION BIKINI, ADAM-12) hits all the right notes too.
-Winning is Everything (1)
A tight, exciting ride as jaime takes the navigator seat in a cross-desert Middle East grand prix. Guest star john elerick (EARTHQUAKE, EMBRYO) is perfectly sympathetic as a down-on-his-luck driver struggling with demons. The highlight of the show is perhaps oscar's de-jewing of himself to make a field appearance. A quick disguise, and ta-da - oscar bartholomew! Ah, those nutty 70s, when a jew couldn't walk the street unmolested in the Middle East. Remember those wacky days?
-Canyon of Death (1)
A new native indian student (guillermo san juan - HILL STREET BLUES) in jaime's class has trouble fitting in, due to an overactive imagination and cultural confusion. The writing is non-condescending. Plus an atomic flying suit! And a suitably despicable turn by gary collins (THE WACKIEST SHIP IN THE ARMY, ROOTS).
-Fly Jaime (1)
Jaime poses as a stewardess, to guard rudy and a secret formula. The plane goes down, they're stranded on an island, and rudy is wounded (with baddies lurking among the passengers). A taut, suspenseful balance of the elements that made the show great: action, humor, and humanism.
-Mirror Image (1)
Is this a fair way to treat a sexually-repressed culture? Am i NOT supposed to notice normally-hidden feminine charms, and pretend that my eyes aren't falling out?? On its own merits, this episode makes any best-of list, as it's a ballyhoo for ms. wagner's talents. She plays jaime, plus a criminal who's been surgically-altered to look like her. Said criminal is a chain-smoking southern belle. With infiltration and counter-infiltration, prepare yourself for mistaken identities worthy of french bedroom farce. Plus herb jefferson (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, STAR TREK: OF GODS AND MEN) as a suave bahamian who crates jaime and dumps her in the Carribbean. An action/comedy extravaganza! And...i suppose the stage was set with marlo thomas in THAT GIRL, who wasn't going to wear a bra if she didn't damn well feel like it. You can see the occasional resonance of that throughout this series, but this'n might unhinge your non-bionic jaw.
-The Ghost Hunter (1)
Jaime poses as a governess for an adolescent with an OSI scientist father, whose work is being disrupted by paranormal activity. It sounds like a recipe for meh, but comes together, thanks in part to fine performances (and fine sommers chemistry) with paul shenar (ROOTS, DREAM LOVER) and kristy mcnichol (THE PIRATE MOVIE, DREAM LOVER).
-The Return of Bigfoot (2)
Wheeeeeee! Okay, andre the giant couldn't make this go-around, but ted cassidy (THE ADDAMS FAMILY, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID) is a fine fill-in, and there's plenty of austin/sommers magic. Plus juicy guest star aliens! A two-parter that starts on 6MDM, steve becomes a suspect in some bionic-appearing robberies. Beset by civil war, the aliens restore his memories in order to secure his help. But he gets radiation sickness, and jaime must take on bigfoot, who is a pawn of the conquest-bent aliens, who are played by stefanie powers (THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E., HART TO HART: TILL DEATH DO US HART), john saxon (MITCHELL, THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN), and sandy duncan (ROOTS, VALERIE). Phew! Anybody winded?
-In this Corner, Jaime Sommers (2)
Quite silly, and quite irresistible. Jaime infiltrates the world of woman wrestling, and spends the episode dressed as savage jessie sommers! She's more adorable than deplorable, but her bionics remedy that. The shifty show manager (norman fell - CATCH-22, THE ROPERS) is shelling government shecrets. And remember jaime's quirky quality? I kid you not, she sasses mad mary maddox (or is it battling betty madison?) by giving the international sign for cunnilingus. Priceless.
-The Road to Nashville (2)
Jaime sings! And not some cheesy dub-in - those are lindsay's pipes, just as surely as that was lee singing in their first episode (sorry, no bionic duet). Jaime pretends to be an aspiring singer, to unravel a government leak that's flowing though a Nashville star (just go with it) played by hoyt axton (GREMLINS, DALLAS: THE EARLY YEARS). Jaime's co-conspirator is country musician muffin calhoon, played by...wait for it...doc severinson! The fact that lindsay doesn't mention doc's name even once on the commentary track, speaks volumes. But still, "Just chalk one up for the Muffin" has to stand as a contender for funniest BW line ever.
-Kill Oscar (2)
Fembots. Fembots! FEMBOTS!!! This three-part paean to misogyny (the second of which is on 6MDM) might be consigned to the scrap heap, but for one tiny nugget of improbable casting. The spurned doctor-who-plans-revenge-on-oscar-while-scheming-to-conquer-the-world-with-evil-female-robots? Boys and girls, that would be one john houseman (THE PAPER CHASE, THE NAKED GUN). Mr. Smith Julliard Barney himself. So yes, keep any actual boys and girls away from this one, but the chilling image of a powerful, beautiful woman with her face removed to reveal wires and circuits is a fright that will never be erased. Jaime and steve storm an island lair, oscar leaves taped instructions to not spare his life...brilliant. Now, mr. johnson, i'd like to discuss my trust issues with women.
-Black Magic (2)
How does an episode this overloaded with guest stars not collapse under its own weight? Ms. sommers knows a thing or two about load-bearing, i reckon. An island mansion is the setting for a greedy family gathering to hear a will reading. Jaime impersonates a long-lost relative. Are you sitting down? Vincent price (BATMAN, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS) plays a dual role, and is joined by julie newmar (BATMAN, NUDITY REQUIRED), hermione baddeley (BATMAN, MAUDE), and abe vigoda (FISH, JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO). Delightful.
-The Vega Influence (2)
Jaime is reunited with the cryogenic doctor who saved her life. She and michael, in an air force transport, make a stop on an island military base...which is deserted. They find the base personnel zombified, and soon fall prey to the same influence, except for jaime and a teenage girl (jamie smith-jackson - BREEZY, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN), who develop a touching connection. A meteor is the cause of the trouble, and in this chilling episode you see jaime genuinely terrified.
-Jaime's Shield (2)
How much of a hoot is it to have jaime go undercover as a police academy cadet...and have the academy gate be the same one used for CHARLIE'S ANGELS? The episode's a dandy too. Strong female characters, a sexist cop whom jaime reforms, and wonderfully silly action. Plus a slick, dastardly russian agent played by rebecca balding (SOAP, CHARMED).
-Biofeedback (2)
Jaime teams up with a tibetan-trained doctor (granville van dusen - SOAP, HILL STREET BLUES) who can manipulate his body functions, for a mission behind the Iron Curtain. He simulates death, wards off freezing and drowning, and negates the effects of a grievous wound. This was lindsay's most beloved episode, because it's about untapped human potential (in a show based on a technologically-enhanced superhuman). Decades later, we're not much further along in understanding the potentialities or limits of biofeedback (or neurofeedback, as it's been "palatably" renamed), but the medical establishment seems to be taking it more seriously. This episode is a charmer...yes, there's an unintentionally silly aspect as we hear granville's inner "shanti, omm" monologue (you may be a bit stunned by how unabashedly the writers ran with the concept)...but all the best elements of the show are firmly in place.
-Doomsday is Tomorrow (2)
Written and directed by kenny, this two-parter is the BW pinnacle. Alone in a desert complex, jaime takes on a supercomputer which has been programmed by its dying creator (lew ayres - ALL QUEST ON THE WESTERN FRONT, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) to destroy the world unless all nations pledge to never detonate a nuclear weapon again. When a disbelieving third world country detonates a test bomb, the countdown to armageddon is begun. Jaime battles waves of defenses, trying to reason with the computer while descending toward its core. The casting of lew was a brilliant coup - as the star of DR. KILDARE, he had registered as a conscientious objector when drafted for WWII. The country was outraged and his career disappeared, until an Oscar nomination in 1948. His turn here as the ultimate person of peace is perfect. And with no one to play against except a disembodied voice, lindsay turns in a performance a million miles beyond good. The dramatic twists and turns are searing.
-Deadly Ringer (2)
This two-part sequel to "Mirror Image" has jaime kidnapped and switched with her jailbird double, who is due to be given her original face through cosmetic surgery! The sense of isolation and desperation jaime feels as she tries to convince an unsympathetic world that a mistake has been made, is disturbing. Even oscar coldly tosses her under the bus. Another brilliant turn for lindsay, this one tragic as lisa galloway becomes addicted to a drug in order to deal with becoming addicted to living jaime's life. Plus a lil' katherine helmond (SOAP, BRAZIL).
-Jaime and the King (2)
A contender for the worst BW ever...yet if you're gonna be bad, go down swinging i say, and so does robert loggia (AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, LOST HIGHWAY), who gives a scenery-chewing performance as an arabian shah. Jaime poses as his son's tutor, to protect the hyper-chauvinist shah from assassination. The son (lance kerwin - JAMES AT SIXTEEN, ENEMY MINE) is no peach either, but jaime gives him his first taste of a woman who isn't a doormat. Their relationship is touching. I'm not sure whether having jaime do a veil dance undercuts the feminist message...but mostly, the badness is the uncertainty over whether this is racist (or just culturally insensitive?). It's all a bit trippy and unbalancing. Still...a must-see for loggia-lovers.
-The Dejon Caper (2)
Has rene auberjonois (M*A*S*H, STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE) ever done a bad guest turn? His appearances on WONDER WOMAN, CHARLIE'S ANGELS, BW, and MRS. COLUMBO (well...) would make a lovely 70s power feminist marathon. Here, he's a world-class art forger caught by the OSI and forced to go to Paris with jaime, to betray his boss. He tries to give her the slip, but realizes he's dead without her. Brisk, witty, charming...
-Iron Ships and Dead Men (2)
A bittersweet look into oscar's past, as jaime goes undercover (and off the books) at a dockyard to investigate the discovery of his dead brother's dog tags. A fine tutorial for workplace sexism in the 70s. Jaime develops a touching connection with a mentally slow worker (bob richards - LIL' ABNER, GENESIS II). They really work the george/lenny thing, but they do it well.
-Once a Thief (2)
Another buddy adventure, this time with a down-on-his-luck, lonely cat burglar who accidentally sees her bionics, and tries to bribe her into doing one last big job with him. Suddenly, they're caught in the crossfire between his greedy bosses and the police. A poignant guest turn by elisha cook, jr. (THE MALTESE FALCON, MAGNUM P.I.).
-The Bionic Dog (3)
A new network, new producer (james parriott - though not new to the series), and a dangerously precious title give rise to shark-jumping angst, but all is well! Jaime learns of the existence of the animal who first received bionics (before they were deemed, y'know, safe enough for humans). Sadly, the dog max is about to be euthanized after his captivity-induced ennui causes rudy to believe that the bionics are finally being rejected. Cyborg woman and dog bond - her pleas for his life unheeded, she breaks him out and flees, ending up in the wilds of the Sierras, where she finds refuge with an old flame (dale robinette - THE JAZZ SINGER, DEATH WISH 4), who gets to say the line "Up here animals are people" (given how we humans treat other people, that's a mixed blessing, but it's still a stunningly progressive morsel to feed young minds in 1978...or now). It's also hard to not see an unintentional parallel to lindsay and creator kenny's relationship. His reaching for 6MDM-style action (kill the dog!), her pushing a humanist/feminist agenda (spare the dog!)...kenny is embodied by both rudy and oscar, who push jaime to her first flagrant insubordination. The conflicts, compromises, and conciliations of real life are delightfully drawn out.
- Motorcycle Boogie (3)
Okay! Have jaime shanghai a motorcyclist for a high-speed chase! Have the biker be evel knievel, and turn it into a buddy comedy where she refuses to believe he's actually evel! Good, good, great! But it's missing something...i've got it! Have them running around behind the iron curtain, chased by german goons, one of whom sounds a little like count dracula! And have evel speak a little german! YES! BRILLIANT! DO IT!!! This one is so charmingly silly, it can do no wrong. The writing loses its deftness once or twice, but you'll be giggling from start to finish. Jaime's checkpoint guard flirtation is a gear-shifting testament to lindsay's talent - just when it's all sliding into camp (not the kind with tents), she pops off a moment so real that you'll be shaking your head.
-Escape to Love (3)
Wow. That's just...awful. The level of writing plunges to a dreary depth heretofore unbionically seen. I'm all for giving opportunities to anyone but another white male, but both the writer and story editor here are women - and this'ns nowhere near ready for prime time. Yes, kids, kenny johnson and executive producer harve bennett (THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN) have left the building.
-Max (3)
Aww...max gets his own episode. No really...the first BW episode to relegate lindsay to a supporting role. Instead, it's a buddy comedy between max and his teen-aged babysitter - christopher knight (THE BRADY KIDS, THE BRADYS)! Unfortunately, it's unwatchable, as the writers make christopher too stupid to breathe.
-All for One (3)
Jamie enrolls in college to find a genius computer hacker. She meets a food truck manager (franklin ajaye - THE JAZZ SINGER, DEADWOOD) who's channeling stolen money to underprivileged students. Subtlety, humanism...but why is a robin-hood themed show given a three musketeers title?
-The Pyramid (3)
Wait a minute...you mean the OSI had the technology to fix the ozone layer back in 1978?? Goddamned government grumble grumble...
-The Antidote (3)
Another curiosity in which lindsay plays a supporting role to the bionic "family", as max, callahan, and late-series recurring boyfriend (christopher stone - CUJO, THE NEW LASSIE) rush to save a poisoned bionic woman. Weak writing and acting, but some lovely bionic dog action. Chris is a little "70s macho blah", and his chemistry with lindsay doesn't set the house on fire...but it's fun when you think of him as a perfect morphing of robert redford and rip taylor.
-Sanctuary Earth (3)
Wheee! For those of us thought the pariott era would fade away with a whimper, strap yourselves in for a ride...with a space princess! Hmm...let me guess. 1978? Yup. I think even the waltons had an alien visitation that year. Here, the aforementioned princess stows away on a plummeting satellite, fleeing from pursuers. Jaime gives her sanctuary, and pretty soon the pursuers arrive (wearing turtlenecks and blazers, and why not?). What amps up the delight on this silly charmer is fifteen year-old helen hunt (SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON, TRANCERS 1-3). Her performance is flat...but that may have been an acting choice, as it works fine. Curiously, jaime is reluctant to believe her guest is an alien (curious, because this is the third time in four episodes that she's faced aliens...aah, you crazy post-STAR WARS networks).
-Deadly Music (3)
In three seasons, she never punches a human being...but she's fine with cold-cocking a shark?
-Which One is Jaime? (3)
A mistaken identity snafu has callahan kidnapped in jaime's place. This could've been a classic (especially considering that the action takes place in the same amusement park used for NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION), but the writing devolves. James sikking (HILL STREET BLUES, DOOGIE HOWSER M.D.) and brock peters (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE) are mostly wasted.
-Out of Body (3)
Another high-water mark for the show's progressive side, as jaime becomes romantic soul mates with a native indian. Tommy Littlehorse is framed for a robbery, and put into a coma. He then communicates with jaime through the spirit realm. The dipsy wipsiest BW? We'll allow it.
-On the Run (3)
The regular season series finale. Knowing it was coming, they wrote a script that paralleled lindsay's own ambivalence about BW, as jaime decides to leave the OSI. Oscar's superiors won't allow it. She goes on the lam as a fugitive, but finally returns, in exchange for more control of her destiny. Considering the lame duck status imposed by the lack of a six million dollar man (heck, there's even a sub in for callahan), it's a decent wrap-up. The highlight is an edgy, intense moment for oscar as he disobeys orders and urges her to run.
-BIONIC EVER AFTER?
A 1994 telemovie, and the final appearance of steve and jaime...and rudy and oscar and even lee II (plus an underused anne lockhart - BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, JOYRIDE). It's rather wonderful. It might even get four stars, if less time were spent on the inane "saving the world from terrorists" plot. As the bionic wedding approaches, jaime starts falling apart, mentally and physically. But it's sabotage! The unbalanced villain (farrah forke - WINGS, DWEEBS) has her sights on steve too. Can they save each other, and the world? More to the point, don't they deserve a real, relaxed domestic finale? Ah well, it's a hell of a final kiss. We'll take it.

Monday, August 15, 2016

"The Six Million Dollar Man"

-created by harve bennett
1974-1978
Violent, sexist drivel.
I like to lead with the worst thing i can say about a show, especially if i'm going to gush a bit. Yes, at its worst it was little more than an american james bond, with two-dimensional bad guys, glamorous violence, cold war flag-waving, and a beautiful, willing woman waiting at the end. That said, the show also had many moments of violence-free, humanistic fare...for example, when steve is captured by a japanese soldier unaware the war is over, an air force colonel shows shame that the U.S. nuked human populations. Sometime during the first season the producers made the decision to rarely show murder, and steve austin joins a short but shining list of action heroes who refuse to use a gun (the look on his face when he's an undercover cop and must draw his sidearm, is wonderful). They also dialed down the lothario quotient, and female writers were not uncommon. Beyond the terrorists and megalomaniacs, the show also took on the I.R.A., ESP, environmental issues, and it was obvious that many of the creators came of age during the idealistic sixties. So if you can get past the obvious failings, the show had heart. Not EVERY women was an ineffectual, overemotional sex object...and the writing was often clever and thoughtful. Beyond all that, as a ride down retro road it's almost impossible not to laugh at the unabashed silliness. Series star lee majors (THE FALL GUY, SCROOGED) inhabits his role as the world's first cyborg with such ease and warmth, his iconic status is of a type known only to those with names like garner, shatner, and (dare i say it) dean anderson. I'm gushing, so let me just reiterate - impressionable minds should be kept six million miles away. But as an archaeological artifact that might just leave you hooting, you have my blessing.
NOTEWORTHY EPISODES (season)
[boldface = must-see]
-WINE, WOMEN, AND WAR (1)
The second of three telemovies that preceded the series, it's a burst of  irrepressible juiciness (and not just in contrast to the first telemovie, which is so glacially lifeless it makes STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE look breakneck - its heart was in the right place, but they were probably following the original novel far too closely). Action, sex, humor, come on down! They swerve in the james bond direction a bit too far, but it's a great ride nonetheless. Steve is sent on vacation to the Bahamas. His boss (the darling debut of richard anderson - FORBIDDEN PLANET, THE BIONIC WOMAN) may have ulterior motives, as he's soon embroiled in the illegal nuclear arms market. Britt ekland (THE WICKER MAN, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN) and eric braeden (THE RAT PATROL, COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT) are pitch-perfect as femme fatale and megalomaniac. As if all that weren't enough, the title theme music is performed by dusty springfield. It's sultry, syrupy and bears no resemblance the robust song on which they soon settled. How did this make NONE of her greatest hits collections?
-Rescue of Athena One (1)
Steve trains America's first female astronaut...farrah fawcett (majors, that is - LOGAN'S RUN, EXTREMITIES)! An orbital accident requires a rescue by a certain bionic man. He lays a faintly patronizing, sexist attitude on her, but it's too sweet and silly to be denied. Farrah looks surprisingly, touchingly unglamorous, lending her performance an aura of innocence before the Hollywood star machine got their hands on her. The story and visuals are first-rate...it would have been nice to have first-rate dialogue too, but one can't be greedy. Still, it would make a satisfyingly quirky marathon with APOLLO 13 and GRAVITY.
-The Pioneers (2)
Mike farrell (THE QUESTOR TAPES, M*A*S*H) plays an insane, super-human astronaut. No, i didn't make that up...but there are actually some nuanced, human moments.
-Taneha (2)
Steve comes to the aid of an old friend, who pleads with him to stop local ranchers from killing the last male golden cougar. Teamed up with a guide (jess walton - THE PEACE KILLERS, THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS) who would rather see the cougar dead, steve wins her over and sweet-talks the cougar while she gets rid of the rancher posse. Some eye-popping nature cinematography, plus heart and smarts...i suspect even the writer herself may not have known just how far on the wrong side of history lies our bloody, genocidal legacy of ranching.
-The E.S.P. Spy (2)
Steve teams up with an ESP prodigy (robbie lee - BIG BAD MAMA, RAINBOW BRITE) to track down baddies who have kidnapped another savant for brutal mental espionage, with dick van patten (WHEN THINGS WERE ROTTEN, EIGHT IS ENOUGH) as the target. It's disarming to see a tender, unself-conscious relationship between a man and a teen, with no sexual overtones. She's just a misfit who realizes she has a spiritual equal in steve. Really though, the most irresistible thing about this episode is the unintentional hilarity in the fact that the word "kinky" used to have a non-sexual denotation, and audrey repeatedly refers to herself as kinky.
-The Bionic Woman (2)
A chance meeting reunites steve with tennis pro jaime sommers, his unrequited childhood love. Steve has never been so loose and human...a wedding is planned, but a skydiving accident brings her to death's door! Oscar can't turn down steve's plea to save her (bionically). Jaime prepares for an OSI mission, but her body rejects the bionics. She dies. No, really. The screen debut of dana plato (CALIFORNIA SUITE, DIFF'RENT STROKES). What throws this one completely over the top is lee's singing of the "jaime" love theme. It's awful. It's sublime. You pick.
-Steve Austin, Fugitive (2)
It's about time someone realized the show was too male. Come on down, peggy callahan (jennifer darling - EIGHT IS ENOUGH, DARMA & GREG)! Oscar's new secretary (I guess it was that or rudy's nurse, right? In bennett's defense, he did have a female head of state in another episode.) finds herself as steve's only friend when he's framed for murder while oscar is out of town. Her pluck saves the day, and her charm wins the hero (we would too, steve, we would too). Sadly, she only came back for three more episodes, plus five BIONIC WOMANs.
-The Price of Liberty (3)
Worst 6MDM ever? A fine turn by chuck connors (THE RIFLEMAN, AIRPLANE II) is wasted on this mawkish slice of nationalism.
-The Song and Dance Spy (3)
Steve must accompany his college roommate john perry on a concert tour, as the government is convinced the pop star is selling government secrets. And who plays this college pal? Why, just sonny bono (THE SONNY AND CHER SHOW, AIRPLANE II). It turns out that john and steve were competitive college pranksters. Action, laughs, performances by sonny...priceless. And the baddie turns out to be his future wife, susie coelho (THE NORSEMAN, BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO), on the set where they presumably met.
-The Deadly Test (3)
Ohh, that this episode falls a bit flat. Tragic. The elements are irresistible - erik estrada (CHiPs, THE MODERN ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER) as an arabian prince pilot trainee who ends up hugging his mortal jewish rival. Fiction doesn't get much fictier. But the writing doesn't quite come together. Tim o'connor (BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY, Ssssssss) is also along, in an atypically butch role.
-Target in the Sky (3)
Thoroughly charming. Steve goes undercover as a lumberjack, and discovers a plot to shoot down Air Force 2. The duplicitous foreman is classic 70s "that guy" denny miller (V, TARZAN THE APE MAN), and he's never been more perfect. With seamless writing, the only thing keeping this from four stars is the underdevelopment of the touching chemistry between steve and lumber boss kelly (barbara rhoades - SOAP, THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST).
-The Blue Flash (3)
A lovely example of the show's humanism. Steve goes undercover as a longshoreman, and has a thoughtful relationship with a black woman and her son (without even a whiff of obligatory romance). He wears an earring, a mustache, and after a misstep, teaches the boy (rodney allen rippy - BLAZING SADDLES, OH GOD! BOOK II) about the power of science over superstition. A dandy guest turn by michael conrad (HILL STREET BLUES, THE LONGEST YARD).
-Clark Templeton O'Flaherty (3)
A charming turn by louis gossett jr. (ROOTS, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN) as a janitor/secret agent in an episode that loses steam...
-The Winning Smile (3)
So okay, this episode establishes that the U.S. has not cracked cold fusion. Necessarily then, steve's nuclear-powered bionics are...fission-based?? He's got some kind of fission reactor...INSIDE HIS BODY??? Oy.
-Hocus-Pocus (3)
With an outsized, bravura performance by pernell roberts (BONANZA, TRAPPER JOHN M.D.) and another adorable turn by robbie lee as everyone's favorite teenage psychic, this charmer is off to the races, as steve goes undercover as...a magician. Bionic perfection - your gigglemeter will be amply engaged.
-The Secret of Bigfoot (3)
Seismic delight. Iconic, heart-pounding, frightening, silly, and wonderful. Steve tracks down a missing scientist in the wilderness, and is attacked by...bigfoot (andre the giant - THE PRINCESS BRIDE, MICKI & MAUDE)! But the big fella is simply an automaton, testing steve on behalf of peaceable aliens observing Earth. Steve is lured into their mountain outpost, through a wild rotating ice tunnel. Their scientist of bionics (stefanie powers - HART TO HART, HERBIE RIDES AGAIN) gets a fine case of austin crush. They plan to wipe his memories and release him, but oscar explodes an underground nuke, to prevent a California quake. Working with sasquatch, he helps save the alien survivors. His memory is erased, and he'll see them no more ever again...or will he? The greatest bionic fight ever - the stuff of indelible childhood memory. Toss in a quick jaime cameo plus no mustache-twirling villains, and it's all too marvelous for words.
-Big Brother (3)
Steve becomes big brother to a street kid heading for a bad end. If you can lay aside the painfully simplistic treatment of a serious social problem (and a momentary succumbing to the kiddie sound effect silliness that sullied seasons 3&4), this one has too much heart and fun to resist. A jet ride for a starry-eyed kid, an irresistible drop-in by jaime, a tenement sister and baby brother too perfect for words, a bionic street basketball game...
-Return of Bigfoot (4)
It really does take an admirable leap at living up to the original, splitting a two-parter with THE BIONIC WOMAN. Steve finds himself the primary suspect in a series of bionic robberies, and discovers that a splinter group of aliens are using sasquatch for felonious means. Steve gets sick and jaime takes over. Toss in some sandy duncan (ROOTS, VALERIE) and john saxon (THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN, BEVERLY HILLS COP III), and it almost lifts off. Perhaps if only andre had been available...
-Nightmare in the Sky (4)
Farrah returns for her bionic farewell, playing the same pilot she played in season 1 (two intervening 6MDM appearances, as a reporter and a gambler, don't quite merit mention). On a test mission, kelly loses both her plane and memory. Steve breaks her out of detention, and they're off. Yes, there's far too much "sit quietly little girl, and let the strong man take care of things", but their flirtations are disarmingly sweet. There's also some lovely villainy by donald moffat (LOGAN'S RUN, POPEYE) and dana elcar (MACGYVER, THE NUDE BOMB).
-The Bionic Boy (4)
This episode encapsulates the season 4 quality nosedive. The producers were ostensibly targeting kids more, but instead of doing so intelligently, the writing often just slips into infantile. And at the risk of getting a angry letter from MADS (the mustache anti-defamation society), steve's season four facial hair just makes him look smarmy and shady. Compounding matters, he's suddenly wearing sunglasses a lot, making this the season of the bionic car salesman (oops, there's a letter from SADS...and maybe CSADS too). In this one, a paralyzed youth gets bionic implants that are supposed to return him to normal, but he starts manifesting super strength. Mawkish and overdone, with one of the most cringe-worthy 6MDM segments ever - a beyond-hysterical square dance which devolves into a waltz, during which steve (who arrived at the dance with a young, thin blonde) gets unexpectedly stuck with a dance partner who is none of those things. He's too "gracious" to insult her to her face, but the audience sees his discomfort and disgust. Starring vincent van patten (ROCK 'n' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, BAYWATCH), joan van ark (DALLAS, KNOTS LANDING), dick van patten (EIGHT IS ENOUGH, WHEN THINGS WERE ROTTEN), greg evivan (er, eviGan - B.J. AND THE BEAR, TEKWAR), and frank gifford (MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL, COACH).
-A Bionic Christmas Carol (4)
Convoluted, bizarre...and one rewrite short of brilliant. You won't make it a holiday staple, even ironically, but there are enough moments of magic (or absurdity) to make it something you have to see once. A miserly industrialist (ray walston - MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH) makes shoddy government supplies, and steve investigates. Horton overdoses on meds, and spends a hallucinatory night with steve as a silent santa showing him the error of his ways (sort of). Bob cratchit and tiny tim are played by dick sargent (BEWITCHED, DOWN TO EARTH) and adam rich (EIGHT IS ENOUGH, THE DEVIL AND MAX DEVLIN).
-The Ultimate Imposter (4)
An impossibly young kim basinger (THE GETAWAY, THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR) gets no scenes with steve in this spin-off starter about a bionic-brained agent, that never gets spinning.
-U-509 (4)
Amid the season 4 rubble, a gem! A retired, embittered royal navy captain leads a mercenary crew who have a nazi sub with enough nerve gas too kill the eastern seaboard, unless they're given millions. Steve manages to get aboard the submerged sub. Great stories and visuals, nice comedy, and steve is more dirty harry bionic bad-ass than in any other episode. With ian abercrombie (SEINFELD, THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK).
-To Catch the Eagle (4)
And...the mustache is gone!! Wheee! It can be sad and funny to watch a 70s show try to do an episode about native indians without being patronizing - sometimes, they almost succeed. Steve must rescue two scientists who are on reservation sacred ground, but he must pass rigged tests of hardship first. It's scurrilous, noble, barbarically brutal toward other animals...but at least it tries. A tender, touching turn by kathleen beller (THE BETSY, THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER) as a bright indian teen who falls in love with steve.
-The Ghostly Teletype (4)
And the award for the most head-scratchingly bizarre 6MDM is claimed! Twin teen telepaths who are dying of old age...a gentle grandmother who lays steve out...a helpful fortune teller who doesn't exist...plus one really cool magician friend who shows the bullshit on the other side of the footlights. It's dipsy wipsy, but too weird to be denied. With larry anderson (LIFE WITH LUCY, STAR TREK: INSURRECTION), who was also in the bizarrest CHARLIE'S ANGELS ever. Coincidence? You decide.
-Sharks (5)
Gone is the attempt to turn 6MDM into a kid's show, as the final season bursts out of the gate in this two-parter about a scientist and his shark-controlling daughter (pamela hensley - BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY, THE NUDE BOMB) who try to steal a nuclear sub. Hensley and majors have chemistry to burn, and rudy's "trapped in a diving bell" faces are beyond classic. Plus a treat for sci fi fans, as marc alaimo (STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE) and john de lancie (STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION) play evil and good henchmen.
-Bigfoot V (5)
As bad as JAWS 3-D? Not nearly, although invoking the jaws spiral is valid. Without andre the giant, stephanie powers, or even sandy duncan, this one still rallies at the end to touch the heartstrings more than either of its predecessors. Bigfoot (ted cassidy - BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, THE ADDAMS FAMILY) chooses to remain on Earth, and is interrupted midway through a cycle which will turn him completely organic. He's half-insane - can steve save him? Need you ask?
-Killer Wind (5)
Winner of the M.R.N.A.P.B.D. award (the Most Ridiculous Non-Acknowledgement of a Preposterous Bionic Display), as steve simultaneously pulls two ten-ton tramcars separated by two miles, up and down a mountain...while the locals just smile and nod. Can we please get a physicist in to calculate just how strong he has to be to pull this one off?
-Dark Side of the Moon (5)
This two-parter is so very good, just because its inventiveness goes light years beyond anything you might expect. Astronaut steve is back in space, as Earth tries to mine the moon for a super power source. The show takes breathtaking liberties with the realities of the space program (and the principles of science), but that's part of the charm, as steve rushes to push the moon back into its correct orbit. There's a villainous megalomaniac, a sultry scientist...you had me at hello, dark side (even without any Floyd in the soundtrack).
-The Cheshire Project (5)
Steve searches for a test pilot (suzanne sommers - THREE'S COMPANY, SHE'S THE SHERIFF) who disappeared with her plane, only to find that she was in on the plot. They have a romantic history, and she becomes the latest brand new felon who asks him to wait for her to get out of prison. What does it say about his personality that he (again) agrees? Does he have a conjugal visit clause built in to his government contract? The sommers/majors chemistry is lovely.
-Just a Matter of Time (5)
During a space flight, steve's capsule is diverted upon re-entry, and he finds himself on an island an ocean off-course. Government agents arrive, telling him that six years have passed and that he's been living the life of a defector inside the U.S.S.R. The plot will be recycled very well a decade later by STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION...but this incarnation feels fresh and disorienting. John de lancie's most satisfyingly substantive 6MDM turn.
-The Lost Island (5)
The most incoherent, inscrutable, and morally indefensible 6MDM. Wrap "CRIME SCENE" tape around this one and stay far, far away.
-The Moving Mountain (5)
And this, dear friends, is how you end a series. Or rather, it's how you end the day when a series doesn't seem to know it's ending. It's just a regular ol' episode, but a rib-tickling delight. Curiously, steve goes out the way he came in - not since the second telemovie pilot has an episode felt this "james bond" (An anarchic terrorist steals american missiles and a soviet launcher, forcing steve to go undercover with a russian agent, who happens to be a blonde sexpot - what were the odds?). But it works, because there's no 007 smarmy glibness. Steve and andrea (lisa farringer - COFFY, LAUGH-IN) play honeymooning husband and wife in an alpine resort, then hit the wilderness trail. Soon, they're humping and bumping by campfire light...oh stop, episode, you had us at guten tag. Yes, there's enough hypocritical, nationalistic propaganda to make a team of oxen puke (The poor russian is an unwitting pawn of her evil, machiavellian superiors!), but the chemistry and charm hit on all cylinders. As if that weren't enough, the evil general is played with oily elan by john colicos (STAR TREK, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA). No finale with steve, oscar, and rudy (or even jaime, the bionic boy, or bionic dog)...but a two-week detente sex holiday for our cold warriors is consolation enough. Bravo. 
-THE RETURN OF THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN AND THE BIONIC WOMAN
1987
As bad as BEASTMASTER 2? No...but comparable. Steve now lives in retired seclusion, jaime has had an accident which unearths her lost memories of loving him, he discovers a son he never knew who is about to graduate from flight school but has a horrific crash in which he loses two legs, an arm, and an eye...the gang's all back (except callahan and the dog), plus lee's real-life son lee II, and martin landau (SPACE: 1999, ED WOOD). There are moments of semi-delight...seeing how stuntwork has developed in ten years so that bionic jumps are more impressive than ever, plus scenes between jaime and steve that at least brush against the old magic...but it's often painfully flat, because they absolutely fail to recapture the feel of the original shows. The plot's trite, the writing is often second-rate, the music is awful (with pop hits sung by substitute voices), it looks like the worst kind of cheap TV movie of the week...perhaps harve bennett could have pulled a rabbit out of this hat, as the original shows had enough charm to overcome patches of weak writing...but harve has clearly left the building. Why do i feel such a compelling urge to blame this on the 80s?
-BIONIC SHOWDOWN
1989
The bionic is back! My guess is that the under-budgeted first telemovie did well enough that lots more cash came down the line, as this one looks and feels six million times better. It would actually get four stars if the plot had stayed on steve and jaime, rather than the new bionic kid in town (sandra bullock - DEMOLITION MAN, GRAVITY). The producers were angling for a spin-off...which is not to say that sandra isn't delightful - she is (and possibly sexier than in any role she's ever played), as she gets paired up with oscar's nephew jimmy (jeff yagher - V, SIX FEET UNDER). Lee II is also back. While steve tries to ask jaime to marry him, oscar goes on a drunken nutty after resigning from the OSI. Richard anderson's dandiest, most unbuttoned bionic turn. Can kate successfully portray an athlete at the world unity games, while simultaneously tracking down a super-bionic criminal?
-BIONIC EVER AFTER?
1994
The final appearance of steve and jaime...and rudy and oscar and even lee II (plus an underused anne lockhart - BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, JOYRIDE). And it's rather wonderful. It might get four stars, if less time were spent on the "saving the world from terrorists" plot. As the bionic wedding approaches, jaime starts falling apart. But it's bionic sabotage! The unbalanced villain (farrah forke - WINGS, DWEEBS) has her sights on steve too. Can our heroes save each other, and the world? More to the point, will they get a real, relaxed domestic finale? With callahan? Ah well, it's a hell of a final kiss. We'll take it.
-----------------------------
But wait! If it's the silly action you can't resist, if the bionic duh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-naahh alone is enough to get you giggling, here's the marathon for you - episodes that are middling or worse, but have a fight sequence that's just...heck, words fail me.
BION-A-THON
-Dr. Wells is Missing (1)
Going after rudy, who's been kidnapped in Austria, steve gets captured himself and must face off against the goons of a crime lord who wants to steal the secrets of bionics. The biggest bruiser of all, a black french martial arts master, has a dubbed-in voice that combines bruce lee and michael jackson. What, you think i could make that up?
-Return of the Robot Maker (2)
Oscar goldman is kidnapped, and replaced by a robot! Amateurishly written, but the climactic fight scene is beyond classic.
-Death Probe (4)
Steve tangles with a strange machine that fell out of the sky. OSI assumes it's alien, until all the deep cover russian spies in the world come out of the woodwork to converge on Wyoming, and steve discovers the vehicle is a russian probe meant for venusian exploration. Built to withstand extreme temperatures and pressures, the probe is now on high defense mode, and headed for a town. Steve is no match! It grabs him, it lassoes him! The images are too iconic and too beautifully silly.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

the non-rich party

THE NON-RICH MANIFESTO
The end of the era of rich and poor is in sight.
The wealth/poverty system is the most catastrophically failed experiment in the history of our (or any other) species, for it has propelled us not only toward our own extinction, but the likely extinction of all mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
In terms of our stewardship of this delicate ecosystem we call Earth, the rich/poor era has been an unmitigated failure. Our oceans are dying. The air and land are less lucky.
In moral terms, the rich/poor system has been a failure so apocalyptic as to beggar exaggeration. There is no level of poverty, brutality, and degradation the system will not tolerate. A million accountants could never catalog the litany of abuse and murder inflicted upon billions since the first farmer declared "This pile is mine, not yours". Our sins against other species are even more heinous.
And yet for all the fear and obedience the poor have rendered to the rich, the ultimate power of life on this planet rests now where it always has - with the poor. If every worker in the world put their hands in their pockets tomorrow and said "NO MORE", the greatest revolution in human history would be fought, won, and done.
If we are to save our tenuous existence on a dying planet, the following truths must be recognized and embraced.
Every tiniest patch of land, every cloud in the sky, every puddle or ocean belongs to all, equally.
The responsibility for every tiniest patch of land, every cloud in the sky, every puddle or ocean belongs to all, equally.
The first global human labor strike will be to establish the universal four-hour workday. This is not revolutionary, but a return to the natural human condition. Before the agricultural revolution made us slaves to our own cleverness, the average foraging human worked 2.5 hours a day - total.
The four-hour day will allow each and all to treat their work with that rarest quality - eagerness. More importantly, it will return to us our lives. We will spend our newfound freedom improving our minds, caring for others, and above all indulging in our natural needs for love and play. It is pure fantasy to think that humanity needs to work sixteen, twelve, ten, or even eight hours...a truth that only increases with each passing generation, for our cleverness has created machines of staggering efficiency, and crops that produce yields unimaginable to our ancestors.
Ultimately, we will learn that we needn't even be slaves to the four-hour day, as freedom will make us more responsible and productive. We will each define for ourselves how we can best serve our communities, and the world at large. In serving others, we will come to understand that we serve ourselves.
As a gesture of our non-violent intent, we will begin the transformation of our species within the confines of the existing system, at least in those lands that have (or claim to have) free elections. We will choose write-in candidates for the non-rich party. As the non-rich make up 99% of humanity, the odds of ever being challenged in any open election are slim indeed.
To reinforce the notion that the unequal distribution of wealth is over, particularly in those parts of the world which do not admit free elections, one or two additional global human strikes may be required.
For a generation or so, there will be a period of adjustment as we figure out how to restructure human society. There will be confusion, as humanity has become thoroughly steeped in the selfishness and hierarchy upon which the poor/rich system is based. But the transition will happen, as we'll be returning to normal human nature - a growing body of scientific evidence tells us that before agriculture, we were creatures of profound non-violence and radical sharing. Since the last 20,000 years of greedy brutality make up less than 1% of human history, we are confident our DNA hasn't been irreparably corrupted.
So send word to the farthest corner of the Earth. It's time for our fractured species to become whole again - all women, all men, all colors, all together. The resistance to the non-rich revolution will be far less impressive than you might imagine...and not only because all the military enforcers are non-rich. The rich will return to humanity, because many of their educations have not been so stunted as the people they oppress. Once the first millionaire and billionaire dominoes embrace sanity, the rest will quickly follow.
Let the non-rich party and its candidates organize. Let the first global human strike be planned. Let this gentle, caring species be reborn.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

sci fi linkathon

For those who love actors, and sci fi (and sci fi actors), a tribute-a-thon dedicated to links in the chain...
-FORBIDDEN PLANET, 1956
This classic starring walter pidgeon and leslie nielsen, is where modern sci fi was born.
-STAR TREK "By Any Other Name", 1968
FORBIDDEN PLANET's doc (warren stevens) guest stars as captain of a hostile, super-advanced (but emotionally green) alien crew.
-STAR TREK (animated) "The Magicks of Megas-Tu", 1973
Who's that voice of powerful alien asmodeus? Ed bishop, star of classic brit sci fi UFO. Control yourself, fanboys (fangirls, feel no such restraint).
-THE STARLOST "The Return of Oro", 1973
One of the better episodes of a second-rate (okay, maybe third-rate) show, with a fine guest appearance by TREK's walter koenig.
-THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN "Sharks", 1977
A sci fi swirl, as BUCK ROGERS' pamela hensley stars, with supporting turns by marc alaimo (DEEP SPACE NINE) and john de lancie (STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION). The three most resonant non-regular sci fi recurring stars ever?
-JASON OF STAR COMMAND "Escape From Dragos", 1978
Throughout the first season, TREK's james doohan played canarvin, the commander with a heart of gold.
-BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY "A Dream of Jennifer", 1980
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA'S anne lockhart stars as a woman surgically altered to look like buck's loooong-lost love.
-BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY "Journey to Oasis", 1981
Okay, i'm breaking my own unwritten rule by having two episodes from the same series...but season 2 BUCK was so radically altered, it qualifies as a different show. This episode, one of the few worth watching, features a nuanced performance by mark lenard (TREK's sarek and PLANET OF THE APES' urko).
-STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION "The Perfect Mate", 1992
With a romantic almost-triangle between picard, riker, and famke janssen (X-MEN 1-?), this episode also stars the sublime tim o'connor (BUCK ROGERS).
-SEAQUEST 2032 "Dream Weaver", 1995
Mark hamill (THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK) plays a blind genius, in a rich role - and acquits himself beautifully.
-TEKWAR "Chill Factor", 1995
STAR TREK's past and future collide, as DEEP SPACE NINE's nicole de boer takes a turn on this shatnervaganza (alas, this one's a "credit only" no-show for the man himself).
-STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE "The Siege of AR-558", 1998
Perhaps as karmic reward for all those abysmal years of LOST IN SPACE (danger, will robinson!), bill mumy shows more one-off chemistry with nicole de boer than worf and bashir manage in an entire season.
-STARGATE: SG1 "The Other Side", 2000
Rene auberjonois (DEEP SPACE NINE) exquisitely plays the morally-compromised leader of an alien nation.
-ENTERPRISE "Detained", 2002
Dean stockwell (GALACTICA '04) leaps in for a QUANTUM reunion with mr. bakula, playing a concentration camp commandant.
-BATTLESTAR GALACTICA "Pegasus" (extended version), 2005
Actions and consequences, roads not taken...as much as one might bemoan michelle forbes' (STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION) turning down a role on DS9, had she not done so, there's a fair chance the BSG producers wouldn't have tapped her for this prominent (and fantastic) turn.
-STARGATE: ATLANTIS "Michael", 2006
Connor trineer (ENTERPRISE) plays a devastatingly-abused alien who has been genetically-modified, with his memory erased.